Notes from Lucinda

Leaders: It's Time to Train Your Brain

Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard | Jul 04, 2022

Open Book: Issue #9

I believe more than ever in the importance of training your brain so that you can make good decisions during hard times.

Growing up, I played with a painted wooden top wrapped with a string. When thrown correctly, the string’s unwrapping propelled the top into a stable spin of whirling color. Thrown incorrectly, it flung around and fell over. I always think of myself like that top. When I’m good it’s because I am balanced, centered, and dynamic. When I’m not it’s because my energy is bouncing around, directionless. 

After a challenging winter, I knew I needed to get my spin back. This spring I went on a Modern Elder Academy retreat with the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. A key theme was how and why to create space between stimulus and response, how to pause, be curious, and then act. 

Let’s say someone does something at work that annoys you. Instead of reacting, you’d pause and ask yourself:


  • How do I feel? Why?
  • How might they feel? Why?


Whatever answers arose, you’d meet them with compassion. And from within that space, you’d make a decision about what to do in response.

After the retreat, I felt like a top resting upright in soft ground. Not spinning, not dormant. Just fully present. And I still feel that way. I’ve been able to sustain that balanced, solid feeling through practice, just like I’ve done for decades as a basketball player and a martial artist. 

Training your mind to meet challenging situations in a nonreactive way takes time, and patience, both with yourself and with others. Rewiring to pause and be curious after a lifetime of reacting and in a highly reactive culture takes practice, just like mastering passing skills in basketball, or developing the physical and mental toughness required to engage an opponent in martial arts. Years of repetitive practice develops muscle memory and shifts your instinctive reactions.   

Armed with new tools from the weeklong retreat, I’m approaching training my brain in the same way. All day long, whenever I encounter a challenge, I practice:

Pause, be curious, then act. 

Pause, be curious, then act. 

Pause, be curious, then act.

You don’t have to go to a retreat to train your brain. Meditation and other awareness tools - over time and with regular practice - can lead you to feel like you are in the calm of the ocean’s depths, no longer buffeted by the wind and waves at the surface of day-to-day happenings. You’ll be able to stay focused on your company’s mission and purpose. You'll make good long-term decisions. 

And you’ll get your spin back, without spinning.

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Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard

Serial entrepreneur, Founder/CEO of AboveBoard, an inclusive platform for executive search