Neuroscience Essentials

Developing and applying knowledge of the brain can significantly improve our productivity, quality of life, and working relationships. Kintla provides a straightforward model that translates the science into practical guidelines that address the following: 

  1. how the brain works 
  2. implications for individuals and organizations 
  3. tools and techniques for improving day-to-day effectiveness 

This post summarizes our perspective and techniques for the practical application of neuroscience.

The brain constantly seeks equilibrium

The brain has evolved to maintain equilibrium. When a stressor shifts things out of balance, the brain responds to restore it. These stressors can come from within, from others around us, and from our surrounding environment. If we feel hungry, we eat. When tired, we sleep. When facing a threat, we fight or run. 

This balance is driven by our Stress Response System (SRS), which can be triggered by anything that disrupts our normal state including work issues (excessive workloads), personal anxiety (financial worries) and biological factors (illness, injuries, fatigue) as well as outright threats (anger directed at you from another person). 

The SRS is managed by a complex array of neural networks deep in the brain. When we are in a relaxed state, the full brain is engaged and the highest level of thinking is working in our cortex. When we are operating under mild tension, activity is shifted to the emotional or limbic brain. When a threat is present, activity is directed to the lower and more primitive areas of the brain (often called the brain stem or reptile brain). The lower areas are faster and more automatic which works well when we need to escape or fight; however, it does not work well when we need to consider options or solve problems.

The brain’s version of equilibrium is often wrong

The brain is primitive and developed millions of years ago, yet we expect it to calibrate our behavior under extremely complicated conditions (e.g., multi-tasking in a busy office; interpreting subtle communication from someone in a different culture via video conference; accountability to deliver an innovative product under tight deadlines to beat competition to market).

In these demanding situations, the brain can cause us to do exactly the wrong thing. Knowing how it can go wrong, identifying when this is happening, and correcting for it behaviorally is critical to personal effectiveness and productivity. It is not difficult to come up with examples:

  • We want people to be creative and innovative, but do it quickly and under pressure. The brain senses pressure and shifts to the more focused and simpler Limbic brain — good for task work, but not for conceptual thinking and synthesis of existing ideas into new ones or developing entirely new ideas.

  • We want people to accept direct, honest constructive feedback even though our primitive brains see it as a threat and downgrades our thinking ability in favor of the muscle power needed for a fight. 

  • We want people to stay focused on their work and life to keep themselves and others around them safe from harm, but it’s a fight to keep the brain focused on the task at hand without zoning out, drifting off or going onto autopilot.

The SRS shifts our cognitive and attention levels to match up with incoming signals — all good. However, the sensing system is not calibrated for the 21st century and often misclassifies incoming triggers or simply can't stay focused long enough or intensely enough to handle the volume and complexity of a typical day, let alone an especially demanding one.

A deliberate approach to overcoming the brain's mistakes

If the brain seeks equilibrium but is often wrong, simply letting the brain find its comfort zone without some sort of corrective strategy is not a good idea. Unfortunately, we cannot solve this problem by “putting the brain in charge of itself”, so to speak. Once the SRS engages and shifts activity from the limbic brain to the brain stem, the cortex cannot simply order the change reversed—it is no longer in charge. 

A better strategy is to develop skills that allow us to sense through indirect means when these shifts are happening and act very early in the shift. Kintla’s ARRC model offers a way of addressing this problem by helping people: 

  1. develop awareness of stress states and how they change 
  2. regulate to shift states in a favorable direction 
  3. reflect to think and learn 
  4. use the outcomes of reflection for change that improves effectiveness and productivity

By learning and applying the ARRC techniques, people at all levels and in all types of situations can become fluent in a model that allows them to avoid falling victim to the primitive brain and making best use of the creative and focused brain as the situation demands.

Building Capability

Learning and applying the skills to manage the brain through the Kintla ARRC model and embedding the Kintla neuroscience model in the culture of an organization can facilitate individual growth, improve leadership capability and create competitive advantage.

We believe that these changes are best implemented through collaboration between Kintla coaches and internal champions. Thusly, we help organizations customize their plan and materials and prepare internal champions, facilitators, and trainers to implement the neuroscience technology. We also customize the change strategy to fit client needs and develop programs for individuals, teams or entire cultures.

Throughout the change process, Kintla coaches are available for help and support, but focus on helping internal teams independently apply neuroscience in a way that is powerful for their own organizations.

Building internal neuroscience knowledge, program delivery and change management capability aligns the approach directly with specific client needs and increases the probability lasting changes.