Afraid of the unknown? Start thinking like a cybersecurity expert.

Let’s say you work for an accounting firm that performs audits for large companies. As you’re sifting through email, you find one from a former client that asks you to click on a link to double-check some figures. You’re in a rush and don’t bother to look closely at the sender’s name. So…you click. In an instant, malware takes over your computer, and your heart floods with DREAD.

What’s your first instinct? Probably, panic. 

That’s a natural reaction rooted in brain chemistry. Your amygdala signals you to react to the threat by either confronting it or fleeing from it (the famous “fight or flight” instinct). There’s nothing to run from or fight in this scenario, so confusion and panic set in. Your neurological system might give you a jolt of adrenaline or cortisol, which can cause an increase in heart rate, sweaty palms, shallow breath, anxiety, and feeling ‘frozen.’

This nightmare scenario is a genuine, abstract threat filled with unknowns. Will the hackers be able to access sensitive data? Will email accounts and passwords be compromised? Is this a localized threat that affects your computer or will this impact your company?

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t take a cyber threat to invoke this kind of neurological reaction.

In our modern lives, we face any number of abstract threats daily. They aren’t as straightforward as encountering a saber-toothed tiger in the woods (throw a spear at it or run away!), but our neurological reaction is just as real. For example, if your co-worker sends a sharply-worded email, your brain might think, “Threat!” If a client seems less-than-happy with your performance, your brain goes, “Threat!” If your team excludes you from a meeting, your brain alerts, “Threat!”

How do we deal with all the nebulous threats in our daily lives? One way is to start thinking like a cybersecurity expert. In general, those who work in cyber security must keep level heads and quickly slip into problem-solving mode. 

Here are three ways to embrace and apply this mentality:

1) Develop a deep understanding of potential threats

Cybersecurity experts learn to think like a hacker. They know the vulnerabilities hackers seek and how to shore up cyber defenses. Cybersecurity experts develop a deep understanding of what they’re up against to stay prepared when hacks occur. 

Similarly, it’s not a bad idea for you to become intimate with potential threats. Think about your greatest fears in the workplace. Are you concerned you won’t get a raise? Do you worry about being excluded from decision-making? Are you fearful of failure in general?

We tend to fear these things because they are associated with unknowns. We don’t know whether we’ll earn that raise or meet expectations. However, we can prepare and practice risk mitigation. 

2) Use your rational brain

When faced with a threat of unknown proportions, it’s easy to have an emotional reaction. The central part of the brain governs emotion and is known as our limbic system. This area is the oldest, most instinctual part of the brain. It’s natural to have an instant emotional reaction when faced with a tough situation.

Emotions are not a bad thing, of course. The trouble comes when emotions hamper your rational brain’s ability to problem-solve. Engaging your rational brain can be difficult when you’re frustrated, and all you want to do is throw something! But with patience and practice, you can normalize rational thinking for yourself.

Just like a cybersecurity expert, acknowledge the problem at hand, let your emotions pass, and switch your focus into problem-solving mode. Instead of allowing frustrations to consume you, ask yourself, “What can I do to fix this?” Then, get started! Jot down ideas, talk with others, and concentrate your energy on the solution rather than the issue.

3) Engage in constant learning

Cyber threats are constantly evolving. Hackers are coming up with clever new ways to break through security measures and steal information. Cybersecurity professionals must continually learn new techniques to prevent attacks and deal with breaches. 

Why not follow their lead? In your industry, what are the areas that are quickly evolving or shifting? What kind of training might help you get ahead of the game? What will you need to learn or fine-tune if you’re making a career transition?

Remaining inquisitive and developing a love of learning will take you far in any career. Like a cybersecurity expert, absorb information as if your career depends on it – because it just might!

Life is teeming with unknowns and modern-day threats. Even though our brains are primed to deal with these everyday frustrations emotionally, it is possible to take a step back and engage your problems with the cool rationality of a cyber security expert. Start thinking about the potential issues that might crop up, commit to lifelong learning, and, when you’re in a pinch, call upon your rational, problem-solving brain to lead the way. 

If you’d like to learn how to leverage your rational brain, let us know! We connect business excellence with neuroscience to create sustainable change.

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About Laura Woodward

After 20 years as a senior leader in Information technology and operations, Laura decided she needed to focus on what she loved most...the people. She is passionate about making individuals, groups, teams and organizations the best they can possibly be. Laura is committed to creating experiences for individuals that take them out of their comfort zone in a safe, creative environment with a unique development approach. Laura is blessed with her wife of 16 years and one playful puppy. She takes time to rejuvenate through traveling, photography, and cooking for friends at her cabin in northwest Wisconsin.