CN Executive Coaching Corner

Motivation: Your Thoughts Create Your Brain – Part 1

Brain Cells

Ray Kurzweil, Inventor, Futurist discussed advancement in the ability of science to observe the brain.  “We can [now] see your thoughts create your brain. That’s key to the secrets of its operation, that we actually create the connections that constitute the hierarchy of the neocortex from our own thoughts.”  What is new is that we can actually “see” the process taking place.

Kurzweil’s assertion does leave the mind wading about in a bowl of “Chicken or Egg Soup.”   There was, after all, a first brain cell and a first neuron in each of us.  There must logically have been a first thought to generate a first neural connection. At this point, let’s not worry about where that first thought came from.  We’d need a drink firmly in hand for that.  But, if Kurzweil is correct, if thoughts do indeed “create” the brain’s neural connections, it begs the question, “At what point does the first thought occur, and what was that thought?”

The answer may well be found at the first point of self-awareness, that thought being entirely internal, separate and apart from any other beings, apart from and long before the ability to speak, the thought expressed only by oneself only to oneself as the realization, “I am.” This may be the foundation thought, a singularity in the mind from which all subsequent thoughts originate.

If thoughts truly do generate the connections in the neocortex, all thoughts following the “I am” realization must rush in at the speed of light. And science has observed neurons forming in the human infant at a phenomenal rate prior to birth.  The senses that had existed before the “I am”, but which operated separately, disconnected from the “I am,” are now connected to the “I am” in a dynamic way.  The connections proliferate exponentially as interaction with the environment generates thought.

At some point, the interactions between the sensory inputs from the environment and the “I am” generates the opening volley of core neural connections that form the initial latticework that becomes the foundation (but not the sole determinant) of future connection patterns in the neocortex.  There must eventually be a second fundamental juncture that begins with the thought-word, “Therefore.”  From that point, the brain begins to fine-tune itself according to the input it receives from the environment as well as in accord with its genetic instruction set.

No one would understand this moment of “I am” more acutely than a gestating woman who recognizes the approximate point at which an an unborn child is able to differentiate itself from its environment in utero. [1]  Synaptogenesis, the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system, is lifelong. But there is an explosion of synapse formation during early brain development.

So, what’s all this got to do with motivation of coworkers in an organizational environment…or motivation of others in any environment, work, play or social? Kurtzweil distinguishes thoughts from the brain, also distinguishing the neural connectors from the thoughts that generate them.  That gives us a clue about how to separate key components of the motivation process that we may sometimes confuse.

When we attempt to motivate others, our first objective may be to achieve a momentary, transient, temporary state in a person, much like the momentary state of an engine when a spark ignition enlivens that engine. We may even refer to it as “turning the key.”  With the right mix of elements (fuel, air, ignition source), we can start the combustion engine, breathing life into it, as it were, inspiring it. But neither the fuel, the air, nor the ignition constitute motivation, or movement.

You’ll recognize the analogy of “Five Frogs on a Log.”  Three of the frogs were inspired to jump off the log.   How many frogs were left?  The answer is five.  They were inspired to do so.  They didn’t actually jump.

Many have experienced such a moment at seminars, rallies, speeches or a staff meeting, returning home after an ‘inspirational message,” fully recognizing the importance of some course of action,, determined to undertake the journey.

An engine “becomes” once it has been enlivened, just as a person is inspired, energized at the start of a motivation process. But there must be more, the next state to which we must aspire, the state for which the engine is purposed, that being to drive the system in which it resides to a result.

Continue with us as Coaching Motivation – Your Thoughts Create Your Brain – Part 2  examines the crucial connection of “I am” to motivation.

Copyright Robert D. Jones, 2013 – All Rights Reserved


[1]  “Although most neurons are formed halfway through gestation there are virtually no synaptic connections – it is experience and interaction with the environment that forms the synaptic connections. Most synaptogenesis occurs through the 2nd year of life.  83% of dendritic growth (connections between synapses) occurs after birth.” (Dr. Schuetze, “Nervous System Development“)


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