Are We Programmed To Be Optimistic?

October 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM

A couple of months ago a client revealed the changes that were going to be introduced in his company. He could only see the negative aspects of the change and the potentially negative impact that they would have on him and his department. His initial reaction was to send his CV out and look for a change of job. We discussed the likely positive outlook that could result from the changes. He struggled to see them.

Last week he told me that he had been offered a new job and spoke of all the positive aspects of the role. Thinking of that conversation, I was intrigued to read about a study published in ‘Nature Neuroscience’ which suggests that people are predisposed to thinking positively about the future.

The researchers, from University College, London, found that when the news was positive, all people had more activity in the brain's frontal lobes, which are associated with processing errors. With negative information, the most optimistic people had the least activity in the frontal lobes, while the least optimistic had the most. It suggests the brain is picking and choosing which evidence to listen to.

The leader of the project said: "Smoking kills messages don't work as people think their chances of cancer are low. The divorce rate is 50%, but people don't think it's the same for them. There is a very fundamental bias in the brain."

"This work highlights something that is becoming increasingly apparent in neuroscience, that a major part of brain function in decision-making is the testing of predictions against reality - in essence all people are 'scientists'. And despite how sophisticated these neural networks are, it is illuminating to see how the brain sometimes comes up with wrong and overly optimistic answers despite the evidence."

We see this time and again in our coaching. When somebody is confronted with a new job opportunity they only see the positives, yet when change is proposed in their own organisation they focus on the negatives. Of course, when people arrive in their new role they soon discover that there are politics, difficulties, new business to drive for etc. just as they had in their old job. It is why Transition Coaching (or Onboarding) is so important for people who change roles as disappointment soon sets in and coaching can help them to adjust.

It is also why Coaching is so important. In the example of the client mentioned above, one of the things he agreed to do (after much cajoling)was to speak to his existing boss about his concerns and how he felt the impact of the changes might affect him and his department. As a result of this he has actually got a dramatically expanded role and is staying put.

There is a saying that the only human being who is comfortable with change is a baby with a wet nappy, but it is curious how the brain can only compute negative messages about change in an existing organisation, but only positive ones on a new role.

 



Tags: Executive Coaching Transition Coaching Onboarding
Category:

Please add a comment

Posted by Liza on
Just do me a favor and keep wriitng such trenchant analyses, OK?
Posted by Espn on
Please teach the rest of these internet hoolignas how to write and research!
Posted by Prasath on
People seem to consider the asnewr to this as a black or white type of thing I say, if you are drinking, you start with a full glass and you work towards empty, so AS you are drinking, the glass would be half empty If you are filling the glass up, you start at empty and are working towards full, so in that case, the glass would be half full.
Posted by Prasath on
People seem to consider the asnewr to this as a black or white type of thing I say, if you are drinking, you start with a full glass and you work towards empty, so AS you are drinking, the glass would be half empty If you are filling the glass up, you start at empty and are working towards full, so in that case, the glass would be half full.
Posted by Prasath on
People seem to consider the asnewr to this as a black or white type of thing I say, if you are drinking, you start with a full glass and you work towards empty, so AS you are drinking, the glass would be half empty If you are filling the glass up, you start at empty and are working towards full, so in that case, the glass would be half full.
Posted by Reno on
A really good answer, full of raniytalito!
Posted by Reno on
A really good answer, full of raniytalito!
Posted by Reno on
A really good answer, full of raniytalito!
Posted by Gwenelda on
So much info in so few words. Tosolty could learn a lot.
Posted by Gwenelda on
So much info in so few words. Tosolty could learn a lot.
Posted by Gwenelda on
So much info in so few words. Tosolty could learn a lot.
Leave a Reply



(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Please type the letters and numbers shown in the image.Captcha Code


Category List


Tag List


Tag Cloud



Archive