Make Friends with Your Default Mode Network

It’s pretty human of us to overthink and compare ourselves. We are designed to continually reflect on how we are doing in the moment and how we are perceived by those around us. This inner conversation occurs in the default mode network.

The default mode network has a bad habit of interrupting us. If it had a tag line, it would be, ‘it’s all about me’. Unless we’re fully immersed in an activity in a positive focus and energized way, a state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’, the default network makes itself known and pulls our attention from our selected focus to other things.

When left to its own devices, this part of our brain:
• finds things that are wrong and then tries to problem solve them
• makes social comparisons and thinks about what others might think or say about you
• creates a past, future, emotion based narrative,  telling stories to you about who you are, why you are this way, what you really want,
• is quick to negatively judge you in situations whispering I’m not sure I did that well, I should have done that differently, and
• activates with any negative self-talk (see pic).

The default mode is just that – our mind’s default state. Where it goes when not directed elsewhere.   It’s central to our sense of self.  Living our desires, achieving our goals, recognizing all that we have to offer, and shifting out of our own way requires we re-tool the habits of the default mode,  making sure that it’s our friend.

Changing the habits of the default mode is a lot like fishing. We need to notice where our mind is, reel it in, and cast it where we want it. As with all habits, the more we repeat a behavior, the quicker our mind will recognize the new routine and make that the go to behavior.

For a more positive and productive relationship with yourself, try these 3 tips for quieting and reshaping your default mode:

• As with many changes we want to make, the first step is to notice how it works today. Become very aware of how you talk to yourself, the stories you’ve created, and where your mind goes when it wanders. Each time you catch a negative inner message, replace it with the positive reminder of self you are and you want. Really, do this… intentionally stop in the moment and correct the message so you shape the story you want your brain to tell.  In my work with people I often find they aren’t even aware of how often they lead with apologies about who they are, or jump to minimize their capability or performance.

• Spend time focusing on your breath. The reason mindfulness and meditation are popular (and successful) are they are strengthening the muscle needed to catch your mind wandering and how to pull it back to your targeted focus, in that case your breath. These practices are gym classes for your brain. Research has shown that even just a few minutes of regular mindfulness practice can quiet the default state and increase the speed at which you can re-direct your mind and your attention.  Many people I speak with find this counter intuitive as the internal message is do more, do it faster, do it better, etc.  Spending even 3 minutes doing nothing both mindful breathing, and working with your attention has an ROI that cascades through everything else you do.

• Practice presence. The default mode network is reflective. Change the habit of too much being in your head through external focuses, and engaging activities reduce the amount of time your brain has to engage in talk that may not serve you well.  Most of us are familiar with an activity that is so engaging to us we stop thinking about ourselves.  When our mind is churning in ways that create distress, get up and do that thing.

Trust the process of neuroplasticity.  What you do doesn’t need to be hard, though it will feel that way at first because you are intentionally breaking a habit.  Stick with it and your brain will create a new way to operationalize it with far less energy, just like riding a bike or learning your new smartphone.

As always, look forward to hearing from you!

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