Hope or Hype – what a difference a letter can make

Recently a colleague introduced me to the work of Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist in Australia who has decided to use her knowledge for practical application rather than just research. Her focus is mainly around being healthy towards your neurobiology which I think is starting to become a big topic. If there’s one thing that all this focus on neuroscience seems to have done, it is to bring attention to the detrimental effects of some of our workplaces and working habits. Otherwise it is a hidden consequence that we may well realise when it’s too late.

Sarah has a wealth of useful and pragmatic articles and links as well as running a distance learning programme herself, which I was thinking of doing although I’m a bit tied up with work and DProf at the moment. I have found the articles to be balanced around hype and hope which is refreshing. I’m definitely more cautious on neuroplasticity conversations and it is interesting to ask people what they mean when they say ‘neuroplasticity’, as many aren’t sure.

On the other hand, I am getting much more comfortable with people’s diverse views/ opinions when they are quite sure they are right (and therefore you are not right). I’ve had to rewrite my Ontology/ Epistemology (what information is appropriate for this research) section in several versions requiring different word limits and I am really embracing Interpretivism, as every time I rewrite the section I think about it some more. (And I wish universities would consolidate their forms – is 500 vs 300 words really that big a deal for the form, as it really is for the writer especially when it’s already been cut from 1500.)

Somewhere along the rewrites and thinking about how much neuroscience really is an interpretation – an educated guess – at the moment, a shift happened. I’ve realised that many of the articles and neuroscience TEDTalk presenters I’ve allowed myself to interpret as being very certain and sure about what they are espousing. Although it’s easy for that to happen if you choose to leave out (given the time constraints or word limits) the aspects that are less certain or cast doubt. I’ve read enough material now which includes the left-out aspects to remain hopeful but not hyped and I believe overtime firmer ground will be established.

So overall, I am now much happier with someone’s opinion really being just an opinion no matter how it’s stated. It’s quite liberating and I can see the difference it makes as I am less phased by those conversations now – I am much less affected by their certainty in how right they are. In fact, I had one yesterday during a coaching session where I might have backed off but I waited calmly whilst the coachee finished and then just as calmly stated my thoughts. It was much easier to wait and listen knowing it was just a view, an interpretation and I didn’t need to rush with my version. Both views ‘sat on the table’ with equal weight and I could see the coachee reflecting on each and contrasting them both. I don’t think he was used to people giving unconditional opinions and it allowed us to have a more balanced conversation afterwards.

For my first Literature Review book, I have read “The Power of Habit” (Charles Duhigg) which is very readable and is quite different to Kotter’s 8 Steps of Change. He does occasionally mention parts of the brain but I wondered why he bothered. In the end I decided that it helped support his premises surrounding habits and habit change. He focuses on ‘Cue – Routine – Reward’ and has these thoughts on changing a habit:

  • It’s vital to find the Cue – and use it to trigger a different habit or to avoid it
  • Experiment to understand what the Reward actually is – going to buy a cookie could be for the sugar rush or a break from boredom or to chat to friends
  • Practice, practice, practice the new Routine – it won’t change otherwise as you’ve practised the old routine a lot (Do coachees try to cheat this step??)
  • Change the Reward in some way if required especially if it’s unhelpful
  • Plan upfront on how to handle when it gets difficult and what might make you give up on the new Routine (I think this could be so useful in the coaching I do)
  • Wrap something new in the familiar as we like familiar (Interesting thought for my coaching too)
  • Enlist support and involve others, as making it social helps
  • Recording what actually happens can in itself cause change to happen. Apparently, people who consistently over time record what they really eat, lose weight much faster. It seems that they can plan ahead so the changes have a better success rate

For organisational change it was interesting to read about how the strong and weak ties between people and groups can also enable change. Weak ties cause habits to spread to more groups easier. Strong ties make it more compelling for people to want to or to have to change. He uses different well-known cases studies to illustrate the point and I found those as fascinating as the point they were illuminating.

On a final note, (UWTSD) the Wales Institute for Work Based Learning (WIWBL) is delighted to announce its inaugural one-day Conference on Coaching and Mentoring in the Workplace: Linking performance with wellbeing. It will be an interesting day. Please take a look at it here.

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