You can’t get through 10 minutes of the day without hearing about the coronavirus – on the television, the radio, on the web, your inbox, or just in conversation. Neurocapability’s Learning and Development Manager, Penny Curnow, explains how the brain responds to threats like COVID-19
Has there been a story of such rapidly-changing magnitude in our lifetime as the COVID-19 pandemic? Given these uncertain times, I would like to offer some things that I was reminded of last weekend and spent last week thinking about.
It all starts with the fact that we are biologically wired for survival! Please read on and contribute your own thoughts with a comment.
When our survival is threatened (as it is now) we go into Fight/Flight/Freeze mode. Right now, though, there is nowhere to “fly”. The alternative is to fight or freeze. We are seeing this in our supermarkets and we are seeing this in the streets. We all want to protect our cave/home/family.
As we know our brain is a prediction machine, it is constantly predicting an outcome so we can have certainty. The challenge with this is that we have no memory to call on that resembles this situation right now. So what are we predicting unconsciously? Our biases are at the forefront as are our cognitive and perceptual factors.
As we don't have a reference point we will then draw on whatever confirms our predictions as memory, this could be a movie (Walking Dead comes to mind) or other pandemics we have seen on a movie or tv series or even game we have played. The brain will draw on whatever it can for certainty – right or wrong.
As Leaders, it is up to us to guide ourselves (our inner narrative) and others through the maze of information that is in front of us. We need to be questioning bias or perceptual/cognitive factors to make sure we are maintaining our self-regulation and awareness in such uncertain times.
A colleague shared with me last week that her Pastor said the Chinese word for CRISIS was made up of two characters, one is danger and the other is opportunity. I really thought that this was a wonderful representation of the pathway forward. We know there is danger, however, there is also opportunity (we saw this with Italy and the people coming together on their balconies supporting each other singing the national anthem).
One of our Alumni is in Italy. She said the isolation was causing loneliness amongst people and this was causing depression.
Have a think about what your brain-friendly strategy is going forward in these uncertain times.
Here are some ideas:
- Prime myself every day that this will come to an end.
- Make sure my inner narrative is serving me and if it isn’t then how can I edit it to become more useful?
- If I feel overwhelmed, remember to chunk things down to little chunks - just think about what you need to do to make it to morning tea and then what you can do in your next chunk of time
- Where is my attention placed: On the negatives or being solution-focused?
- What is it that I am predicting?
- Stay curious around self and others rather than judging behaviours of others.
- What is my language (words) saying to myself and others?
- If I can't see a path forward in a given situation, I will call a colleague to discuss. We are born to connect!
- What are some ways that we can think differently about our connections - instead of having a coffee together let's do a skype or zoom together so that we can still connect?
Feel free to make a comment and add to this list.
These are some of the ideas my colleagues added through comments on the draft.
Catherine: As much as we can, take a walk outside, maybe early in the morning in fresh air, priming ourselves to notice something new we may never have noticed before: interesting roof line, bird calls in the absence of traffic/planes overhead, the directional flow of a river - being curious about our ‘usual’ surroundings, and allowing wonder to arise.
Karen: Just lovely Penny. It's also a great time to practise mindfulness - take the time out to stop and notice the very small things - from a blade of grass to the sunset. Whatever it is, it will give you a reboot.
Helen: Brilliant post. Thanks so much Penny. Nature therapy works wonders for me. Watching the clouds, walking the dog. Makes me feel grounded. I know connections are so important right now but when the conversation always turns into one about COVID 19 how do we navigate that? I’d love some insight on that one. I know it’s important to talk about it. But I’d also like some other conversations.