Imagine someone close to you. It could be a family member or a co-worker or a friend.
Now imagine that you thought this person was going to do something, but they didn’t. It could be as mundane as not showing up on time, or not getting back to you when you expected, or bringing the wrong appetizer to your party. It could be a bigger issue.
You had certain expectations, and this person didn’t meet those expectations. The question is, how do you react?
How you react in a stressful situation is automatic. You can’t help it. Your reaction happens in milliseconds. Your blood pressure might rise. You might even get some adrenaline flowing through your bloodstream. You might want to fight or flee. You may feel dread at what the future holds.
We do this because our brains have created neural pathways to protect us. Sometimes these pathways come from the oldest part of our brain – the amygdala. Sometimes these pathways have been created from events in our childhood. They can be very helpful pathways in many cases. Because these pathways exist, our brain uses them – automatically.
Our reactions are automatic, but our responses are not. What I mean is that the way you feel, the neurochemicals that enter your system are automatic. What you choose to do as a result of how you feel – your responses – are not.
You have the option of creating new neural pathways, new ways of responding to stressful situations, new ways of framing your perspective on what is happening around you to improve your performance.
When you create new neural pathways, you can do things in different and better ways and you can accomplish things you never thought possible before.
So How Do We Create New Ways of Being?
The answer is to observe, pause and (sometimes) reframe.
Imagine you have a camera on the ceiling behind you that is always watching you. It can see what you do, hear what you do, and … it can even observe what you are thinking.
Imagine this camera is there all the time, wherever you are.
Now, imagine a room where someone is always watching the images and sounds and thoughts that are coming through on that camera. And that person is you.
You are the observer.
Your job is just to observe. You are not a judge. You simply watch and listen wih great curiosity.
When the observer sees something happen, the observer can say “isn’t it interesting that I reacted that way”. The more the observer notices, the more the observer will see behaviors that they can begin to understand.
These are the patterns that exist in our brain. These patterns are actual neural pathways that have been carved out for many many years.
When I coach my CEOs, I refer to these as success patterns. Highly successful people have “hard-wired” success patterns. These success patterns have gotten them where they are. They work! Most of the time. Until they don’t.
We will invariably find ourselves in situations where things aren’t going as well as they used to.
For a CEO, their company isn’t performing up to expectations. And they don’t know why.
What is usually going on is that our success patterns (or our automatic responses) aren’t useful anymore. They aren’t serving us because the world has changed around us and we haven’t changed with it.
Let’s face it. We don’t wake up in the morning and say “I can change my success patterns. I can develop new ways of interacting with the world. I’m going to change!”
What usually happens is that we find ourselves frustrated and unhappy. And we aren’t even sure why.
But to achieve all our goals in life, to achieve true happiness, we usually need to change our brains. We need to develop new success patterns. We need to build new neural pathways.
A Real Life Example of Changing Your Neural Pathways During a Stressful Situation
For example: let’s say someone walks in to speak with you and they tell you some bad news. What they have to say is very stressful. Whatever expectations you had, have not been met.
How you react in a stressful situation is automatic. You can’t help it. The way you immediately feel is the way you’re going to feel.
Now, if you step back into the observer role, and – very importantly – you pause (by taking a deep breath), you can say “isn’t it interesting that I reacted that way.” I got really upset. I thought terrible things about this person … and on and on.
The beauty in observing and pausing is that you realize you now have an option to change the way you feel – to choose. To change your behavior. To change whatever pattern that might have served you in the past and create a brand new one – here and now.
Going forward, you might instead become curious. You might ask questions. You might even evoke some empathy for that person’s situation.
By observing and pausing, you don’t have to live as an automaton. You can create new success patterns that serve you much better. You can change the way your brain works.
How do we learn the pause? The best way I know how to achieve this is through meditation. Meditation can connect you to something bigger than yourself. It can help you recognize the value of the pause.
In meditation, you often learn how to breathe better. If you are faced with a stressful situation and you stop to take a deep breath, that is your pause.
Now, if in addition to your pause you say at magic phrase “isn’t it interesting I reacted that way”, you will start to think differently. You will start to make better choices and not rely on your old neural pathways but rather on the new neural pathways that you create. You can change your brain to operate better to serve you better. You can continually grow and improve as a person.
Not only are you going to perform at a higher level, but you are going to be happier as well.
Changing Your Automatic Reactions
Let’s talk about reframing for a moment. I’ve just spoken about how to change your brain and the way it reacts automatically. What about situations that happen over longer time frames? How can we create new neural pathways to serve us better in these situations?
The key is to adopt a reframing mindset. Remember the observer role? Remember the question – isn’t it interesting I reacted that way?
A reframing mindset is similar. You are still the observer. The slight variation in your question is to observe the way you have been thinking about something and say – isn’t it interesting I have been thinking about this situation this way?
Now, you can ask yourself – what is another way for me to think about this situation that can be more useful, more optimistic, more powerful? How can I choose a better way?
Here’s a Story About How I Reframed a Situation in My Life
I often give talks at conferences. Before COVID I was giving a lot of them. I began to notice that more often than not, I was the oldest person in the room.
My framing was … OMG the average age in most Silicon Valley is something like 26. No one will ever want to hire me again. I’m too old! No one will want to hear from me … I don’t fit in.
But I observed where my mind went. I paused. I took a deep breath. I noticed how I was thinking about this situation. I asked myself how I could reframe my situation.
I created a new framing for my next talk. I got up on stage and said to myself, I’m the wisest, most experienced person in the room! Everyone in the audience really wants to hear from me. They want to hear my wisdom. They want to hear my conclusions from all my experience.
I am going to be the most valuable speaker at this entire conference.
But here’s the best part. Not only did that give me tremendous confidence all throughout my talks, but it gave me the very idea to become a CEO coach.
Observe. Pause. Ask yourself how you can reframe this situation so that you look forward to it and make the very best of it. Choose a different path.
When you are facing a situation you don’t like, realize you can change your brain.
- Become the observer. Become curious about how you are reacting or thinking about the situation.
- Pause and take some deep breaths.
- Choose a different way of responding in the moment or choose to reframe what’s in front of you so you step into that situation in a more powerful and happier way.
Contact Glenn Gow Today
I love coaching CEOs and want to help make you an even better CEO. Let’s decide if we are a fit for each other. Schedule a time to talk with me at calendly.com/glenngow. I look forward to speaking with you soon.