The brain is an incredible part of our body. Over the years we have gained better understanding of the different parts of the brain and how important they have been to our survival as a species.
The mammalian brain (limbic system) helped us survive from predators by creating a threat response. We understand this response as the fight, flight or freeze response. Picture our ancestors running away from a saber-toothed tiger or standing perfectly still to prevent detection.
The problem is that we tend to react the same to psychological stress where there is no threat to life. Think about when someone cuts ahead of you in traffic, and you say a few choice words in the car.
Our interpretations to social interactions and dynamics like experiencing loss of control, feeling excluded, feeling undervalued, perceiving a lack of fairness and feeling disconnected from others can trigger the same threat responses.
Given the past few years we can all resonate with feeling the threat response after having to navigate extreme change and circumstances that impacted our wellbeing. A recent Gallup publication reported a rise of general unhappiness in the world over the years which was exacerbated by COVID. We care about this because the threat response is energy sapping and affects the ability of the brain to think and make the best possible decisions.
A newer part of the brain the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) helps us with our executive decision making, logic, complex problem solving and innovation. Activating this part of the brain is critical for performance and emotional regulation. This part of our brain is energy intensive, finite and requires the best possible conditions to work at its best.
The great news is that we can help our brains simply by providing recognition to our team members.
Being recognized activates the reward centre of the brain which acts as fuel for our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) allowing us to access adaptive resources like resilience.
A few chemicals are released by the brain when someone is recognized meaningfully:
- Dopamine which is known as a the ‘feel good chemical’. Think of the feeling you get when smelling freshly baked cookies – It’s no wonder we all hit the kitchen and started baking during lockdown.
- Next is oxytocin also known as the ‘trust and connection chemical’ which is released when you share a hug with a loved one
- And serotonin known as the ‘happy chemical’ which is generally released after a run.
By receiving meaningful recognition, you can get the great effects of exercise without the sweat? Sign me up!
The more recognition a person receives the stronger the reward response and the quicker an individual can get into a state that enables the (PFC). I know from personal experience, when I am recognized, I feel supported, energized and empowered. This helps me to activate my best thinking.
Continuing to reinforce a culture of recognition is an easy way for us all to help each other feel good, be happier, build trust and feel connected. Oh, and bake some cookies, its scientifically proven to make you feel great.