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The Science behind managing Adversity and Fear

Adversity is a fact of life.  It occurs whether we want it to or not, and shows up in our professional and personal lives. It is usually unexpected or arrives with little warning. For example, in business, the financial markets are always fluctuating which may create significant financial anxiety when significant losses have occurred, or a major, long term client may indicate he or she must conclude their business relationship with you as they have decided to seek service elsewhere.  Or, a trusted, highly effective member of your Senior Management Team announces they are leaving in order to progress in their professional life and its with your major competitor.  Or, a key employee is getting a divorce or death has occurred in a Director’s family, both situations are affecting the worker’s participation and contribution at work.

Most often adversity is initially viewed as an unfortunate or negative occurrence.  In time, and often from a broad frame of reference, the benefits resulting from adversity can be identified and experienced. The ways in which adversity is perceived and responded too by the leaders of an organization or business are important variables in how it is experienced, and the degree to which it negatively impacts the business and it’s personnel.

The science behind how we respond to adversity is initially driven by our stress response system originating from a region of our brain that constantly monitors our world for potential danger, the limbic system and the reptilian complex (R-complex).  These 2 regions are not 21st Century operating systems.  In fact, they are very old, and have not been updated.  Actually, they can’t be updated.  Both regions are limited in their ability to accurately filter the adverse life event or situation in terms of the degree of danger and harm it may do to us.  The primary responses emanating from limbic system brain region are the one’s with which we all are very familiar; fight, flight, and freeze.  The R-complex responses include learned, rigid repetitious patterns of behavior that may or may not have worked in the past.  It doesn’t learn from it’s mistakes and is historically paranoid.

Therefore, we are more dependent on using another region of our brain, the neocortex.  This part of our brain is much more of a 21st Century operating system.  It’s programs can be updated and tweaked with the latest versions of knowledge, data, and invention.  The neocortex is working to filter and perceive situations and occurrences from logical, objective, and rational perspectives.  The neocortex is able to problem solve and it can be called upon to filter and evaluate the signals from the limbic system, and the Reptilian Complex. The neocortex adds a fourth option, ‘thoughtful engagement,’ to the fight, flight, freeze choices.

These 2 regions of our brain are necessary to our survival, and are critical in how successfully we respond to danger.  The 2 regions must work together, they must listen to each other, and they must coordinate their efforts in order to create an integrated, successful solution to apply to dangerous situations. The plan or solution devised must be reflective of an accurate assessment to the type and degree of danger.  The 2 brains again work together to implement a plan designed to eliminate, reduce, and/or mitigate the degree of harm a situation actually contains.  We must differentiate and yet successfully integrate these 2 regions of our brain as we deal with adversity and fear.   This process of differentiation is one of 2 aspects of a key concept to successful management of self, Differentiation of Self.

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