Have you ever wondered about your optimal working pace? Psychologists and behavior experts often try to categorize us into fixed types, guiding our career choices. However, I've always felt that there is more to pace than meets the eye. In this blog, I delve into new brain research and its implications for learning, creativity, and organizational change. Discover the power of going slow to go fast, unlocking our internal resilience. Additionally, I will share a wellbeing technique that has transformed my life and benefited the leaders I coach. Experience the growth of balance, wholeness, and aliveness. Give it a try and witness the difference.
Do you have a need for speed? That was a mantra that started in 1986 in the movie Top Gun and by today has infiltrated our society’s zeitgeist. One common example shows up in commercials about automobiles. The visual images, the music and the narrative all demonstrate caring more about speed than beauty, and with only a few exceptions, tackling treacherous terrain more than safety in superior engineering. Perhaps you are not surprised that a parallel rise in mindfulness and well-being practices has occurred during the same period, making the practice of meditation main street in personal and professional settings. The company, Calm, started with an app for meditation, and has expanded to a variety of other feature categories including Calm Business and its first clinical health offering, Calm Health. So, what’s going on here?
As complexity and uncertainty rises, we have an impulse to speed up to catch up, erroneously thinking we can get out ahead of what we perceive we are chasing, or worse perhaps feel is chasing us. Alas, there is a paradox at work because human physiology doesn’t work this way. A new study by an international team of brain researchers explored the pace at which the brain integrates information. They sought to identify what stimulates the brain to modulate pace, and how flexibility to respond to change could be related. In organizational change language we’ve said for years that a best practice as change is envisioned is for everyone involved from the board room to the front line to “go slow first to go fast.” Can you feel the tension in that statement? Can you sense what the belief underneath it might be that holds a higher value for a fast pace and causes organizational change efforts to fail 79.7% of the time? That number hasn’t budged for the 28 years I’ve been studying and working with change. One conclusion to draw is that the power of our internal belief system to motivate action is immeasurably powerful and mostly because those beliefs operate invisibly, like the autopilot on an airplane.
Allow me to geek out for a moment here. The research conducted at the University of Tübingen showed that “the brain can handle sensory input within milliseconds, however, decision-making and other complex cognitive processes may require integrating information up to several minutes.”(1) One of the conclusions drawn is that we have parts of the brain that are faster paced than others intrinsically, and each of the scales of pace are neither rigid nor invariable. To the mantra of go slow to go fast, the research also noticed that slow-paced response to a situation showed that as the neurons attended to something, they remembered the past activity better and could integrate it. This has enormous implications for learning and creativity; both of these generative qualities are essential to successfully invite and implement desired change.
Back to daily life now, how do we as leaders notice our autopilot switch, put it in pause for a moment and ask if our habits and preferences are the optimal way to interact and make decisions? I sense that the company Calm is on to something as they bring solutions that every individual can adopt easily, daily, moment to moment. According to the Global Wellness Institute data at the end of 2002, the global health and wellness industry gross revenue was estimated to be $5.6 trillion USD. That’s a lot of resource expended to balance fast with slow and ensure humans are able to sustain excellence in a world of multiplicity and complexity that’s very challenging to absorb and engage. Going slow must be having an impact on profitability in a lot of places for that level of revenue to emerge in the wellness solutions.
Here’s a question to get started with on your own. When is the last time you fully slowed down and relaxed—like you could almost physically feel your body exhale its tension? I came across a technique a few years ago called Square Breathing (2). I started using it daily, then several times a day and then, anytime I could feel tension arising and choking off my sense of flow and agility. I now introduce this technique with every leader I coach because it’s useful for so many of the sources of tension that leaders describe to short-circuit being judgmental and reactive, e.g., before responding to a high stress situation, when making a big decision, to release feeling overwhelmed, even when trying to sleep at the end of the day. Many leaders talk about how hard it is to turn off the office and be present with family when they arrive home. If that describes you, try square breathing just before you leave the office and notice how your energy and attention shifts from work to home and all you love.
(1) How the brain slows down when we focus our gaze, April 6, 2023, University of Tübingen.
Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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