How is it possible to change habits and behaviors so entrenched that they've become part of our neural pathways?
when people recognize their addictive or compulsive behavior is
life-threatening, research shows amazingly few people can change
voluntarily. At the organizational level, the complexity of group behavior makes change even harder. A a concept called neuroplasticity suggests that with concentrated effort we can all change our patterns of thought.
"That's the Way We (Used to) Do Things Around Here," an article in Strategy+Business, describes
how corporate leaders with a little knowledge of neuroscience can
encourage new behaviors that eventually change corporate culture.
The authors, Jeffrey Schwarz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick, are, respectively, a research psychiatrist, a learning and development specialist, and an authority on ethics and leadership in the financial services industry.
authors explain that habits are hard to change because of the way our
brains work. Many thought patterns exist in circuits associated with
deep, primal parts of the brain: the basal ganglia, the brain's habit center, manages semi-automatic activities like walking and driving; the amygdala manages strong and complex emotions such as anger, fear, and who'sfriend or foe; the hypothalamus manages instinctive drives like hunger, thirst and sexual desire. Information processed in these parts of the brain is often not consciously examined and is very hard to dislodge.
The basal ganglia, the authors write, can shift brain circuits so that unfamiliar ways of thinking and acting become habitual. That
happens, they say, when a person pays repeated attention to desired
thoughts and related positive goals. And people can learn intense
attention.Schwartz, in an interview by Elisha Goldstein posted on her Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog, tells about neuroplasticity and a phenomenon in physics called the Quantum Zeno Effect. He says this phenomenon, named for the Greek philosopher Zeno,
stabilizes or holds in place in the neural circuitry whatever you are
focusing on. He summarizes the impact of the principles involved by
saying "neurons that fire together wire together." Of course, if a person devote attention to negative thoughts, the negatives become embedded.
The authors describe how Cargill, a major agricultural and food products company, used knowledge of the brain to improve collaboration and innovation across
all its business units. At Ameriprise Financial, a company that leads
the U.S. in professional financial advice, managers began examining
their own behavior to see whether it facilitated the best service to
their customers. The authors provide six practical steps
to reshape patterns of thinking and behavior, and specific suggestions
on how to shift negative or outmoded patterns in useful new directions.
Read their story here.