As I led people and then coached, I realised we can choose how we see things. This might seem obvious, but questioning your natural auto-responses reveals that you’re the decision maker. Cultivating that level of self-awareness transforms your perspective.

Life often feels like acting in a predetermined script, reacting to unfolding scenes. However, a profound shift happens when we see ourselves as observers. We interpret and respond to the script in our unique way. Understanding this makes us realise we’re also decision makers.

Here, I want to explore leading from your higher self and being a conscious decision maker. When empowered to observe various responses and decide how to interpret that information, life changes.

Understanding the Brain’s Dual Processing

The human brain processes information through two main pathways: the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala handles our primal instincts and immediate emotional responses like fear and aggression. It processes information quickly, triggering automatic reactions to threats or negative stimuli.

Conversely, the pre-frontal cortex manages higher-order thinking, rational thought, decision making, and positive interpretation. This part processes information slowly and thoughtfully, considering various perspectives and potential outcomes before reacting. Realising we can choose between these two processing methods is key to higher self-leadership.

The Ego versus the Higher Self

Our initial response to information often comes through the amygdala, which acts as the domain of the ego. The ego focuses on self-preservation, usually prioritising immediate safety and self-interest. This frequently leads to negative or defensive reactions, as the ego protects us from perceived threats.

However, engaging our pre-frontal cortex taps into our higher self. The higher self transcends the ego’s immediate concerns, interpreting information with a broader, more enlightened perspective. This choice involves deliberate reflection and being a conscious decision maker, considering long-term benefits and the greater good.

Keegan’s Level 5 of Self-Awareness

Expanding on higher self-leadership, let’s explore Keegan’s levels of self-awareness, especially Level 5, which aligns with effective decision making. Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist, proposed that individuals evolve through stages of self-awareness, culminating in the self-transforming mind or Level 5.

At Level 5, individuals possess profound self-awareness and understand the interconnectedness of various perspectives. They integrate and transcend their internal processes. This level of self-awareness allows them to hold multiple viewpoints simultaneously and recognise the fluid nature of identity and thought.

For decision making, individuals at Level 5 can observe their reactions, whether from the amygdala or pre-frontal cortex, without being dominated by them. They step back, reflect on their impulses, and choose responses that align with their higher self and greater goals. This advanced self-awareness fosters adaptive and thoughtful decision making, reducing reactive or ego-driven actions.

The Power of Choice in Interpretation

One of the most empowering realisations in higher self-leadership is understanding our choice in interpreting and responding to information. While our natural wiring sends information through the amygdala first, we can consciously engage our pre-frontal cortex. This halts our automatic reaction and allows for a more thoughtful response.

For some, this shift from automatic reaction to conscious choice happens quickly, almost instinctively. For others, it may be a slower, more deliberate process. Regardless of the pace, the key is knowing we are not bound by our initial reactions. By pausing and reflecting, we can reinterpret information with higher self-awareness, leading to more positive and constructive outcomes.

Viktor Frankl

While most of us never endure the horrific ordeal Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl faced, his story shows the power of the mind.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, developed logotherapy, a form of existential analysis. During his imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl made a pivotal decision. He chose to change his perception of his circumstances.

Instead of succumbing to despair, he sought meaning in his suffering. This mindset shift shows the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neural connections.

Frankl focused on future goals, like reuniting with loved ones and finishing his life’s work. He cultivated inner freedom and resilience. This mental transformation gave him purpose and enhanced his psychological endurance.

His story demonstrates the profound impact of cognitive reframing on human experience, even in dire conditions.

While most of us never have to endure the horrific ordeal holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl was put through.  His ability to use his mind to change his experience demonstrates how even in the most terrible of circumstances it can be done.

Fast and Slow Thinking

Fast and slow thinking, concepts popularized by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, refer to two distinct modes of decision making: System 1 and System 2. System 1 (Fast thinking) is automatic, quick, and often subconscious, relying on heuristics and past experiences. This mode is efficient for routine decisions and situations requiring immediate action, like responding to a potential threat or making quick daily choices such as what to eat for breakfast. In contrast, slow thinking (System 2) is deliberate, analytical, and conscious, engaging the brain’s reasoning capabilities to solve complex problems or make important decisions, such as planning a financial investment or strategizing a business move.

Slow Thinking

Slow thinking is considered a function of higher self-leadership because it involves deliberate, reflective, and conscious decision-making processes that align with long-term goals, values, and principles. It engages the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as planning, reasoning, problem-solving, and self-control. The prefrontal cortex is also the seat of an individual’s intuition, allowing for deeper insights and more nuanced understanding beyond immediate impulses. By employing slow thinking, individuals exercise self-discipline and foresight, crucial qualities for effective self-leadership. This mode enables leaders to carefully consider the implications of their actions, evaluate various options, and make informed choices that reflect their strategic vision and ethical standards.

Fast Thinking

In contrast, fast thinking is an operational function that relies on the brain’s automatic, quick, and intuitive responses generated from the fundamental mental areas, such as the amygdala and basal ganglia. Fast thinking utilizes heuristics and past experiences, allowing for efficient management of routine tasks and immediate demands. It is particularly useful in familiar or time-sensitive situations where quick decisions are necessary, such as emergencies or repetitive tasks.

While fast thinking is indispensable for operational efficiency, it lacks the depth and thoroughness required for strategic leadership. Higher self-leadership necessitates the ability to transcend immediate impulses and consider broader perspectives, which slow thinking, guided by the prefrontal cortex and its intuitive capacities, facilitates. This reflective approach ensures that decisions are not only effective in the short term but also sustainable and aligned with overarching goals and values.

Balancing Fast And Slow Thinking

By integrating both modes of thinking, individuals can balance operational effectiveness with strategic foresight. For example, a manager might use fast thinking to handle day-to-day issues swiftly and efficiently but switch to slow thinking when developing a long-term business plan or navigating complex ethical dilemmas. Recognizing when to engage in slow thinking, and harnessing the intuitive power of the prefrontal cortex, is a hallmark of higher self-leadership, demonstrating the ability to lead oneself thoughtfully and intentionally beyond the automatic responses provided by fast thinking.

Practical Steps to Engage the Higher Self

  1. Mindfulness and Reflection: Regular practices such as meditation and mindfulness help in slowing down our thought processes, allowing us to observe our reactions without immediately acting on them.
  2. Breathing Techniques: Simple breathing exercises can calm the amygdala’s immediate response, creating space for the pre-frontal cortex to engage.
  3. Journaling: Writing down our thoughts and reactions can provide clarity and perspective, helping us to identify patterns and choose higher self responses.
  4. Positive Affirmations: Repeating positive affirmations can rewire our brain to favour the pre-frontal cortex’s processing, promoting a more positive interpretation of information.
  5. Seeking Support: Engaging with mentors, coaches, or supportive peers can provide external perspectives, helping us to see beyond our immediate reactions.

We can Choose To Be A Decision Maker.

Higher self-leadership involves recognising our power as decision maker in interpreting information. By understanding the roles of the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex, we can choose how to respond.

Integrating advanced self-awareness, described in Keegan’s Level 5, enables us to respond from higher self-awareness. This shift reduces ego-driven reactions and enhances personal growth. It also fosters a more positive and enlightened interaction with the world.

Remember, you are not just an actor in a play. You are the observer, the director, and the decision maker of your life’s narrative.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.