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Committing to Change September 24, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I recently revisited “Your Brain and Business” by Srinivasan Pillay, in which the author describes many behaviors and habits studied by psychologists, sociologists, and economists in terms of recent fMRI research.  Even though it’s a fairly new field of study and its implications are not completely clear, we can still learn much from studies of emotion, decisions, and creativity and the connection between brain physiology and real-world behavior.

For example, most of us are familiar with visualizing a task or goal as a key step in achieving it – especially when behavioral change is necessary.  We might be trying to decide about a new job, resolve a conflict at home, or even simply lose weight.  Trainers and coaches advise that you should picture yourself in whatever “end state” you aim to reach.  You would visualize yourself in your ideal job, with your happy spouse, 20 pounds thinner – or whatever your goals might be.  Some might call it psychobabble, but fMRI demonstrates there are important changes in our brains when we visualize this way compared with not.

Example fMRI results

For many reasons, we are wired to set ourselves into habits.  It saves energy, protects our egos, reduces fear and anxiety, and feeds our feelings of reward when we accomplish things that are within our abilities.  Moving out of these habits then takes away all of these ‘good’ feelings and replaces them with brain chemicals that drive our fight or flight reflexes.

The fMRI studies show that when we visualize, we are literally training our minds to be more accustomed to our desired end state.  By reducing the novelty through mentally simulating our achievements, our brains are less likely to perceive these as fear-inducing unfamiliar situations.  This makes it easier to create further commitment to our goals, as each small step becomes an achievement (releasing reward chemicals) rather than a seemingly insurmountable task.