How to change your brain-wiring for the better

Are you a knowledge worker who recalls negative experiences way easier than positive experiences? You easily see all the problems or nitty gritty details that are still left to tackle? All the small successes and solutions you already achieved can get out of sight quickly? 

Then congratulations: you’re a human being.

We humans remember negative stuff way better because our brains are wired in a way to save us from life-threatening dangers. However you don’t have to listen to your brain that still wants to save you from that imaginary prehistoric tiger. You can change your brain wiring to your favour. Learn to adapt to nowadays life with simple mindfulness practices that foster your awareness.

One key learning I kept from reading the book ‘Hardwiring Happiness’ by Rick Hanson [1] is:

“Negative things stick to your brain like velcro, positive stuff easily glides away like in a non-sticky teflon pan”

Technically I know these brain basics. I know they have (had) their function in keeping us humans alive as a species, e.g. saving us from sabre-toothed tigers or community exclusion which both meant death back then. 

Implementing this knowledge to my favour and nowadays life isn’t always that easy. It is almost brain hacking in three steps: 

How could that look like at work? 

Here’s a real life story from my work as a facilitator and agile coach.

I was working with a team of leaders already for a while and facilitated their regular team retrospectives.

A bit of background 

The people on that team decided to have leadership team retrospectives. Yet folks also had very different views about a retrospective and about its usefulness. 

Of course, the ‘bad views’ of some people stuck to my brain.

Opinions like “it’s a waste of time” or “I just want to get a todo list out of that retro but not talk about my perceptions of our work”.

Let’s recap: the leadership team retrospectives were one of the rare occasions where there actually was time and room to connect with each other as a team.
Rare moments where people could exchange about the shared leadership work they do together “besides” their respective roles like Product Manager, Scrum Master, Product Owner, Systems Architect or Release Train Engineer. 

A typical stressful situation

One day I facilitated the retrospective for that team again.

People gathered. People participated in the check-in exercise [2]. People started writing stickies for the ‘gather data’ phase [3] where I had asked them to create a timeline including today. 

Everything went fine, even in my facilitator’s brain. 

Then one person put a sticky note on the ‘today’ place. They clearly meant the retrospective we just had started.

Their sticky note read: “thanks for talking about <a past topic we agreed on as a team>. That very same person already opted out at the check-in today, so I didn’t hear them speak up so far except saying their name and “I’m in”.

Getting aware of your brain-wirings

My brain immediately started rambling. “How did they mean that sticky note?” and “It certainly must be meant sarcastically.”

Then thoughts bubbled up like: “They didn’t contribute anything so far. Surely they now want to express their unhappiness with that retrospective right away in a passive-aggressive way”. 

Bruh, down the rabbit hole my brain went!

The “bad” judgements I heard about retrospectives in my past stuck to my mind like velcro.

Hooking-in your thoughts

Luckily I noticed that kind of unhelpful thinking early. 

Instead of following my brain’s rabbit hole, I paused. 

And I took one conscious breath. 

The team already went through the sticky notes on the timeline. They were asking each other questions or elaborating on the text if needed. They already knew the format and followed my little-but-enough facilitation guidance. 

Actively changing your brain’s path

Then they reached the ‘today’ place. The room went quiet. 

I took another conscious breath and I asked if the writer was willing to explain that one sticky note. 

“Sure”, they said, “I am very happy that we’re finally all gathering again for a retrospective and will reflect also about <the topic>”. 


That person just expressed full confidence in our retrospective process. Confidence in the people on the leadership team. Confidence in me as their facilitator. 

Now I was back in the driver’s seat of my brain!

Reflecting back, that person gave me lots of positive feedback about how and what they liked about my facilitation at past events. Also they always were very vocal in a constructive manner if they were not content with a thing or had critical feedback. 

Logically there was absolutely no reason to worry about them putting up a “passive-aggressive” sticky right away. 

They “just” wanted to underline their happiness about today's retro in the most efficient way they could: no talking, just writing a sticky note. 

Phew. Yeah! Time to celebrate. 

Make the good stick with simple practises

So isn’t it an amazing feature that my brain - and EVERY human brain - can recall good parts, too? 

Yes, it is a bit more effort to recall good parts. 

Yet, it is a bit more effort to truly incorporate good stuff. 

And it is so much worth doing it. 

Even if positive pieces of experience tend to glide away easily like in a Teflon pan, taking a few conscious moments regularly helps to anchor them more permanently in your memory. 

Daily journaling on good, helpful parts of your work life can be such a conscious moment. 

Closing your eyes for a second after a positive experience and letting that moment truly ‘sink in’ your brain is another practice. 

Small mindfulness “tools” like that one mindful breath can help a lot to make that mental work easier.

Business journaling, i.e. a regular written reflection practice can support you to rewire your brain. In a way that matters to YOU. 

Bit by bit. Practise by practice.