Neuroscience: it’s time to accept we are emotional beings

by | Dec 3, 2015 | Achieving goals, Coaching, Learning, Recovery & Wellness, Science of coaching | 0 comments

Listening to Paul Brown this week via the IRWCC world online conference. Paul is a faculty professor of Organisational Neuroscience at Monarch Business School, and the Association for Coaching’s Global Ambassador for Applied Neuroscience.

Want to know more about Paul? Check this link.

This post is a collection of highlights from his webinar and reflects my understanding of this topic. Any faults herein are mine.

We are feeling and sensing organisms. Our brains are rationalising what our brain has already sensed.

What does this mean?

Our brain stem, the “snake brain” manages everything. In my words, it’s the gateway to the rest of the brain. Our mammalian brain (limbic system and amagdyla) were developed to help us as parents to relate to our live offspring. Our brains absorb a huge amount of raw data, and then we try to make sense of it. We make sense of it emotionally via the amagdyla and logically/rationally in the executive functions.

Every bit of information that we absorb or thought that we have is tracked by the amagdyla for it’s emotional significance, and then assigned to a familiar pathway (developed from past experience and habit). So everything we do is coloured by emotion.

How is this helpful?

  1. Our initial reactions to stimuli are based on patterns that we have established. Due to neurplasticity, we can change these pathways. This means that we are free to define our path for the future by taking new actions today. Repeating the new action will develop new pathways. So we can teach an old dog new tricks.
  2. Once we accept emotions are involved, we can learn to recognise, understand and use them to our benefit

Energy of the brain is derived from emotion. There is no directional energy without feelings

The body uses 95 watts of power, of which the brain uses 25 watts. So despite accounting for only 3-4% of body mass, the brain uses 26% of the energy. This explains why we can get exhausted from just thinking. The future or management and leadership lies in learning to understand how to manage brain energy.

How can we use this in business and in our lives?

Both things that happen, and our thoughts, have an emotional loading. Positive and negative emotions drive different kinds of actions. Check this post for more detail about the science of emotions. Today I’m focusing on the bottom line:

  • Negative emotions drive energy inwards to protect ourselves => self interest
  • With positive emotions energy flows out => adaptive behaviours

So although fear can drive people, it takes a lot more energy, it drives people to very specific actions and above all, people act out of self preservation. No one who is experiencing fear will act for the greater good. That only happens when we experience love and trust, even if our situation is frightening. Yet cultures of competition and fear are rampant in our organisations. This is probably at the heart of why so many new strategies and policies fail: people are acting to protect themselves first.

Psychology will become a part of neurobiological sciences

Neuroscience is changing our understanding of human beings. We are learning that there is no behaviour that isn’t underpinned by neuro-activity in the brain, and by brain we mean the brain, heart and gut. This doesn’t mean that we are slaves to our brains. We have the power of regulation on our side. Anger may trigger us into wanting to hit something but it doesn’t mean that we will. We can and do regulate our actions.

We are feeling and sensing organisms. Our brains are rationalising what our brain has already sensed.

Yes, I mentioned this at the start but it’s important enough to repeat. We are first and foremost feeling and sensing beings, who use our executive brain functions to rationalise and explain what has happened. This image below is my favourite quote from Paul Brown’s webinar

Descartes v Brown

This post gives a snapshot of science based ideas that if acted upon, can change the way we do business, in an incredibly positive and profitable way. Imagine if everyone in your organisation was acting fully for the good of the company. What could you achieve then?


I can (and do) spend hours on this topic. Want to continue the conversation? Want to know how you can implement these ideas in your organisation? Start a conversation with me.

Want to be able to shift to positivity more easily? Want to know how this can help you in you personally? Ask about the RAW program: Resilience Agility Wellbeing.


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