10 Years in the making: Our team of experts’ simple explanation of how your brain works uses the latest neuroscience and behavioural psychology to show how 4 key brain processes come together to drive complex human behaviour
100 Billion neurons. 25 Quadrillion possible neural pathways. Automating your responses and the RAS that makes it all work. Your brain is one of the most amazing biological systems in nature. And it took our team of human behavioural experts more than a decade of neuroscience research to develop this super-simple explanation for how your brain works and how that drives your behaviour (more on how we did it at end of this post).
Now, we all have a fair idea of the brain’s basic functions: The brain works almost like a computer network that stores information and connects with every part of our bodies, getting sensory feedback from all over the body (our senses: seeing, hearing, touch etc.) and delivering instructions for it to move, react in some way or perform a function.
BASIC BRAIN FUNCTIONS
How that part works is your brain explores what it needs to do to create a certain movement or function, like walking, for example. Babies can’t walk immediately, but through the first few months of life, they explore crawling and getting up. What’s happening is the brain is learning, exploring the neural connections needed to move the right muscles to get the balance to stand upright etc. Until Baby gets up and walks one day. A little wonky at first, yes. But with practice, they eventually get it right.
And after a few more times of practice, bam, Baby suddenly walks like a pro. And, importantly, from now until the day Baby grows up and dies, they will never have to think about walking again. It’s become automatic.
That’s the basic memory and body sensory-movement functions. But for a long time, we humans just assumed that complicated things like our behaviour had to work very differently – almost inexplicably. Turns out we were wrong.
THE “COMPLEXITY” OF BEHAVIOUR
Things like our emotions and why we behave in a specific way in certain conditions, seem at first way more complex. Why does one person become a successful entrepreneur while another person from the same neighbourhood ends up homeless, for example? Or why does one person become a missionary and another pursues a life of crime?
We once thought behaviour had to work in a much different way. But now, modern technology has allowed us to take a closer look. And guess what we found? Turns out describing what happens with emotions and behaviour is not all that different.
If you’re not familiar with neuroscience or haven’t been to one of our neuromanagement workshops yet, prepare to have your mind blown:
HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS: SIMPLE 4-STEP EXPLANATION FOR COMPLEX BEHAVIOUR
STEP 1: WHAT YOUR BRAIN IS MADE OF
Your brain is made up of 100 billion brain cells called neurons. They are special cells that can send and receive information. And apart from the ones in your brain, there are billions more throughout your body. They pass along electrochemical signals to and from your brain. If you stub your toe, a network of neurons sends the pain signal from your toe all the way up your spine to your brain. That’s how sense works.
For movement, your brain sends an electrochemical signal all the way through to the right muscles or body parts, and they move. For more information on these amazing cells and how they work, check out our detailed post on neurons.
Now, here’s the important part: All of us have roughly the same amount of neurons in our brains (100 billion). And that means that we all have the same potential. So why are some people “smarter” or more successful than others? It actually has nothing to do with your brain’s capacity or ability, but with what starts to happen in step 2.
Practical example 1
Let’s imagine two babies are born in the same hospital. They each have the same number of neurons in their brains. So, for all intents and purposes, they have the same potential to be successful in life. Now watch what happens below.
STEP 2: HOW YOUR BRAIN STORES INFORMATION
Your brain is not like a computer with physical “boxes” where it stores memories. Every new piece of information gets stored in a connection between two neurons. When you see an apple for the first time, the space between two neurons fires up and forms a neural pathway. Now, for the rest of your life, whenever you think of an apple, that same neural pathway will light up.
Everything you know and think about works that way. Discover more info here about neural pathways.
Each of your brain’s 100 billion neurons can form up to about 250 000 neural pathways, which means your brain can store 25 quadrillion bits of information (it would take about 3 million years to fill your brain completely). And, again, we all have the same number of neurons, so we the same potential for success, right? But then something happens. It turns out that, dependent on our environment and a whole lot of external and internal factors, things can go wrong with the associations we form with the information in neural pathways.
Practical example 2
Let’s imagine our two babies have grown up and it’s the first day of school. Baby A is lucky, they pay attention at the right moment and get a simple maths sum correct. The teacher praises them. Well done. But Baby B is a bit distracted and gets the maths sum wrong. Oh no, that’s not good, because there’s a big chance that Baby B now develops a negative association (fear, anxiety) with maths – and maybe even all schoolwork. This can only get worse when we get to the next step.
STEP 3: HOW YOUR BRAIN TRIES TO AUTOMATE BEING YOU
We are designed to be programmed. Remember how babies learn to walk by the brain working until it can automate the whole process? Turns out your brain does the exact same thing with everything. Everything. Even your emotions and your responses to stimulation.
Your brain reviews your neural pathways the whole time, and if what happens to you continually reinforces a specific neural pathway (whether it’s negative or positive, doesn’t matter), your brain tries to store that information to recall as your default response to a stimulus. You can read more about how it works under automatic memory recall.
Practical example 3
Our two babies are growing up, but something odd is happening at school. Baby A, who had a positive reinforcement with maths and schoolwork flourishes. But Baby B really battles. It turns out that that first maths sum they got wrong created a negative-association neural pathway. And when they got a few more sums wrong, it reinforced that neural pathway, and now their automated response to any maths (and later all school work) is negative.
Baby B feels fear, anxiety and later on develops an aversion for school altogether. They don’t want to go anymore, don’t want to participate. They start believing they are “stupid”. And you can imagine where this goes, right?
STEP 4: HOW YOUR BRAIN REINFORCES THAT AUTOMATION
Hang on a minute, you might think, surely your brain must notice when it gets different information. No one gets 100% of all maths questions wrong. Somewhere along the way, even if you’ve developed a negative association neural pathway, some positive must come in. Even if you get one maths sum right, your brain should realise it and change how you think about maths, right?
Turns out no. It is possible, but there’s a powerful system in your brain that prevents that from happening. It’s called your reticular activating system (RAS) and its job is to filter all incoming information for how relevant it is to you what you believe. And if you believe you’re bad at maths, your RAS will block the new information, because it’s not there to make you feel good, it’s there to reinforce your automatic recall.
Your RAS is a bunch of nerves at the base of your brain, and it helps you focus by cutting off new incoming information that your automatic recall considers irrelevant. And you need it to survive. At any given moment, there’s so much sensory information coming your way that you wouldn’t possibly be able to focus on reading these words if your RAS wasn’t helping you focus on them.
And here’s the kicker: Your RAS physically cuts off the signal of new information if it conflicts with what’s in your automation. Scientists have proven that you literally cannot see, hear, taste or smell things that are right in front of you if your RAS decides to cut them out.
Practical example 4
Imagine our two babies are grown up. Because Baby A built a positive association with maths, they flourished in school, went to university, got a great job and bought a house with a pool and loads of garage space for fancy cars.
Beause Baby B built that negative association with maths, they believed they’re bad with all numbers and all schoolwork. So they never finished school, never went to university. Baby B grew up believing they are “stupid”, so their RAS kept showing them that they are. With a bit of luck, Baby B might end up in a fairly OK-ish job where they can eke out a living. Or, desperately searching for some kind of meaning and camaraderie, maybe they joined a gang or became destitute. Not because any of it was true, but because of how the brain works.
Either way, we never see Baby B again.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME AND MY BUSINESS?
Do us a favour and look around you. At the people at work, at home or in your community. Look at the ones you think are struggling a bit. Maybe they battle to deliver. Maybe they’re always late. Maybe they just can’t seem to get going and really be part of the team.
Maybe that person who is struggling is you.
Now ask yourself, is that all really because the person is flawed, “stupid” or bad in any way? Or, is it perhaps that, like Baby B, they developed some negative neural associations that are standing in the way of them reaching their true potential.
Now here comes the good news: LifeXchange Solutions can help.
ADVANCED NEUROSCIENCE FOR BUSINESS AND PERSONAL GROWTH
Understanding how the brain works and how that combines with human behaviour, and then knowing how to change that and use it to inspire entire teams to reach their full potential every day is what we at LifeXchange Solutions do.
Our purpose is to “energise the core of companies for exponential growth”. Because when all is said and done, people are the core of every business (there wouldn’t be any businesses without people). And, through neuroscience, neuromanagement, NLP and behavioural psychology, we seek to understand what’s really going with people, and then we show companies how to turn it around. How to use your people to really grow.
Imagine if every single employee came in 100% charged and ready. If nobody ever missed a phone call. If they didn’t stop until they closed the sale. If they spent 100% of their time and energy on driving your business forward. We’re talking engaged employees, who are passionate and committed. That’s what we at LifeXchange Solutions do, we come in and consult in your business, helping you to fine-tune your organisational side. Take a look at our science-based organisational management solutions – or contact us here.
For personal growth, see our exciting non-profit opportunities for you as an individual under LifeXChange Community.
HOW LIFEXCHANGE DEVELOPED THIS EXPLANATION FOR HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS
If you don’t know who we are, LifeXchange Solution’s founder Dr Cobus Oosthuizen (PhD Human Behaviour) and his team spent over 13 years studying neuroscience, neurolinguistic programming and behavioural psychology, and then practically testing theories and methods among at-risk youth, gangsters and the homeless on the Cape Flats.
They compared this data with all the latest research on high-performance individuals and how humans develop and grow from around the world, built models to understand the similarities and differences, and was able to come up with some of the most exciting insights into the human mind and behaviour.
Today, 16 professional associations, including the SABPP, recognise and accredit our services such as neuromanagement workshops, neuro mentoring training, Agile Excellence management training and organisational development.
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