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Mind Magic for Internal Conflict – Cool Tools for Personal Effectiveness


October 12th, 2016

- Updated on

March 21, 2018 - 4:08pm
If we look closely at ourselves, each of us can identify internal conflicts that we wrestle with; certain behaviors, anxieties, or roadblocks that keep us from accomplishing all we can achieve. In some of us, it is a fear of public speaking, in others – unconscious beliefs about our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes even those things we picked up about ourselves and our capabilities way back in elementary school can cause us to freeze up when situations trigger those old memories.
Certainly, we would like to leave these self-defeating internal conflicts behind, but may not be sure of effective ways to do so. Can the powerful applications of neuroscience give us tools to improve our personal effectiveness, removing roadblocks to our success?
In Episode 5 of HR Studio Podcast: How Brain Science Can Change Your Life and Make You a Better Leader neuroscientist Dr. Srini Pillay, of Harvard Medical School, sheds intriguing light on this ever growing body of knowledge that each of us can use to manage the internal conflicts in our day-to-day work lives and beyond.

Neuroscience - The Basics

What are some neuroscience basics we can draw upon to make these changes?
  • We have a thinking brain and a feeling (emotional) brain. The thinking brain is impacted by reactions and anxieties in the emotional brain, shifting blood flow from the thinking brain, short-circuiting effective problem solving.
  • The unconscious does more than 90% of the brain’s work. There are effective techniques you can use to harness the brain’s unconscious functions, thus improving effectiveness.
  • Your brain can change. The messages you produce and send yourself can alter the neuro-connections that drive thinking and feeling.
  • Your brain does not recognize the word “not” when under stress. Actions can be driven by positive or negative messaging you send yourself. Speak positively to drive positive action.  

Working My Own Neuroscience ‘Magic’

Kathy Flora tree top ropes courseNot long after researching this post, a friend and I spent a thrilling morning at a tree-top ropes course in rural Florida. We tackled increasingly difficult obstacles requiring focus, determination, confidence and a lot of upper body strength.
Each level tested our mettle, whether a wobbly rope bridge of log pendulums, a series of swaying logs webbed together end upon end, or a ladder to the treetops, leading to an old fashioned jungle gym suspended 60 feet above the palmettos.
Each challenge brought a sense of athletic satisfaction that this novice fitness aficionado had never experienced. But lingering in my mind and in the pit of my stomach was my ever-present fear of heights.
How could I possibly enjoy the 80-foot tall zip line, the reward at the end of the course, if I let this fear get the best of me? Internal conflict loomed. Should I give in to my racing mind, quaking legs and pounding heart, foregoing the capstone event of the morning; or would I address the roadblock my anxiety threw in my path, climbing that 80-foot pole and sailing over the treetops for a quarter mile, capturing the promised thrill and the triumph of overcoming a lifelong fear?
Sound familiar? If you’ve ever felt panic rising when it was your turn to walk on stage to give that year-end report in spite of the honor of being the one selected for the spotlight, or if you circled the parking lot for 15 minutes trying to quell the jitters before walking in to meet your new team of direct reports, or if the project due next Friday remained half done on your desk – a victim of your perfectionism and procrastinating tendencies, you know the feeling. You want the reward and satisfaction inherent in the challenge, but you’ll only achieve it if you can better manage your own internal conflict.
So what finally happened at the ropes course? I stood a distance away from the dreaded zip-line pole, watching others gleefully scramble to the top for the final squealing rush to the finish. I dearly wanted that same rush. What would happen if I tested out the neuroscience strategies Dr. Pillay shared with us in that podcast to manage my anxiety? It certainly couldn’t hurt to try. 
  • First, I cleared my mind, consciously focusing on stilling my breathing and slowing my heart rate. This mindful approach is designed to redirect blood-flow away from the anxious amygdala screaming “what if’s” in my head, to the cerebral cortex where my rational mind resides.  
  • Next, I employed positive self-talk, a technique of positive messaging and visualization employed by numerous athletes. In his podcast, Dr. Pillay recommended speaking to yourself out loud, calling yourself by name and using the second person pronoun, “you” to deliver your message. Then I visualized myself safely climbing each rung hammered into that pole, finally standing far above the trees with a big smile on my face. It was time to climb.

One rung at a time, I repeated my mantra, “Kathy, I know you can do this. You can, you will, I am proud of you, Kathy. You can get to the top, one step at a time. Kathy, you will triumph. You’ll sail on down that zip-line, smiling all the way.”

Over and over I repeated that series of positive messages, until I stood on the peak platform surveying the treetops for miles and miles around. The verbalization shifted my attention from the fear to the solution - climbing to the top one step at a time. The neuroscience worked and what a thrill it was!

Neuroscience Strategies Overcome Internal Conflict

So next time you feel frozen, unable to move forward, try this strategy that Dr. Pillay calls CIRCA, to calm your anxious brain, to connect to your intention, and to harness the brain to take you to your goal:
  • (Chunking) Pause and breathe. Once calm, think through and break down the challenge you face into small, doable steps.
  • (Ignoring) Focus on your goal. Consciously turn away from the racing thoughts, turning your focus onto your intention.
  • (Reality) Check in with yourself. What can you do to manage this challenge better? Call yourself by name. Speak your intention and the steps you’ll take to get there out loud.
  • (Control) Identify what you can control and what you cannot. Focus only on what you can control. Keep up the self-talk throughout.  Be positive.
  • (Attention) Consciously shift from the problem to the solution. Step out and act – one step at a time.
Certainly if these neuroscience tips helped me overcome an internal conflict deeply seated since childhood, they can help each of you challenge your own roadblocks, enabling you to accomplish your personal and professional goals. You can overcome your internal conflicts. Your mind can work ‘magic’ to take you there.

Kathy Flora is a Career and Executive Coach and AJO Blogger who is actively pursuing her life’s passion, helping others find and fulfill theirs. Known as a positive change agent, mentor and guide, she has assisted hundreds of leaders and their teams understand their strengths, collaborate effectively, and drive organizational success. She has a special affinity for working with virtual teams, using webinars, virtual meet-ups, and online collaborative communities to optimize communication and productivity. Her experience spans over 25 years in executive management and leadership, career development, facilitation, and consulting in private firms, state government, and in federal agencies.