Navigate the Social Landscape of your Brain (Part 1)

by Jan Sky

Maximise your performance by uncovering the barriers that get in the way of your high performance.

How good it would be if you knew exactly what those barriers were? Imagine if you could identify these barriers locked away in your brain. How easy it would be for you to take the right steps to overcome these barriers?

What are these barriers and where exactly do they exist? Continue reading and you will discover a whole new concept of your brain – an easy working model that you can use on a daily basis.

Barriers that get in the way of your success are simply called inhibitive states. Fortunately, you also have supportive states that create a balance of function. These states are associated with behaviours or habits embedded in the neural pathways of your brain. They form part of your brain’s social landscape which represent the many different parts of you.

Ego state theorists call these parts ‘ego states’, while I will refer to them as ‘parts of you’ or ‘states’. There are states that support or inhibit you when working towards achieving a goal.

Let’s start at the beginning and understand where these neural pathways began and how they formed. From the moment you were born and maybe even prior to that, you began to learn how behaviour elicited reactions from others. As a baby you cried and your needs were met. As you grew and developed, you learned to apply the same principles to meet your needs. Neural pathways are developed through repetition of particular behaviours until they become intrinsic within the brain.

Let’s say a young boy named Paul decides to perform in front of his parents and his parents applaud and praise him. Paul will quickly learn by repetition of that behaviour, that it’s OK to do that performance or behaviour, and more importantly that he is OK. A ‘performance’ neural pathway in his brain is formed.

Now, Nick down the street, decides to behave in the same way. His parents tell him not to be silly and to go to his room and do his homework. Nick quickly learns that being a performer is not what he needs to do (certainly not at this point in his life) and he doesn’t form the ‘performance’ neural pathway like his friend Paul. Nick may develop a ‘study’ pathway that could enhance his performance throughout his life.

Neural pathways are embedded with behaviours and contain a dialogue that supports our actions. These pathways are referred to as states and their identification is key when wewant a change in behaviour to occur and particularly if that change is necessary in order to achieve a goal.

It is repetition of a behaviour that embeds a new pathway in the brain hence creating the social landscape of your brain.

Neural pathways form most rapidly during early developmental years, throughout our teens and early 20’s, and less as we grow older. Neural pathways can be developed in our mature years as we learn new behaviours, such as learning a musical instrument in our 40’s. To understand the pathways of your brain isn’t important as we mostly accept our ‘way of behaving’ as part of who we are. Our friends and family accept us and our lives continue.

So, when would it be advantageous to understand your brain’s social structure? I’d suggest when behaviours are inhibiting your performance or sabotaging your journey towards achieving a goal, it is time to understand your brain’s social structure.

Recently a client presented with the issue of ‘having a sweet tooth’ as she described it. She is a young mum with three small children juggling family life, healthy lifestyle and a career. Rationally she knows to and does, eat healthy food and exercise regularly. Grabbing three chocolate biscuits as she rushes for the car satisfies her hunger as well as her ‘sweet tooth’. I suggested it was habit behaviour embedded at a younger age that was inhibiting her from achieving her goal of reducing the additional kilos she was carrying. (Sugar consumed by the body is not burnt off through exercise hence turning to fat.)

Her goal – to reduce 10 kilos

Next step for my client was to identify the states that supported achieving her goal, along with the states inhibiting or deterring her progress. To do this, I used a mapping tool I’ve developed called ESI™ – Executive State Identification. States are embedded with behaviours and internal dialogue that, when executive or dominant, consume our thinking and control our behaviour. Sometimes these behaviours support us, while at other times these behaviours are inappropriate and inhibit us in our daily actions.

My client’s map contained three states that supported her goal and one state that inhibited her. The states were named and identified entrenched behaviours were documented on the map. The one inhibitive state was a ‘little girl’ state that was formed in her mind many years ago. This state ate food without her mother knowing; it enabled her to take and hide biscuits from the cupboard. This state that she identified and named ‘Child’, was timid, naughty and appropriate when she was young; yet inappropriate now she is an adult.

Do you have states that sometimes become executive, acting like the boss running the show and dictating behaviours inappropriate in certain situations?

After identifying all the states on the ESI™ map for my client, it became easy to understand the associated behaviours and dialogue that was taking place. It was also easy to action a plan forward. My client became very aware of her identified behaviour and internal dialogue used and was also prepared to practice operating from only the states that supported her. Sounds very simple, yet without the ESI™ map, we would never have discovered this child state. The child state needed acknowledgement and also needed the opportunity to make an agreement not to inhabit the executive position.

How can you begin to make the changes you want to increase your full potential if you don’t have an understanding of what your mental landscape is like?

The recent discovery and amazing advances in neural science has opened a world of optimism and faith that says that changes to our brain patterningcan occur at any time of our life. In other words, we’re not ‘wired’ to perform a particular way because of past experiences or behaviour patterning.

It is important to understand that patterns of behaviour within the pathways of your brain (states) can change and/or new pathways can be created. States that have been inactive for some time never leave your brain; they become part of your social landscape. Such states are referred to as either non-executive or underlying states. Perhaps the ‘performance’ state in the young child Paul may no longer need to perform now he is an adult. If the ‘performance’ state no longer has a need to be dominant, it will become underlying to Paul’s behaviour repertoire.

However, in the case of my client, her ‘child’ state was dominant or executive and causing behaviour that was inappropriate. The ‘child’ state needed to be acknowledged and sent to the underlying position. This was done by using the ESI™ mapping tool to first identify the states and secondly to design an appropriate plan of action.

Part 2, we will explore the social landscape of your brain in relation to the workplace.


Jan Sky is the developer of the ESI® Mapping Tool and author of the book “The Many Parts of You”. Jan is a Corporate Trainer, Coach, and Psychotherapist.

She is in the business of creating a difference to the workplace! With over 30 years of experience, she specializes in the area of leadership and team development to those organisations who want to create an environment of high performing people.

Jan works in Australia and internationally and has spoken in Finland, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Indonesia as well as extensively throughout Australia.


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