Brain Science, Evolution, + You

Contribution by: Louis Alloro

It’s “my second favorite organ” [Woody Allen]

No two brains are alike. We are all uniquely different and this diversity can be our greatest asset, IF we’re open to thinking about things/life/ [+ diversity, etc., et. al.] in new ways, with fresh eyes. Yes, we can think about how we think. Takes mindfulness, inquiry, and patience [coaching helps too].

Allowing is challenging. We may not be built for it. Resistance seems to be the name of our game as humans.

I have spent the past couple of weeks learning about neuroscience – fascinating research on the way the brain works – so connected to our bodies, our biology and our minds, our psychologies . . . We’ve come a long way evolutionarily and we continue to grow. Why would we stop? Question is: in which direction will we go? It’s time we consider considering our own [positive] evolution.

In this new era [an “inflection point”, as positive psychologist Marty Seligman says] the choice is each of [y]ours: come to a new place, or drag your heels and stay behind. Friction is necessary either way, although it only lasts for a short amount of time in the transition to transcend. Choice is [y]ours.

For me, the transcendent plane is a lovely place where people are good and life is meaningful, full of joyful, easy, and peaceful moments. When I am here [not a given, not a constant – I need to be there too, in fact], I am whole. I am we.

I spent the weekend at a summit of “Creating We” Institute, a group of change-agents working in various capacities to affect individual and systemic change. I was probably the youngest one there and the word on the street from the elders is that this neuroscientific piece has been what’s missing from sustaining culture change in organizations.

How we think affects how we feel physically + emotionally + chemically = energetically.

Essentially, we’re constantly creating new OR affirming old neural connections – every moment of every day of our lives. The Challenge is that our thinking patterns are habitual, engrained in our DNA. This habit of thinking may be getting in the way of us fully living our lives –causing stagnancy (ordinance) and resistance. Do all of our thoughts serve us?

Culture is also habitual. After WWII, with many vets coming back from war f-ed up in the head, psychology research money was spent on studying things like PTSD, stress, and depression. Our focus has been [at least for the past 50 years] how to fix what’s wrong with people [a deficit model] where we focus our attention on problems and then guess what we get? More problems. Organizational development expert David Cooperrider postulates “Human systems move in the direction of the questions they ask.” When we ask questions about how to fix what’s wrong . . .

Psychologists and psychiatrists [and now, psychopharmacologists!] use the DSM manual of psychological disorders to diagnose peoples’ problems. Interestingly, the DSM is more than triple in size today than it was thirty years ago, depression is the most reported disorder in the world and the suicide rate is at an all time high. Seemingly, we have more than we have ever had, so why are people unhappy? The questions remain: Because there is so much of a classification of weakness, is that why so many people identify with it?

Regardless of why, the fact is that there are many people that don’t feel good about whom they are in the world just as much as the bullies who try to make them feel this way. It’s a viscous cycle where collective neurochemistry is such that we are [perhaps subconsciously] choosing to perceive life and each other as threats, not opportunities. We stop growing because we are paralyzed by stress hormones like cortizol that keep us within the bounds of ordinance. Threats cause resistance and resistance leads to . . .

While threat mode may have made sense for our more “animalistic” ancestors, let’s not forget: we are animals. We still carry this tendency in our DNA, in our history, so it takes our intention and attention to create positive change. When you hear the phrase “keep [something] in mind…” it’s because our attention is so limited in the most advanced parts of our brains that we literally default to more primitive ways because it’s easier.

However, when we choose opportunities, we are choosing extraordinariness, innovation, and love. Here, we release neurotransmitters [combinations of hormones] that help us feel good, connect, and interact. Think of a moment from your childhood that made you real happy and you’ll feel what what I mean [otherwise hard to do with just the imperfect words from which I have to choose– remember, no two brains are alike].

1. We must focus our attention on thinking positive thoughts.
2. And we must focus our attention on doing the things that make us feel good.

And not in that order. Positive evolution occurs in this interactive space which is as dynamic and as un-linear as you can possibly imagine. And as the speed of life and of change continue to increase, we must be mindful and adaptable. In other words, we must grow, evolve.

But again, the choice is [y]ours. In which direction do you go?

From Louis Alloro’s blog post on Nov 3, 2010.

*Photo Credit:


Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP, is a Fellow at George Mason University’s Center for Consciousness & Transformation, and owns a NYC-based consultancy which specializes in consulting services to learning organizations who want to learn how to think differently. Louis uses a unique, proprietary approach to building social, emotional, psychological, and communal capital which facilitates growth and resilience, even in the face of challenges. He has founded  the SOMO (Social/Emotional+) Leadership Movement, a city-wide intervention in Cleveland, Ohio, teaching positive psychology in learning labs all across town: in businesses, schools, community groups, living rooms — and baking principles of applied positive psychology into as many existing projects and initiatives within the city system as possible. He is one of the first one hundred people in the world to hold a master of applied positive psychology (MAPP) and studied at the University of Pennsylvania with Marty Seligman, known for his work in learned helplessness and learned optimism.

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