Brain training to reap the rewards of global change

There is much talk about the mental and physical costs of living and working in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world but change in the workplace can also be extremely good for our brain and mental health.

Prolonged and unmanageable uncertainty triggers hypervigilance in the brain as it perceives threats.

Research indicates that uncertainty, regardless of whether the outcomes are positive or negative, evokes more fear and stress than known outcomes.

The brain strives to minimise uncertainty and, in doing so, requires extra energy from the body while increasing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.

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Challenge stress reactions

My first piece of advice during periods of major change is to keep stress in check.

Stress alters practically every part of our body including our memory, decision-making abilities, ability to pick up on cues and cognition. Try to be reflective rather than be impulsive.

Demands for change can trigger our fight or flight instincts, cause stress and debilitate our decision-making.


Seize the opportunity to learn

Following your gut feeling is not just a metaphor; our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and are in constant communication. 

Approximately 95% of our daily operations occur unconsciously, leaving only approximately 5% of our cognitive activities within the realm of consciousness including our emotions, actions, behaviours and decisions.

Yet change also triggers the activation of our frontal lobe, creating an opportunity for learning and activating our cognitive abilities – so work on your neuroplasticity.

Don’t rely on options with a familiar and known outcome and push away a ‘can’t-do’ fixed mindset.

It may be an opportunity to move into your learning zone which can play a vital role in establishing new and significant neural connections and creating neuroplasticity, i.e. the ability to change your mind through growth.

Engaging in unfamiliar and non-routine activities may present challenges and we may initially experience a sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead.

We may find ourselves delaying the start or convincing ourselves that we lack the necessary knowledge, resources, or abilities to succeed.

It is true that it may require more time and effort when facing a change, but having a growth mindset and a positive outlook can be the difference between accepting change and pursuing opportunities or not.


Practice positivity

Work outcomes tend to favour individuals with a positive mindset, and our mindset can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dismiss constant negative internal chatter and replace it with a little bit of self-praise and kindness.

Ultimately, a positive approach to change has the potential to progressively impact our own outcomes as well as that of the bottom line.

Viewing change as an avenue for embracing growth and venturing beyond our comfort zones can be beneficial by cultivating resilience and engaging in novel experiences we may have otherwise overlooked.

Who knew many of us could work well from home before the pandemic? Covid-19 has changed the way we work.

On a personal level, if you are feeling overwhelmed by change at work, it is fine to feel emotions like anger, anxiety, fear or sadness; sometimes, it is important to sit with those emotions.

Try to slow down the onslaught of your emotions, so they don’t control you. If you can, share your problems with someone you trust.

It can absolutely be true that a problem shared is a problem halved, but your mood can influence your decisions and interactions so there is also a point when you should acknowledge them and then find a way to move past them.


Lynda Shaw is a brain and behaviour specialist, neuroscientist and c-suite mentor