Navigating Workplace Challenges: Start with your Brain!

At the start of each new year, we feel rejuvenated – ready to take on the new year after a holiday season of rest and celebrations. It won’t take long before that dopamine hit wears off, and you realize that you are facing the same struggles with your team that you had in 2023.

One way to break out of a frustrating cycle is to think about MacLean’s triune brain model. MacLean argues that our brains have separate areas of function: the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex. This is significant because feeling stuck in a rut comes from that reptilian brain.

More specifically, the reptilian brain is made of the features at the bottom of the brain – the brain stem and basal ganglia. These aspects of our brain contain our basic, primitive drives (think hunger, thirst, territoriality, lust, etc.) AND procedural memory, like habits you have or functions you’ve memorized. How can you still swim, even when you haven’t tried it in years? It’s stored in your reptilian brain. Applying that to your workplace, your daily habits and rituals are lodged in there, too. This is why we feel “off” if we do things out of order or don’t complete some aspect of our daily routine.

The limbic brain is in the center of your brain. This includes structures like the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and others. The limbic brain is the center of our emotion, motivation, and memory. These three aspects of our response are closely related. Why don’t you feel like doing something? You aren’t very motivated to do it. You’re likely not motivated to do something because you have a memory of a similar effort and the results didn’t bear out as well as you would’ve liked. For example, if you feel annoyed that you were asked to work late, it’s likely that you aren’t motivated to do it because the last time you worked late, you didn’t get the promotion, the praise, or whatever result you were hoping for. “Why do it, if the end result isn’t what I want?” (This aspect of motivation is critically important for leaders to understand and recognize, but that’s content for another day!)

The neocortex is the cerebrum, which is the wrinkly, top section of the brain. This is the part of your brain that engages in problem-solving, artistic endeavors, critical thinking, and consideration of consequences, often referred to as “higher-level thinking”. This is where we develop solutions, create tools to solve problems, and generally engage logic to think through a situation.

The trick to breaking through the humdrum cycle in the workplace is to engage that neocortex! Don’t let yourself get stuck in the emotional quagmire of the limbic system – actively consider what the problem is and use it as a thought experiment. Engage your colleagues in brainstorming sessions, re-directing from complaining (which is emotional) to problem solving. This type of collaboration can lead you and your team in a new direction, which will contribute to more motivation across the board.

If you need a jump start on thinking in new ways, try using Helix! If your team already has assessment results, log in and refresh your memory about how you can use culture types to increase motivation and decrease frustration. Forgot where to go? Click here. Need a refresher or want to engage your whole team? You don’t have to go it alone. We can help! We offer Helix training for teams large and small. RGI consultants are poised to help drive your company forward in 2024!

Read more about Helix or contact us for more information by reaching out to Ava Sauter at today!





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