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Cognitive warfare — self-awareness, influence and control

Tim Boughton
Tim Boughton

Senior Partner, Practice Leader - Leadership & Resilience

We live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. Many of us cannot define what normal is in the World context or our daily lives. How do we take control and flourish?

Nietzsche said ‘What you practice, you become’. If we practice negativity we will endure a day of negative thinking. Our mind is a modern day weapon, it lies to us on a daily basis, it convinces us that our thoughts are fact which often leads to deep rumination, anxiety and panic – just look at social media and the news. However, we can control the narrative, we can train our brain (much like our body) to work for us, rather than against us.

Brain training

The neuroplasticity of the brain ensures that we can train it and create new neural pathways that frame our thoughts in a more rational belief based way. This is not new, it’s been around for thousands of years within Buddhist Psychology and stoic philosophy. Because our lives are so busy and full on, we often live much of what we do on autopilot. If you don’t believe me just sit down with a piece of paper and write on the left ‘Nourishing’ and on the right ‘Depleting’. Then populate those columns with everything you can think of that add value to your life right now or take it away. Because our mind is more visually based, I guarantee your depleting list will have on it things you didn’t even realise you were doing – so, time to get rid of them.

The power of Self-Awareness is key

Once we are aware of the things that deplete us, cause us stress or recognise that they are sending us down an irrational spiraling pathway, then we have the Influence to do something about them, to put in place the tools and habits to train the mind in a more positive way. In essence, we bring attention and awareness to what we are doing, be it an email, talking with those we love or in the work place – often avoiding unnecessary conflict. We then have Control in how we live our lives from that moment on, maybe pausing as we walk through an amazing park and see things we haven’t seen before, maybe sitting on the drive after a hard day at work for two minutes and asking yourself ‘What sort of person do I want to be when I walk through that door?’

Positivity in a VUCA world

We know that by being more aware, acting more rationally we not only change our relationships for the better. We can also gain a sense of our own normality in a VUCA world. So, going back to my quote, if we practice the positive things then that is what we will become. It may take time and practice, but it will happen if we want it enough.

'We can control the narrative, we can train our brain (much like our body) to work for us, rather than against us.'

Achieving self-awareness: it’s literally in your hands

I’ll leave you with a great exercise that you can do at home easily when you wake up every morning and has been proven to work through cognitive based research.

Many of us sleep with our phones next to, or near us. Ask the question ‘do I really need to do this?’ Reaching for our phones first thing is not a great way to kickstart our mind or our day. Instead, when you wake up, grab a thumb and think of one thing you are grateful for that day, then the first finger and do the same and continue until you have thought of ten things.

You may not manage all ten on the first few days and that’s absolutely fine. But over time you will, and you will notice how your mood will change when getting out of bed each morning.

This is the tip of the Self-Awareness iceberg and the team are I are here to help you through that journey. It’s incredibly empowering when you do, not only for you, but also those around you. Give it ago.

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