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Challenging the Brain’s Natural Tendency

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Sometimes, we have to challenge the brain to see more than what it initially recognizes.

The brain loves to put “things” in categories.  So, when we see something similar, our brain is wired to associate it with something it already recognizes. For the most part, that’s a great plan.

But there are two major downsides to this natural tendency of the brain. First, labeling people to be “things” is limiting in that it negates the possibility that another perspective is equally possible.  Here are some examples:

  • A liar could be someone who isn’t confident how the truth will be received.
  • A selfish or manipulative person could be someone who hasn’t discovered how to get her needs met while also considering others.
  • A lazy person could be someone with a disorganized brain who is not able to compensate well enough to finish or do multiple tasks.
  • A hyperactive person could be someone with poor balance (since we balance more easily when we move).
  • An immature person could be someone with retained primitive reflexes and underdeveloped lower centers of the brain.

So, why do we tend to go with the first, more negative perceptions of such people?  Well, the brain also has a natural tendency to shine a spotlight on someone else, rather than on ourselves.

For example, it may be easier to view Tiffany as a liar than to reflect on how we respond to mistakes. It may be easier to view Luke as selfish or manipulative than to model and teach him how to respond in ways that consider everyone’s needs.  It may be easier to view Evan as lazy or hyperactive or immature than to explore what parts of brain development are incomplete and learn how to facilitate such changes.

Second, we may be limiting our own creativity when we don’t challenge ourselves to see beyond the “thing” that our brain initially recognizes.  Yet, the art of invention is based on envisioning something ordinary in a new and different way.

For example, my memory of a Cambodian refugee still rates as one of my favorite examples of doing just that.  After hearing this gentleman play incredible music from an instrument I did not recognize, I asked where he had bought it.  He smiled and explained that while it was a common instrument in Cambodia, once here, he couldn’t find the right kind of wood he needed to make it.

So what did he finally use?  A baseball bat.  Yes, he created that amazing sound from what was originally an old bat that likely spent much of its prior life lying in the dirt. To this day, I’m probably one of the very few people who think of beautiful Cambodian music when watching a ballgame.

But while the brain has a tendency to classify, we don’t have to just accept every first perception and every “thing” as absolute. We can sometimes challenge ourselves to think beyond the traditional viewpoint, the expected, the obvious.

And in doing so, who knows what kind of incredible changes we may then experience?

The Taking Care of Business Quiz

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If feels good to “take care of business.”

What is Taking Care of Business?

It’s a cortex way of getting everyone’s needs met. When using this approach, we:

  • Know what we are needing and wanting
  • Consider what others are needing and wanting
  • Keep both in mind when exploring options
  • Are specific and clear as to what we’d like to happen and why
  • Avoid being both defensive or offensive
  • Offer doables that move the situation forward
  • Ask instead of tell
  • Infuse humor and creative thinking whenever applicable

Quiz Directions

So, how well do you “take care of business?”

To find out, encourage your kids and other family members to take the quiz.  Read each situation listed in the quiz and the possible ways to respond. Choose the answer that is most similar to what you’d likely do if you were in that circumstance.

When you’re finished, read the answers and explanations to learn which do and do not reflect taking care of business and why.

To note: This quiz includes problems that both kids and adults often face. So, if a situation seems more applicable for a child or vice-versa, just modify it. For example, a child who does not want to take out the trash can be easily changed to be an adult who does not want to do a particular assignment at work.

Last, it’s important to remember: Taking care of business doesn’t mean that we automatically get the outcome we desire. But, hands-down, it’s still the most likely way we’ll move forward.

The Quiz

Situation 1: You’ve heard that someone is spreading gossip about you that is not true.

a) You bad-mouth that person, as well.

b) You do nothing, and try to avoid that person as much as possible.

c) You call that person out in front of others, demanding an apology.

d) You approach the person and say that you’re thinking she may have some misinformation and would like to clarify (and then do that).

 

Situation 2: You’re informed of a new rule when you take your father to his health clinic. Starting today, all patients must show a photo ID. However, your father did not bring any ID with him.

a) You reschedule another appointment (and ensure your father brings his ID).

b) You firmly point out that this rule is new, and you were not informed of it previously—so it should not apply today.

c) You acknowledge that you don’t want the person checking patients in to get in trouble by sidestepping the rule, but you’re frustrated since you’ve driven a long way and your father needs this appointment. So, you ask if there are other ways to verify that’s him (e.g. confirm his address, phone number, social security number) that’s already in the computer and . . . with a twinkle in your eye, use your hands to frame his face and say, “And this could be the photo ID.”

d) You tell the person checking patients in (who knows your father) that it’s silly to ask him for an ID since he already greeted him by name.

 

Situation 3: You’re sitting on the sidelines during the tournament, and it doesn’t appear that you’re ever going to get to play.

a) You sit stoically, but then break down (i.e. become upset) once you’re alone with your parents.

b) You act as though you don’t care while everyone else is being subbed in the game (don’t even watch all of the game).

c) You get up and demand that the coach gives you a chance to play, pointing out that you paid your money to be in this tournament, too.

d) You are fully engaged from the sidelines, watching what players on the field do that may have earned them time on the field. After the game is over, you ask the coach to give you three specifics to work on that may result in more playing time for you.

 

Situation 4: Someone has just criticized you in front of others.

a) You defend yourself.

b) You say something that is critical of that person.

c) You say nothing.

d) You respond by shining the spotlight back on that person and saying, “What were you hoping I’d do with that information?”

 

Situation 5: You don’t like the chore of taking out the trash, but that’s the job you’ve been assigned.

a) You whine whenever you have to do this.

b) You approach your parents and say: I know that we all need to pitch in to help around the house, but you may not know . . .I really don’t like taking out the trash. Is there another chore I could do instead of that one?

c) You do a terrible job (e.g. spill trash), hoping that your parents will think they need to assign this chore to someone else.

d) You do it, but you scowl to make it clear that you don’t like this job.

 

Situation 6: Various co-workers never clean up their dishes or trash after eating in the staff lounge.

a) You complain about those who don’t clean up to those who do.

b) You send an email to all your co-workers saying, “Due to budget cuts, we’ve had to lay off the maid for the staff lounge.”

c)  You send an email to everyone saying, “Due to budget cuts, we’ve had to lay off the maid for the staff lounge;)  So, how about we agree to a day where each of us is in charge of making sure all dishes are washed and all trash is cleared from the tables?  If you’re willing to do so, please email me which day(s) would work best for you to assume that role. Thanks.”

d) Pick up after those who leave their dishes and trash—and do not say a word.

 

Answers

Situation 1: You’ve heard that someone is spreading gossip about you that is not true.

Answer: d

This response does not judge the person or assume she was trying to “hurt” you by telling others false information. It also gives you a chance to clarify, without putting the other person on the defensive.

Responses “a” and “c” will only likely escalate the situation. Even if in response “c” you note what information was false, that part of the message won’t be heard since the approach is accusatory and focused on making the other person admit she was wrong.

Note that response “b” is only a possible solution if gossip truly does not bother you or whatever is being spread will not cause future problems (as a result of others hearing and acting on the misinformation) or if you can actually avoid that person. Those are a lot of variables, which is why this response may not actually take care of business.

 

Situation 2: You’re informed of a new rule when you take your father to his health clinic: Starting today, all patients must show a photo ID. However, your father did not bring any ID with him.

Answer: c

This response acknowledges that the person who works at the clinic needs to do his job as directed while also giving him an opportunity to meet your need (i.e. have your father keep his appointment).

Response “a” meets the need of the person checking patients in, but it does not meet your father’s need to keep his appointment that day.  Responses “b” and “d” do not acknowledge that the person who works at the clinic is trying to follow the new rules and will likely put that person on the defensive.

 

Situation 3: You’re sitting on the sidelines during the tournament, and it doesn’t appear that you’re ever going to get to play.

Answer: d

This response allows the coach to know what you’re needing and wanting while shining the spotlight on him to give you specific ways to improve.

Responses “a,” “b,” and “c” do nothing to move you forward (i.e. get more playing time). In fact, response “c” is just likely to put the coach on the defensive.

 

Situation 4: Someone has just criticized you in front of others.

Answer: d

This response sidesteps a need to defend yourself, while asking the person who made the comment to clarify his intent behind sharing the comment.  By doing the latter, the focus is immediately placed on the person who made the comment, rather than on you.

Responses “a” and “b” will only escalate the situation.  If you say nothing (response “c”), you may still antagonize the person if he thinks you’re ignoring him (and he will then likely criticize you more).

 

Situation 5: You don’t like the chore of taking out the trash, but that’s the job you’ve been assigned to do.

Answer: b

This response acknowledges that all family members need to contribute and help around the house, while opening the door to explore whether there’s any flexibility in who does what job.

Response “a,” c,” and “d” do not take care of business because there is no acknowledgment as to why you might be asked to do this chore. Moreover, if continual whining or scowling or passive aggressive behavior (i.e. doing a terrible job) ultimately gets you out of doing the chore, you have not only missed an opportunity to take care of business, but your brain now also incorrectly registers that such unproductive behavior may be helpful.

 

Situation 6: Various coworkers never clean up their dishes or trash after eating in the staff lounge.

Answer: c

This response begins by using humor. Yet, unlike “b,” this answer also specifically notes what isn’t being cleaned in the lounge and offers a solution/doable to improve the situation. This response additionally asks, rather than tells, co-workers to take responsibility. Last, it gives yet another doable by spelling out exactly how coworkers can respond if they agree to be in charge of clean-up for a day.

In contrast, response “a” (like “b”) does nothing to improve the situation.

Yes, response “d” ensures that the staff lounge is clean. But, over time, you may start to feel as though you’re the only one being responsible and, therefore, start to judge or resent those who continue to leave their mess, as well as those who do nothing to remedy the situation.

 

 

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