• Rikki Lee

Leading with the Brain, Not the Heart


It happens to everybody from time to time: You’re given a boring, overly difficult or otherwise unappealing training or instructional design project to complete. You’re certain that you’ll absolutely dread it, maybe because the client is too hard to please, the topic isn’t an exciting one, or you just have an overall bad feeling about it.

As your enthusiasm begins to ebb, you think to yourself, “I’ll plod through, but my heart’s just not in it. And because of that, it won’t be well-developed.” You take every opportunity to gripe about the project to your friends and co-workers. You mentally prepare for weeks or months of agony and hope that at least the next project is better.

If possible, set your anxiety aside or work out your fears and frustrations, or they’ll get in the way of your talent.

But there’s no reason to agonize or to avoid putting forth your best effort on any learning project. Before getting started, face your emotions and understand why you’re feeling that way. If possible, set your anxiety aside or work out your fears and frustrations, or they’ll get in the way of your talent. Once you think you’ve done that, perform your best work and complete the project on time. Most of all, keep a positive attitude: You’ll get through this experience and come out on top.

Use your head

And even if your “heart isn’t in it,” your brain should be 100% in your work. Let your brain lead the way in creating the best training you can develop, regardless of your emotions. After all, your brain helps you organize details, solve problems, think analytically and creatively, and predict possible outcomes.

As long as they’re not constrained by open hostility, your emotions can come in handy by warning you with a gut feeling on what to avoid as you work through the project. And it’s often a good idea to appeal to the learner’s emotions in your instructional design, showing them the real-life consequences of unsafe practices and why they should be avoided.

Also ask yourself some questions:

  • "Why don’t I like the project? Is fear driving this feeling? Have I always felt this way, or did something change my mind to hate it?”: For example, maybe you must seek training in skills or knowledge you don’t currently have. Maybe it's beyond anything you've done before, so it falls outside your comfort zone. Or it resembles a past project that still makes you squirm because of how poorly it was received by learners. If you can pinpoint the real reason for your hesitation, devise a workaround—such as by getting the training you need from a subject matter expert or by mentally unlinking the earlier “cringe-worthy” project from the new one.

  • “Is there a problem with the project itself, apart from my feelings about it?”: Always check the project for any shortcomings or difficulties that might cause a problem later on. But be objective about what you find. For example, you might notice that you don’t have enough source material to get started on a storyboard. If you let your negative emotions take the wheel, you might forget to consider asking the SME to fill in learning gaps. Then you proceed with building a training program that’s less than complete or effective.

  • “Can I make the project better?”: Identifying paths to improvement is where the information processing and analysis areas of your brain go to work. First, review the source materials and the project goals and objectives. Then find out whether you have some leeway in broadening the scope of content or increasing the interactivity level. If the material seems boring to you, it might become boring to your learners. So, use creativity to enable it to be stimulating.

  • “What can I learn from this project?”: Your experiences will be based on how much you keep your mind open to learning new things. Perhaps you can learn how to persuade others to make a slide presentation more interesting, or how to find new strength within yourself to face and overcome a difficult or unpleasant job. But if all you take away from the project is a sense of relief that it’s finally over, it’s likely you’ll see it again for revisions—possibly because you didn’t put forth your best effort in the first place. So, you’ll be revisiting the same dread.

Be sure to proceed with the new project as you would with any other. And as your brain continues working, it may bring you to the point where you actually become enthusiastic about your efforts and forget your original misgivings.

So, don’t worry if “your heart’s not in it” at the start of the project. Lead with your brain, and let your heart follow.

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