Is your brain out to get you? Mine’s out to get me. That doesn't mean I’m ready for the men in the white coats yet. It just means that sometimes my brain gets in the way of my own success. Yours does too – usually without you even knowing it. Here’s why.
We actually have two very different brains inside our head. The “new” brain, with its higher-level reasoning abilities; and the “old” brain, which helped us survive back when we had to quickly recognize and respond to predators and other threats. The new brain gives us amazing powers to create, innovate, and see new possibilities. But it’s the old brain that controls much of our thought patterns and decision-making processes. And therein lies the problem.
The old brain is a superb pattern-recognizer that tends to look for information to support what we already know to be true about the world. In doing so, it actively rejects information that contradicts our view of the world. And it usually does this before the new brain can catch on to what the old brain is doing. So we get caught in a double-whammy of seeing things the same old way while actively avoiding new information that doesn't align with what we believe to be true. That’s how we get caught totally off guard when our best customer defects to a competitor. And that’s how we never see the outsider who sweeps in and steals market share with a new product or service we never imagined. The evidence was always there; our brains just wouldn't let us see it.
The solution is simple: pause every now and then to question our old-brain assumptions about the way the world works. Notice I said simple, NOT easy. When we’re running so fast to keep up – as we all are these days – the last thing we want to do is slow down to review our thought processes, because that feels like we’re falling even further behind. But if we don’t slow down to go fast we may end up losing the race altogether.
First, we need to understand that slowing down every now and then will actually help us get there faster in the end. Then we need to practice three essential steps.
One, learn to pause every now and then, even if only for 10 seconds at a time. Take a few moments to clear the mind and reset; to look up, look around, ponder, wonder and explore. To ask the occasional “what if?” question without expecting an immediate answer.
Two, while you're pausing, start thinking about what you're thinking about. Human beings are driven to move very quickly. As a result, our brain responds emotionally first, and then applies logic to make it fit what we just responded to emotionally. So thinking about what we're thinking about is critical. Question some of your thinking processes. Change perspective. Challenge assumptions. Challenge the need to have the one right answer that we always strive so hard to find.
Third, learn to focus on what's going on around you. In particular, learn to focus on winning, and use that focus to get obsessive and relentless about it.