Friday, September 17, 2010

Without a Word

Years ago, I had a blind date set up by one of those expensive, exclusive match making agencies where rich men turn to find arm candy. It was not a good match on any level. This guy showed up looking like some gangster straight out of a cheesy movie with pounds of gold around his neck, a bad suit, and his shirt unbuttoned way too far. In North Carolina?? I could not stop staring at the hair plugs half way down his forehead even though I kept telling myself not to. While my mouth was saying cordial things, I am sure my body language was saying something very different.

It takes your brain mere seconds to interpret what someone is saying, but the brain takes about only 200 milliseconds to gather information from facial expressions. Quick, huh!? The amygdala responded vigorously in test subjects even when researchers flashed photos so fast that people couldn’t tell at what the heck they were looking. The amygdala is the reptilian region of the brain associated with sounding the danger alarm. Assessing stimuli here really quickly would be a good thing in order to not be something’s lunch.

According to Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske, in their book The Winner’s Brain, a person constantly, unconsciously makes “micro-expressions” which are so fast that they don’t even register them and cannot control them.

These nonverbal cues convey emotions and ideas, oftentimes, more powerfully than words. This is the first form of communication learned and used by infants. There are about half a dozen facial expressions that are recognized universally across all cultures. I mean, we all know what pissed off looks like, right? There is no mistaking it.

Even after we learn to speak and understand language, the brain’s right hemisphere reads these nonverbal cues. Being able to accurately interpret this information and respond authentically and appropriately is crucial to a good sense of self awareness which is one of the key ingredients to a winner’s brain according to Brown and Fenske.

In their book, they cover eight traits great minds use to achieve success. “Win factors.” Rather than just recite the usual, positive thinking fluff, these attributes are backed up by neuroscience. They are traits anyone can develop to create a “failure-resistant” brain. This is my kind of stuff. I know, I am such a dork.

Possessing a highly evolved sense of self-awareness allows someone to assess interactions with others more accurately and to be perceived as more confident and authentic. It also allows a person to take advantage of their talent and honestly understand their limitations. They define self-awareness as the ability to “know thyself.”

All of us maintain a public persona to a certain extent. It is absolutely necessary. An example would be putting on a happy face at work when you feel anything but happy or being nice to a blind date when you really want to run the other way. In a winning sense of self-awareness these two selves are pretty similar most of the time or, at the least, there is a conscious understanding of how, why, and when they are different. Also, a winner’s brain tends to have a very stable sense of self regardless of the present circumstances.

These two selves used to be quite different in me. I used to have one self I showed to my significant other, to my parents, and the public. She was the people pleaser and did not make waves. However, the other me was always fuming because she never was authentic. It was so tiring keeping that mask on all the time. Now, what you see is what you get…like it or not.


  1. So now I'll have to look more closely at people's expressions so I can see if they're authentic or not. And here I thought everybody liked me.

  2. :) Learning to read these communications is in large part learning to trust that little voice inside yourself or that feeling about someone when you can find no logical reason for it. Your brain probably has picked up signals without you consciously being aware of it. Yet another reason to go with your instinct!