What it is to “Be Human”

Welcome to this first episode of the Naked, Nurtured, Nudged podcast.

You know, I’ve been working in this neuroleadership, communication and coaching space for many years now, and I’ve become passionate about continuing to understand and manage what it is to be this thing that we call a human. And of course, we are fortunate to now be able to access the new science of humans.

Scientists have learnt more about the human brain in the last 30 years than in all of history, particularly in the area of social cognitive neuroscience. And this new science provides us with many new ways to think about how we work with each other, how we collaborate and how we communicate with each other.

We know more about how to think more productively and creatively, and we understand at a much more cellular level the underlying motivation of the human brain. We also understand that whilst humans are an amazing species, we can be quite hopeless. I’m sure you’ve done stuff in your life that you regret. I’m sure you’ve said to yourself “Goodness, what was I thinking when I did or said that to my friend”. The reality is that you most likely weren’t thinking. That is, your intelligent thinking brain was most likely compromised in that moment, and you were operating on the autopilot that’s driven by your survival brain.

So let’s take a moment to think about your own brain right now.

Do you know how it really works?

Do you know how to get the best from it?

Do you understand it’s potential and it’s limitations? (And let me tell you, there’s plenty of limitations that we are mostly unaware of).

And do you understand, for example, that we are so uncontrollably driven by cognitive bias that we are literally biassed about our ability to recognise and control our bias? That’s a bit of a design fault, isn’t it?

I grew up in a small town where there was no public transport. There was one taxi and a lot of social activities to get to with my friends. Small country towns are very, very social, So at the age of 17, I was of course, very keen to get my driver’s licence. But my dad, an ex mechanic, wouldn’t let me get my licence until I had properly educated myself about the vehicle that I was about to be in control of. It makes sense, right. He wanted me to understand its power and it’s limitations and how to manage it safely, and not where the engine out or where the tyres out. Something that over time can, of course, be quite costly.

Most of us, of course, learn to drive a car quite easily these days, in particular, without needing to worry about gears and a clutch. It’s pretty simple. Most of us can make a car go, we can make it stop, and we can use it to get us to places. But when that strange banging noise begins, or we smell something that doesn’t quite make sense, most of us don’t really know how to diagnose and fix those potential problems before they start to impact. And, of course, I would say that that’s what roadside assistance is for right. But the problem is, most of us haven’t really taken the time to understand what goes on underneath the bonnet, and in a way, it’s the same with our brains. We only pay attention to our brains when something stops working that of course can get us into trouble.

We know relatively little about this powerful and complex organ. It is the most complex thing in the universe, yet we’re in control of it, and it controls virtually everything we do. Our lack of brain expertise means that we don’t always recognise the warning signs of making inaccurate assumptions or unfair judgments about people and situations, or when we assume that our perspective is the only one or when we respond to situations with defensive behaviour. Or maybe we push back in non useful ways.

We don’t understand that being inclusive and embracing diversity is actually something our brains naturally resist. So simply requiring a workplace of inclusion and diversity is not simply a policy change when we don’t have a deeper understanding of what’s under the hood of our head, of our brain. We don’t realise that when our cognitive capacity and ability to be subjective has been compromised because we aren’t brain mechanics were just these clueless drivers relying on a GPS or a Satnav that doesn’t always select the most efficient route to our desired destination.

And so this is the naked part of the Naked, Nurtured, Nudged podcast.

It’s about taking time to understand and unpack the workings of your brain and how it responds to its environment. It’s about learning and experimenting with how to peel back the layers of habit, cognitive bias and reactive behaviour to find the naked truth of a situation before we take action. It’s about getting curious about what’s really going on for you or for someone else.

When things aren’t going to plan in our upcoming podcast, we’re going to dive into many different aspects of human experience. We’ll do some work around how the human brain is wired. We’ll look at things like self control and self regulation. We’ll look at the brains, social nature and it’s need for connection. More importantly, we’ll look at why it is that sometimes we can be so confused that we find it difficult to speak our truth. We’ll look at why it’s so difficult sometimes for us to even understand what the problem is that we’re dealing with this difficulty that we have in terms of peeling back the layers of surface thinking and assumption and bias to find out the real issue because we spend an awful lot of time as human beings trying to solve the wrong problems.

But for now, let’s look specifically at the 3 connectors here, the Naked, the Nurtured and the Nudge, and we’ll start with the idea of this ‘getting naked’.

The dictionary definition of naked is to express feelings and engage in behaviour openly and undisguised. Really like that ‘openly and undisguised’, because we’re not always that way, are we? We are often solving the wrong problem. We are often hiding things because we don’t feel safe to express them and we’re often making unintended, I guess, assumptions and judgments about other people.

What we’re going to explore in future episodes is just how difficult it is to understand your own truth, and the truth of others. We’ll be aiming to use some frameworks to diagnose what’s going on so we can respond and prescribe better responses and solutions to everyday human challenges. Getting naked is about being able to strip away all the stuff that’s not useful and focusing on the stuff that is. We’ll explore the essence of human motivation and behaviour and play with how to manage it in more productive and useful ways.

So let’s get on to talking about the nurtured part of Naked, Nurtured Nudged. Now I live in Australia and here whilst we may sometimes complain that we are over regulated in many aspects of our lives, there’s one thing that I think most people will agree needs to be highly regulated. And that’s the area of safety.

Organisations have to by law do everything possible to ensure the safety of their workers, and mostly they do. However, when we think of workplace health and safety, we do tend to think more about the mining or the building industries and the use of personal protective equipment.

The reality is that the psychological safety of a human being is as important under this legislation as physical safety. And it’s just that psychological safety is much harder to measure to understand, to diagnose or to influence. So we tend not to focus on it as much and cross our fingers and hope it will be fine. It turns out, though, but a sense of psychological safety, that is a sense of being looked after and nurtured and protected, is a major contributor to workplace performance, to creativity, to problem solving, to relationship building at a great team, work and collaboration.

What we now know is that the slightest feeling of being unsafe in a work or a home environment, that is not feeling like you can talk openly or honesty, not being able to challenge or to admit to failure, will significantly impede cognitive performance. In other words, your brain won’t work as well and will be vulnerable to being defensive, being biassed or maybe even lashing out or going into avoidance and shut down. So if we want to get the best from ourselves and from others in our workplace or our family, we need to understand how the brain needs to be nurtured. We need to feel a sense of psychological safety.

This also requires us to develop exceptional self leadership and develop exceptional self leadership in others so that they can show up to work and in their homes and lives as fully functional humans. Developing self leadership means developing the presence to know when we’re not feeling safe and are not behaving or thinking in useful or functional ways, and having strategies to refocus and move to more useful states. If you’re a parent or a carer, this is about supporting your children to develop that self leadership as well, so that they can grow to be fully functional members of our society and great contributors to their workplaces in community.

The dictionary meaning of nurture is to help or encourage the development of someone or something, or alternatively, to care for and protect someone or something while they’re growing. It fits perfectly into this idea of humans needing to be nurtured.

But now let’s go to the final of the three ends the nudged part. This is my passion area. Nudging in this context means lots of things, but it manifests in how we prime our communication and how we engage in conversations.

I openly advocate a coaching approach to learning how to master conversations, because when you train and master the art of coaching in particular the kind of coaching that we teach at leading humans, which is brain based, human centred coaching, it’s not so much about what you do or say. As a coach, it’s about who you become. It’s about who you evolve into. It’s about your mindset and your skill set. It’s about being present and thoughtful and curious and empathetic, and the patient human that you become believes in the possibility and potential of others. A masterful coach learns to notice and to avoid judgement, a masterful coach learns how to help other humans to help themselves, gifting them with the reward of confidence in themselves and their ability, which, of course, fosters better performance.

There is such a thing in behavioural economics and science as nudge theory. In essence, Nudge Theory proposes that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions or in the conversation in the world, deliberately focusing people’s attention to things that are useful are ways to influence the behaviour and decision making of groups and individuals. Nudging is sort of the opposite of education campaigns or legislation or enforcing a policy. Here’s an example, (and if you happen to have had the experience of being a parent to a toddler at a grocery store, you’ll know what I’m talking about). In this example, supermarkets make more profit on chocolates and lollies than they do on fresh food and healthy snacks. So they put the less healthy snacks at the checkout. I want to remember being so upset when my supermarket changed the lolly and chocolate shelves to be in the same aisle as the nappies and the baby food. You can imagine how difficult it was to get to the end of that aisle without either a tantrum or some additions to the grocery trolley. So what they are in effect doing is aligning the world to nudge people to make a decision or a choice, that they may not have done otherwise, without actually telling them to do that.

There are many, many ways to nudge a human, but if you can help someone pay attention to what’s needed and help them to work out how they’re going to do that, there is an increased likelihood that they will act upon it. Even if initially, it was something they were wanting to avoid in an experiment in the Netherlands and in an attempt to shift people from unhealthy to healthy snack options with, I guess, a bigger focus on community health. The health authorities found that people in snack shops in train stations purchased more fruit and healthy snack options when they were relocated next to the cash register, people’s attention was nudged and they remembered they wanted to be more healthy and there was the snack. In fact, in 2016, Australia formed its own nudge unit following one that New South Wales had set up in 2012. It’s called Byetta the behavioural economics team of Australia, and it uses techniques from social engineering, psychology and marketing to influence public thinking and decision making to improve compliance within government policy, thereby decreasing compliance costs. So, yes, you and I are constantly being nudged by governments, advertising agencies and social media platforms.

You could say that nudging is the new influence you see in reality as humans. We don’t like to be told what to do. We prefer to decide for ourselves, or at least think we have decided for ourselves. I would argue that even when someone asks you, what should I do? And it seems obvious that they want you to tell them. In most cases, they do already have some thoughts in mind. When you just jump in and start waxing lyrical with your incredible knowledge and pre prepared solutions, people feel not listened to or that their ideas or thoughts haven’t been, consider that you haven’t even been curious enough to understand what they are thinking already.

So likewise, when governments or leaders in organisations or our parents tell us we have to do something, humans push back. You only have to have lived through this covid pandemic and seen the challenges of getting people to stay at home or to wear masks or to get vaccinated to see that even when things appear to make perfect sense, the human brain can easily push back if it feels unheard, unappreciated or simply told that it must do something without any choice or option.

So for me, in the context of our human conversations and how we collaborate and communicate, nudging is amplified by the facilitation of human insight. You might know it as the aha moment. We know intuitively that people will tend not to change their behaviour unless they change their thinking. We know from relatively new science that when humans experience insight, there is a chemical reaction that we love and crave, and that in that moment we are more likely to take ownership and be accountable for our actions or simply for taking action.

We also know the elements that need to be present in the human brain for an insight to occur, and we can learn to set up a conversation and ask questions in a way that sets up that environment and can shortcut the pathway to that insight. You can literally save days and weeks if someone who knows how to have a nudge style conversation can support you in your thinking.

So Naked, Nurtured, Nudged is about spending some time exploring what it really means to be human, to know what can get in the way of our potential and our performance and how to manage it. It’s about understanding the criticality of providing safe environments for our workmates and our families if we’re to support them, to grow, to develop and give their best.

It’s about developing exceptional self leadership so that we can show up as often as possible as fully functional humans in our workplaces and in our personal relationships. And it’s about how we positively influence and communicate with each other. It’s about mastering the art of powerful conversation that helps people to think productively and creatively and to be open to changing our thinking for the better.

I’m looking forward to our conversations during this podcast series, so I’d like to leave you with a little nudge experiment. In this first episode, I want you to start to be an observer, start just to be in the moment, wherever you are, as you are listening to this, whether you’re driving or on a bus or at your desk or on the back deck, which, let’s face it, is probably the best way to be listening to this podcast. See if you can just sit in the moment and notice what’s happening inside you and around you.

What feeling and emotion is prominent?

What are you thinking about? Are you mind wandering?

What can you see around you that perhaps you weren’t paying attention to until just now?

What sounds? Can you hear that you are now only hearing because you’ve tuned in?

Start also to notice what’s happening with other people. Notice their facial expressions, their body language, their words and their tone. When we focus on naked, nurtured and nudged, it starts with noticing over the next week or so.

Set a mindfulness bell, perhaps an app that you can download or an hourly alarm during the day. And when it rings, just take a moment to be present. Build this noticing muscle so that you’re building a great foundation for what’s coming next on this podcast.

So once again, welcome to the Naked, Nurtured, Nudged Podcast series. Thanks for listening today. This is CEO Michelle Loch until next time, stay safe and be a leading human by making every human connection and conversation count.

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