Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

Does the path to action still include telling a story?

David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of two bestselling books, Change Anything and Influencer.


Q Does the path to action still include telling a story? Recent medical studies claim “the amygdala fires up to 100 times faster than the cerebral cortex,” implying that we may feel before we think, and can leap to feelings without a story. I’d love to hear your thoughts as I expect I will get a question about this as I train Crucial Conversations to more frontline nursing and medical staff who are very knowledgeable about brain physiology.

A There are circumstances when amygdala activation and emotional reactions precede any prefrontal activity, i.e., before the subject has time to create a story. As you can imagine, these circumstances involve threats that our evolutionary history has “prepared” us to be wary of. Examples are loud noises, sudden movements, and some evidence of innate fear of snakes. The conclusion to draw from this line of research is that the Path to Action is not the only way that humans process information.

However, most of the more everyday examples of Facts, leading to Stories, leading to Emotions happen with plenty of prefrontal involvement. James Gross at Stanford is currently studying the different kinds of thoughts that go into our stories-and showing how the brain is involved in these. Specifically, he is studying the difference between ruminating, distracting, and reappraising a bad event. Ruminating turns out to be like reliving. It reinvigorates the anger. Distracting works somewhat-I think we all use this approach sometimes. But the champ is reappraising.


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