GeneralHow The Human Brain Approaches Change

This is a question that many change management experts will want to know the answer to.  Once you understand the way the human brain goes about dealing with change, you will become better able to facilitate change within your organisation.

Supporting people through change effectively will make the process run more smoothly and provide understanding natural human reaction will make the change process a smoother one to manage.

Three Brains in One

Our brains have adapted over millions of years and have evolved to survive constantly changing circumstances, but that does not mean we all sit back and readily accept changes that we feel are forced upon us, as can be the case when change in the workplace is required.

  • The Primitive and oldest part of our brain controls our vital functions and is adept at sensing danger and threats.
  • The Limbic brain developed mammals to survive in a social world, and senses fairness and judgement.
  • Our Neocortex develops our language and conceives time and future plans. It also mitigates the impulses of the limbic and primitive brains.

Each of these three brains has a different trigger.  Planning change is most effective when it seeks to minimise surprise (primitive), to be as fair as possible (limbic) and create opportunities for people to visualise the future state (neocortex).  Your approach should look to reduce the impulsive and emotional responses of both the limbic and primitive brain and encourage the self-regulating and adaptable capabilities of the neocortex.


20% of our total daily energy is used by our brain. It has learned to conserve energy by hardwiring the actions that we regularly repeat so that they become automatic, and this frees the brain from using energy.

Developing key connection points saves our brain from having to relearn many daily functions and it does not like it when there are changes to the hardwiring it has built up.

Our brain runs on autopilot for many functions and to enable it to make changes it must develop new neural connections for us to carry out new behaviours.  The brain finds this physically demanding and our change management programs must build in time, space and resources for those affected to rewire their brains for the new future state.

Our mental model is hardwired in the same way, so our way of thinking and reacting will also be wildly affected by contradictions. In order to conserve energy our brain will look to ignore the change or to seek out confirming information. When it receives confirmation to support its way of thinking our brain will produce pleasure-inducing neurochemicals. “only hearing what it wants to hear”.


The temptation is to label our natural brain protective measures unfavourably, labelling them as stubborn, unhelpful and obstructive. An effective change management expert with a knowledge of neuroscience, emotional intelligence and how it facilitates change will see this as a perfectly natural reaction. They could also find ways to communicate change that might be better received by those experiencing it.

Facilitating change will be a far smoother process when you work with the brain rather than against it.

This article has been sponsored by Ditto Digital

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Digital Health Buzz!

Digital Health Buzz!

Digital Health Buzz! aims to be the destination of choice when it comes to what’s happening in the digital health world. We are not about news and views, but informative articles and thoughts to apply in your business.

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