Researcher explores ‘Your Brain on Its Own” in VGCC lecture

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Phil Dixon makes a point during the second lecture in his VGCC series.

To deal with change, manage stress and gain insight into making good decisions, it’s best to understand yourself and how your brain works, neuroscience researcher Phil Dixon shared with an audience at Vance-Granville Community College on Feb. 27, for his second of three sessions on “Using Your Brain for a Change.”

“In all of these situations, if you don’t understand yourself, you’re not going to be able to understand others,” Dixon said. A resident of Oxford, N.C., who is originally from England, Dixon has worked in a variety of industries around the world, including a time with Apple. His passion for neuroscience led to the series of lectures that are being sponsored by VGCC’s Office of the Endowment. The first was held in January, and he’ll conclude with a session later this month.

In the February session, “Your Brain on Its Own,” Dixon focused on various profiles, tendencies, influences and contexts that help persons understand who they are and how they are likely to react. His research about the brain is driven by a desire to help individuals become better leaders and make better decisions in their daily lives.

Dixon explored a variety of “profiles” designed to help individuals better understand themselves. The “Five Ps” profile, for example, reveals that we are all different. “What is a threat to one person may not be a threat to another,” Dixon noted.

“Character Profile,” meanwhile, begins with distinguishing individuals by whether they have an “ask” or a “tell” orientation. “To what degree do you tell people what to do, versus asking people what should be done?” he asked. From that vantage point, individuals are seen in one of four categories: Analytical (being correct vs. wrong), Driver (wanting results vs. fearing failure), Amiable (valuing relationships vs. fearing rejection) and Expressive (feeling exhilaration vs. a fear of not being good enough).

Meanwhile, knowing your tendencies — biases, habits, patterns of behavior, the triggers that may cause reactions, and paradigms — will help you better understand how to maintain your focus, Dixon explained.

He also noted the importance of understanding those things that have an influence on your life — beliefs, values, familiarity, memories, available choices, intelligence, etc. — and the context in which you view the world — your personal experiences, life cycles and recent events. “Your genetics make a difference,” he added. “The current data says that your genetics give you about 40 percent of your character.”

In discussing the dynamics of how the brain reacts to change, Dixon explored the learning process required should a person decide to go through a change — feasibility, appeal, agreeableness, resistance to change, readiness to change, and the celebration of small successes, among other points.

He recalled the character, “Yoda,” from the “Star Wars” movies, who said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Dixon noted, “When we say that I’ll ‘try’ and do that, what happens in your brain? You set yourself up with an excuse. I only said I’ll try and do it. I didn’t say I’d do it.”

Dixon also explored strategies for dealing with stress, ways to prevent stress and how important it is to get enough sleep and maintain positivity in your life.

Decision making, he said, needs to be carefully planned. Making decisions is only sometimes logical, rational, conscious and data-based, he said. It’s often based on emotion and is nonconscious and irrational, clouded by tendencies such as bias, habits and patterns.

“To make good decisions, understand yourself. Be aware of what your tendencies are around decision making,” he offered. “Prepare the process of making decision before you have to make decisions.” For many people, the time of day for deciding is paramount. “If you have tough decisions to make, make them in the morning,” he said.

The best insights come when you are at your freshest, he said. “When do you have your best ideas?” he asked. “The conditions for having insight tend to be when you are relaxed, first thing in the morning, when you are jogging, when you are in the shower, when you are doing something repetitive that doesn’t require your pre-frontal cortex to be taking control, and when you’re not too happy. If you are only happy, those signals override it. When you are slightly reflective, slightly far away and when you are not thinking about the problem, those are the times you are likely to have your biggest insights.”

The concluding session in Dixon’s series, “Your Brain with Another Person,” scheduled for Tues., March 27, will explore bias and the nonconscious brain, communication, coaching, influencing and negotiating, encouraging innovation in others and helping others change. The lecture is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to noon, in the small auditorium in Building 2 on VGCC’s Main Campus in Vance County. The public is invited. For more information, contact VGCC Endowment Director Eddie Ferguson at (252) 738-3264 or fergusone@vgcc.edu.

 

Above: Phil Dixon makes a point during the second lecture in his VGCC series. (VGCC photo)

More photos: Check out our album of photos from the entire lecture series on Flickr!