Neuroscience: How your brain responds to change w/Gabija Toleikyte

Prosci bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.

Hosted by Morten Kamp Anderse

Changing behaviour is difficult. It can provoke both anxiety, anger and stress. But why? What exactly happens in your brain when you try to make a change? I have asked neuroscientist, Gabija Toleikyte, to help us understand change from a neurological perspective – how your brain works, and what you can do to help it change. 


  • Some of the biggest breakthroughs in recent time in neuroscience. 
  • How to ‘trick’ your Mammal brain into liking a change.
  • Why we need the Prefrontal Cortex to change and how to activate it. 
  • How leadership style can affect the brain’s willingness to change. 
  • The Amygdala: A small part of the Mammal brain that can hijack your rational behaviour and cause anxiety, anger etc.
New neurons are born in the brain, even as an adult neurogenesis. So, there is endless potential for learning and changing
Gabija Toleikyte


We can learn a lot from neuroscience when we want to make a change. Here are my three key takeaways. 

#1 We underestimate what it takes to make a change. The oldest parts of our brain – the reptilian and Mammalian regions – don’t like change. In fact, they want to preserve the status quo. Luckily, the more recently evolved parts - such as the Prefrontal Cortex - embrace change. We must use our new brain to educate our old brain. Only then will we be successful. 

#2 We need energy and mental health to activate the Prefrontal Cortex. If your brain is in survival mode – e.g., being overly busy, emotionally vulnerable or simply too tired – the Mammalian brain takes control of your actions, immediately going back to old habits. So, sleep well, eat well and avoid being in a stressful state when going through a change. That will help the Prefrontal Cortex maintain control. 

#3 Be careful about the Amygdala Hijack. David Goleman described an Amygdala Hijack as a personal and emotional response that is overwhelming and out of measure. If we feel threatened, the Amygdala can ‘hijack’ your rational behaviour and cause anxiety, anger etc. Use mindfulness to control your Amygdala.  


If you want to know more about nudging or my guest, Gabija Toleikyte, you can follow the links below.


I love feedback. If you liked what you’ve heard, please leave a review or comment. Whatever you have on your mind, I want to hear it.

If you want to know more about change and how to make a change stick, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesSpotifyGoogle or Stitcher or read more on our website:


Wed, 1/20 11:04AM • 51:03


brain, amygdala, people, prefrontal cortex, change, network, resonant, mammal brain, called, neurons, field, neuroscience, imagine, trigger, create, part, couples, eating, thinking, habits


Morten Andersen, Gabija Toleikyte

Morten Andersen  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.

Morten Andersen  00:21

We're a few weeks into the new year now, and many people have made a new year's resolution. And by now, many have probably also forgotten about that New Year's resolution, maybe even feeling a little bit guilty about that. Why is it so hard for us to make those changes? a better understanding of how we're wired and how our brains work, can maybe help us understand a little bit better about why it is so hard to keep New Year's resolutions. So let's find out in this episode of what monkeys do. When I was 15, my doctor had a suspicion that I had epilepsy. And to find out he sent me to the local hospital to scan my brain. It was an EEG scan. And I thought it was the most interesting thing in the world that I've ever tried. The doctors attached a lot of small metal discs to my head, I looked at like something from a future movie, I looked absolutely ridiculous. And then he looked on his monitor. And frankly, I thought that on his monitor, he could see what I was thinking. So if I was thinking of an elephant, I thought he could see an elephant. But that was not how it worked. All he could see was a lot of parallel lines, they showed up. He looked at his monitor for a while. And then he looked at me and he said, Yeah, you probably got epilepsy. I did not know what that was. But I knew that that I have just experienced the coolest thing in the world. Back then we really did not know much about our brain. Even though people have been fascinated about our brain for centuries, all the way back to the Greeks, we really did not know much about our brain. And we know much more now over the last 30 years, we have been scanning every part of our brain using many different methods. And we have a good picture of that. So now we know so much more. And therefore we also know how our brain helps us or stand in our way so to speak when we want to make a change. My guest today is an expert in our brain. She is a neuroscientist. She is the lecturer and behavioral coach. She completed her PhD at University College London, her new book has just been published. It's called Why the F*ck Can't I Change. And it is about how your brain works and how we can use those insights about the brain to help us change. So this is very relevant for this podcast. Welcome to you, Dr. Gabija Toleikyte.

Gabija Toleikyte  02:53

Nice to be here.

Morten Andersen  02:54

Great. So this episode is about our brain and about change the neuroscience of change, so to speak, and urine neuroscientists. But that's obviously an umbrella term that covers a lot of different speciality. So can you maybe tell us a little bit about what your speciality is and how you got into that field?

Gabija Toleikyte  03:14

Yeah, so then research over the years in in various fields of neuroscience started my research in the field of vision, how their brain processes visual information. And that, in fact, we don't really see the world as it really is. There is a lot of so called top down modulation inputs that Distort and blank out some information and notice other information. The second project I did in the first researcher then in Lithuania, the country I'm from, and the second research project was on Parkinson's disease in Finland in Helsinki University. And we looked at how different brain chemicals called modulatory neurotransmitters influence the Parkinson's disease development, and looked at potential ways to medicate and stop the progression of Parkinson's disease. And then later on when I moved to UK, my PhD allowed me to do research in three different research groups. So to gain a well rounded understanding of the brain, I did research in cognitive neuroscience and in cellular or functional neuroscience. So basically, I looked at the different ways to really understand how the brain works in episodic memory, using cognitive neuroscience methods. And later on, I moved in the field of spatial navigation. And I did both cognitive neuroscience project during the computational modeling. And later on, I extended it in doing experiments in brain slices, because certain brain models are trying to understand how in my project was specifically how we find our way around and how we perceive things. The environment and how we can navigate in it. But those models have certain expectations of how neurons and networks function. That is the last 20 years there's been a huge breakthroughs in the methods, we can actually investigate neuronal activity and the network activity to very, very high specificity. So my PhD project was, which we later on published in ancient neuroscience was to stimulate individual signups of the neurons and please specific sequences, and see how neurons actually what things they make out of it, how the add that information together, say it was actually extremely challenging in terms of of technical aspect of it, as we used two photon lasers and very state of art methodologies to make it work. And I was really interested in all those multiple levels of neuroscience, because I think all of them are needed for us to understand how the brain actually function.

Morten Andersen  06:01

So it's interesting when we think about our brain, we always try to use a metaphor for explaining what a brain is. And I guess back in the early 80s, or late 70s, it was a computer that was our metaphor for what a brain is. And if you use a computer metaphor, then you're thinking about how big a memory do you have? How effective does it work, and you can maybe think about optimizing your brain. We had on a previous episode, we have Elizabeth Loftus talking about memory. And she also talked about how changing the metaphor can change how we think about memories. So it goes from being absolutely correct to being a construct, I would love to hear a little bit about what do you think is an appropriate way to think of our brain? What is an appropriate metaphor for understanding? What is that organ we call the brain?

Gabija Toleikyte  06:52

Well, if you imagine if our computers could change and mold with each experience, imagine you have a laptop as as they do here. And with all you do, suddenly, not only the software, but actually hardware kept changing, and kept doing the tasks you do most frequently quicker and better, and kept learning based on that. That would be a good metaphor.

Morten Andersen  07:14

Okay. So that's actually really interesting about our brain is that it can change that. Not only is it is it wired in some way, and some parts of it is probably also hardwired. But even though they are hardwired, we can actually change that. Can you tell us a little bit about how plastic our brain really is? Yes,

Gabija Toleikyte  07:34

so the brain can and cannot change brain doesn't change for no good reason. And only if we actually do the new actions for long enough and frequent enough to overwrite the old existing networks. And if we create the new networks, now, depending on the areas of the brain, and depending how ancient evolutionary the functions are, that also influence how easy or hard it is to change. So emotional patterns, for example, especially really, ancient ones, are really hard to change. behavioral patterns, such as productivity habits, are easier to change. However, if they have deep rooted emotional cause of them, it makes it harder to change. It depends on what we tried to change on how easy or hard it is to change. And also, it depends on what experience we have in doing the things new way. If you have learned a foreign language at school, such as in England, a lot of people learn French in schools, they go on and forget most of it later on. They tried to relearn it. For them, it will be much easier to learn French than for me who never ever studied French. There is a lot of networks already that are applicable to the skill of speaking French, as I haven't even started building those networks. quite complex actually field of change. And there is no one size fits all. It's very specific based on individual based on past habits built based on what happened we're trying to build. And also based on what we go through at the moment, the areas of time, the change would be much, much easier while in others nearly impossible, but we can talk about it in greater depth later perhaps.

Morten Andersen  09:23

Okay, so it depends partly on which part of our brain that we're talking about. So the lizard brain is probably more difficult to change, then the prefrontal cortex, probably also if you have attached a lot of emotion to it, then it's harder to change than if you have not. And then, you know, it's down to individual experience as well as to how it is possible. But But what you are saying is that our brain is plastic that it is possible to make changes the new connections in our brain and therefore so we can make we can make changes is that correct? Yes. Cool. So when I had my EEG scan. And this is literally back in the late 80s. I said that we knew very little about our brain. And you said that we've had an explosion of knowledge over the last 20 years. Can you tell us a little bit about what is the sort of the latest things that we have found? What What have we discovered over the last maybe 10 years? And also, how much do we know about our brain? And or maybe even clearer, you know, how big of areas do we not know anything about yet?

Gabija Toleikyte  10:28

Yeah, so probably the biggest breakthrough has been in the field of brain plasticity. There is new neurons in the brain being born, even as an adult neurogenesis. And that opened up imagination, you know, that there is endless potential for learning and changing because they constantly incorporate into the circuitry. We know the mechanisms, how it works, but we still don't know what potential of change they allow us. And exactly these new neurons do. We know mechanism, how they get incorporated into the, into the new networks, we know what things can influence, the plasticity, in other words, plus is a plastic process itself. So we know the exercise, and constant mental and physical activity, increase the amount of new neurons being born and survival of them. So that that's been a big breakthrough as well. That also, there's been some very interesting findings in the field of memory, show that actually our memory is not very reliable. Where's the brain doesn't remember information As it is, it remembers information as it would be most useful for our survival. The memories are not very accurate, we keep updating and changing them as we go along. However, we're not aware of them. And there is there is a process called memory reconsolidation, where the memories can just completely extinguish, or memories can be completely changed over the years. We also know awfully lot now about the spatial navigation has been big, big focus on the last 20 years. And I myself did my PhD in left field. It's been initially discovered in 1970s, by by Professor John O'keefe. And later on by Moser family in Norway. The amazing thing with our field is that there is individual neurons can encode something meaningful, because that means most or that individual neurons are really nothing without the network. And that still applies the network is still essential. But just looking at the activities of one neuron, we can tell where we are. So there's been a lot of different spatially irrelevant neurons discovered in the last 20 years and in 2014, professors Moser Professor O'Keef received the Nobel Prize for that. And maybe just to name last two really crucial findings, one being the glial cells, a whole lot about neurons that encode information and make things happen. But glial cells been kind of forgotten for a long period of time, and they've just been taught just to support the function of neurons, which is still true. But now we know actually, glial cells influence awfully lot how the neurons function. And perhaps last, lastly, all the breakthroughs in neuroscience such as optogenetics, two photon stimulation of individual signups is calcium imaging allowed us to investigate the circuitry of the brain in also like just with pure light, blue light, trigger certain behaviors in experimental rodents in these experiments, and I have in mind, but so that kind of enabled us to really kind of link the neuronal activity to the function to really narrow down. So there's been some really, really fascinating findings. And a lot of them to be honest, applied to change and apply huge understanding how the brain works. Now, there is still a lot of things we don't know, as a lot of those more technologically advanced methods being used on brain slices on animal models, computational modeling, so so it's kind of still haven't been linked very well to human behavior. As you can imagine, a lot of those methods are quite intrusive, can easily be used in humans. So still, in terms of understanding how human brain function still relies on brain imaging techniques, and there was some, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which, you know, can actually evoke electrical current in the brain and see what your body and mind does with that, but these methods are not as specific and they don't have such a good spatial resolution. So this is kind of a harder to live specific function. And there is a lot of still fields of research which are, although fascinating, such as consciousness, personality And so on, but still quite elusive and really hard to study, even the field of emotion. There's a lot of researchers who mean different things when they study emotions, there is huge debates, you know, yes. How much cognitive involvement there is in emotions? And how much of it is just your core, like basic response to increase the survival? Yes,

Gabija Toleikyte  15:23

I believe there will be lots of new findings and breakthroughs in neuroscience in the next 50 years.

Morten Andersen  15:29

Okay, so it sounds like there are three ways that we can investigate. In humans, the brain. One is, obviously if a person has a damage in a brain, we can see, okay, you have damage in that part of the brain, what does that do to your functioning, that's a very traditional way of, of experiencing and learning about the brain, the scanning of the brain MRI scanning, and then you also said, I'll try to put some electronic to to your brain and see what effect that does to your functioning or your memory or things like that, is that the three ways that we can investigate the brain at the moment,

Gabija Toleikyte  16:02

brain damaged patients been very, very useful in understanding how the brain functions about 50 years ago, since about 20-30 years ago, functional magnetic resonance imaging has actually did that, because then we can see intact brain fully functioning brain in action when we do specific tasks. So that's more informative, as opposed to the damaged brain, because there was there has always been a debate, you know, how much of that applies to the healthy individuals. And magnetic resonance imaging has been extremely, extremely useful. Functional is like imaging the brain in real time and magnetic resonance imaging without the functional part is just looking at the structure.

Morten Andersen  17:01

So it sounds like there's been a lot of new knowledge about the brain over the last 20 years. And you mentioned a couple, especially the plasticity, I think, personally, I think it's really, really fascinating that we develop new neurons, and that we can change patterns in our brain. The question now is, with that knowledge, what do we know in terms of how our brains function or work in times of change? What do we know when we want to make a new year's resolution? What does the brain do then? And how can we use that in terms of making those changes happen?

Gabija Toleikyte  17:36

Yes, it's a rather complex topic, when we trying to change. Some of the brain areas are very cooperative with that, such as the outer layer of the brain called neocortex. And in particularly, prefrontal cortex is not only willing to change but capable to change other brain areas, which are rooted much deeper in the brain, which can be grouped in so called the Pella mammalian complex, or in short mammal brain, they hate change, because for those ancient areas, they don't quite understand what's going to happen when you're going to change, they need safety above all. So changes is therefore often followed by anxiety, fear, and other emotions that naturally try to bring us back to equilibrium. So in other words, our brain is trying to push us back to the old habits, because mammal brain believes, if you have survived up until now, during these old actions, you're better off just repeating them. Hmm. mammal brain doesn't care about your highest aspirations, it just wants you to be safe, now human brain or the neocortex can understand much more complex information, it can understand what the potentials you have, it can understand all the possibilities, the change will open to you. And is also much more capable to change from the brain plasticity point of view. So often, those two areas are in conflict when we are trying to change. So first advice in creating change is actually doing very small steps at a time. A lot of my clients, you know, come to me and say, Okay, I want to change this and that and basically everything in my life. And when they try to do so, they feel okay, what's wrong with me that I can't change. So I always advise start with one thing. So for example, if somebody wants to be more physically active this year, start running, let's say, then perhaps starting with once a week, just going for 15 minute run once a week. If you did that successfully, you can either increase 15 minutes to 30 minutes or make it twice a week. So your brain doesn't actually freak out. And also, when we try to change is very important to see the point in why we're trying to change because Imagine you're trying to give up eating sugary snacks naturally for mammal brain associated with pleasure. For majority of people, it causes pleasure just thinking about it,

Morten Andersen  20:10

I can relate to that.

Gabija Toleikyte  20:12

Now, you will never ever be able to have that piece of cake again.

Morten Andersen  20:15

Well, I don't know, I don't feel very well about that topic.

Gabija Toleikyte  20:19

So that evokes pain. So what a new habit evokes pleasure or pain, we either more likely or less likely to do it, if it were treated with pain will naturally be resistant to do it. So we change the perspective. And I share in the book, a lot of kind of practical tools how to do that. But one of them is very simple. Write down all the benefits for you, and any other areas in your life that are important to you of you stopping eating sugary snacks. So maybe you'll feel better in yourself, you will not get a sugar crash in the afternoon, maybe you will look better and enjoy your body more, maybe you will have more energy and be able to do more podcasts and so on. So we want to trigger pleasure centers. When we think about not eating that cake, if you want to extend it even further, you cannot what are the drawbacks? If you kept on eating as much sugary snacks as you like, what would be drawbacks. First drawback I could think of is developing type two diabetes, and so on. So right now as many drawbacks as you could think of those together would certainly change the polarity. And then not eating that, let's say punish your colon in front of you would would actually cause more pleasure and eating it would cause pain. So in other words, you'll be more motivated. And you'll be much much easier to resist the temptation.

Morten Andersen  21:47

It's actually interesting, because I remember when I started reading psychology or studying psychology, there was a lot about pain and pleasure. And I always felt that it was very simplistic because, you know, are we not more complex animals than just thinking about pain and pleasure, but what you're actually saying is that, that makes total sense. Because we have a part of our brain, which really is only thinking about pain and pleasure and experiencing a new thing, it will evaluate quickly, is this painful? Is this pleasurable? And then they will they will say yes or no, based on that. So it is actually very binary, it's actually very simple. So therefore having those positive associations to a change, or having a lot of a big why for why change is necessary. does actually from a brain point of view makes total sense.

Gabija Toleikyte  22:36

Yeah. And when we talk about motivation, it's an emotional component. Motivation isn't rational. When you feel motivated to exercise, it means that you haven't triggered the men, right?

Morten Andersen  22:47

It sounds like I'm trying to, I wouldn't say trick part of my brain. But one part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex is trying to, to trick the mammal brain into thinking something as good.

Gabija Toleikyte  23:00

I like to use the word educate, because mammal brain is very simplistic, it doesn't understand the complexities. It lives in here. Now, it doesn't understand the future consequences. prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is much more complex in terms of thinking and it can understand both other people's needs, and also the future consequences. And you can bit by bit educate your mammal brain, what what does it really mean?

Morten Andersen  23:25

So has there been studies where a person has been trying to say the positive in a change or trying to create a why and how you can see how the, let's call them the mental part of the brain has actually changed activation. As part of that.

Gabija Toleikyte  23:40

These are quite tricky studies to do. So a lot of those implications of like looking at how the brain functions, but in order to kind of do on an individual basis, because there's so much variability within habits within the brain functioning, it's not very easy to rule it out. And perhaps it's not even needed. insights on the brain activity alone are sufficient. And then you can see whether it creates behavioral change required for you has been some interesting studies, though, showing the different metabolism of different brain areas which which also apply to creating change. So with the more evolved brain regions, such as prefrontal cortex is much more novel and much more evolved than than the mammal brain and mammal brain is more involved than the lizard brain or the brainstem, the more energy they require. Each activity requires the activation of 1000s of neurons in prefrontal cortex, as opposed to in the mammal brain. It might be just a few 100 of neural networks to be activated. So when we trying to make change, we need activation of prefrontal cortex which needs energy We also need to make sure that we have space and time for that to happen. If you're really overly busy, really like kind of juggling multiple tasks, and really struggled to keep everything together, in those periods of time, it's really hard to change anything. Also, if we're going through a tricky period emotionally, so if somebody is depressed, or grieving something, the change is also very, very, very hard. Because the brain is in survival mode, we need to be in so called thriving mode, to be able to create change. And for that reason, actually are looking at the habits which would help you to replenish and get good, such as sleeping hygiene, taking breaks, or habits such as meditation, mindfulness, and so on, would increase your chances in creating change. Nutrition is another field that can influence that.

Morten Andersen  25:56

Okay, you can have a brain in good health, and you can have a brain in bad health, so to speak, and the better health the brain is in, the more easy it is, or the more likely it is that you can make a change because it requires energy also for the prefrontal cortex to, let's say, educate the mammal part of the brain. And in order to have a healthy brain, it could be something to sleep well, nutrition, exercise, do mindfulness, and also generally just be in a in a good mood and not be too busy. Is that correct?

Gabija Toleikyte  26:32

That's correct. Let me illustrate. So imagine, you come back home, you have really, really busy day. Let's imagine that you want to have more empowered communication with your children, you come back home, and you're so tired, really exhausted, very hungry, you haven't eaten for a long time, and your children start nagging you for something, what are you likely to do,

Morten Andersen  26:53

I'll probably be a little bit too harsh with them.

Gabija Toleikyte  26:56

And that's normal, because your brain is is in survival mode at that period of time, your prefrontal cortex is not functioning optimally, it needs nutrients, and Recovery First, and normal brain is running the show on the map, every single one of us is selfish. We can't put other people's needs first. And physically, we can think, what would be the most empowered response in that time we can't compute. It's not possible. Imagine you you came back, and your children give to you and you said, Look, that is a bit too tired at the moment, I just need to have my dinner first. talk to you in half an hour, you sit down, you have a really nice meal. Let's imagine you have salmon and some vegetables and rice. You've eaten your hair you have to drink. And then you go to your children. Would your response be different?

Morten Andersen  27:45

Yeah, sure. Absolutely.

Gabija Toleikyte  27:47

Yeah. So actually being aware of where you're at, and what things you're capable of, might help you to create change desire. And, and that applies, in particular, if any of your listeners want to create change in the relationships, communication, leadership style, the most important thing that is to really observe, where you're at what your brain is capable of, at that moment, and to you if it's not a good time to interact with people. Yes, I lot of problems can be solved just by that.

Morten Andersen  28:19

Yes. And I suppose what is making you stressed what is taking energy from you, is different from person to person. So if I'm just thinking a little bit about some people being introverted, some people being extroverted than introverted people might use a lot of energy in social relations, and therefore coming home actually being more tired than somebody in the same position, being extroverted, maybe have more energy for their children or for the for their spouse.

Gabija Toleikyte  28:49

Yeah, surely. And also, we have somewhat individual energy levels at different times of the day, some people are really, really good in the mornings, while other them flourish in the evenings. So just observing your individual patterns is very important.

Morten Andersen  29:06

And the high level of energy is important because our thinking I cannot educate our mammal I, if we do not have sufficient energy. If I was a leader at a workplace, for instance, and I wants to impose a change on a group of individuals, I guess what you've said is that one, I would need to stake the why I would need to convince them, so to speak about the positive about this change so they can convince their part of the brain that this is positive, but then also maybe make sure that there is not too busy at work with other changes or with other part of work. So they actually have time to do that. Is that correct?

Gabija Toleikyte  29:49

Yes. And maybe even more powerful would be to ask the team members to actually add down the benefits for that because my benefits wouldn't influence You, because each of us has have has very individual value here. And therefore different things would feel motivating. For each each of us writing down very specific individual benefit lists based on our individual values will be much more powerful. But also, if there is really tight deadlines, and there is high stressful situations that would unfortunately, a sabotage change. Very interestingly, when leaders use the leadership style called resonant leadership, which honors relationships honors emotional needs of people provides with safety, the team members where, in other words, leaders who truly care about the members, that actually buffers against negative effects of stress to the brain plasticity. So resonant leadership, in fact, increases the possibility of change, even in stressful times. So that's one of the things So first, reducing stress for the team if possible, reducing workload possible, and providing support providing help for them to create that change, but also using resonant leadership. And if lead is to visit, there could be in work coaches available to provide the resonant relationship to team members, okay.

Morten Andersen  31:28

You just mentioned resonant leadership, that is a specific circuit of your brain that you're using. And it has a specific outcome, can you tell us a little bit about what resonant leadership is

Gabija Toleikyte  31:41

to be fair to create the resonant leadership, or resonant relationships, you don't even need to be formal leaders to be able to need multiple brain networks, but can be grouped into so called default mode network. It's a really large network. And interestingly, we activate this network when we are daydreaming, we activate this network when we are thinking about our past experiences, and imagining our future experiences. We're using this network. Now when we act socializing with each other, when we're connecting, not only at the information exchange level, but also at the emotional level. So this, this network allows us to be social to truly other people to be empathic. So if for example, if you were now in pain, I would empathize with you being in pain and alter my behavior accordingly, the phone network enables me to do so now there is another network called task positive network, which other type of leaders called dissonant leaders activate that positive network is primarily focused on getting things done. So imagine I went to, I could see that you're in pain, but I didn't care, I just wanted to get through the interview, that's task positive network, we don't connect with people at the emotional level, we only connect with them as the kind of means to the achieve task. I know it might sound a little bit negative, but task positive network is crucial for us to get things done. So in other words, if I'm sitting at my computer at work, and trying to complete the PowerPoint presentation for my lecture, and people keep coming and talking to me, and I could see that people are struggling emotionally, it will totally distract me, and I wouldn't get anything done. It would be nice for them, that I'm connecting with them and talking to them, but it would completely jeopardize my productivity. So at the times, I really am imagining my presentation is tomorrow. So at that time, you need to switch off, turn my task positive network on to get things done. So in other words, there is time in place for different leadership styles in different behavior styles, and different brain networks activated. Now, the most interesting thing about those networks is we can't activate both of them at the same time. You know, if you're having conversation with your team member, your spouse, your child, you have to think what does this person need from me now? Do they need to empathize and connected with to regulate the emotional side? Or do they need me to stay focused in the task positive mode to help them to achieve the task and using that whichever you think is more appropriate.

Morten Andersen  34:21

So we have two networks. And one if a leader if a person, it could be a parent is is using that is called the resonant network which is activated, which is a let's call it a people orientated network and where you show empathy and then you have a task or a thing orientated network was called the dissonant network. And it's interesting that one is about getting things done and one is about empathizing and and having good relations with people and they are two different networks in our brain. I think what is really also interesting is that obviously We can change by changing our network so to speak. And we can actually do something specific to activate one network over the other. But what I also think is interesting is if we consider something like mirror neurons, which is that we can actually influence people around us which network that we have. So if I have a resonant network, and I want to engage with other people, and I feel a great level of empathy with others, they also have that network activated more likely, if I have that, is that is that how it works?

Gabija Toleikyte  35:34

Definitely. So both are resonant and dissonant leadership styles are contagious. The brain imaging studies by Richard boyatzis. And Tony Jack showed that when people were imagining resonant leaders, the resonance networks been activated in their own brains, when they imagining the interactions with distant leaders. They became distant  men themselves without those networks. But very interestingly, the effects on mirror neuron system by resonant leadership, were stronger to resonance, have a greater emotional contagion on the team members than dismantle leaders?

Morten Andersen  36:12

Yeah. What do you essentially saying is that we get infected by other people's brain patterns. So if I want to make a change, I am more likely to make that change and make it stick if I'm surrounded by people who see positive around this change, or who also believes that this is a good thing, compared to if I'm surrounded with people who don't want to change, I don't think this is a good thing

Gabija Toleikyte  36:37

that would be in direct way, but it definitely has some merit. So it wouldn't be by the mirror neuron system, it would be more by emotional contagion. When good emotional state where we feel encouraged, believed in having pleasant social interactions, our mammal brain is more quiet. Therefore, it doesn't sabotage the activity of prefrontal cortex. And we are more aware of what we need to do, we are more productive in getting things done. And we are more capable to change. When we are around people who are negative critical. We are constantly triggers the mammal brain, and especially the center of mammal brain called amygdala can actually jack the prefrontal cortex. So imagine if somebody criticized you and suddenly triggered like stress response, anger and anxiety, how rational Are you at the moment?

Morten Andersen  37:34

Yes, and I guess the amygdala, every time that it, it hijacks me, I become very irrational, I become very emotional, essentially,

Gabija Toleikyte  37:43

all of us do. Only people with amygdala damage or inappropriate functioning of amygdala don't listen, people where amygdala is not connected to rational centers, and which, in fact, although it sounds like a nice thing that you know, amygdala wouldn't hijack your rational thinking, but they're completely incapable and making decisions because they can't incorporate the desires into actions. Yes. So that connection between the Midland prefrontal cortex is crucial for us being who we are, when a niggle is trigger, we can be rational, we become a little bit like small children. Yes, you all have different patterns. So some, some people tend to be outwardly, while other people might actually be physically aggressive. And all of them are natural parts of the brain. So the one to change that we can't quite get rid of that that the brain is made. But we can actually stop taking action for about 15 minutes. It could be jealousy, it could be stress, it could be anger, don't allow yourself to do anything. With influence the situation for 15 minutes. There is some interesting ideas, then in the romantic couples arguing. So in a john Gottman research lab, and he was fascinated in studying marriages and relationships, he couples to talk about the conflict, the area of conflict. And when conversations started to get heated, people were getting the amygdala triggered and they were using more and more accusative language. And they would only past mistakes people done and so on. In other words, they've been been becoming much more mammal brain dominant thinkers, which was triggering other persons and make them even more. But what they've done, very clever. They said, You know what, I'm really sorry, the microphone is not working because the couples were being filmed and the conversations were being recorded. So they interrupted the couple and said, Could you guys just stop conversation and do something individually now to fix it? So they pretended that they were fixing the microphones for 15 minutes? And after that, they said, Okay, well, you can start your conversation. What do you think happened to those couples?

Morten Andersen  39:57

That's so fascinating. So the amygdala Sponsor essentially lowered, and therefore they got less emotional about it and therefore could have a more clear conversation,

Gabija Toleikyte  40:07

they could actually see the other points of view much more. So you know what, I can see what what I've just said could be hurtful to you. And in fact, probably not even core back. And I deviated from the point. And yes, I know you want to have a dog, for example, if that was the area of conflict, but these are the counter side to the storm. So these are all the kind of disadvantages, but I can see your point of view why these are your advantages, right. So they were able to get into the other person's point of view, am I and also have much more rational conversation, which is one of the functions of prefrontal cortex was prefrontal cortex being hijacked as just not possible, we just, we either want to win, or escape because we are escaping in safety.

Morten Andersen  40:54

Yes, if I have a teammate, I want to give that person a critical feedback on let's say, a presentation he or she gave, then a good way to do that would be to say, I want to give you some feedback on your presentation, and then allow that person to have a little bit of space before I actually gave them that information. So they were not, let's say hijacked by that Amygdala by at that time.

Gabija Toleikyte  41:18

Yes. And also maybe giving a chance for people to choose, but it's a good time now or not, or perhaps might be that giving some information, or maybe even sending some information by email, and calling a meeting after so they already process information, they could come down, and then they could talk in person. Okay. But the other good point is that when we give feedback, we often tend to point out what negatives have the productivity or about the presentation, right? But we forget to mention with things the done Wow. Hmm. So in fact, and the Gottman suggest that the ratio should be at least five to one, five positives to one negative, and maybe mentioning just one thing to improve, because if we mentioned too many things to improve, it overwhelms the amygdala, it causes so much pain that they don't even want to think about, because it is. So just choosing what would be the most important thing if that person that will change the productivity or performance and just mentioning that thing. And other meeting mentioning another thing, and also learning what things the person actually improved in the recent times.

Morten Andersen  42:29

Okay, so you have just published a book called Why the F*ck Can't I Change? What answer is there to that? What is your conclusion to Why do people struggle with change.

Gabija Toleikyte  42:41

And a lot of times when we try to change, we really underestimate what is required to happen in the brain for us to change. And I shared some of those insights already in the podcast, but in the book, there is a lot more. And they are specific to the different fields of change, and divide book nine chapters being habits, emotions, personality, brain health decision making, productivity, relationships, communication, and leadership. And look specifically how in each of those areas if we want to incorporate change, what relevant information from the brain science, and what are the practical tools, I share coaching tools and other practical tools, what practical tools could help me to create that change. So we need to work in accordance how the brain functions as opposed to against it, and resolutions in the way majority of us set them they work against how the brain function, were doomed to fail. In other words, when we kind of set up to change everything at once in a short space of time.

Morten Andersen  43:48

So if this was recorded a month ago, and people were just about to make their new year's resolutions, which three advice would you give people as they were about to make new year's resolutions?

Gabija Toleikyte  44:03

One exercise I really like about setting new year's resolutions better is firstly, drawing the timeline of your life. Take your age, and let's imagine you live up until let's say 100 years, and then divide the remaining time into decades and set a topic for the decade. So for example, for me topic now is combining being a great mother with doing well in my career. Managing both knees is very important to me for the next 10 years. In another decade. It would be writing as many books as possible, or, you know, university professor, whatever that is, and writing the titles, and that expands the timeline, then we don't feel the urgency I need to change everything. Now. We have plenty time. Even if I was 70 years old now. I still have 30 years to go I still have things to do right. So so the stretching The timeline is first thing, then dividing the decade, you could do three year segments or five year segments to five year segments. And writing on was the most important thing for you to focus next five years, and what are the five steps to achieve it, and just focusing on one. So for me, for my for example, career Now, given that I have written a book, and it's time sensitive, it's actually do everything I can, to help this book reach as many people as possible, is probably number one priority in terms of my working, and just kind of focusing on the actions to do with that, because when we said to our brain, multiple targets, he can't focus on anything at once. Okay, this year, I just focus on book publicity as much as possible, and do all the other things I need to do as well like University lecturing, coaching, and, and spending time with my daughter. But there would be something where my brain would be looking out for executing and focusing. And if for somebody who's maybe health, or improving relationships, or maybe finding a partner they see, or maybe changing career, just choosing one topic, and doing one thing at a time. And there is another thing I really want to share each day, ask yourself, what is the most meaningful thing today, I can do just one thing towards that goal. So for me today, the most meaningful thing I could do is to have a conversation with you and reach out to you audience, I completed this task for today, if for somebody is being healthier. So maybe instead of pastry, having boiled eggs for breakfast, write it for somebody being more physically active, maybe going for 15 minutes walk after breakfast. So just choosing one thing. And once that if you completed that, and you want to know what to do next, ask what's the second most important thing get done today. And then second thing doesn't necessarily need to be congruent with that task of the year, because we have multiple responsibilities. So so that kind of will help and starting with the number one priority. And just writing one thing on to do list for many people help actually to reduce the procrastination as well.

Morten Andersen  47:10

Fantastic. So I what I hear your advice, really is to break it down into, you know, take a big goal, and to break it down into baby steps and everyday say, what meaningful step Can I take today. And that will help us because our brain actually fight against change. But if we break them down into small steps, then our brain is more likely to help us along that change journey.

Gabija Toleikyte  47:35

And we have much more likely to accumulate success. When we do things in such a small steps, more success, we accumulate more motivation, we have to keep on going.

Morten Andersen  47:45

I think that's a really good point that you know that we need to reward ourselves, but also accumulate success stories, because that will leave an imprint with us that we can actually do this. Fantastic. So I have no doubt that understanding our brain better understanding the area of neuroscience is a phenomenally important thing for us, as we get to understand ourselves and get to understand our change and how we can change more effectively, I want to thank you very much for coming in today. And speaking with me, I really, really appreciate that. So I just want to recommend all our listeners to to get your book and read it because it has a lot of insights into you know how our brain works, and how we can use that insight to make a change. So thank you very much,

Gabija Toleikyte  48:31

Bill. And thank you so much, Morten, it's been pleasure talking to you.

Morten Andersen  48:34

Thank you. I think we can learn a lot from neuroscience when we want to make a change. In fact, I think we'll struggle to make any type of change. If we do not take into account how we are wired, I took three things away from my talk with Gabby. One, we underestimate what it takes to make a change our oldest part of our brain, the reptilian, and the mammalian brain does not like change. In fact, they want to preserve the status quo. But our most recent and most executive parts of our brain, such as our prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, while they like change, so we must use our new brain to educate our old brain. And only then will we be successful. Two: our brain must be in strong health at the time when we want to make a change. I know it sounds a bit strange to talk about different parts of us having separate health. But I do think that if we can create an environment where our brain has the best condition to work well, and yeah, let's call that brain health. Well, then that's good. So remember, sleep well eat well, and avoid being in a stressful state. And finally, point number three. Be careful about the amygdala. Hi jack, David Goldman described an amygdala hijack as a personal and emotional response that is overwhelming and out of measure. So we're doing something in the heat of a moment. And afterwards we're saying, what was I thinking, our rational mind cannot stop the emotional part. And we experienced this because in essence, the amygdala has a privileged status in our brain so to speak, it can hijack the rest of the brain if it needs to. So if we feel threatened, it can respond irrationally. Now, you can avoid this by mindfulness, for instance, by breathing, slowing down and trying to focus your thoughts. Gabija has made a great TEDx talk, where she talks about the two types of leadership styles that we also talked about in the podcast interview, and I will encourage you to check it out. So enjoy that. Until next time, take care

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