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The internet, neuroplasticity, and leadership

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Recently, I have been researching how our brain is affected by our thoughts and actions. There has been a copious amount of study surrounding the plasticity of the brain. During a number of studies over the past few decades there has been considerable evidence that suggests that the adult brain isn’t as immutable as it was once perceive to be.

In many studies, the brain had physically and anatomically changed through an adjustment in thought processes and events. In one study, a group of people with similar levels of depression were put on an antidepressant. Another group (with similar levels of depression) was given 15 – 20 sessions of cognitive-behavior therapy, learning not to “catastrophize”. In other words, don’t make a minor setback a calamitous event (i.e. I didn't get that one job so I'm a total failure). This group was given no medication whatsoever.

The result of this study was absolutely fascinating. The cognitive behavior group actually showed evidence through MRI and EEG scans that the physiological structure of their brain had changed and had been “rewired” to adopt different thinking circuits. One’s chosen thought process, through professional guidance, actually affected their physical brain. The intangible thing we call the mind had made physical changes to what we know as the brain. It has been long considered that the opposite was true.

The average time we spend reading, actually skimming, literary pieces on the internet is around 15 or 20 seconds. We welcome, almost expect and embrace, the interruptions of links to other places in our quest to surf the net, along with other delicious little distractions. We are building a pattern of behavior as we do this; however unintentional. We are “adopting different thinking circuits”.

As we absorb all the content we can on the web, we are flitting from one bit to the next in hopes to gain a broader spectrum of the subject at hand in a short amount of time. We view this multi-tasking as efficient and it is perceived as a valuable skill to possess. The real question in my mind is the validity of this concept having the value it has been given.

How can this affect individual leaders and leadership overall? As we get “better” at multi-tasking and skimming over large amounts of information on the internet, how are we rewiring our physical brains when it comes to the idea of gathering information? What happens when we are in a position to gather information from those whom we are leading?

How about gathering the sound bytes from a podcast or small video online? Since it is connected to our auditory cortex, we are “training” it to seek out only bits and bobs. What impact can this have on our listening skills?

While I’m not trying to create a hurricane in a glass of water, I do believe it is important to be aware of how our body (including our brain) works. This isn’t me advocating a boycott of the internet. It is simply underscoring the ongoing need for balance in our lives…in all areas. Set aside some quiet time to read a paper book or something of significant length on a printed page. Leaders are readers, but don’t let 100% of that just be online reading.

Being contemplative has brought great insight into leadership and how we can do life together more effectively. It is in this reflection that we have been able to become stronger, more balanced leaders and people in general. Let’s continue to lead in how we choose to utilize the amazing tools that technology has given us. Enjoy the many resources available and keep a healthy balance. Be reflective. Be balanced. Live life!

 

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