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How’s your Gear Shifter working?

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Cognitive Flexibility is a must for business owners and leaders

Have you ever caught yourself doing the same thing exactly the same way as you always have done it? Have you heard yourself perhaps grumbling that what you are doing just never seems to pan out the way you want it to, whether it’s a conversation you keep having over and over with your partner, or employee, or whether it’s a task or procedure that gets done but rarely if ever produces your desired result?

We humans are creatures of habit. That sets us up to do things or have conversations in a same or similar way, which we do so we can show up, accomplish something, not have to give it too much thought, and then move on to the next thing.

Imagine if we had to expend great energy and thought into EVERYTHING we do all day… “should I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth this morning?” is one example. There are certain ways we’ve trained our brain to function and get through our day in a way that we can save our energy for bigger problems and interests.

Some of us however, have taken routines or even found comfort in doing things the same way to the point that we have stopped considering whether the way we are doing something is actually beneficial. We complain we can’t get our spouse to do x, or that our employees are lazy and they won’t do x, or that we have to keep our procedures or policies “just like they are” and then we complain because things are not working out the way we like!

Aside from the lure of ease and comfort of routines, some people have what is know as cognitive inflexibility. They find it difficult to “switch gears” think out of the box, approach a person, policy or conversation differently or see new possibilities and solutions to old and new issues.

Cognitive Flexibility on the other hand is the ability to adapt our behavior and thinking in response to the current environment. In other words to have the ability to break free of thinking and doing in all the old ways, so we can think and take action that adapts to our new and current environment or situation.

What can make this more difficult for some is a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is the brain’s “gear shifter”. If this part of the brain is working too hard, or conversely not hard enough, a person can get stuck in thought over many things large and small.

In fact people with gear shifter problems can be argumentative, inflexible, and serve to keep a relationship, business or venture stuck.

If this sounds like you, then pay attention to the times you hear yourself say things like “this is the way we’ve always done it”, or, “this is the way we do it”. That kind of inflexibility also makes it difficult for people to both engage WITH you and feel engaged in the workplace as it stifles creativity and the ability for others to feel heard when they may have ideas to shift productivity or change policy in positive ways.

If your gear shifter seems like it needs a tune up here’s some things to pay attention to:

  1. Increase Awareness- Increase awareness by listening to your inner voice. What is it saying? Can you hear how you may be stuck in old thinking that is not serving you well NOW?

  2. Ask Others- Muster up the courage to ask people what they notice about how well you adapt to new environments, change, or how well you are able to consider many possibilities for solutions to current problems.

  3. Practice new ways of thinking- When faced with an old or new problem make a list of the possible solutions and then consider the impact of each one. If you are a small business owner, ask your partner, spouse, employees etc. for their ideas and input.

  4. Engage with others. Instead of thinking you have to keep plugging away, make the time to sit down with your business partner, leadership team or management and ask questions. Then listen to their input. We don’t have to come up with all the solutions all the time and in fact, it often goes better when we enlist the help and input of others.

Cognitive flexibility is something that can take time to learn and practice. Additionally, there are things we can do to improve the health and function of our brain. Today take a deep breath, slow down and look for the opportunities to engage with yourself first and then with others to begin to open up a whole world of new possibilities!

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