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Humans tend to be creatures of habit. Repetition means there are no surprises or dangers lurking in the shadows. Certain parts of the brain, including the basal ganglia, are responsible for repetitive behaviours. Breaking free of the daily routine is necessary, however, to be a more adaptable, agile, and responsive leader.
Habits are not always a bad thing. Each of us has preferences, including how we dress, how we decorate our houses, and who we choose to live and work with. Settling into a habit or preference, however, and being unable to change whatever it is can inhibit growth and agility.
The basal ganglia are located deep within the brain, and they interact with many other areas, including the brainstem, thalamus and cerebral cortex. These structures help us control motor movements, habit learning, and emotions.
Neuroscience has closely examined habit learning in recent decades. The basal ganglia interact with the cerebral cortex in corticostriatal loops (motor, visual, executive and motivational). It is thought that the basal ganglia have such a variety of functions because of these loops.1
While the basal ganglia hold our habits close, the prefrontal cortex helps us make decisions. When we routinely engage in a habitual behaviour, the prefrontal cortex is essentially on standby or idling.
Think of something you do almost every day, like tying your shoes or brushing your teeth. Do you remember actually brushing your teeth this morning, or is it so habitual that you automatically do it? You can likely check your email or read a news update while brushing your teeth because your brain doesn’t have to expend much energy on the task, leaving your prefrontal cortex free to do something else.
Fortunately, our brains exhibit neuroplasticity, which means our minds can modify neural connections. No habit is “set in stone”, so we can always choose to take a different path or discover a new possibility. Increasing your adaptability will ensure that you are exercising your prefrontal cortex, keeping your brain as healthy as possible.
Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.
Nolan Ryan, former Major League Baseball pitcher
Our adaptability keeps us continuously aware of the changing environment around us. Leaders who are not adaptable will be unlikely to keep us with the constant barrage of new information, new technologies, and changing economic conditions. We can create a culture of agility when we create effective communication between various parts of an organisation.2Large, cumbersome companies that adhere to management and leadership techniques of the past are simply unable to adapt in a climate of rapid change. Staying flexible and accepting change is key to successful adaptation, so consider these tips to help you handle uncertainty.
Adaptability is a state of mind. Our brains have an enormous capacity for change. While habits are not always bad for us, they do not require much effort from our prefrontal cortex. Venturing away from the daily grind will increase agility and adaptability, keeping our brain healthy and high-functioning.
1. Seger CA, Spiering BJ. A Critical Review of Habit Learning and the Basal Ganglia. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. 2011;5:66. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2011.00066.
2. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Model. About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].
These Stories on Adaptability
Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute
Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.
Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.
Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership
In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.
Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.
Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.
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