Stress Impacts the Amount and Quality of Information Reaching Your Brain
In the previous blog post, we wrote about how your brain determines the difficulty of a task and other insights into your decision-making brain. This is important because a lack of quality information getting through to the brain raises the perceived difficulty threshold and reduces your ability to make quicker decisions, even when timeliness is a critically important need.
Scientific research now strongly shows that stress directly impacts the brain’s prefrontal cortex region, and thus is likely to directly impact the amount and quality of information reaching the decision-making regions of the brain.
We all know that emotions can hijack the brain’s thinking processes. I believe it was psychologist and author Daniel Goleman who first described this as “emotional hijacking.”
Scientists are now proving how this happens and validating mindfulness as an approach for preventing and managing emotional hijacking. The brain comprises numerous, highly specialized modules, which are used for analyzing situations and preparing reactions to them. It is the interplay between these modules of the brain that determine behavior. Unfortunately, most of this interplay occurs subconsciously and automatically.
In a process that neuroscientists call pattern recognition, our brains try to reflexively counter decision-making anxieties by narrowing and simplifying our options. This attempt to find certainty in uncertain situations leads to premature conclusions that are often based on previous successful approaches and which prevents more and better options to surface or be considered.
In a similar way, emotional tagging in our memories sends us signals as to whether or not to pay attention to something or someone and what sort of action we should be considering. Interestingly, neurological research now shows that when the parts of our brain controlling emotions are damaged we become slow and incompetent decision makers even though we retain the capacity for objective analysis. We all know how it feels to make poor decisions when we are being “emotionally hijacked.”
Because some modules of the brain focus on gathering benefits and other modules concentrate on delivering benefits, they are often in conflict. Hence the issues people who are trying to lose weight face when they stumble upon the smell of freshly baked donuts. One part of the brain wants to gather the benefits derived from eating the donuts while another module is sending signals to reduce calorie consumption.
While these modules are interconnected, they are not integrated. Hence there are many so-called captains in the brain trying to assert command authority.
While some people refer to the brain as being similar to a computer operating system, this really is not true. It is more like a collection of smartphone apps all opened at once and clamoring to be used. Just as a phone can only operate one app at a time (with the rest running in background mode), the brain only operates one module at a time with all the rest eagerly awaiting in standby mode.
These modules can also create conflict in emotional behavior. For instance, while giving someone a tongue-lashing over poor customer service may deliver an emotional benefit of expressing outrage, another module will be signaling that an angry outburst can have negative effects on blood pressure and heart health.
Neuroscience research is now revealing that mindfulness practices and meditation can help leaders train their brains to be less reactive to emotional swings. These techniques can also help prevent the wrong modules from hijacking control of our brains and decisions.
Our workshop Better Decision Making: Shifting from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership Skills, provides best practices on how to prevent emotional hijacking of the decision-making process and well as tips and techniques for improving short-term and long-term brain health. Contact us today to discuss how to bring this highly valuable program into your organization.
This article is partually excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.