“Cells that fire together wire together” means that synapses or unions between neurons get solidified more often the respective neurons “talk” to each other. In our brains, neurons connect to other neurons to form a neural network. Each connecting point is associated with a thought or memory. The brain builds up all its concepts by the law of associative memory. Ideas, thoughts and feelings are all constructed and interconnected within this neural network, and have a possible relationship with one another. If you practice something over and over again those nerve cells have a long-term relationship. For example, a famous experiment found that boys who mentally rehearsed shooting baskets improved more than the boys who actually practiced.
Last week I was moderating a panel discussion at a Women Conference. This panel was a large one with three speakers whom I knew and three who were new to me. They were senior professionals and since the topic was Advantage Women with a 1700 women audience I knew it had to be managed really well for it to have true impact. As a part of the preparation I first researched a set of questions that I would ask the members on the panel based on what I thought the audience may want to hear, then I researched the bio’s of the three new people and looked for their photographs (I needed a face to the name), after which I tried to connect questions to each individual who I thought may have the best set of experiences in answering the question. In my mind I rehearsed the flow – the introductions, the fun elements, the serious elements, the expressions on the faces of each panel member, how I would move from one panel member to another seamlessly and how I would wrap up. I went through that a few times for a few days until I felt well prepared and” felt” a sense of satisfaction and the end of the session.
This, I think is a great example of creating a neural network – where I could rehearse the process, feel the emotions in my body and help make a seemingly challenging task successful with great ease.
As a leadership coach, this is a strategy I like to share with some of my coachees who struggle with Executive Presence.
The brain's default network is that part of the brain that takes over when we are not fully engaged in any activity focused on the external environment. It’s when we synthesize past observations - including autobiographical memory retrieval, envisioning the future, and conceiving a perspective of others.
It has been seen that people normally suppress this default system when they perform challenging tasks which involves the pre frontal cortex and also that the default network system takes over especially when one has a repetitive task at hand and. In patients with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s is it hard for them to move back from the default system – and they often continue “day dreaming”.
One of the aspects of Leadership Development that I work on is the ability of a leader to reflect on his learning’s. It is clear from research that 70% of our learning’s come from on the job. These experiences could be either good or hard experiences. But the key is to decipher what one may have learnt from this and apply it to oneself as a leader takes on more challenging assignments.
It would be great if one could delve into the workings of the default system and train leaders to help the default system in this process of reflection, instead of a situation where the default system just throws out random thoughts from the past/future.
For one, how do we catch ourselves as we see the default system take over? Does that mean we increase the power of observation? How do we then seed a certain thought that relates to an experience we have had and are looking at patterns of learning? How do we record those patterns? Does constantly thinking of these experiences lead us somewhere? Can we then connect all of this “working” of the default system to some learning at the workplace?
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.