Professor Steve Peters in his life-changing book, The Chimp Paradox, discusses the impact of two of the brain functions, those of emotional and rational thinking.
He makes the point that we are supplied at birth with a part of the brain over which we have virtually no control in just the same way that we can’t control the colour of our eyes.
This part of the brain that he calls the Chimp is that which controls our emotions and feelings. We all know how we can brood over some event and worry about its impact and what effect would it have on our lives.
In the film, The Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks, someone asks the hero if he is worried about the situation. He asks, “Why, would it help?”
Many years ago I was employed as a specialist technical engineer for a particular engineering product. I had a stormy relationship with the Leeds Branch Manager of the company who called me one Friday afternoon to say “I want you in my office at 9.00am on Monday morning” and put the phone down.
I spent the weekend in the realisation that I was about to be fired, that I would have no job, my marriage would fail and there was nothing for it but to jump off Beachy Head. It was a downward spiral of negativity.
I arrived at the Leeds office as demanded, and in a state of sheer panic as to what was going to happen, he said, “Thank you for coming over at such short notice. We have a problem with a customer for your product and you are the only one who can solve it”.
Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and I have known many troubles but most of them never happened”.
It is usually the Chimp talking and it needs to be managed by a touch of rational and logical thinking. By standing back from the problem and analysing what can be done the emotions can dissipate and we can regain our calm rather than being agitated.
There is, I believe, another facet to this theme. As we progress through life we naturally build a vast database of experience and knowledge some of which is valuable and some, on the face of it, useless.
Nevertheless it is there in the depths of our subconscious and it is just a matter of recall to be able to use the experience in the present.
We call it our gut feeling or intuition but I prefer to look upon it as the result of experience stored in the database of our mind.
There are instances where we can actually draw on experience to tell us how we should proceed and that is rational. However, if we just allow our brain to wander over a problem with the intention of solving it then it can often do the trick.
I recall an instance where a member of my Vistage CEO peer group had a serious problem in his business and I suggested that he take a day out just to think about it, to take a metaphorical walk on the beach.
He resisted for a while but eventually took a day off to think about the problem. He didn’t walk on a beach but stayed at home quietly overlooking his garden and meditated.
He said that the result was neither positive nor negative. There was in fact, no immediate result.
That was the same day but a couple of days later he told me that all of a sudden the answer had popped out and he could move forward with some confidence.
The fact is that we can often trust our experience to work on an issue and let what appears to be intuition take over.
We have often been there before and the experience has disappeared into the recesses of our mind. A little quiet reflection can bring the solution out. Leaders should never disregard the power of taking time out just to do some thinking. It is always time well spent.
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