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  • The Neuroscience of Psychology
  • Reticular Activating System
  • Patterns in Learning
  • Gamification of the Workplace

In my last blog <insert title link here>, I spoke a great deal about our most basic human needs. This included needs such as, certainty, variety, significance, connection, safety, esteem, and contribution. I also touched on other topics including transparent work paths, communication, growth and self-actualization. In this blog, I’d like to continue along those same lines of thought and talk a bit about some of the drivers behind our human experience and how gamification can be successful in developing our workforce.

When it comes to gamification, I think it’s safe to say that not all games are created equal. I’d venture to say the same about our perceptions as individuals. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and many times those attributes are supported solely by the personal perceptions we hold about them. I’ll venture a little further to say that the internal beliefs we have, generate emotion and it’s the emotional state of a person that governs performance in their lives, loves and livelihoods.

You’ve most likely heard it before, that our basic human motivation comes down to either moving towards pleasure or moving away from pain. Yet, haven’t we seen some people do some incredibly painful things without apparently receiving any pleasure? Why is that, and what is it that motivates their behavior? The simple answer is emotion. Emotions can either be the driving force behind our “knee-jerk” reactions, or that subtle inner voice that encourages us to grow. Then again, it can also be the voice that says we’re not good enough for so much growth… at least, not at this time. With perception being reality, we all have the capacity to launch ourselves into greatness or fall into failure with merely our thoughts and the emotions that fuel them.

The Neuroscience of Psychology

How can we move beyond the way we think and feel?

To answer that, let’s first talk a little bit about neuroscience and how the brain and mind work together. If we look at the brain as a physical organ and the mind as the operations of the brain, we can begin to see how the mind works on multiple levels with the brain. Zooming out to a 10,000 ft view, a simplified, yet helpful overview of the brain, is known as the Triune Model, (by Physician and Neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean) Here, our brain is broken down into three distinct sections that signify some of the underlying processes of the body and mind. They are:

The Paleocortex
The Limbic System
The Neocortex

(Please notice some of the natural crossovers that occur within these sections.)

Paleocortex
Zooming in, the Paleocortex or Reptilian Brain, which includes the cerebellum and brainstem, houses all of our unconscious code. This is the most ancient part of the brain which handles all autonomic body functions such as breathing, heart rate, core body temperature and orientation in space. Driven by instinct and survival, this part of the brain continues to follow the same patterns of behavior without having the capability to learn from its mistakes. Just like the CPU on a motherboard of a computer, it contains the basic coding to operate the system, but lacks the software that produces higher functionality, logic and meaning. Here our basic level of thought and desire asks questions like: Is it family, friend, or foe? Can I mate with it? Can I eat it or is it going to eat me?

Limbic System
The Limbic system is a layer of brain matter that wraps around the paleocortex and houses the emotional centers of the brain. At its most basic level, it’s a safety mechanism that deals with our fight, flight and freeze responses. This system works in conjunction with our autonomic processes to release hormones during times of stress/distress called the sympathetic nervous response. It also releases a different set of hormones in times of rest, digestion and healing, called the parasympathetic nervous response. This layer of mind bridges information between our conscious and subconscious thoughts. In order to protect the body from harm, responses from the limbic can happen so quickly, that it can completely bypass our conscious level of awareness. Just think of a time when a bee may have landed on your arm, and you quickly jerked away from it before you had any idea of what it was. So, contrary to the paleocortex, the Limbic System remembers the dangers in life (aka our traumatic experience) and stores them for recall. Our senses subconsciously scan for anything that resembles those experiences to react quickly when they are noticed.

Neocortex
The neocortex or conscious brain is the newest evolutionary part of our brain that completes the triune model. It’s typically the last to know and least informed member of the brain family. It has great difficulty in multitasking and can only process 7 (+ or – 2) events at any given time. It needs to have its focus directed to events in order to perceive them. As a brief example, look around the room and find one object that is red. When you find it, just look at it for a moment and then tell me about the air temperature, or the weight of your clothes on your skin or perhaps the weight of your bottom on your chair. You see, chances are your conscious mind was not focused on any of those things until I directed your attention to them. Yet at the same time your subconscious mind was taking in and recording over 40 million bits of information every single second. Amazing!

As a way to keep us safe and alive, a system of organelles within these sections of the brain constantly and subconsciously scan for danger. This is called the Reticular Activating System or RAS. Of the many things the RAS accomplishes, one of its main features is to filter our perceptions by bringing our focus to that which we believe to be important, dangerous or relevant to our emotional state of being. Simply put, if we are in resourceful emotional states, the RAS will bring things into focus that support that state. If we are in an unresourceful emotional state, the RAS will help us maintain that state by literally disregarding any sensory information

that conflicts with the emotion. Here’s a brief example. You’re running late for a meeting and if you don’t leave right now, you’ll not make it there on time. The problem is, you’ve misplaced your car keys. They’re not where you normally keep them, so you go running around the house frantically searching for them. You check every single room from top to bottom (knowing that they would never be in some of the places you search). You exhaust every possibility and in a moment of defeat, you walk back into the 1st room you checked, and they were sitting on top of your briefcase. Right where you put them and in plain sight so you wouldn’t forget them. Because you never put them there and expected them NOT to be there, your eyes saw them, but the RAS disregard them before sending the information to your conscious brain. This happens constantly and one of the reasons why the subconscious brain can take in 40 million bits of information a second and the conscious brain can only focus on 7 (+ or – 2) events at any given time.

The key to our conscious mind is through our focus, while the key to our subconscious mind is through our patterns. As we learn, we go through phases of focus and patterns that build our skills in life. This includes not only our abilities, but it includes our learned behaviors, beliefs, emotional patterns, and habits. The conscious mind is our focus and the subconscious is our patterns. You might want to read those last few sentences one more time. Let it sink in. Let’s move forward and talk about some of the how’s and why’s behind our learning processes.

There is so much to the inner workings of our brain than the triune model suggests. Here are a few takeaways from the above information that I’d like you to consider.

Our minds and bodies are geared for safety.
Our emotions can override our need to stay safe.
Our experience is filtered.
All learning is subconscious and happens through emotion and/or repetition.

Patterns in Learning

Allow me to ask you, do you believe you can learn any anything? Before you fully answer, have you ever studied a subject or have been presented with an idea that you just didn’t quite get? Maybe it was something that you “had” to learn, and wasn’t very excited about it, or perhaps you didn’t connect with the teaching style or delivery of information. Maybe you told yourself that it’s too difficult, or “you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Well, if you tell yourself that on enough occasions, you have a great possibility in believing it to be true. But then, after a lot of hard work, studying and repetition, it finally started to come together in your head. On the other hand, haven’t you ever made a “dumb” or “embarrassing” mistake that you vowed never to repeat? Lesson learned instantly. What was the difference? The main difference between the two examples was in the emotion. Emotions tend to have an instant effect on the subconscious mind and the subconscious is where all learning takes place. Repetition also impresses upon our subconscious thoughts. There is a law in science, called The Law of Innervation. This simply means that when a nerve fiber is traversed or activated to the exclusion of others, each time this occurs it becomes easier to traverse that same path. So, think muscle memory with this at the gym. We lift a weight and focus on our form. Every time we do this, it becomes easier to get our form correct. Eventually, our body become so accustomed to the weight and form we require more weight to achieve the same amount of difficulty. The exact same thing happens with our habitual thoughts, beliefs and patterns of habit.

When it comes to learning, our goal is to focus our conscious efforts until the “muscle memory” becomes second nature or subconscious. Here are 4 steps in skill building that I’ve modified from motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins.

· Level 1: Unconsciously Unskilled/Unlearned

· Level 2: Consciously Unskilled/Unlearned

· Level 3: Consciously Skilled/Learning

· Level 4: Subconsciously Skilled/Learned

Unconsciously Unskilled/Unlearned

In level 1, we don’t know what we don’t know. We are unaware of the skills we are lacking or that we are lacking them in the 1st place. Like a baby being unaware they don’t know how to drive a car, they are simply put in and taken out of the vehicle at different places by their parents.

Consciously Unskilled/Unlearned

In level 2, we become aware of what we don’t know. Here, the young child becomes aware that they are being driven around and that they don’t know how to drive the vehicle. They are not actively learning; they just notice they do not have the ability.

Consciously Skilled/Learning

In level 3, the work begins as we consciously focus on the skill. The child, (hopefully a young adult now), begins to learn the process of driving. They are made aware of all of the strategies in traffic, parking and vehicle operation. They adjust their seats and mirrors, put their foot on the brake, turn the key, check for traffic, turn the wheel, check the mirrors again, hit the gas, all while dodging stray pedestrians and staying between the lines… Holy cow! They are so focused that they say, “Just how many things as we expected to do at any one time? Don’t talk to me or even turn that radio on, because you’re making me nervous!” But then after some time and effort as the process continues, patterns begin developing and the driver starts moving into level 4.

Subconsciously Skilled/Learned

In level 4, our focused tasks have been accomplished enough to the point where we don’t need to fully concentrate on our ability. There’s no longer the need to review steps or analyze our performance. The skill becomes engrained enough into the subconscious, that the body subconsciously responds to conditions as multitasking begins to occur. The driver checks their mirrors without being reminded. They automatically use their blinkers as they prepare to turn. (Well, some of us do.) They multi-task with the ability to have a conversation or listen to the radio as they drive. If you’ve ever driven somewhere and upon arriving realize that you can recall the last few miles, take a guess who was driving. Yup, it was your subconscious mind operating the vehicle which allowed your conscious mind to daydream, have a conversation, or ponder upon other subjects.

The largest contributors to long term learning therefore lies in the repetition of action as well as any peak emotional state. (positive or negatively charged)

Gamification of the Workplace

So, now let’s talk about gamification and tie all of these pieces together. Typically, as employers our biggest investment will always be our workforce. We spend thousands of hours and ten times that in dollars, grooming them into their desired positions. A great game will not only reduce those training numbers considerably, but it will guide the productivity of the employee, transparently track their growth, highlight a career path, and reward you both along the way. By covering all of our basic human needs a great gamification system will help to create a happy and productive workforce that has longevity and growth. Here’s how.

1. Certainty:

This human condition has to do with safety. Great gamification systems allow the user the freedom and ability of choice of engagement and their focus or direction of growth. This keeps the user in control and fosters feelings of confidence. As the user becomes better at the “game”, their growth will allow them to naturally stretch to accomplish more.

2. Variety:

When the same old thing becomes the same old thing, people want change. Adding variations in gameplay and rewards will certainly keep things from getting boring. Adding elements of surprise can guide people to move out of their comfort zones and boost their desire to achieve.

3. Significance:

This a major component to a great gamification system. It includes promoting esteem, self-esteem, self-actualization and creating and environment of team collaboration and comradery. People love to feel special and will go through great lengths to achieve it. Significance and exclusivity can be expressed in a myriad of ways during gameplay. This includes special avatars, badges, achievement rewards, trophies, etc., and including social rewards such as public congratulations, unveiling of prizes and shout-outs from team members and co-workers goes a long way in making a person feel significant.

4. Love / Connection:

Connection with others comes in many sizes and shapes. As in significance, the social aspect of connecting with your teammates and competing together toward common goals goes a long way. A great gamification model will allow users to join teams and share the rewards of their results… together.

5. Growth:

I’ve heard it said, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. How do you know if you’re growing? It’s easy provide predictable and trackable achievements. When you lay out the expectations of where a person should be in their career, it’s like creating a map with a GPS. It allows the user to see exactly where they are and where they need to go. It literally renders stopping for directions or driving in circles a thing of the past. Just ask my wife! A great gamification model will show the path, track the growth, and reward the user for it. Everybody wins!

6. Engagement:

This last condition involves many of the other conditions because the reasons for engagement are personalized by the needs of the individual. With that said, by incorporating the other elements in a gaming system on a daily basis, dopamine (the reward system of the brain) is consistently activated with the daily repetition. Patterns and good habits develop. This inspires more confidence, certainty, variety, connection, growth and contribution to the team. As the emotional state of the individual(s) increases, so too does their ability to accomplish more in less time. Firing on all cylinders, the individual’s engagement continues to increase, as growth and production of the entire workplace multiplies.

Thank you for taking the time to read this series. At ZiZo, we have taken great strides into considering and creating the best possible scenarios for engagement in workforce gamification. Coupled with some of the most extensive business intelligence and reporting available, you be able to zoom in and zoom out to see exactly what you need to know about your business, at exactly the time you need to see it. An intelligent simulation model offers you the ability to forecast the future growth of your company by adjusting key data that calculates scenarios intended to maximize your business growth. It’s Game Time!

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