I have a very clear memory of playing a particular family game. I am probably about 6 or 7 years old, it is a picture book sunny afternoon, the there are small cotton clouds floating across a bright blue sky. My whole family squeeze into our rather battered orange beetle. “Where are we going?” asks my sister. “I don’t know” replies my father. “We are going to play a game” says my mother. “What sort of a game?” asks my foster brother. “A fun one” my mother said!
It turns out the rules of the game are really simple. Each child is given a turn at tossing a coin – heads we turn left, tails we turn right. We leave the drive and Johnny has thrown heads so we turn left. At the next junction, Anna throws tails and we turn right. And so the game goes on – there is a total air of excitement and fun – no one knows where we will end up and we are all loving the adventure.
As I reflect on that special family time, I am curious about our reaction to the game and my memory of how my parents experienced it – they seemed totally unconcerned that they didn’t know where we were going and were quite happy to just let the afternoon unfold at the toss of a coin.
I guess the stakes weren’t particularly high and when we wanted to head home they probably got the car map book out (I am talking here about a time before google maps and mobile phones), worked out where we were and navigated us home again – I don’t really recall how we got home.
And yet that carefree abandon, the willingness to just go with something into the unknown, can be quite scary. We, often, want to make things very certain, to control the variables, to keep ourselves safe.
When we are learning something new it can be easy to reject it just because it is new, unknown, unfamiliar – and here in lies the paradox – how can we ever learn anything if we rejected any information that is outside of our current awareness. In order to learn we have to suspend disbelief and allow our brains to assimilate new information, to make new neural pathways and connections.
However, our brain’s preferred state is typically to stay in “protection mode”. It is pre-programmed to stick with the status quo. It prefers the familiar. It is fearful of the unknown. It likes to conserve energy by choosing the easiest route – the well-worn neural pathways.
And scientists have also revealed what goes on inside our brains when we take the more effortful mental route of rejecting the default option. They have shown that it involves a particular area of our brains’ basal ganglia – a region which is tasked with deciding what action we should take.
So sometimes, it is worth just taking a minute to ask ourselves whether our brains are actually trying to work against us. Whether they are trying to prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zone.
How could it be if we allow ourselves to be in our stretch zone, to cultivate an attitude of curiosity, a preparedness to be with the unfamiliar, to take the mental road untraveled before – to embrace a “state of not knowing?”
Who knows what we might discover – please do let me know how you get on.
To find out more about my training, coaching, NLP or how horses can teach us valuable leadership lessons, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.