Leading Through Uncertain Times – insights from applied neuroscience

Leading Through Uncertain Times – insights from applied neuroscience

For every person, every company, every organisation and for the UK as a nation, the future certainly feels somewhat unpredictable right now. Neuroscientists refer to the brain as a ‘prediction machine’: it is constantly trying to predict and make meaning of what is going on around us so that it is better able to protect us. Our brains are not designed to like uncertainty. It is distracting to the brain and drains our mental energy. If we are finding these uncertain times difficult, it’s not surprising.

So, what can we do to help our somewhat frazzled brains? How can we help ourselves and those we work with grab back a bit of control? The good news is that we have more influence over our brains than we probably realise. If we can understand our brains a little better - what helps them to focus, collaborate, be constructive and creative – then we have greater awareness and choice over how we respond to the external world.

There is a long list of things we can do, and in many ways, it’s personal preference as to what works best for each of us, but based on an understanding of our brains, here are five things we can try that will help.

Set short-term achievable goals

If people are struggling to focus, having short-term achievable goals can help. Achieving a goal feels rewarding to the brain and puts it in a better place to take on the next challenge. So helping people to feel they have achieved something each day at work can be useful.

Take a deep breath (or preferably quite a few)

Here’s one you can start doing right now as it takes just seconds. There is a strong connection between the mind and body – both send messages to each other about how we are doing. Even taking a few deep breaths sends messages to the brain that help to calm it down. Try pausing after the outbreath: the outbreath increases the influence of the quieting parasympathetic nervous system. Practise this before the start of each meeting (and maybe during the meeting too).

Have a good laugh

We talk about gallows humour in tough times and there’s a good reason why: laughter is a great de-stressor to the brain and can actually boost IQ in the short term (Oswald et al, 2009).

Get a good night’s sleep

For too many years, there has been a sort of bragging about how few hours some people can get by on. Not getting a good night’s sleep is the equivalent, cognitively, of coming into work drunk. Taking a 20-minute nap is also good for us but too few employers have yet recognised this.

Let your mind wander

For 15 minutes a day, allow your brain to daydream or just wander. This ‘downtime’ is when we are more likely to have our creative thoughts, and ‘aha’ moments. It’s a quiet brain that has moments of insight, not a frazzled one.


Learn more about Neuroscience and its impact on behaviour at our one-day development seminar on 1 October led by Hilary Scarlett


  • Hilary Scarlett

    Facilitator, WIG Neuroscience of Leadership Seminar

    Hilary Scarlett is an author, international speaker and consultant. She facilitates WIG’s Neuroscience of Leadership seminar and co-facilitates WIG’s Leading Through Uncertain Times. The second edition of her book Neuroscience for Organizational Change – an evidence-based, practical guide to managing change is out in the UK on 3 July 2019. Receive 20% discount by using code AHRNOC at www.koganpage.com. Find out more about Hilary’s work at www.scarlettandgrey.com