Why do so many senior people struggle to delegate even when they know they are limiting growth by being the bottleneck in their business? The latest research shows that it’s their brain getting in the way.

There is always a lot more to be done in a day than you can achieve by yourself, and the key to success is knowing what to let go of. But letting go creates uncertainty, and your brain hates uncertainty more than anything else.

Your brain is like a prediction machine. Jeff Hawkins, founder of the Neuroscience Institute states that the brain receives patterns from the outside world, stores them as memories and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before and what is happening now. This is one of the primary functions of the brain and the foundation of intelligence.

We don’t just hear, we predict what we will hear next. We don’t just see, we are predicting what we will see next. There are about 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to at any time and subconsciously there are about 2 million – that creates a lot of predictive possibilities!

Addicted to certainty

The brain likes to feel certain; it is addicted to certainty. It desperately needs to know what will happen next, or it will trigger a primary threat response. Many people are so addicted to certainty that they love watching the same film or listening to the same music over and over again because it brings a feeling of security. There is a little rush of pleasure whenever our predictions are met. We feel safer, the brain creates a ‘towards’ response and we feel more positive.

In fact we plan in an attempt to create less uncertainty and we create repetitive habits or play simple repetitive games like Sudoku to bring more certainty to our lives. This is because uncertainty feels to the brain like a threat to your life.

Feeling uncertain triggers a survival instinct that activates your limbic system. This means adrenalin and norepinephrine are released by the brain and your thinking becomes pessimistic; clouded by feelings and memories that prompt a ‘fight or flight’ response because the brain is remembering painful emotions and problems.

Uncertainty wreaks havoc with decision making

If there is a new project that may or may not go ahead, we have to stall on a number of decisions that depend on that project. The brain likes to think ahead and map out how things will be, not just for each moment but also for the longer term. It rapidly creates maps, each made up of millions of neural connections for each possible outcome. Even if there is mild uncertainty – like when you hand over a key task to someone else – it means that you have to hold two or more very complex but incomplete maps of what may happen. This is exhausting and can seriously reduce the very limited thinking space in your prefrontal cortex and your ability to make any decisions.

It’s not surprising that many people don’t delegate, even when they know it’s harming their position. The uncertainty and everything that goes with it is simply too painful.

Letting go

While there are a number of principles to effective delegation just the thought of letting go and the uncertainty that goes with it prevents many people from exploring how to expand and grow their businesses.

The key to reducing uncertainty is to recognize and accept it. It is perfectly normal to feel this way because it is your brain at work. By acknowledging that it is normal, your brain can relax a little. This means you avoid triggering the limbic system and keep your limited thinking space clear enough to consider creative ways to communicate with the person you want to delegate to or the people you need to influence.

If you practice noticing how uncertainty creates a feeling of threat, and say “This is just my brain”, it frees you up to notice what is actually happening rather than dealing with the pessimistic predictions your brain will create if the Limbic system kicks in.

When you are delegating it is critical to be very specific about the outcome you want. If you make any assumptions you will probably create uncertainty in the person you are delegating to and limit their thinking capacity. By involving them in discussions about the outcome and how it could be achieved creates more certainty for both of you it also enables you both to access more thinking space for new and creative approaches.

This all takes time but neglecting it is just asking for trouble and keeps you trapped in ‘doing it all yourself’.

“Feeling uncertain triggers a fundamental survival instinct that activates your limbic system.”

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