Full text of author and thought leader Ann Herrmann-Nehdi’s talk: One Thing to Know About Your Brain That Will Change Your Life at TEDxTryon conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: One Thing to Know About Your Brain That Will Change Your Life by Ann Herrmann-Nehdi at TEDxTryon
Most of us assume that we’re actually in control of our brains. But I’ve learned that most of the time we’re not; we’re actually on autopilot. Not really taking advantage of all of the great capability that our brains provide us.
But the good news is, we actually can take control. By knowing your brain’s patterns and preferences, you cannot only take control, but you can significantly expand your potential.
I know, because it changed my life, but this is really personal.
It started when I was very young, I used to come home after school and my father would strap electrodes to my head, and this equipment, an EEG electroencephalogram, in order to measure the level of electrical activity in the different parts of my brain.
Why? Well, he was a scientist by training. But he was head of management education at General Electric at the time and was trying to figure out a scientific explanation for creative thinking, in order to see whether or not they could really teach it to GE employees.
And so he started wiring everybody up, neighbors, friends, whoever he actually knew. And as a matter of fact, sometime later, in spite of the fact that I begged him to not do this, he actually even wired up my then boyfriend, now husband, to see what was happening in his brain.
Well, what he learned was important for GE, that you could, in fact, teach creative thinking. But since then, so much more the impact has been tremendous on thousands of people around the world who are actually taking control of their thinking for better results.
SO WHY ARE WE ON AUTOPILOT?
What’s interesting: the brain is actually by design, unbelievably lazy. And, you know, it’s really organized around learning patterns, and then trying to recognize those patterns so that it can be more energy efficient.
And it becomes like a pattern seeking machine, constantly scanning the environment, and this allows us to go on autopilot, which actually can be pretty practical, we can get into some preferred ways of doing things and not have to think too hard.
So for example, once you’ve learned how to write, most of us don’t have to think about which hand we’re going to use, when we’re going to actually write something down.
Or once you’ve learned how to drive, I would suspect that you go on autopilot, right? And maybe you don’t even pay attention to the last five miles or maybe even go whizzing past there, your normal turn for home.
So the downside of patterns is that when things change, which they inevitably do, we can get caught off guard. If by chance, you have to start learning how to use your non-preferred hand, like my son did when he had a weight training accident and had to take a big test. It was unbelievably draining for him to actually learn how to use that; he could do it, but it was draining.
Or even like me, when I have to change keyboards, maybe you’ve experienced this. And I think I’m hitting the delete key. And I realize, oh, in fact, no, it’s not the delete key. And I don’t even know where the delete key is, you can get frustrated.
So one of the best ways to understand patterning is through language. So even when we don’t know something perfectly well, once we studied it enough, we can actually decipher things that may not be perfectly clear.
So see if you can see what this says. “Quit stealing our letters”. Absolutely. Or even if you cover 50% of what you need to read. I bet you could still read it. Let’s see if you can read this. What does that say? “Good times are here”. Yeah, I guess both most of you got that correct; or did you?
No tricks here, right? Okay.
Well, this is what Daniel Kahneman, author and researcher calls the traps of fast thinking. And that is that we leap to conclusion, our brains kind of leap ahead, based on all the patterns and the biases and the preferences and experiences that we’ve had over the course of our lives.
Now, the antidote, which I’m going to recommend you try is slow thinking, which is paying attention to your thinking. What that does is it allows you to really wake up that lazy brain of yours.
The first step for you is Awareness; AWARENESS OF CONTEXT. Why? Context is what the brain looks for first in any situation. It sort of scans the environments for a pattern goes: oh my God, I see it, I got it.