Neuroscience is a quite young discipline but has created highly useful insights into our brain activity and evolvement. One insight was found in the 90’s – Neuroplasticity – has discovered that our brain is constantly forming and evolving – not just when in childhood but throughout our life.
What is neuroplasticity?
Our brain consists of around 100 billion nerve cells which are called neurons. Every neuron ends with a layer of myelin which is responsible for the transition of information from one neuron to another. This myelin is the main driver for structural progress and evolution of our brain during our life. Let’s imagine we start learning the piano. Once we start learning the piano, myelin forms new connections between neurons. Every time we practice it further, this myelin layer becomes thicker and thicker and can become 50x as thick as the neuron itself. When we say “we need to do brain work” it means neuroscience words that our brain needs to produce a thicker myelin layer. This leads to the feeling that learning something new feels hard in the beginning and requires a lot of training and repetition to become easy. Your brain is then like a little construction site in which it needs to build up the myelin layers step-by-step.
These processes show that our brain is constantly evolving and can be shaped which is referring to the term neuroplasticity.
How does neuroplasticity support leadership?
Our brain is constructed to evolve and develop with social interactions. As a child, this is how we learned when someone told us behaviour is good or bad. Those patterns that are repeated over and over again create strong paths in our brain which results in belief sets our brain is used to think. Therefore, the sentence “we are who the sum of the people around us” can be neuroscientifically proven.
As we interact with other people, our brain is formed.
This ultimately means that leaders and role models have a stimulating and influencing effect on others. Leaders can use their role to support the growth and performance of their employees by using neuroplasticity.
How to use neuroplasticity as a leader?
The neuroplasticity in our brain has the highest performance when we have the right mix of neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitter transfer information from one neuron to another with a form of interpretation. The neurotransmitter are hormones that create the feeling around behaviour or experience. Positive neurotransmitter stimulates the production of the myelin layer and facilitates learning and agile thinking. When we experience stress, cortisol as the stress hormone is produced and limits myelin production. Then, our brain is constantly engaged with running old patterns that in the past saved us from dangerous situations. Thus, it is not capable of forming new patterns and using the new structures. You can experience that when you want to be creative while having stress. It is way easier to come up with a creative outcome when you are relaxed and when your hormone cocktail is not intoxicated by cortisol.
Learning, creativity and agile thinking are facilitated by a hormone cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins.
Source: Rosall, 2021
3 Hacks for Leaders
An environment that cultivates growth, learning and progress require a hormone cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins (Free the limbic, 2021).
Oxytocin is the relationship hormone and the direct counterpart of cortisol. It helps to reduce stress and to build up trust. Leaders can create a trusting environment in their teams to support the production of oxytocin. “The envelope task” study showed that our brain produces oxytocin at the highest level when we trust others. Thus, leaders can trust their team first to a) produce oxytocin themselves and b) create trustful relationships that build up oxytocins in others.
Dopamine is our success hormone. It is produced when we tick the boxes on our to-do list and achieve goals. In order to activate dopamine faster, we can use visualization and verbalization to see our achieved goals clearer. Leaders can use this to plan small and celebrate achievements and successes actively that their teams realize they achieved a goal.
Endorphines are our happy hormones that are produced when we experience that we are doing something with purpose. Endorphines are produced when we believe in something, see a bigger meaning and the vision of a task. Envisioning and experiencing the bigger vision and purpose of your team helps to activate endorphins. Also, high goals and challenges can create endorphins when they are in line with a bigger vision that is understood. On the other side, challenges that are not in line with the values of the team or its vision can create mistrust and cortisol which produces stress and limits creativity. Use some time this week to check in with your team to define the vision and purpose of your work.
Want to establish a growth mindset in your team for achieving more goals at ease?
Sign up your team to transform your working habits into growth habits. Establish a self-running growth culture to create strong team cohesion, better communication and high achievement of goals with less stress and conflicts. Train your growth mindset with Monday Morning Growth. Other recommendations: Want to learn more about neuroscience? I recommend the neuroscience training from EforP by Eveline Want to get support by defining your companies purpose? Check out North Park from Catriona