Meaning: Karen Pine on how to change your brain

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

karen-pine.jpgWhat do businesses do when the way to develop people? They put them in the equivalent of a classroom. We go on a course, the employer tick a box, and then we go back to our desks and do what we always did. Why? The brain is a habit machine. When we learn, we create connections between neurons. The more often we use a pathway, the more likely we are to use it. Our brains are hard-wired for inertia. Argument doesn’t make a difference – action does.

She cites the example of a 42 year old engineer with a stressed life – redundancy at work, difficult children at home. Work put him on a Do programme to reduce stress. One day, he was given the task of a 15 minute walk. He did it after work. And continued doing it each day. And then, one day, his autistic child came with him. And started talking to him. It’s really difficult to make big sweeping changes in you life – but you can make small changes, and create ripple effect. If you do nothing, nothing will change. If you do something, you don’t know what might happen.

To change behaviour, you have to break down old habits. We all have behavioural patterns we use all the time, but we also have ones we don’t use that could serve us well. On the way to a crucial strategy meeting, one operations director got a Do message telling him to be unassertive. He was persuaded by a colleague to give it a whirl. At first it was hard, but then he listened and learnt. He discovered that one that he thought was on his wavelength wasn’t – and the ineffectual one was asking probing questions and insights. If you keep reusing the same behaviour trait – you’ll just stay where you are. You stay on that same brain pathway and don’t develop.

Just having one behaviour is like going around with just hammer. Sometimes it’ll help, and sometimes it will smash everything to pieces…

To grow the toolkit, you make people more flexible, and you do that one activity, one Do at a time. The adult brain can rewire itself – but you do it by changing people’s behaviour not people’s thinking. It’s CBT turned on its head.


Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.