Turning on the Part of You that Turns the Key

Dr. Keith Ablow

Turning on the Part of You that Turns the Key

April 29, 2022

We all know it:  There’s cruising along and then there’s truly going for it.  And it takes an actual decision to switch gears and engage all 12 cylinders of your mental engine.

The cruising along mindset is the way you feel, mindset-wise, when you’re attending a meeting, and you know that you’re really not the one presenting and won’t likely be called upon to offer key insights.  It’s that feeling you may have had when you were in grade school, and another student was the one sharing her project for the next hour, or the teacher announced that he was going to show a movie.  You didn’t walk out. You didn’t fall asleep. But you weren’t laser-beam focused, either.  You felt “free” to glide through what you were listening to or watching, because the material “wouldn’t be on the test.”

Truly going for it, mindset-wise, feels much more like “digging in.”  You can feel it, as you lean into a meeting or really put yourself out there stating an opinion or really devote yourself to a project.  It’s what people mean when they say, “He really brought it.”  

The interesting thing about digging in or leaning in or bringing it is that you can, as I said, decide to do it.  It’s often a conscious choice, rather than a reflex.  You have to call yourself to action, metaphorically make sure that you’re attacking a problem, not just listening to it as a passive observer.  You have to talk yourself into igniting your energy and channeling it in a particular direction.

Here’s an example:  When I give speeches, I tell myself that it has to be a speech that leaves the audience changed, in an important way.  They have to be moved to question things they thought were for sure, or be brought to tears by stories that speak to them at a basic, human level, or get angry because I have very starkly stated something controversial that I deeply believe to be true.  I tell myself that members of my audience are giving me an hour of their time, and that it has to be a really important hour that they remember for a very long time.

Talking to myself in that way—with intention—is a way of immunizing myself from cruising along or “calling it in.”  The self-dialogue triggers neurological circuitry that is “listening” for real marching orders.  And whether through increased activity of norepinephrine or epinephrine or dopamine, those orders translate into more brain activity in brain pathways related to attention and intention.

That circuitry exists in all of us, by the way, but we should use it more.  It won’t ever get used up.  Using it, in fact, will only replenish its power.  

Whatever project or presentation or relationship you are actualizing, I wouldn’t assume that your brain will burn rubber at the starting line and race forward to the win, however many laps away.  You have to tell it too.  Because your brain is actually listening to you.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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