Your Basal Ganglia is Your Friend


Why do we resist change? There are various reasons. And this morning I want to focus on this idea: we want to conserve resources. And to learn something new, our prefrontal cortex uses a lot of energy.


However, once we learn something (let's take driving, for instance) our basal ganglia is utilized, which uses much less energy.


David Rock's book, Your Brain at Work, was an eye-opener to me when I read it a few years back.


This part of the brain, located near the core, is where neural circuits of long-standing habit are formed and held. It requires much less energy to function than working memory does, in part because it seamlessly links simple behaviors from brain modules that have already been shaped by extensive training and experience.*

However, once we learn something (let's take driving for instance) our basal ganglia is utilized which is uses much less energy.


The basal ganglia can function exceedingly well without conscious thought in any routine activity. In contrast, working memory fatigues easily and can hold only a limited amount of information “on line” at any one time. Therefore, any activity conducted repetitively (to the point of becoming a habit) will tend to get pushed down into the basal ganglia, the habit-center part of the brain. This frees up the processing resources of the prefrontal cortex. *

This is why I believe participating in even the most basic applied improvisation games and exercises can be so powerful.


My work with organizations follows this path:

1. We first taste this experience of connecting through play (applied improvisation basic games and exercises). Joy and collaborative energy and flow gets unlocked.

2. We reflect on our experience and what's made possible by a present, supportive, agile way-of-being.

3. We ideate and discover ways that we can integrate this learning (in an embodied way throughout our work and lives)

4. We practice regularly. (and our basal ganglia becomes our friend!)


What would be made possible if it became second nature to:


expect the unexpected, and lean into it?

to be very present and supportive with those around you?

to be curious and expectant vs. fearful and protective?


What's one small step you can make today towards developing these core skills?



*Source: David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz https://www.strategy-business.com/article/06207?gko=f1af3

Resource: David Rock's Neuroleadership site


NOTE: Art Sherwood, Ph.D and I have started a Liberating Structures User Group here in Bellingham. LSbellingham.info is our local website for upcoming events. June 13 at 5pm is Episode 2! LS is all about increasing engagement and innovation as we face complex problems.


#appliedimprovisation #basalganglia #organizationalhealth #coreskills

©2019 by David Westerlund. Photo credits: Ramona Laird, Alvin Shim, and David Westerlund.