Why knowing how your brain works will help you increase success and happiness!


Your Brain at Work by David Rock  has been very useful to me. I bought the audio from audible.com and I have listened to it while working out on the Eliptical.

 Each chapter opens with a snapshot of work life and how it usually goes wrong then the author follows up by explaining why, according to current understanding of the brain, the person in the story behaves as he or she does; the chapter ends with how the business person could have saved time and stress and increased success by understanding his or her brain.

 Moreover, at the end of the chapter one can find two paragraphs: one with the title “Surprises about the brain” which summarizes the main points of the chapter and the other one, “things to try”, with some tips to make use of this understanding of how the brain works.

David Rock uses an an analogy an stage for actors.

Our consciousness* is likened to a theater stage, with thoughts entering the stage or exiting it all the time.

It turns out that this stage has severe limitations: audience members clamor to jump on stage all the time (we are easily distracted and self-inhibition requires effort); actors can only play one part at a time (no multi-tasking); no more than three or four actors can be on the stage at any one time; and so on.

It makes sense: all the strategies suggested by the author require the reader to be attuned to his or her own thinking processes. For example the techniques offered for emotional regulation require the person to be aware that they are about to be hijacked by a strong emotion so they can adopt the proper counter-measures.

According to David Rock, mindfulness is nothing mysterious, it is simply a habit that you pick up with practice – and it does not matter what people use for practice, as long as it something centered on focusing on a direct sense and catching the distinction between directly experiencing something and the interpretation added by the brain.

3) the third insight is the realization that some social needs (e.g. status) are just as important as primary needs relating to survival (e.g. food). What transforms this insight into a useful working model  is the brilliant SCARF acronym David Rock came up with to summarize these needs.

SCARF stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness.

It is a very useful framework to use in thinking about interactions or organizational dynamics.

Interestingly enough the Solution-Focused approach is mentioned in the book.

David Rock notes the limits of a deductive problem-solving approach, limits that are well known to Solution-Focused practitioners: problem-solving works well when dealing with machines or inanimate objects, not so much when dealing with self-regulation or human interactions; when you focus on problems you activate the emotions connected to the problems and you risk a downward spiral of blaming; and so on.

The author draws the distinction “on one key decision: to focus on the desired outcome rather than on the past. Attention goes to your goal, rather than to your problem”. So, if you choose to focus on solutions, “you scan the environment widely for cues” and you are more likely to deal with the problem effectively; solution-focused questions “help people arrive at their own insight” and focus on “the exact change you want“.

As an example, David Rock mentions some questions right out of the Solution-Focused practitioner’s basic toolbox: “what is one thing that has made a customer delighted in the past? What did you do differently that made the customer so happy? What would it take for you to do it more often?”

The author acknowledges that ‎“Similar ideas have been fleshed out further in fields such as solutions-focused therapy and appreciative inquiry. I am not proposing that these are brand-new insights. However, I find that having the theoretical explanation of why we need to focus attention this way is helpful“. Indeed the interesting part is where David Rock gives a rationale based on his SCARF model for the effectiveness of Solution-Focused questions.

More specifically:

a) it is easier to adopt a problem-solving approach that looks at the past for the root of the problem, because “the past has lots of certainty, the future, little” – and the brain dislikes uncertainty. Conversely, “focusing on solutions is not the natural tendency of the brain. Solutions are generally untested, and thus uncertain. It takes effort to dampen down the threat created that comes with uncertainty.”

b) “there is an implicit respect inherent in the [Solution-Focused] question, the suggestion that you know people have good answers. It’s a status reward”

c) we could add that the sense of Autonomy in the client is greatly increased by a Solution-Focused interview. given the assumption the client is the expert and has the solution; moreover, developing a sense of Relatedness with a client is part and parcel of good practice, Solution-Focused or otherwise; last but not least, Fairness is enhanced in a Solution-Focused conversation because of the respectful relationship that is established between client and practitioner.



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Jeffrey Brooks, CPA, CFP, MBA since 1976 has specialized in helping clients save significant taxes, help businesses increase their cash flow, revenues and profits while increasing their control and satisfaction. Jeff and his accounting firm sincerely cares about the happiness of his clients.

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