Neuroscience to create impact in the way we lead

Vicky Hammarstedt and Mariana Santos, co-founders of Chicas Poderosas.

One of the topics that the New Ventures Lab, the 17-week accelerator for journalism entrepreneurship led by women in Latin America, has been teaching is how to use neuroscience to create impact in the way we lead. To answer this question, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Nael Alami, a Chicas Poderosas mentor. His background is in neuroscience and brain development. Currently, he oversees development of the new research program at the Modern University for Business and Science (MUBS) in Beirut, Lebanon while pursuing his interest in cognitive neuroscience, higher education, and leadership studies at Stanford University.

With him, let’s talk about Growth Mindset, what it is and how to use your mind to your benefit. Growth Mindset is a very interesting topic mostly because it not only focus on the emotions and the psychology of success, it also correlates brain science and neuroscience, which is Nael’s specialization.

“It’s very important to understand how the stereotypes evolve and how we can face stereotypes and overcome them. Stereotypes is a general attitude that women have to face, not only in journalism but in science or technology”, he said.

Only 7.6% of architects and engineers in the United States are women. Only 26.3% OF CEOs are women. Nael said women are not less capable than men, but their concept of self is different due to socialization. They grow up thinking they are not as capable and when they are capable and when they do well, they think of themself as being the exception, which is not the case.

So, how can we overcome that? In Nael’s opinion, one way is to understand mindsets. There are two types of people: the ones who have fixed mindsets, who think of intelligence as something that is given to you and is a quantity thats stay with you and doesn’t change, and the ones who think of intelligence as something that can grow, be fostered and develop.

Professor Nael Alami at one of the NVL sessions.

Characteristics of a fixed mindset:

Thinks “intelligence is static”

Desire to look smart

Avoids challenge

Gives up easily in the face of obstacles

Considers effort fruitless

Shuts down in the face of criticism

Is threatened by others’ success

Achieves less than full potential

Possesses a deterministic view of the world

Characteristics of a growth mindset:

Thinks “intelligence can be developed”

Desire to learn

Embraces challenges

Persists in the face of setbacks

Sees effort as the path to mastery

Ignores negative feedback, learns from criticism

Is inspired by the success of others

Constantly strives to improve and learn

Possesses a sense of free will

It’s very important to have growth mindset to achieve our full potential.

As Nael mentioned in his talk, these two different mindsets become lenses through which we interpret all of our life experiences. For example, if you fail an exam, you stop trying because failure means you are not good enough.

“People who are idols, they all were rejected in the beginning of their career. All these individuals started by making mistakes and yet they were resilient because they believed in their abilities and believed they can expert themselves. These interpretations shape our world, the meaning we make determine our behaviours. If you don’t believe you are good enough, that with your effort you will succeed, no matter the circumstances around you’ll not be able to succeed,”  he explained.

To continue this line of thinking, people with a growth mindset usually increase their effort in response to a challenge or failure, which leads to higher achievement. People with a fix mindset, on the other hand, usually reduce their effort because they think they are not good enough. This limits their achievements. They experience a cycle of negative emotions when they compare their lack of achievement with the achievements of others.

“Mindsets are interesting to me because I’m in neuroscience. Mindsets can to demonstrate to us that the way we think, the way we face challenges, affects our central nervous systems and brains. There are 100 billion neurons in the cell bodies inside our brain, and they go all they way to the spinal cord to control our muscles,” Nael said.

He said that we are capable of changing our perception from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. With intervention, people can actually form more dense synapses in region that have to do with motor speech, both in terms of morphology (form and structure) as well as the actual physiology (how it functions).

How can you change to overcome stereotypes, develop your abilities and become an individual with a growth mindset?

Change your language: The language we use tells other people about our expectations and values. Do you value results or self development and learning? It also helps them set their own goals. If we make people feel they are not good enough they will focus more on a fixed mindset.

Don’t judge: People’s opinions are always changing. We need to remember that. Your beliefs and character are in flux. Much depends on the environment and how you help people change because our brain is always developing. That is a biological fact.

Making mistakes is part of the learning process: People around us might judge us for making mistakes. The easiest way to accept that is by recognizing that our brain is malleable and constantly developing. Your brain is most active when you are paying attention to the feedback you receive after you make a mistake. That is the moment when your synapses are growing.

Don’t make excuses: Don’t blame others for your mistakes and instead strive to do better. You need to take active responsibility for the outcomes. Take responsibility for the circumstances that led to the mistake because only you can develop your own brain.

Physical activity: Neuroscience research also shows that physical activity before a meeting, a  test or an assignment leads to a higher level of creativity, problem solving and success.

Some more recommendations! Take a look to this list of books for more research about this topic:

Mindset by Carol Dweck. Also, check out her amazing TED talk.

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do:  by Claude Steele

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