Happy New Year

I realize the new year is still a month away. But it’s coming. For many of us, December is a month of cramming as we remember our plans for the year and feverishly attempt to “catch up” on overly ambitious goals.

I invite you to treat December as a month to wind the year down gracefully, in whatever state it’s in, and to plan for the year (or quarter) ahead thoughtfully.

TPN and DMN

In my neuroscience, consciousness, and transformational coaching course with BEabove Leadership, I learned a powerful technique to enroll my subconscious in my planning. I learned about two important systems in the brain.

One system, the Task Positive Network (TPN), is active whenever we are focused on a task. I often equate TPN with arete or doing. This is when we think logically, build a plan, work through a problem, etc.

The second system, the Default Mode Network (DMN), is the network that is active “by default.” When we are not focused on a specific task and our mind is wandering, our DMN is active. Ann Betz describes the DMN as “the time traveler of the brain.” This is when we ruminate on the past or imagine a different future. I equate the DMN with being. This is the other half of teliodosis.

Interestingly, the TPN and the DMN inhibit one another. If TPN is active, the DMN shuts down, and vice versa.

Leveraging Your DMN

Ann describes the technique I’ve come to find so powerful in her “Putting the Wizards to Work” blog post. She refers to the TPN as her engineers and the DMN as her wizards. The thing about our DMN is if we leave it unchecked, it tends to spiral into less positive thoughts. In my experience, it can also obsess on the same thoughts, positive or negative, which don’t need to be pondered anymore.

Ann suggests you put your wizards to work by giving them a topic. By picking a topic you want your brain to explore creatively and rooting it in your mind, your DMN can naturally focus on that topic instead of whatever else may randomly arise.

Reflecting on writing my blog, I realized how my DMN has been at play. Some weeks, I know at the beginning of the week what I plan to write about. During these weeks, as I go on my daily run, my DMN is active and often works through blog content. When I finally sit down to write, the blog flows easily. I unwittingly put my wizards to work. On weeks where I haven’t picked a topic in advance, I sometimes find myself sitting down at the end of the week, selecting my topic, and feeling stuck because my wizards didn’t have time to do any work.

Since I made this connection, I now very deliberately select my blog post at the beginning of the week, and as I start a run, I purposely place that idea in my head so that my wizards know what to work on. If I don’t have a blog post idea, I ask my wizards to develop one. While I run, the ideas flow, and I often dictate reminders to Siri on my iPhone to capture them as they arise.

Think about when your mind wanders. This is when your DMN is active. Here are some common scenarios:

  • Exercise such as walking, running, or cycling.
  • Going for a drive in the car.
  • Sitting in nature.
  • Painting.

Pay attention to what is going through your mind at these times. Consider putting your wizards to work by giving them a topic to ponder. For example, “What do I want to achieve in the first quarter of 2024?” Or, if you prefer, “What do I want to achieve in 2024?”  I much prefer a 90-day planning horizon.

Conscious Planning

In addition to putting your wizards to work and getting your DMN working constructively, there is also the power of being more deliberate about reflection. I shared several techniques around this in my recent blog post on creating space. If you spend the entire month focused on “finishing the year strong,” you likely aren’t allowing any space to engage in deep thinking about the future. I won’t belabor that point today. I invite you to revisit that post for reminders.

As ideas begin to form, I encourage you to capture those ideas. Research shows you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Take the time to capture and formally articulate your goals.

Putting It Into Practice

I offer this up as your Journal of Awareness topic for December. To put this into practice:

  • Choose your planning horizon. Are you thinking about the upcoming quarter? The upcoming year?
  • Identify the activities when your DMN is most active.
  • Put your wizards to work by inviting them to ponder your planning while engaged in that activity.
  • Create space in your calendar for conscious planning.
  • Write your goals down.

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

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