To understand how to change your behaviour in a sustainable way, you first need to appreciate your biological response and how it affects your brain.
Most people understand that our behaviour directly impacts the results we get. In dynamic and complex environments, there are some critical behaviours that enable us to collaborate better, develop higher levels of cross-functional alignment and build more trusting relationships.
These behaviours, critical to driving performance, include the ability to think flexibly, to be empathetic and to bring teams together.
However these behaviours are, unfortunately, often rare in individuals, and are also incredibly hard to develop.
So what can be done? To change behaviour, we need to understand what is driving our behaviour.
Affecting what drives behaviour will have a positive knock-on effect on our performance as we become able to think flexibly, be empathetic, and create coherence within a team.
Under the surface
A person's behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything people say and do – their behaviour – is profoundly affected by what’s going on below the water line.
Behaviour is not an isolated phenomenon. Trying to change behaviour without considering what affects it, is usually a fruitless mission and won’t alter behaviour sustainably.
The predators we face in the boardroom require more sophisticated behaviour than a fight or flight response.
This is why valuable behaviours often stay rare and underdeveloped, and so much leadership development fails to deliver on its promises.
Behaviour is affected by our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, and all of this is ultimately affected by our physiology.
Therefore sustainable change in behaviour begins with a person’s physiology; specifically the messages that are being received by our prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is the executive part of the brain that determines our responses. If your physiology is in chaos then your prefrontal cortex will shut down, inhibiting your decision making skills and your behaviour.
This may sound like a cruel trick, but in a prehistoric era such prefrontal cortex shutdown would have saved your life.
When faced with a predator the body doesn’t want the brain to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of different courses of action, the body wants the brain to shut down and either attack or run - prefrontal cortex shutdown determines your fight or flight response.
In 2016 the predators we face in the boardroom require more sophisticated behaviour than a fight or flight response.
Therefore we need to learn to control the messages our body is sending to our brain. The most effective way to do this is through controlling your breathing.
To change behaviour, we need to understand what is driving our behaviour.
A rhythmic breathing pattern will create coherence, instead of chaos, and this coherence will resonate throughout your body, preventing frontal cortex shutdown and enabling you to behave in a more sophisticated way.
Achieving biological coherence is the best way to sustainably change the way you behave, and ultimately develop who you are as an individual.
Interested in behavioural change? Read A new way of coaching: how to reset your coachee’s operating system.