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Why We Choose Safety over Excellence (and How to Reprogram)

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Accessing the third part of your brain—the neocortex—puts you into what Comaford calls the “Smart State.” Here, you have easy access to all of your resources, plus you’re creative, present, emotionally engaged, and can envision an exciting future for yourself. In other words, you’re ready to make smart choices and execute them well.

Comaford shares five powerful tips that will help you to leave the Critter State behind and shift into the Smart State:

Learn to ignore shiny objects. (Smart State Accelerator: FOCUS) In its quest for security, the critter brain tends to filter out things it doesn’t want to see, hear, feel, or deal with. Meanwhile, it also has the ability to focus disproportionately on shiny objects that distract you from doing what you really need to do. That’s what happens when you spend all day on a minor project and tell yourself that you’re being productive…never mind the major biannual report you’re “conveniently” neglecting because it’s so overwhelming!

To move out of your Critter State and into your Smart State, you must cultivate the ability to be present in the here and now, to be honest about your current situation, and to accurately identify and prioritize high-value activities. The first step? Identify and understand the parts of yourself that urge you to run away or stick your head in the sand.

“Look back at instances in which your productivity and success were compromised, and even if it’s uncomfortable, try to figure out what they might have in common,” suggests Comaford. “For instance, maybe your leadership is consistently undermined because you avoid confronting insubordinate team members. With this information, you can acknowledge that your critter brain wants to avoid a fight at all costs. And now that this tendency has been specifically identified and no longer lurks in your subconscious, you have the power to override that ‘flight’ instinct the next time someone flouts a deadline.

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