The Brain’s Organizing Principle

POY 11

Dr. Evian Gordon, CEO of Brain Resource, has a brain model called “Brain 1-2-4″. Its central premise is that:

1 - The brain’s organizing principle is focused on “Minimize Danger – Maximize Reward”.

2 – There are two modes of processing in the brain – nonconscious and conscious.

4 – The brain has four key processes: Emotion – Feeling – Thinking – Self Regulation.


There is an automatic  emotion reaction to a stimulus that is either threatening or rewarding to you. Emotion processes start within a fifth of a second and occur at an unconscious level – you aren’t aware that they are kicking into gear.


Feeling is the conscious experience of an unconscious emotional reaction. It takes around half a second and occurs when you are consciously aware of feedback from your body (i.e. an increase in your heart rate, a change in your breathing pattern, etc.).  You can control the Feeling process (i.e. by slowing down your breathing).


The timescales for Thinking are half a second or longer and involve conscious focus, memory and planning to enable  concentration on relevant verbal and abstract information and making the best decisions (in reaction to the threatening or rewarding stimulus).

Self Regulation

Self Regulation is the capacity to manage your automatic, unconscious reaction and your conscious feelings, thoughts and goals. This process is key to optimizing decision-making and solutions over seconds, days and longer.

Every fifth of a second, your brain is inconsciously scanning its physical and social environment for cues . Your Emotions put a reactive weighting on all other brain processes. and it’s usually negative.

By understanding the brain’s organizing principle and the unconscious emotional processing mode, leaders can focus on the brain’s need to feel safe before it can effectively seek Reward. Best leadership practices create such safety, resulting in the brain releasing dopamine, a key neurotransmitter related to Reward. A cycle of success ensues. Toxic leadership practices have the opposite effect – the brain’s limbic system kicks in, adrenaline is released and a downward cycle follows.

Neuroscience has taught us how the human brain functions and the critical role of unconscious emotional processing – leaders take note.

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