Written by: Abigail Stason, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Why are all the skills I teach grounded in neuroscience and biology? Today, thanks to advances in science, we know precisely how our brains and biology affect our behavior. And yet, most people get into a mental debate or drama about behavior instead of educating themselves and checking it against their direct experience. Like we know two plus two equals four, we know what causes our behavior. Humans are a mixture of biochemical events.
Consider epilepsy. About a century ago, epilepsy was viewed as a mental illness. Before that, a communicable disease. Going back further, it was said to be caused by menstruation or excessive sex. Going back even further, it was perceived that if someone was “seized,” they were a witch, and seizures were a sign of being possessed by a demon. Seems crazy right? Back then, the science wasn’t available. Today it is. This is our individual and collective opportunity to educate ourselves and focus on navigating the human condition.
Here are the ways science can support you in more easeful behavior, along with an inquiry for each skill:
1. Bias and stereotyping are all about the brain.
Of all the topics in this blog, we can benefit from science on the radioactive subject of racism. We all have biases, and we all stereotype. It’s part of the human condition. This is what our brain does. It thinks in many, many stereotypes. This is necessary for ordinary living and functioning. Race and gender are at the top of the list. Our brain categorizes everything and uses the categorization as the basis for normal prejudgment. No one is exempt from this process. If our brains did not categorize, we would not be able to function. Behavior becomes harmful when we don’t catch the fear response created in our brains when someone doesn’t match the stereotype. I dedicated an entire section of my book to this topic. There are numerous skills you can cultivate to use your brain more effectively.
Your inquiry: What are my biases, and how do I stereotype others?
2. Forming US vs. THEM dichotomies is all about the brain.
Our brains create Us/Them distinctions at remarkable speed. We then behave such that we favor US over THEM, especially with resources. It is okay to want to be part of any group – we are social animals.
However, when the cost of being part of the group is your integrity, values, truth, and the well-being of all, then being a part of anything exclusive has the potential for toxicity and harmful behavior. Ultimately, too, your self-esteem and those of others around you are a causality.
Check it out: How do I unconsciously fall into the Us vs. Them trap? Do I favor any US over any THEM?
3. Fear is an overpowering physiological event.
Fear is pervasive in society. It is essential to understand and be knowledgeable about the physiology of fear. Fortunately for us, brand-new neuroscience points to the biology of our experience – and with knowledge comes the opportunity for more evolved behavior. A massive neurological and physiological – and very real – event occurs in the body when we’re in fear. Learning how to navigate fear is essential.
Check it out: What happens to my behavior when my brain is hijacked by fear? What is my fear pattern?
4. The parasympathetic nervous system is your natural state.
What you want running is your parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system. The problem is that most people are in fear and hijacked by their sympathetic nervous system even though there is no real danger. This is not sustainable and leads to many health issues. Our behavior isn’t what we want it to be when in survival mode.
Check it out: Am I in a state of “rest and digest,” or has my sympathetic nervous system hijacked my physiology?
5. Oxygen is your offense.
Remember always to appreciate the power of oxygen to support your day-to-day activities. Your nervous system needs oxygen to function. Breathing increases your awareness and allows waves of emotion to move through you rapidly. When you hold your breath, or if your breath is shallow, you immediately lose presence and head straight into the drama triangle. Fear and anger will likely arise as your body fills with stale air and carbon dioxide. You’re only one or two exhales from a flow state at any time. Otherwise, you will be hijacked. When hijacked, we are vulnerable to harmful behavior.
Check it out: Is my breathing shallow or deep into my belly?
6. Loss of Control & Lack of Predictability
We must understand our relationship to control to thrive as leaders and human beings. Here’s why. Thanks to science, we know the two leading causes of stress are loss of control and lack of predictability, which equal ambiguity. Change is constant in our modern world; therefore, navigating uncertainty is an ongoing experiment. Herein lies our opportunity to evolve by understanding the biology behind stress. It takes mental strength to overcome the brain’s function to predict, and instead of cultivating this strength, we fill our time with any action to avoid the discomfort of the unknown.
Check it out: Am I trying to control something out of my control? Am I filling space with unnecessary activities such as “doom scrolling,” social media, consumption, lots of emails, etc.? Can I sit in the discomfort of my brain, trying to predict what’s next?
7. Emotional intelligence
Thanks to advances in science, we know emotional fluency is non-negotiable for resilience and necessary to support our immune system. Despite these proven scientific facts, few people are comfortable feeling their feelings. The ramifications are enormous. Click here to learn how to come into harmony with your emotions.
Check it out: What am I feeling right now, and what is any wisdom I can capture?
8. Choose compassion instead of empathy.
There is a biological difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy involves feeling the pain of someone in distress – stepping into the other person’s shoes. Here’s what’s interesting: If feeling another’s pain makes you feel awful, it affects your experience. If you are feeling highly distressed, whether due to resonating with someone else’s problem or because of your problem, your body goes into survival mode – yes, your amygdala starts firing. Compassion is the more present experience.
Check it out: How can I choose compassion instead of getting hooked by empathy?
9. The biology of conformity can be pretty disturbing.
We could spend days and weeks discussing the research on the biology of conformity. According to studies, our brains are biased to go along to get along in less than a second. The biology of conforming is so strong that people will do bad things to conform. Furthermore, being different equals being wrong, which sends the brain into a complex fear frenzy of anxiety. I’m sure you can see the practical implications of this in leadership and humanity.
Check it out: How do I go along to get along, and how do I pressure others to go along?
I created practices in response to questions asked by clients, which include all of the above. To capture the wisdom from science, all that is required is skill. There is a handbook available to you right now.
You can start practicing immediately by diving into your learning and development with my online course. And as I always say, don’t take my word for it – check it out yourself!
Abigail Stason, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
More Master Teacher than coach, Abigail “Abby” Stason is a social activist and skill builder with 20+ years of professional experience as a leader, organizational consultant, and group facilitator. As a disrupter, Abby is committed to a new social awareness in favor of exposing outdated structures that are no longer of service, giving way to the experience of peace, freedom, and truth in the world. She is a catalyst for societal evolution. In short, she helps human beings, leaders, teams, and organizations wake up by equipping them with behavioral skills for a modern world. Abby created a conscious leadership curriculum, a series of practices that are easily accessible to everyone.