We define resilience as the ability to remain flexible and focused in the face of ongoing change. To be an authentic leader, we need to attend to four key elements: our physical wellbeing, our thinking, our emotional intelligence and sense of purpose, and our connection to people who support us. We must be honest with ourselves and others about what allows us to be resilient.
The other day Maureen met with a client who, for the first time in his life, is struggling with health challenges. This man works for a large national nonprofit where leaders pride themselves on their stamina, persistence, and always achieving results beyond what others could deliver—which may be part of the root of the problem. At forty-one years old, he had been blessed with great health until back problems forced him to take a leave of absence from work. He was given surgical and non-surgical treatment options to address his back condition. The non-surgical choices involved managing his stress and lifestyle as well as a daily routine of exercise and stretching. While the non-surgical option may sound easier than the surgical option, his underlying dilemma is facing the fact that he cannot live up to his own expectations of himself. He is young and suffering stress-related physical problems that, if he does not get under control, will likely result in chronic pain for years to come.
Now he must rethink who he can authentically be and face the reality of his physical limitations. Although we all will face this at some point in our lives and careers, most of us never really think about it until a dramatic event forces us to reassess the choices we make and how we’re living.
When we read about authentic leadership it seems so simple: be true to yourself. For this client, a primary condition of his authenticity is facing his physical limitations and being authentic with others about what he can and is willing to do to balance his work schedule with his personal health needs.
In coming to terms with his humanness, the client needs to figure out what it even means to be true to himself. Does he retain his stressful job in a field he loves, implementing a mission which he believes is his life’s work? What other avenue does he have to pursue his passion and make an impact on the world?
How you can put resilience to work for you to become more authentic?
Here are seven questions to consider as indicators of your resilience as a leader:
Am I taking the actions I need to take to remain physically healthy over the longer term?
Do I manage my thinking throughout the day, every day (minimize negative self-talk; be gentle and kind in how I think about myself; express gratitude regularly; have reasonable expectations of myself and others, etc.)?
Do I demonstrate strong emotional self-awareness and self-management?
Do I have a sense of life purpose that inspires me daily and helps keep the less important annoyances in perspective?
Do I have a spiritual practice that supports my well-being?
Do I have a support system that supports and encourages me during good times and bad?
If you’ve answered no to any of the six questions on the list consider: what changes you can you make in the short term to authentically and honestly commit to and move toward greater resilience?
As a resilient leader, you are more able to respond to the ongoing challenges of your role with clear thinking and presence. This, in turn, allows you to continue to be authentic with yourself and others around you. It also allows you to promote resilience in your workgroup so you can ensure others are also able to perform at their highest capacity.
Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet—thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing—consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.
This post is written by guest blogger Samar Habib. It is the companion to an interview on the Voice America show, Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future with Jon Wortman focusing on How the Brain Impacts Leadership Resilience. We also encourage you to take our free online resilience assessment. I am posting this blog because of the anxiety many people are facing with the combination of economic uncertainty, political uncertainty and geopolitical uncertainty to name a few. There are many different approaches to work with anxiety. An element that helps us navigate the anxiety and build our resilience is understanding how our brains and body respond to stress so we can counterbalance our physiology.
I’m on the balcony playing with pegs. Not quite two years old. Out of nowhere a bomb drops from the sky and explodes nearby. It’s a huge shock to my little heart. I scream. My sympathetic nervous system injects me with adrenaline and cortisol, propelling me like a rocket into my father’s arms.
I grow up in a war zone. Living in war is like being in a relationship with an emotionally volatile person. You spend years walking on eggshells, not knowing when they’re going to blow up next.
I’ve experienced both. Growing up in war and being in a relationship with a volatile person. Gradually, and without my awareness, I lose my sense of safety. Even long after I leave the war zone and that relationship ends, my anxiety remains. Just like a piece of toilet paper that gets stuck to your shoe long after you’ve left the restroom, anxiety follows me around.
And even though the world shows me everyday that it is a gentle and safe place that’s full of love, my body still expects everything to go to hell without warning.
When I look back on my life I can see how this stuck-fear turns me into a tiny Anxiety Mouse. As an Anxiety Mouse I’m afraid to leave a job that doesn’t utilize my full potential because I don’t know what will happen if I do. As an Anxiety Mouse, I’m afraid to ask the woman I like if she’s interested too, because I fear the sting of ridicule or rejection. As an Anxiety Mouse I abort many potential friendships because I don’t trust people’s intentions. And so when I finally become aware of how my fear oppresses me, or how I oppress myself with my fear, I set out to transform it. And in coping with anxiety, these are the lessons I learn.
Love Anxiety Mouse (with all your heart)
It takes me many years to even realize that I am afraid. Scientists say that when your body is used to being in a state of alert for so long, you stop noticing that it is on edge; it becomes your new normal.
In Life Unlocked,Srinivassan Pillay writes that certain brain regions involved in fear can be active without our conscious awareness. We can be afraid and just not know it. I first notice my subliminal fear in the backseat of a coworker’s car. I’m in my mid 30s. She’s very nice and invites me to spend time with her and a friend. But for some reason my chest constricts and I want nothing more than to get out of there. Instead of berating myself for this social failure, I turn toward my fear with curiosity and unconditional self-love.
When I get home, I do a meditation prescribed for people coping with axniety by Christopher Hansard in his book The Tibetan Art of Living. I lie on my back and close my eyes. I imagine that my breath is flowing in and out of my navel. And with every breath I feel warmer and more energized. I place my attention on my heart and I feel the anxious glow that emanates from it. It’s an icy cold, electric heat. I then imagine a miniature me lying in the center of my heart, just as Hansard instructs. She is perfectly safe and perfectly at peace. Nothing can harm her. And I sit with this perfect peace, together with my fear, for some time.
I learn from Hansard’s book that this peace is actually my inner wisdom and it is always there, accessible in the space between moments. For the ancient Tibetans, he tells me, this inner wisdom is the healer of the body and mind. In knowing how to contact this inner horizon, as he calls it, lies our ultimate healing. I now direct the image of my safe-self out of my heart and into the world. I color it with a bright, powerful light and allow it to radiate like a white sun. I let its rays permeate every aspect of my life.
Rest and let yourself receive the good feelings that come to you from doing this, Hansard writes. And I do.
I have just communicated with my sympathetic nervous system with guided imagery. I’ve brought the fear response under my sway. When I am not meditating I blast Anxiety Mouse with light and love every chance I get. Every time I notice her. Remembering the not-yet-two-year-old girl on that balcony, who was terrorized within an inch of her life, I wrap my now strong arms around the afraid parts of me and love the hell out of them. Wherever the fear is nesting in my body, I direct love with all my heart at it. Ultimately, it’s not our technology or our medicine but our love that heals. That’s what neurosurgeon James Doty writes in his book Into the Magic Shop, and that’s a neurosurgeon talking!
In the past I thought these ancient visualization techniques were archaic wishful thinking, now I realize they are truly medicine.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
I’m sitting in the back seat of a taxi. Next to me sits the object of my affection. I’d really like to ask her out for dinner but I just can’t. I’m so tense, if I was a guitar string I would snap. I’ve already read a dozen books on body language and nonverbal communication and I can tell I’m giving her all the wrong signals. You’re supposed to lightly touch your love interests here and there: on the arm, a little slap on the knee, maybe even a light touch on the small of the back if you’re ushering them through a doorway. If you have hair, flick it. And you’re supposed to make meaningful and non-invasive eye contact when they speak. Ask a lot of questions. Dress to impress. Connect emotionally. Yeah, I get it. All of it. But I just can’t bring myself to put my hand on a woman I’m attracted to.
What if she feels violated? What if I come across as sleazy? What if she’s straight and I misrepresent all gay women as predatory sex fiends for all time?
So you see, I just sit there, awkward and uncomfortable. Stewing in my closed off stance, my body turned away from her. She’s talking but I’m so caught up in my own nervousness, I have no idea what she just said. Seconds later she’s out of the taxi. Gone. I just missed my chance. I go home and I’m really tempted to hate myself. What a coward. I keep replaying our time together in my head, looking for clues. Does she like me? It never occurs to me that I could have just asked.
The fastest way to deal with anxiety is to do the thing that scares you. Once you’ve done what you’re afraid of, it can’t scare you anymore. That’s because anxiety is only possible when you think about the future and about what could happen. So feel the fear and do it anyway. This is literally the title of a best selling book by Susan Jeffers. Jeffers teaches me to say I’ll handle it, every time I catch myself worrying about the consequences of doing something. I just keep saying it over and over again, every time Anxiety Mouse rears her fragile little head inside me. If I keep giving all my money away, I’m going to end up homeless myself: that’s fine, I’ll handle it. If I quit this job I’m really not cut out for, I might never be able to find something better: I’ll handle it. What if America turns fascist and they start rounding up immigrants: I’ll handle it. What if I go on vacation and come back to find that my startup doesn’t exist anymore: I’ll handle it. Whatever you fear is going to happen that you’re theoretically worrying about right now, just tell yourself, I’ll handle it. And if the worst case scenario eventuates (it almost never does), Jeffers says in another book, tell yourself I can learn from this. I’ve just blown my last chance with this incredibly amazing woman by not asking her out. I can learn from this. I’ve just blown the entire fuse box fixing the electrics on my motorcycle. I can learn from this.
After I finally overcome my fear of losing money and start investing in the stock market, it crashes! I can learn from this.
I do learn a tonne from that last one, actually. I realize how ridiculous money is; how easily it can be made and lost. My fear of not having enough is transformed into my knowledge that material security is an illusion. It doesn’t make sense to continue being afraid of losing something (material security) that no one can ultimately have, does it?
Put Fear in a Larger Historical Context
My heart rate can go from 60 to 100 BPM instantly for no seemingly good reason. The first time this happens to me, I’m in high school. I see two police officers walking towards me and I feel the fear. I do a mental check of my school uniform. It’s a crazy thought to think that police officers are going to cite you for not having your shirt tucked in, isn’t it? They pass me without incident of course and I’m left wondering what the hell my reaction was all about. The same thing still happens to me sometimes when I see Border Patrol officers in foreign airports. And during the 2014 Ferguson protests I break into a cold sweat when a police helicopter hovers over my house for over an hour. I’ve been in war zones, why should a police helicopter make me feel like it’s coming for me? None of this makes sense to my logical mind. The physiological reactions happen in spite of my logic. In search for self-understanding, I come across the concept of epigenetics. Epigenetics teaches us that we can inherit the traumatic experiences of our predecessors even up to the moment of our conception.
What this means is that what happened during the lives of my parents and their parents lives inside me too. And so it all starts to make sense. My grandparents had to flee their family homes, they and my parents were persecuted. They lived in constant terror, hiding from genocidal militias for decades. Now that context is gone, but thanks to epigenetics my brain is still vigilant against those non-existent threats. I soon realize that Anxiety Mouse wants to make sure I survive in a world that no longer exists. I take a moment to honor the experiences of my parents and their parents before them. I close my eyes and I bless the souls of the living, and the souls of those whom we have lost. My eyes well up with tears as the fear that sits inside me takes on a new meaning. This fear is not an enemy but a precious relic from my family’s history that is asking to be acknowledged and healed.
I imagine that as I am healing my own trauma, I am also healing the trauma of my entire lineage. I feel the spirits of my grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins who were murdered in the war and to each one of them I acknowledge the pain and terror they must have faced. I take a moment to imagine what they would say to me and I listen for their messages. May you be happy, may you be at peace. Thank you for your sacrifice. I promise to live the life I am given to its fullest potential. I bless the living spirits of my mother and father. My heart radiates tremendous love and the electric ice-cold fear transforms into a tender aching, like the pain of a fresh wound. I feel my heart opening to the unhealed traumas of my predecessors and I ask that they be released now and for all time.
Bert Hellinger, a German psychologist who invented a therapeutic methodology known as Family Constellation Work, claims that we can inherit the traumas of our predecessors and live out similar fates to them if these experiences are not brought to consciousness and resolved. He calls this phenomenon systemic entanglement. We might even harbor a sense of unconscious loyalty to our fallen loved ones and end up steering ourselves toward similar fates in solidarity with them. Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, a hungarian psychologist who founded family therapy, refers to this phenomenon as invisible loyalty.
My body, without my conscious awareness, makes me live out the same psychosocial distress as my predecessors. My body is motivated by unconscious love and deep family ties that live in the cells of my body. As I become aware of this dynamic the healing begins and I set out to write a new destiny for my life. One based on optimism and trust.
Take a moment to expand your awareness of that steel-cold existential fear that doesn’t seem to leave you alone. What aspects are based on your direct experience and what aspects could you have inherited?
Take a moment to acknowledge the pains and losses of your loved ones. The ones you know and the ones you don’t. Ask that they be acknowledged and healed. Surrender the pain to the greater love that governs and corrects all things.
Subliminal Fear Lives in the Unconscious Mind
I post on an online forum about a rare motorcycle part I need to repair my bike. The following day, I receive an email from a man named Steve telling me has has the part and to call him on a given number. My first thought isn’t oh, great! My first thought is is this a scam? I put the phone number into Google and sure enough, Steve is calling from a motorcycle salvage yard in Southern California.
Someone else wouldn’t have had that thought. But that kind of thought is my default mode. It’s the first thing I think in most situations. Is there a threat? How can I make sure there isn’t a threat? How can I keep myself safe?
I’ve lived with this way of thinking for so long I barely even notice it, but now that I can see my subliminal fear in action, I can also see how it’s interfering in all aspects of my life. For one thing, I don’t trust my friends. This means I can never rely on them. And because I don’t give people the chance to be there for me, I’ve ended up with a lot of superficial relationships. Unintentionally, I have been isolating myself from others in this way for years.
Another example is that I never trust that things will work out for me, or that I might just get lucky. This means I don’t take risks and it also means that undesirable circumstances in my life are slow to change. I realize that for drastic changes to occur in my life I need to create momentum by taking bold action. But since I’m subliminally afraid all the time, I haven’t dared to quit that stupid job. I recognize that I need to go deep into my unconscious mind to fix this. And I quit that stupid job.
Releasing Stuck Energy
The unconscious mind is that part of ourselves that carries out the bodily functions we don’t have to think about. Things like a beating heart, breathing, digestion and life-saving reflexes. My unconscious mind is the one that’s running my fear factory because it still thinks I need it to survive. I need to find a way to tell it that there is no threat. I need to find a way to tell it all is good. The war (at least for me) is over, if I run out of money I’ll handle it, and there’s really no one out to get me. And if there were, I’ll handle that too. I’m sitting in my bedroom after a long day of reading and writing on my desk. I have no reason to be afraid and yet there is a knot in my stomach. Above that, in the center of my torso and radiating all the way up to my heart, I also feel a stuck energy. I am not thinking anxious thoughts, I am simply observing the sensations we would normally call fear as they manifest in my body. My Sympathetic Nervous System is on alert, it’s ready to respond to threat. Except there is no threat and I know this, but my body doesn’t. How do I tell my body everything is ok?
I soon realize that the sensations of anxiety that I am feeling in my body are located in what Eastern mystics call chakras. Chakras are energy centers in the body. For a long time I thought they were just make belief. But I can definitely feel this excess energy in the places where the second, third and fourth chakras are supposed to be.
In his book Becoming Supernatural Joe Dispenza puts the idea in my head that these energy centers can experience blockages because of past traumatic experiences. Sometimes an energy center can move away from its alignment with the spine.
The idea makes sense because the sensation I feel in what’s supposed to be my second chakra is not in alignment with my spine, it juts out slightly to the left. After his meditation technique, Dispenza says, practitioners notice a realignment of those energy centers with the spine and the energy flows freely again.
I’m willing to have an open mind about this. If these energy centers are real and my unresolved emotional experiences of being threatened are actually stuck in my body, then if I do this meditation, I should be able to feel the difference.
I close my eyes and prepare myself for the breathing exercise he prescribes. I squeeze the muscles of my pelvic floor as well as the muscles of my lower and upper abdomen in tandem with inhaling a deep breath. At the same time, I imagine that I am using my core muscles to move the energy in my lower chakras up my spine, into my brain and all the way out of the top of my head. Once I get to the top of my head, I focus my attention there and hold my breath for a few seconds. As I exhale, I relax my muscles and prepare to repeat the breathing cycle all over again. After several minutes of doing this I return to breathing normally. I focus my awareness on each chakra in turn, beginning with the first one at the base of my spine, making my way up to the 7th, blessing each with love and gratitude as I go. Finally I rest my awareness on an energy center that is supposedly a few inches above my skull. That’s supposed to be the 8th chakra. When I finish blessing each center, I place my awareness on my entire body all at once, which now feels like a massive, pulsating field of energy. I feel bigger and lighter. To my surprise I don’t feel the symptoms of anxiety return for several days. Could it have worked or was it just a coincidence?
Teach Your Body to Trust Again
After I quit my job, I realize that other areas of my life have to change. I sit down at my desk and I make an inventory of all the times I suspected people of ill intentions and turned out to be wrong. I make a second list of all the times I was afraid something bad was going to happen and it didn’t. Looking at the lists I can see the absurdity of some of those thoughts! And I remember just how plausible the scenarios seemed when I imagined them. For example, when one of my clients gave me a mechanical keyboard as a present, I wondered if it was possible for someone to install spyware on your computer through an external keyboard. I even asked a software engineer about it. Why did my mind take this kind and generous gesture from my client and turn it into a possible episode of espionage? And what subtle effects does this have on my ability to connect meaningfully with people?
At its core this is a trust issue. I have to teach my body to trust again.
I pick up Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning. She explains that the feel-good brain chemicals are released when we form trust bonds. Breuning teaches me how I can increase these brain chemicals by offering my trust to others. I don’t have to trust everybody, that’s actually not such a great idea, she writes. Steve from the motorcycle salvage yard could have been a scammer after all! But even if people go on to break our trust it’s better to assume trust initially. The joy we gain is in the act of offering our trust, not the outcome. We will feel much better for trusting people rather than living with mistrust all the time.In other words: look for people you think you can trust, initiate a situation where you’re offering your trust, and reap the brain chemical reward right there and then, regardless of whether they go on to honor or betray that trust.
Take for example the time a business owner contacts me about working with him on expanding his business. When we meet, some of his comments seem really off-kilter and abrasive to me. I feel immediate alarm bells in the usual energy centers of my body. I decide to feel the fear and offer my trust anyway. I agree to meet with him several more times. After a few encounters though, I can see that my initial assessment is correct. He is rude and abrasive, even if he isn’t aware of it, and I don’t have to spend any more time in his line of fire. I respectfully end our relationship and move on to the next business opportunity. By placing my satisfaction in my trust-offer rather than the outcome, I’m able to confidently end our relationship without feeling hurt or stupid for trusting him in the first place. And I feel good that I felt the fear and did it anyway.
7 Get Curious
Fear is an automated physiological response over which we have no control. But we can consciously maneuver our brain activity away from the automated fear response, toward other regions in the brain. We can do that by getting curious.
When my body initiates a fear response, I
Assess the situation by asking myself am I in immediate danger? The answer is almost always no
Breathe in deeply and direct self-compassion to the areas in my body where I feel the fear
Accept the fear as a sensation completely and utterly, without judgment
Investigate the sponsoring thought behind my fear. And the sponsoring thought is nearly always a fear for my survival (which isn’t being threatened)
Ask myself if there is an action I can take to alleviate my concern and if there is, I take it. I don’t react or overreact, I simply act if needed
Let me give you an example:
I receive an offer to work on a very interesting project. My client and I draw up an agreement and I sign it. I start working but she doesn’t send me the countersigned copy. This triggers my fear response. My mind plays out a number of worst case scenarios. Is this a scam? Why hasn’t she signed the agreement? I notice my heart rate go through the roof and that’s when I decide to get curious about the situation. I ask myself am I in immediate danger? Obviously not, the worst thing that could happen is that I’d work for free for a few weeks. That’s literally the worst thing that can possibly happen in this situation. I accept my absurd thoughts, take a deep breath and send love to the areas in my body where I can feel the sensations of fear. At the same time I ask myself what is it that I am really afraid of?
The answer is nearly always the same for this question: the fear is for my ultimate survival. I’m not afraid of losing out on money owed in wages, the fear is much more primal than that. The fear is of having nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. This was a reality for many members of my family decades earlier, but it is not the case for me: an able-bodied, legal resident of a country with a thriving economy. What action can I take to turn off the fear response? Send an email asking about the countersigned agreement. I do and moments later my client responds with an apology for having forgotten to return it until now. I add this to my inventory of incidents where I suspect people of having ill intentions and I turn out to be wrong.
What Are You Exactly Afraid Of?
The limbic system is the oldest part of our brain and the most primitive. It doesn’t think, it reacts. The purpose of it is to keep us alive. My fear of not having enough is ultimately a primordial fear of death. But our brains have evolved so much and are now capable of thinking. And with my thinking brain (that’s the prefrontal cortex: the area of the brain behind the forehead), I can entertain philosophical and existential ideas. One idea in particular resonates with me. The Thai buddhist monk, Ajahn Chah, teaches me that I’m going to die eventually. In fact, that’s literally the one thing we can all be sure of. We are all going to die. Eventually. And so I realize that there’s no point of living in fear of the only inevitable and certain thing. I’m not saying let’s all hold hands and run to our deaths, I’m saying that existentially it is a little absurd to live a life in fear of the inevitable.
I decide to do a meditation on fear. I begin with my first memory of fear. That’s my memory on the balcony. After that I remember being afraid of my father’s angry voice and of my teachers as they’re deciding how to punish me. I remember my fear of mean girls at school as a teenager and my fear of asking a woman out as an adult. I remember my fear of police and border patrol officers and even my fear of police helicopters. Then I get to death. And strangely everything goes quiet. I realize that I have no fear of death. Astonished, I ask myself how is it that I can be afraid of a girl making fun of me for liking her and not be afraid to die? In my lack of fear of death I realize that I can be fearless to anything I meet in life. I realize that what I possess is the ultimate bravery of all. I realize that everything I am afraid of is really nothing. I am afraid of nothing. I break into laughter at the misunderstanding that I have been living with all my life.
I Turn My Fear Into A Spiritual Path
To self-identify according to your spiritual rather than material reality is enlightenment. Marianne Williamson, Law of Divine Compensation. I’m sitting in a classroom listening to a Kabbala teacher talk about waking up and feeling uneasy, or thinking negative thoughts for no reason. And he says that whenever his teacher feels those negative emotions he says to himself what a pleasure! It turns out that for the Kabbalists this psychological tension that comes out of nowhere is a sign that you are on the edge of a spiritual breakthrough. A seasoned Kabbalist gets really excited when they get anxious for no reason.And so my first thought is this guy is nuts. But actually he isn’t. It turns out that people who are just about to have a spiritual experience first have an overload of activity in the areas of their brain traditionally associated with fear and negative emotions.
To get to a spiritual experience you first feel a lot of distress. Sorta like the story of Jesus in the desert getting taunted by the devil, and the Buddha by Mara, sorta like that. Both have their spiritual breakthroughs on the other side of their respective freak outs. For this reason I can’t call Anxiety Mouse by that name any more. Sure I still have the physiological symptoms of fear every now and then but my thoughts about those feelings are not the same. Physical sensations are just physical sensations. We assign meanings to them and why should my feeling that we call anxiety be seen as such a bad thing? How do I know it’s bad? How do I know it’s not even awesome? What if it’s like a stargate into another dimension?
Pain Does Not Equal Harm
I am on an exhilarating spiritual path. I’m exploring the influence I can have on my body and my world with my conscious mind. Realizing this, I come to see that anxiety isn’t really anxiety, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to explore what I can and can’t do with my mind to influence my body. Every anxious moment is the perfect opportunity to master the skill of this subtle influence of mind on the body. I know we’re led to believe that we shouldn’t feel this way and if we do then something is wrong, but this feeling is not harmful. I can learn so much from this! And I do. Every day.
https://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/10-878x1024.jpeg1024878Maureen Metcalfhttps://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.pngMaureen Metcalf2019-02-26 17:31:362022-02-02 16:50:02Building Resilience – Lessons for Coping with Anxiety
During that episode, we explored ways that aspiration affects outcomes – particularly as it relates to people in their careers. What people believe is possible in their lives has a huge impact on what they end up getting accomplished. Our dreams/vision statements/goals (pick your word) initiate the creative tension in us that drives us forward until we achieve. In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
As a follow on to this discussion, I wanted to illustrate using my own life as an example. In May of 2016, I left a highly compensated job at a Fortune 100 company. Over the ensuing months, I did some consulting, began working with a fledgling startup and did the normal headhunter thing. I ended up picking 2 companies to interview with and received C level offers from both, the lower of which was a 30% raise from what I’d been making in my last job. I ended up turning down both job offers and taking a 90% pay cut from what I could’ve been making to join the fledgling startup. This seems like an odd move for a 51-year-old at the peak of his earning curve. So why did I do it?
Aspiration, of course!
How can taking a pay cut and giving up all my resources as a C level exec be aspirational? Seriously, I went from having 2,000 people on my team (my team was large enough that I had a group that did nothing but report the operational data from my shop) to being one of the people that regularly take the trash out at a startup.
For me, it is all about learning and growing. As I evaluated my future back in the summer of 2016, I realized that going back into a corporate role was not going to teach me anything – in fact the reason I got the offers is because I knew the answers to all the questions the CEO’s threw at me. I found I was experiencing a strong allergic reaction to re-entering the corporate world with little hope of growth.
What excited me about the startup, now known as Wiretap, was the chance to not only work on a worthy product with a small group of people I trusted and shared values with, but also the chance to learn and grow. I was energized by the challenge of re-inventing myself as a professional who knew how to start a company and build a value chain from scratch. I was energized by the challenge of completely re-booting my professional network from a bunch of corporate staffers and the people that sold stuff to them to the people who fund and grow companies. I honestly knew nothing meaningful about that world.
The key to this was finding both courage and humility. The courage was about believing – aspiring to successfully launch a company. The humility is about accepting the reality that any prior success or power/resources tied to my past positions and success were almost completely irrelevant in this new context. On top of that, I had to re-create all my mental models about risk, leadership, capital deployment, etc.
So, how’s it going? IT.HAS.BEEN.AWESOME! …not because I’ve achieved some big pay day (that is not my goal – I would consider this pivot a staggering success if I broke even on my corporate career), but rather because I found once again the joy and power of aspiration when you don’t know the answers or even the destination. The power of not knowing the answers but believing you can find them. Feeling compelled to work hard to find the answers – not because they seem impossible (though sometimes they do), but because you believe in your soul that they are possible. Embracing the pressure of knowing that if you don’t solve the problems you face, then a lot of people you are on this journey with won’t get to experience the high of doing something that very few people truly get to do. We are giving life to a new organization – a community that has a unique culture and a set of differentiated capabilities that has never existed in the world before!
I’ll pause there with this story, because there are many chapters to write and I must get back to work! If you are still unclear of the message, go back and re-read the Goethe quote 3 times. Cheers to a 2019 filled with aspiration in your life!
Greg Moran is a C-level digital, strategy and change leadership executive with extensive global operations experience. He is the COO of Wiretap in Columbus and sits on the board of Koios Medical in NYC. He led corporate strategy for Ford and designed the plan that Alan Mullaly used to turn around the company. Greg held C-level IT positions in app dev, infrastructure and core banking applications at Ford, Nationwide Insurance and Bank One/JPMC, respectively. He began his career in consulting with Arthur Andersen/Accenture, working across industries with ~100 companies over the course of a decade. He is passionate about leadership and culture and teaches part time on the topic at Ohio University.
https://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.png00Maureen Metcalfhttps://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.pngMaureen Metcalf2019-01-03 21:45:392022-02-02 17:10:10Aspiration – Making the Pivot
Very few of us have been taught how to keep our brains healthy.
We know too many sweets are bad for our weight. It’s easy to remember too little sleep will affect our mood. Every child knows that a Band-Aid is the answer for a scrape or cut. But what about our brains? What are we supposed to do when our minds won’t stop spinning? What do we do when we feel stressed all the time?
Each of these nine behaviors will not only make your brain healthier, they are free and everyone can learn how to practice them.
1. Talk to strangers
The first thing most of us don’t realize our brains need is strangers. As I waited for the airport shuttle after a business trip, I struck up a conversation with a well-dressed, younger man. He had just returned from Dubai, and was in Boston for a gaming conference. I asked what he did. He was one of the world’s top Halo players doing demos at the conference. He was also a travel agent who flew to the Middle East for less than $300. He was writing a book on how I could too. He told me all the secrets. In a 10-minute conversation, I was intrigued, entertained, and already planning my next travel adventure.
Research shows talking to strangers makes us happier. The why is what’s so important. Our brains are constantly stressed these days by too much to pay attention to. We feel on edge because we don’t know where to focus. That’s simply the alarm in your brain, your amygdala, overreacting. Talking to strangers immediately gives you something to focus on. You get a shot of adrenaline from the alarm because you want to make sure this person is safe, but you also begin, sentence by sentence, to feel incredibly engaged. Suddenly your fear of the new or unknown dissipates and your frontal lobes, which have to fire for your alarm to turn down, are in full gear. You enjoy the novelty of a fresh conversation. And in the future, there is a powerful kicker. You will see strangers as a potential friend rather than a certain threat.
2. Go away
Every brain needs time away. If the simple idea of a vacation doesn’t reduce your stress, consider one of America’s great thinkers. If Thoreau doesn’t leave Concord, Massashusetts and go into the woods, would he ever have become a celebrated writer and environmentalist?
Thoreau was away from his normal routine as a tutor and handyman. And in those two years, he was his most prolific and arguably successful as a writer. You don’t have to go far or spend a lot of money. He was two miles from home living off selling a few crops. But that’s not the only evidence that going away was good for his brain. When you read Walden, you realize being away, he had the time of his life.
3. Reframe everything negative
The third thing you must do for your brain is known in organizational behavior and political science circles, but not often enough in ordinary life. The technique is called reframing. Imagine your boss just yelled at you in front of the whole team. The negative thought that sparks your alarm is obvious: I am a failure. The possible reframes, however, are invaluable in jump-starting the rest of your day and your brain health. Imagine immediately, even in the middle of that scene, thinking, “Well, at least he noticed me.” Or, “That wasn’t fun, but it proves I can handle being embarrassed.”
When you reframe, you make an ugly thought into a positive one. It is not just positive thinking because you can’t lie to yourself and think you enjoyed the yelling. What you can do is think how the experience was valuable. When reframing becomes a habit, your alarm doesn’t have negative memories of experiences to shut you down in the future.
4. Reappraise everything painful
The twist on reframing is called reappraisal. Many thinkers and therapists use reappraisal as a synonym or type of reframing. I separate it here because it is too valuable not to emphasize. Reappraisal is making meaning out of an ugly situation. The boss yells, you think, “I’ll be ready for him next time.” Or, “I didn’t enjoy that, but now I know how to prepare for meetings differently.”
Reframing takes the negative out of a memory and the weight out of a difficult moment. Reappraisal deepens the experience into a learning moment. When you learn, your brain gets healthier because it isn’t afraid of a future threat. The boss will yell again. Now you know you can deal with strong emotion. Your brain won’t forget that you believe there is no moment you can’t handle.
5. Meditate in a way you look forward to
The science on meditation is clear. What’s not for most people is what method to use. Here are three quick options to consider. For at least 12 minutes a day: Sit and breathe, imagine yourself in your favorite place, or repeat a mantra or prayer. Never forget there are many styles and methods of meditation. Don’t meditate correctly; meditate in a way you can practice daily.
6. Transfer blame
Reattribution is the therapeutic technique of exploring alternative causes for events. You spilled the milk. No, someone else forgot to screw the top on tight. You missed a deadline. No, new information means a later delivery to get the project right. You lose your family’s fortune betting the horses. You say to your spouse, “I got bad information.” Obviously, the last example is playful, but in every case where you can take the burden off your shoulders, your alarm in your brain calms down.
This doesn’t mean you don’t take responsibility in your life. It means that certain things we experience are truly a result of causes beyond our control and recognizing that in many instances allows your brain to produce less stress hormones.
7. Find the mindfulness that works for you
Mindfulness is the art and science of being present. Myriad studies have proven it reduces your alarm. Less alarm heightens your ability to manage negative emotion that could lead to disease like depression. Maybe most valuable is mindfulness helps us engage in complex thinking. Want to be successful in the global economy? Your brain needs mindfulness.
The secret to brain health and mindfulness, however, is finding the ways that work for you. For some of us, mindful eating thickens our gray matter where sitting and breathing drives us crazy. Some of us love moving slower where others who can’t imagine changing the pace of their lives. But even fast movers can listen more mindfully to be more present.
The best way to find what works for you: experiment. The forms of mindfulness you stick to are the ones that will make your brain healthier.
8. Leave the crazy people
Maybe not right away, but eventually, you have to take time away from the crazy peopleand environments. This doesn’t mean you leave your spouse at the first sign of trouble. It means that each of us has a different tolerance for drama. If yours is constantly being challenged by the people in your life, you will melt down. Too many meltdowns is a clear sign. When your brain isn’t healthy, it sends stress to remind you its time to make a change.
9. Forgive everyone
It’s simple, and I saved it for last on purpose. In our mad, mad world, this may be the most important thing you can do for your brain, and it can have brilliant side benefits. Studies have shown people who don’t forgive experience more stress and negative health impacts like spikes in blood pressure. The stress reduction with forgiveness, however, produces emotional benefits like less restlessness, nervousness, and sadness. In one study where forgiveness was part of an acupressure technique, participants were even able to maintain weight loss. Think about it this way. If we don’t forgive, we know we experience more stress, and we might even get fatter. Doesn’t that make the choice of whether to hold a grudge or let go easier?
These nine behaviors aren’t always intuitive and they definitely take practice. But even adding one of them to your life will give your brain some relief and grow the good stuff between your ears. Find the first one that seems most attractive and start today. We have the power to take care of our brains.
Jon is an executive and mental coach and speaker. A graduate of Carleton College and Harvard, his books have been #1 best sellers in 22 categories on Amazon. His work has been featured in O Magazine, Elle, The Huffington Post, Fox, Fast Company, and Psychology Today. His three books Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence, The Three Commitments of Leadership: How Clarity, Stability, and Rhythm Create Great Leaders, and Hijacked by Your Brain: Discovering the Path to Freedom From Stress teach leaders the essential communication, leadership, and stress reduction skills that make them the kind of people others want to work with, and the kind of managers, executives, and coaches that produce teams of leaders.
He began his training career in 2005 with a division of Time Warner, and has since worked with Fortune 500, start-up, universities, and non-profits to improve resilience, executive and board communication, client relationships, and leadership.
https://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Jon-Wortmann-9-Things-Your-Brain-Needs.png400700Maureen Metcalfhttps://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.pngMaureen Metcalf2018-09-11 13:27:482022-02-02 16:44:159 Things You Must Do for Your Brain
As leaders, many of us struggle to find time to refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. I have been a hiker now for decades. Some of my most interesting vacations involved what were for me epic hiking trips such as climbing Kilimanjaro and hiking the Incan Trail. My next target is hiking a portion of the Camino.
As a leader, someone who is generally over committed with tasks and who values taking time to reflect, I find that waking daily and periodic hikes really support my overall success. I have engaged in walking meetings for years and on occasion actually do more hiking that walking meetings. These are with people I want to have indepth interactions with, often of a strategic nature.
This article talks about the benefit of hiking to address anxiety and depression along with building resilience. I want to point out that a significant percentage of our workforce struggles with these issues and we know that being out in the natural world can help address some of the symptoms. Whether you are attending to anxiety or taking time for reflection and strategic thinking, or doing both, hiking is a great option!
Anxiety and depression are incredibly common ailments of 21st Century humans. But while there are a number of different treatments for these illnesses (and you should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek the treatment he or she recommends), too many people overlook one of the best: hiking.
Hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression, and it is a treatment option that is accessible to the vast majority of people. In fact, there are a number of reasons hiking is such an excellent way to feel better, which we’ll outline below.
Exercise Promotes Brain Health
Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise that provides a variety of benefits for your body. It’ll help you lose weight while simultaneously strengthening your muscles. And if you keep at it for long enough, it’ll likely help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease.
But while these benefits are all clearly valuable, exercise also helps to promote a healthy brain too. If your hikes are strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you to sweat a bit, they’ll likely help increase the size of your hippocampus – the portion of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning.
Exercise also causes the body to release growth factors – chemicals that help encourage blood vessel development in the brain and support the production of healthy brain cells. And don’t worry, you needn’t hike for very long to start enjoying improved brain health; research shows that even a 20-minute hike can improve the way your brain processes information.
Hiking Is Easy to Do and Affordable
Unlike so many other treatments for anxiety and depression, hiking is available to just about everyone, regardless of your location or tax bracket.
Most Americans probably live within a short drive of at least one hiking trail, even if it is nothing more than a 1-mile loop around the local park. You may have to do a bit of digging to find longer, more challenging or more scenic trails, but you’ll still likely find multiple options within driving distance.
Additionally, hiking rarely costs much – if anything – at all. Some trails require you to pay for parking or for entry to the park, but even these typically offer “frequent use” passes, which will allow you to enjoy the park or trails for very little money. You may also have to purchase a water bottle and pair of hiking boots, but with a bit of effort, you can likely find these things at very affordable prices.
Hiking Helps You to Disconnect from Day-to-Day Life
Chances are, you are constantly barraged by stimuli from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Your phone, TV and radio constantly buzz with messages, information and entertainment, and you probably don’t have much time to quietly reflect on your thoughts.
But to get away from all of this, all you need to do is strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail. In contrast to our neighborhoods, homes and offices, wilderness areas are generally quiet and peaceful. This helps you to shed some of the stress caused by daily life. Disconnecting from your day-to-day life in this way can be very restorative and help reduce your anxiety and depression.
Obviously, you should still bring your phone along with you for safety’s sake, but maybe you should turn off the ringer for a while – at least until you get back to your car.
Hiking Provides Perspective
Often, anxiety and depression cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life, people struggling with depression or anxiety become stuck focusing on the small challenges, failures and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. But hiking in natural settings can help you bust out of this rut and gain a bit of perspective.
If, for example, you find yourself overwhelmed by a big work project coming up, you may find that a hike through your local mountains will help you remember that the project is just a tiny part of your life, and that there is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you to enjoy it.
Hiking Helps You to Build Resilience and Self-Confidence
If you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough day on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges.
This will help build resilience and boost your self-confidence in profound ways. In truth, any challenge you face and overcome will help in both of these respects, but doing so in the natural world often provides the most profound results.
Just be sure that you don’t take this concept too far. It’s always good to challenge yourself and set increasingly difficult goals as you progress, but you must keep safety in mind. Always keep a cell phone on you so you can contact help if you need it and let someone know when you’ll be returning.
You Only Compete Against Yourself: There’s No Pressure to Perform
Many people understand the health benefits that exercise provides, but they aren’t interested in engaging in an implicitly or explicitly competitive pursuit, such as joining the local softball league or gym. This is certainly understandable – especially when you are already feeling depressed or anxious.
But hiking is a fantastic exercise, that lacks the competitive aspects that many of these other types of exercise feature. You are only competing against yourself and – to a lesser extent – Mother Nature. You get to celebrate those times you hike a bit further or complete a loop a bit faster; and yet your tough days, when you don’t perform quite as well, will remain your secret.
Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you go out and hike 1 mile a week or 50 miles a week – the only person you have to impress while you’re hiking is yourself.
Hiking Relieves Stress
Stress is often a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, so anything you can do to help relieve stress should help you feel a bit better. Hiking definitely fits this bill, as it not only provides great exercise (which helps to relieve stress too), but it takes place in gorgeous natural settings.
Scientists have even found that spending time in nature – even simply looking at nature – helps relieve stress and recharge your mind, body and soul. In fact, looking at a natural setting helps reduce pain and accelerate the healing process. And if you hike with a friend or loved one, you’ll often find this helps alleviate your stress even more thoroughly.
As you can see, hiking provides myriad benefits to those battling with anxiety or depression. So, find your closest trail and start trekking. Don’t forget to discuss your anxiety and depression with your doctor (and make sure you are healthy enough to begin hiking if you aren’t normally active), but you’ll likely find that regular hikes are exactly what the doctor ordered.
This blog is a guest post from Gary Weber, Author of Happiness Beyond Thought: Brain’s Software. It is the companion to the interview between Maureen Metcalf and Gary Weber on Voice America Radio, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations, Who is really in Control: Neuroscience and Reimagining Leadership that aired July 10, 2018.
New information will help us “right size” the weighting assigned to the “I”, and understand confirmation bias from an experiential and scientific standpoint.
What is our “conscious” I’s OS’s operating capability vis-a-vis the brain’s “off-line” processor?
The focus of this work is on deconstructing or at least de-energizing the “ego/I-based OS”. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could take a global ego/I dimmer switch, and dial them down about 30%?
In looking at different ways to illustrate the problems with the ego/I-based OS, a useful metaphor is that of an elephant and a rider.
The “rider” is the ego/I, and our “conscious” processor that generates the problematic, self-referential internal narrative (SRIN) “blah, blah” about everything and nothing.
The “elephant” is the massively-interconnected, “off line” brain of 800 billion neurons which does all of the “heavy lifting” and most of everything else.
Some powerful comparisons have emerged from neuroscience to define the capabilities of the “rider” and the “elephant”.
The “rider” can handle 7 +/- 2 pieces of data at a time and solve one problem at a time. Its processor runs at 40 to 60 bits/second.
The “elephant” has something like 100 trillionsynaptic interconnections (latest research) for handling and storing information and operates at about 25,000,000 bits/second, depending on applications and assumptions.
The total computing power of the brain is determined by how many discrete areas are operating at the same time.
Obviously, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching can go on with talking, texting (not so much), walking, driving, digesting food, breathing and pumping of blood, hauling away waste and sending energy-bearing glucose and oxygen to working areas, problem solving,etc.
Comparing the speed of silicon switching in computers (lightning fast) to our brain’s synaptic switching speed (not so fast), and how much information is stored in the computer’s silicon (none) compared to the information stored in existing synaptic networks (a lot) is complex. Estimates for this parallel processing put the entire brain’s capacity as high as 320 Gigabits (billion bits)/second for the entire brain, > 99.9999+ % of which we are, thankfully, unable to perceive.
There is also a great difference in how parallel processing “assignments” are done in computers vs how the brain likely does it.
However, the bottom line, for our purposes, is that the “rider” is Uber-microscopic, (get it, “Uber” and “rider”?) both in size and capability, compared to the “elephant” is roughly 500,000 to 1.
Why do we listen to it? It’s just a confused press-secretary, disconnected CEO, apologist, critic, etc. contributing little beyond endless “blah, blah”, like many “talking heads” debating a tweet.
As Wei Wu Wei says:
“Why are you so unhappy?
Because ninety-nine percent of what you think,
And everything you do,
Is for your self,
And there isn’t one.”
Confirmation bias – What it feels like
Confirmation bias is simply the tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs. Rather than theorize about it, it is important to get a sense of just how strong our bias is. It is how “fake news” works, as no matter how bizarre or false the story is, we will select the parts that confirm how we already feel.
Reading this, how does this make you feel? Take a minute or two and just get in touch with how/what you feel about the first President of the United States having wooden teeth…good, bad or indifferent.
This exercise is about George Washington, the first President of the United States, who had wooden teeth, as he lost most of his teeth in his twenties.
Write down a few descriptive words about it.
OK, what do you feel if i tell you that it isn’t true?
Finally, it was revealed from third and fourth sources that George Washington also had many teeth in his dentures from the slaves on his plantation.
Take a minute.
Now how do you feel about George Washington?
Write down some descriptive words.
These stories are all true, but did you see how different your feelings were toward George Washington as the different scenarios were considered?
This confirmation bias exercise is from a “the Oatmeal” cartoon which also uses Napoleon, Thomas Crapper, house flies, Jesus, and Roe v Wade, etc. and is strongly recommended. The link came from Saima Yousuf.
Confirmation bias – research
The scanner showed that to create separation from the information, the Default Mode Network was activated to create isolation from the external world and increase internal focus. To actively reduce the emotional conflict, the emotional center, the amygdala, was deactivated.
Other studies have found similar problems with shifting any beliefs that are “directly challenged, especially when these beliefs are central to their identity. In some cases, exposure to counter-evidence may even increase a person’s confidence that his or her cherished beliefs are true.” (many references).
Confirmation bias is a real world problem, particularly in an era of “fake news” and social media with little/no source credentialing, validation or “fact checking”. IME, this is acute in spiritual/religious arenas.
As the authors point out “the inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument, or to have one’s own mind changed in turn, stands out as a problem of great societal importance”.
Gary is a Subject/collaborator in neuroscience studies at Yale, Institute Of Noetic Sciences, Baumann Institute, Center for Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness, Johns Hopkins, Penn State.
From 2000 – 2004 he was Associate VP of research for Penn State responsible for all technology transfer operations of University including angel investing, venture capital, licensing, patenting and start-up support. Responsible for external industrial R&D contracts and interfaces with the University.
In the late 90’s Gary was SVP Science and Technology for PPG responsible for all corporate R&D w/four research laboratories, approx. 1000 engineers, scientists and technical folk, and $260MM budget. Member of Executive Committee. Since then he has been researching and writing about happiness beyond thought. He is applying his extensive research skills to helping leaders.
https://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gary-Weber-Confirmation-Bias.png709960Maureen Metcalfhttps://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.pngMaureen Metcalf2018-07-16 11:21:502022-02-02 16:44:17Who is really in Control: Neuroscience and Reimagining Leadership
This guest blog is a guest post provided by Abby Quillen and Zerocater, focusing on creating the workplace that meets our current and emerging needs. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview with Doug McCollough, Jet fuel of Talent Development Feeds Success on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.
The economy, technological innovations, and cultural shifts are changing work in 2018. For instance, the oldest members of Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2005, are graduating from college and stepping into the workplace for the first time this year. As the most diverse and digitally savvy generation in American history, their wants and needs will undoubtedly incite change.
Read on to understand key ways the current work climate is shifting, and learn what your business needs to do to keep up.
How to keep up: Reassure employees that automation is unlikely to lead to a jobless future. McKinsey Global Institute, a private-sector think tank, predicts there will be enough work for humans to ensure full employment in 2030. In the past, new technologies such as the personal computer led to a net increase in jobs. However, jobs will shift. If automation is reshaping your industry, keep your employees well-informed about retraining opportunities.
Abby Quillen writes about sustainability, green living, health, business, and other topics. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, YES! Magazine, and dozens of other publications. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her family. Visit her at abbyquillen.com.
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This guest blog is a guest post provided by Nestmaven, a blog focused on helping people sleep. We selected this specific blog because it ties rest to stress and effectiveness. If you are not sleeping well, your resilience will be lower and it will, over time, impact your ability to lead. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview with MaryAnna Klatt, PhD, Mindfulness: Manage Stress to Improve Performance on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.
The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that approximately 40 million Americans have some kind of sleep disorder. This encompasses a wide range of illnesses and conditions that include insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.
Sleep-related disorders are on the rise and many illnesses that people are suffering from during the day, may be connected to poor sleep, at night.
Depression, weight gain and high blood pressure are just a few of the health issues that can be related to insufficient sleep and the connection between poor sleep and stress can be a cyclical one.
Too much stress can cause you to have a bad sleep, leading to mental and physical health issues which can, in turn, cause stress in daily life, leading to poor sleep at night.
Understanding how stress and sleep are connected is the path to getting a handle on the problem and learning how to manage stress during the day can only help improve your overall health and wellness and, hopefully, lead to better sleep, too.
Your Body On Stress – What Exactly Is Stress And How Does Your Body Handle It?
Stress is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
In short, it is the way by which your body experiences and manages external pressures, whether they are mental or physical.
A normal level of stress can actually be good for the body and can motivate you to work harder, focus and even improve performance.
But, this is only the case when the cause of the stress is short term. Too much stress can have the opposite effect and lead to chronic health problems. To understand why, it is important to know how exactly your body responds to stress on a physiological level.
Normally, when faced with a situation of stress, your nervous system causes your body to release stress hormones, particularly cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
This is part of what is known as the “fight or flight” response in the body and it’s the system that gets you ready to fight or flee your challenge or dangerous situation. These hormones subside once the external threat is removed and the body begins to relax again.
But, when you are under stress continuously, this aggravation to the nervous system doesn’t subside and it can have a devastating effect on your overall health.
Incessant stress causes your blood pressure to be continuously raised, putting a strain on your heart and circulatory system. Breathing is affected, heartbeat becomes rapid and you might be in a near constant state of holding your breath or hyperventilation.
With long term stress, muscles are continuously tense, which might cause headaches and neck strain and continued, heightened levels of cortisol can cause weight gain and inflammation in the body, leading to a suppressed immune system.
Digestion is also affected, as raised cortisol levels cause you to crave and eat more fatty foods, as it helps your body prepare for a dangerous and threatening situation and you might start to suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, as your stomach produces more acid during times of stress.
Your endocrine system, regulated by the brain, is also affected. This can have an effect on everything from mood and tissue health to blood sugar metabolism and reproduction.
It’s no wonder you can’t sleep when your stress levels are raised, as your body is in an ever-ready fight mode on a physiological level, ready to tackle whatever danger is coming your way.
5 Ways In Which Stress Affects Your Body
Endocrine system – Stress causes the adrenal gland to release epinephrine, or adrenaline and norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, into the body, which helps your body respond to danger by increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels and converting fat to energy. Your body also releases cortisol during stress, which has many damaging effects on the body when unregulated. The increase in hormones causes the liver to produce more glucose and strains the body’s ability to reabsorb the sugar, causing diabetes. Even more frightening, an Australian study showed that chronic stress increases the rate and volume at which lymphatic vessels drain cancerous tumours, helping them to spread throughout the body.
Respiratory system – Stress can cause increased and shallow breathing or holding of your breath, meaning that cells don’t get enough oxygen. This can lead to dizziness, lack of concentration and you could even temporarily lose consciousness.
Circulatory system – When you are under stress, your heart beats faster, working to pump blood quickly around your body to get it ready for action. Blood pressure is raised and when under stress and it can be raised for too long, causing long-term problems for the body.
Digestive system – Heartburn, acid reflux, ulcers and esophageal spasms are all health issues that can be tied to stress in the body, as your body produces more acid and controls what nutrients you absorb during times of high stress. This can also cause constipation and diarrhoea.
Musculoskeletal system – During times of high stress, muscles are constantly tightened, leading to pain, injury and chronic issues like migraines and tension headaches.
5 Top Causes Of Stress
The American Psychological Association conducts an annual “Stress in America” survey, in which they determine how stressed Americans feel and what exactly keeps them up at night.
Released in November 2017, the most recent poll shows the most common sources of stress are as seen in this infographic.
While this report showed that American’s stress levels in 2017 were at levels consistent to those in 2016, nearly half (46 percent) of Americans polled reported that lying awake at night in the past night was one outcome of their stress levels.
This is a marked increase from 2016, when 40 percent of Americans reported sleeplessness due to their stress levels.
Further to this, 34 percent of people polled reported that they felt fatigue due to their stress.
How Stress Keeps You Awake At Night – The Vicious Cycle Of Bad Sleep And Stress
There are many ways in which the above mentioned physiological changes can make for a poor sleep. Heightened adrenaline levels and increased heart rate can cause tossing and turning and a feeling of restlessness.
When your body is experiencing chronic stress, it thinks it’s in a state of perpetual danger and that it shouldn’t be sleeping! You might be able to fall asleep but not stay asleep and you might wake up frequently in the night.
You might find it hard to calm your thoughts and lay awake at night, worrying about your finances, relationship, work or whatever else is bothering you.
Overwork or being too busy during the day can also lead to stress and leave yourself with not enough time to get a good sleep. If you find yourself with not enough hours to sleep, you might not fall asleep easily when you finally do go, because you are overstimulated and overworked.
With no time to wind down at the end of your day, your body forgets which is rest time and which is time for action.
Not enough time and too much stress in your day might also mean that you don’t have enough time to exercise, make time for friends and family or do otherwise relaxing and healthy activities that relieve stress, leading to a poor sleep at night.
After a bad sleep, you might need more caffeine to stay awake, causing a vicious cycle in which you can’t get to sleep at night, because you’ve had too much caffeine. These are just a few of the ways in which stress can keep you up or ruin the quality of your sleep.
How To Lower Stress Levels To Improve Sleep
While there are a few chronic sleep conditions that may require medical intervention, like sleep apnoea and insomnia, if your sleep loss is due to stress, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Check out some of these tips and tricks to relieving stress and incorporate a few of them into your daily life, to see if you notice any difference in sleep quality.
Increase Your Exposure To Daylight
If you work inside a dark office during the day or live in the northern hemisphere, you might not be getting enough daylight and your sleep might be affected.
Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight or bright indoor lights during the morning hours helps people sleep better at night.Adequate daylight is also shown to decrease depression and stress.
Help calibrate your circadian rhythm by making sure you get lots of daylight and if you can’t, consider investing in a light therapy device to keep near you, during the day.
Make sure you are giving yourself time to exercise during the day. Exercise is considered by health professionals as one of the best ways to maintain mental health and reduce stress.
So, it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.” Exercise releases endorphins into the body that not only make you happy but help reduces stress and improve sleep.
Try Some Natural Relaxation And Wellness Techniques
Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques have all proved effective for stress and sleep disorders. There are plenty of guided meditations and yoga routines geared specifically to those with problems sleeping.
Take some time out of your busy day to wind down at the end of it.Even if you have only 10 minutes for a short meditation before you go to bed, you may see a positive result.
You don’t need any special skills or to follow any religious dogma, so give it a try. No time? Fall asleep to music or nature sounds geared especially for deep sleep. Here are a few of our favourites:
You might find that incorporating some aromatherapy into your life can help you sleep. One 2017 study showed that patients in intensive care that could not sleep well had an increased quality of sleep and reduced level of anxiety by using lavender oil.
There are many different ways to use essential oils to help you relax and sleep, including air diffusers and pillow sprays. Lavender and camomile are two popular essential oils with relaxing properties.
Have a bath before bed with a few drops of lavender or sleep with an air diffuser on near the bed, to both moisturize the air and infuse it with a relaxing aroma.
Make Your Room A Den Of Zen
Give yourself a chance to relax and calm down before bed. Never bring your work to bed and invest in a good bed with linens in calming colours, like white and grey. Keep your room clear of clutter and other stressors and keep your tablets and other devices out of the bedroom. Establish a relaxing night time routine that starts at least an hour before you try to hit the pillow.
It does this by helping you prioritize your problems, fears and concerns as you work out the issues that are causing you stress and can also be used as a tool to track your day to day stressors and triggers, so you can learn better ways to control them.
Sort Out Your Finances
65 percent of Americans lie awake due to money issues. Sometimes easier said than done, sorting out your finances can be a good way to reducing your stress and helping you to get a good night’s sleep.
While it might not always be easy to reduce financial stress, you might be having trouble sleeping because you havebeen avoiding your financial problems and, because they don’t just “disappear”, they will haunt you, at night.
By looking at your finances honestly, consolidating debt and coming up with an actionable plan, you can slowly work to make positive changes and reduce your financial stress. (5 strategies to Deal with Financial Stress) .
Look To Supplements
Before turning to sleeping pills, consider supplements and herbal remedies to help you sleep. While all supplements should be taken under the guidance of a physician, melatonin, tryptophan, B12 and magnesium are some of the useful ones that might help you, as well as herbal teas that contain valerian, passionflower and camomile.
Adjust Your Diet
Apart from making sure you get enough exercise, a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of the stress/sleep equation. Lower your caffeine consumption by the afternoon, so that you aren’t keeping yourself awake.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime and make sure your diet isn’t too heavy in sugar and carbohydrates, which can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and energy levels. Give your body a chance to fast in the evening and cut out late night snacking.
Seek Professional Help
If nothing seems to work and you’ve tried all of the above, you might do well with the help of a sleep specialist. If you have eliminated the possibility of a medical condition, such as apnoea, a sleep specialist can try to determine why you aren’t sleeping and what to do about it.
Sleep clinics can monitor your breathing and heart rate when you are sleeping, to make sure that you don’t have a medical problem and to determine if it is stress related, or something else.
Take charge of your wellness and look into how stress might be affecting your sleep and how lack of sleep is affecting your stress levels! A serious matter, high levels of stress can have lasting consequences on your health and wellness and lead to life threatening diseases and bigger problems than just being tired.
By learning about what is happening inside your body during times of stress, you can better understand how to change or modify your environment and routines and gain some control of your body, inside and out. And, by employing just one or two of the above techniques to manage stress, you might notice a big change in your mental and physical health and sleep quality.
Please check out the interview with Belinda Gore and Mark Palmer giving more in-depth information about building resilience.
https://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sleep-Disorders-6-14-2018.png400700Maureen Metcalfhttps://www.innovativeleadershipinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ILI-Anniversary-Logo.pngMaureen Metcalf2018-06-14 09:54:232022-02-02 16:44:18Stress And Sleep – How To Master Stress And Recharge
This guest blog is a guest post provided by John Parrott who runs Relax Like A Boss, a blog that teaches people how to reduce stress and relax in a busy world. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview with Belinda Gore and Mark Palmer, Building Resilience, A Key Foundation for Change on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.
Why Use Relaxation Techniques?
We all feel stressed from time to time…
But did you know that this can be incredibly harmful?
The Journal of the American Medical Associationdiscovered that stress can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and even obesity.
But that’s how relaxation techniques can help. According to the American Psychological Association, relaxation techniques can dramatically improve your health long-term, as we’ll discuss below…
The Benefits Of Relaxation Techniques.
Here’s a few of the benefits of relaxation techniques…
– Reducing Depression And Anxiety.
Relaxation techniques can be effective in regulating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses.
When stressed, the volume of ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin are reduced.
These are partly responsible for the feelings of sorrow and helplessness commonly associated with depression.
Simply practicing relaxation techniques for just half an hour a day can produce effects similar to those of antidepressants, without any side effects.
– Lowers Blood Pressure.
Although researchers aren’t certain of the exact mechanisms involved, chronic stress has been shown to raise blood pressure and worsen heart function.
High blood pressure can create a number of health problems, from insomnia to strokes and cardiac address.
Regulating stress levels with relaxation techniques can significantly reduce this risk.
In one study, patients that underwent just 10 minutes of slow breathing exercises saw a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure.
It is thought that the daily practicing of similar techniques can help to keep stress-related hypertension under control, improving overall health and wellbeing.
– Boosts Immune System.
Prolonged stress has been proven time and again to hamper the function of the immune system.
This is, in part, because the body is less able to fight inflammation when under high-anxiety conditions due to chemical changes in the body.
Simply by reducing overall stress levels, inflammation can be regulated and many diseases, from the common cold to rheumatoid arthritis, avoided.
Physical Relaxation Techniques.
1. Breathing Exercises.
Breathing exercises have been recognised for centuries as a powerful tool for relaxation.
From the towering mountains of Tibet to the humble office of a psychological therapist, breathing is an incredibly versatile, easily-accessible way to reach a state of calmness and serenity.
Breathing exercises, also known as diaphragmatic breathing exercises, involve taking long, deep breaths into the stomach rather than the chest.
Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
Breathe slowly into your stomach through the nose, keeping your chest still. It may help to place one hand over your abdomen and the other over your chest, ensuring that only your moves as you inhale.
Exhale through pursed lips, your mouth relaxed. Release tension from all parts of your body as you breathe out.
Continue for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times daily.
This exercise isn’t limited to the yoga mat, the quietness of your bedroom or a social situation. It can be practiced anywhere, at any time.
Whenever you begin to feel stressed, simply turn your focus to your breathing and continue until calmness is restored.
2. Progress Muscle Relaxation.
Based upon the premise that muscle tension is the body’s response to poor mental health, progressive muscle relaxation has been known to significantly improve symptoms of stress and anxiety.
This technique involves identifying tension in individual muscles by contracting them. This tension is then released slowly and under control.
Practicing muscle relaxation can provide a wealth of psychological benefits, from improving mental health to boosting physical performance.
It is also suggested to lead to increased blood flow, boosting local metabolism and, in turn, reducing pain and muscle spasms.
Progressive muscle relaxation should be practiced whilst lying down. Choose somewhere free from distractions and where you can lie and stretch out comfortably.
Breathe in slowly, tensing the first muscle group you choose – but not to the point of pain. Hold this contraction for 5-10 seconds.
Exhale, relaxing your muscles fully and quickly.
Relax for a further 10-15 seconds before moving onto other muscles. Notice any changes in your state of mind and body as your practice deepns.
Continue to work through the rest of your body, paying attention to every sensation.
Finish by counting to 10, in complete stillness, and bring your awareness back to the present moment.
The concept of humming for relaxation brings to mind pictures of monks perched atop tall hills, monotonous notes being held for several seconds at a time in a state of total serenity.
In reality, the practice of humming isn’t quite as mystical or spiritual as it is stigmatized to be. It’s an incredibly simple and effective relaxation technique.
Dissolve worries by calming the mind.
Give time for reflection.
Help bring about feelings of peace.
Relieve stress and anxiety.
Simply find a quiet place to sit, relax the body, inhale and let out a long ‘hmm’ sound as you exhale.
When you run out of breath, breathe in and repeat. Continue this exercise for 10-15 minutes.
Yoga is not only a powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety, but also an excellent form of exercise for the body.
It’s a practice that’s been used for millennia, its roots set in schools of thought like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Yoga is an incredibly relaxing practice. As is written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ‘Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind.’
Many studies have even recognised yoga as an effective intervention for illnesses such as asthma, schizophrenia and heart disease.
Here’s an outline of a basic yoga practice. Be sure to explore the varying branches of yoga, constructing a plan the best suits your physical capabilities and preferences.
Begin with a short meditation or humming exercise to calm the mind.
Move from warming up with sun salutations to a mixture of standing poses, backbends and forward bends. Be sure to focus on all muscles of the body, from the neck to the feet.
End your practice with shavasana, lying still on the floor.
Take these final minutes of your practice to relax fully, letting the business of your mind settle with body.
5. T’ai Chi.
The Chinese martial art of t’ai chi is known not only for its value in defense training, but also its numerous health benefits.
T’ai chi has been reported as being beneficial in treating a number of ailments, including Parkinson’s and diabetes. Furthermore, the art of of t’ai chi has been proven to have beneficial effects against a range of mental disorders.
The practice of t’ai chi is centered around improving the flow of ‘chi’, the Chinese concept of intangible energy. It is an incredibly effective way to calm the mind, practice mindfulness, and reconnect with the here and now.
Physical exercise is known to stimulate the release of endorphins – hormones that interact with the brain and trigger positive bodily feelings, similar to those associated with morphine.
For this reason, exercise is known for its ability to alleviate the symptoms of depression, chronic stress, and other mental illnesses.
‘There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people’, says James Blumenthal, PhD of Duke University.
Based on a number of studies, Blumenthal concludes that physical exercise is comparable to antidepressants for patients with major stress and depressive disorders.
Exercise doesn’t have to be grueling and painful. Even light, steady walks can have significant effects in reducing stress and anxiety.
Relaxation Techniques for the Mind.
Meditation has been proven time and again to have significant value in boosting not only mental health, but also the function of the immune system.
This is, in part, due to telomere lengthening.
Short caps at the end of DNA called telomeres work to shield our genes from damage. Without telomeres, DNA is exposed to harm from our external environment, wreaking havoc on our bodies and, in many cases, causing cancer and other diseases.
The amygdala, an area of the brain linked with anxiety and stress, was shown to reduce in size. Participants also reported significant improvements in their overall wellbeing.
Here is a brief overview of the practice:
Take a comfortable seat somewhere quiet and free from distraction.
Begin to breathe deeply into the base of the stomach.
Allow your mind to quieten, holding your focus on the breath.
When you find yourself lost in thought, gently return to your breathing.
Continue for 10+ minutes daily.
8. Listen To Nature Sounds.
‘Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind,’ – Amit Ray.
No method of relaxation is quite as overlooked as the simple practice of listening to nature; the sounds of birds singing, rain pattering on the tops of trees, wind whistling, waterfalls…
When you find your mind overrun with anxiety or by stress, simply reconnect with nature.
Step outside, take a deep breath, and embrace the modest beauty of the world around you.
9. Get Into A Routine.
Stress, anxiety, and many forms of emotional turmoil can arise from a lack of order in our day-to-day lives.
Whether it’s being frequently late for meetings or having an untidy bedroom, seemingly harmless areas of our lives can mount up and cause us a great deal of discomfort if left unchecked.
Simply establishing a daily or weekly routine, built to maximise productivity and wellbeing, can have tremendous effects on overall wellbeing.
Take some time out of your day to assess your daily habits.
Ask questions. Do you do enough of the things you love? Does your everyday life lack productivity? Are you acting in accordance with your goals?
When you have considered the areas of your daily routine that could benefit from a little TLC, put together a plan of action to eradicate unnecessary stressors from your life.
10. Listen To Music.
Music has long been recognised for its powerful impact on mood and wellbeing.
However, for the purposes of entertainment, music has become incredibly commonplace in society. It’s everywhere, from the car radio to television to the supermarket.
Rarely do we give music our complete, undivided attention.
Simply sitting and listening to a piece of music in full, free from all other distractions, can be an incredibly relaxing and therapeutic technique.
Choose a peaceful, soothing track or album to enjoy. Perhaps light some candles and enjoy the melody with a hot mug of tea in hand.
Then spend as many seconds, minutes or hours as you please tuning into the sounds you hear, and nothing else.
11. Practice Mindfulness.
Many forms of emotional turmoil result from a lack of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, at its core, is the simple act of focusing our awareness on the present moment, allowing the busy mind to relax into the here and now.
Many causes of day-to-day stress are chained to events of the past or future. Worrying about deadlines, the safety of loved ones, and any event that lies outside of this very moment can be the cause for a great detail of unrest.
By returning our focus to this moment, we free ourselves of unnecessary unhappiness and learn to appreciate every second of being alive.
When you find yourself becoming stressed or anxious, begin to expand your awareness to the this moment and all it contains.
Tune into the sensations inside your body, the sounds, sights and smells around you and the current situation you find yourself in.
Self-hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, can be a highly successful way to reduce stress and clear the mind of unwanted thoughts.
The foundation of hypnosis is hinged upon the theories of world-renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud.
It is believed that the unconscious mind contains all thoughts, values and ideas that we cannot access willingly. Instead, it influences our behaviour and emotions without us knowing.
By tapping into the subconscious mind through hypnosis, individuals and therapists attempt to rewrite its contents and improve mental health by deleting negative thinking patterns.
Here’s how to practice self-hypnosis:
(Before you begin your practice, create 2-3 statements that you wish to revisit during your practice. Theoretically, these statements will be planted into your subconscious once a state of hypnosis is reached. Examples mind include ‘I am stress free’, ‘I am not my thoughts’, ‘I am relaxed at work’.)
Begin by feeling physically relaxed and comfortable. Put on comfortable clothes, perhaps practice some yoga or take a warm bath, and enter your practice feeling relaxed and at ease.
Identify an object to focus on. Ideally, choose an object that will require you to look slightly upwards or directly in front of you.
Attempt to clear your mind of thoughts. Focus intently on your chosen object, allowing all other thoughts to gently fade away. This may take some time, and it isn’t easy. If your mind wanders, simply return it to the object.
Expand your awareness to your eyes, feeling them become heavier and slowly closing.
Relax your muscles further with every exhalation. Slow your breathing as you settle deeper with each out-breath.
Visualise an object swaying slowly back and forth. This may be a pendulum swinging or a pocket watch moving from side to side – anything with a slow, regular pace.
Begin to count slowly down from 10 in your head. Tell yourself that you are relaxing deeper and deeper after every number.
Believe and remind yourself that, when your countdown is complete, you will have reached a hypnotic state.
Once in a state of hypnosis, return to the statements you prepared before your practice. Focus on each, visualising it intently and repeating it over and over, maintaining a state of total relaxation.
Slowly count back up to 10. As you progress, become more energetic and alert; reverse the process you used before to reach a state of hypnosis.
When you reach 10, return to your day with a renewed sense of calm.
Social Relaxation Techniques.
13 Practice Gratitude.
Taking just a few moments out of our day to practice gratitude, cultivating appreciation for what we have, is an effective way to reduce stress and encourage feelings of contentment.
When you find yourself consumed in thought and emotion, simply turn your focus to that which you’re grateful for.
That may be family or friends, your job, health, freedom, or even just life itself. Often these modest blessings are overlooked. Reminding ourselves of all that we are fortunate to have can bring us happiness and peace of mind.
14. Reflect On What Makes You Happy.
Humans have a troublesome propensity to focus on the negative of every situation. And there’s a good reason for this.
Many years ago, pessimism served a handy survival mechanism. Our cave-dwelling ancestors developed a tendency to identify problems and hazards rather than contemplating that which made them happy.
As a result, they’d strive for more – more food, better shelter, larger families, and these desires would serve the purpose of helping our species to survive.
Those that sought more increased their chances of survival. Thus, they passed their character traits through many generations.
What was once an evolutionary blessing, however, now manifests itself as a scourge on our mental health.
It can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of our lives; to desire more than we currently have and become disheartened and stressed as a result.
Simply switching your focus to the things that make you happy, whether that be a delicious food, cherished memories or loving family members, can work wonders on our stress levels.
When plagued by pessimism, make a conscious effort to list off 5 things that make you happy. If your mind reverts back to negativity, recenter your awareness on that which fills you with joy.
15. Random Acts Of Kindness.
Executing random acts of kindness is a quick, easy and extremely powerful way to reduce stress and promote feelings of joy and contentment.
Here are some examples:
Complimenting a stranger.
Buying a meal for a homeless person.
Expressing your love to a friend.
Donating to charity.
Smiling at passersby in the street.
These small, seemingly trivial acts of kindness have the power to lift your own mood whilst brightening other people’s day.
How To Make The Most Out Of These Techniques.
Here’s a few ways to make the most out of these relaxation techniques…
– Be Persistent.
While a one-off relaxation session won’t do you any harm, in order to feel the full benefits of your practice you should aim to engage in it as often as possible.
– Be Consistent.
In order to be persistent, it helps to be consistent with your timings.
Whether it be yoga every weeknight, meditating at 7am every morning or writing in a journal before bed every evening, consistency will ensure that you stay committed to your practice and set aside enough time to engage in it.
– Find The Techniques That Work For You.
T’ai chi may not be for you, and that’s okay. Finding relaxation techniques that you actually enjoy will increase the chances that you stay committed to your habits.
– Optimise Your Environment.
Practicing these techniques in a quiet, peaceful setting with minimal distractions will ensure that you get the most out of the time you spend.
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During the summer of 2015, Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s CEO, announced that the global professional services company would reimagine its performance management system. The company found that after decades of serving its purpose, the system had become massively demotivating. Accenture’s global workforce had changed. Their people— and your people— are not motivated by being a number on a performance rating scale. Rather, today’s workforce is increasingly looking for meaning, human connectedness, true happiness, and a desire to contribute positively to the world. Nanterme and his leadership team realized Accenture needed a better way to lead for these foundational human desires and better engage their 425,000-plus employees— to speak to their intrinsic motivation.
Accenture is no outlier. A global movement is taking place in the C- suites of thousands of progressive organizations like Marriott, Starbucks, and LinkedIn. The question the leaders of these organizations ask themselves is, “How can we create more human leadership and people- centered cultures where employees and leaders are more fulfilled and more fully engaged?”
As human beings, we are all driven by basic needs for meaning, happiness, human connectedness, and a desire to contribute positively to society. That’s true whether we’re at home, out in the world, or at work. But it’s one thing to realize this and another to act on it. Speaking to our people’s intrinsic motivation calls for leadership and organizations that cater to these desires. It is something that forward- thinking organizations and leaders are increasingly realizing and addressing. As Javier Pladevall, CEO of Audi Volkswagen, Spain, reflected in our conversation: “Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” (1)
THE MIND OF THE LEADER
The Mind of the Leader provides a way to do this. It outlines how leaders can lead themselves, their people, and their organizations to unlock intrinsic motivation, create real people- centered cultures, and ultimately deliver extraordinary results.
How important is the message of this book? Consider this: In a 2016 McKinsey & Company study of more than fifty- two thousand managers, 86 percent rated themselves as inspiring and good role models (2). But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In fact, the same survey found that only 13 percent of the global workforce is engaged, while 24 percent are actively disengaged (3).
This seeming lack of good leadership is not because of a lack of effort. According to a recent report, organizations around the globe invest approximately $46 billion annually on leadership development programs. (4)
That’s a lot of money for seemingly little return. What is going wrong? In part, the system is broken: According to research by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, when many leaders start to feel powerful, their more benevolent qualities start to decline.
Corporate leaders are three times more likely than lower- level employees to interrupt coworkers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things. He also found that leaders are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. (5)
None of this is going to speak to the intrinsic motivation that we all share. While the $46 billion spent on leadership training might improve leaders’ effectiveness— at least in a strictly business sense of focusing on the bottom line— something more is needed: Leadership that truly engages employees, leadership that is truly human and speaks to the basic human needs any employee has.
And it starts in the mind of the leader. Leadership pioneer Peter Drucker said, “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first,” (6). If this is true, the majority of leadership education and training programs have it backward. Most leadership education starts with skills like strategy, people management, and finance. But from Drucker’s point of view, this approach starts at the end and misses the beginning: it’s like building a house by starting with the roof.
Like Drucker, we argue that leadership starts with yourself. More specifically, it starts in your mind. By understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively. By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively.
And by understanding and leading others more effectively, you can understand and lead your organization more effectively— and by “more effectively,” we mean in a way that’s going to tap into your own and your people’s intrinsic motivations and sense of purpose. If you’re able to do that— and we have witnessed that with practice and persistence, anyone can— you’ll have a more engaged and productive workforce. And perhaps more importantly, you’ll be part of creating more happiness, stronger human connectedness, and better social cohesion within and beyond your organization.
For over a decade, we and our colleagues at Potential Project have trained tens of thousands of leaders in hundreds of companies like Microsoft, LEGO, Danone, and Accenture, utilizing the practice of mindfulness. The outcomes have been thoroughly researched and proven to deliver remarkable results. But with the emerging movement of employees looking for more meaning, happiness, and connectedness, we have asked ourselves what else leaders need for leading themselves, their people, and their organizations for extraordinary results.
As part of this research, we and our research team have surveyed and assessed more than thirty thousand leaders from thousands of companies in more than a hundred countries. We have conducted in- depth interviews with hundreds of C- suite executives. And we have reviewed thousands of studies on leadership in the fields of neuroscience, leadership, organizational development, and psychology.
Based on this research, we have conclusively found that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational for leaders today: mindfulness (M), selflessness (S), and compassion (C). Together, we call these foundational skills MSC leadership.
So how do you as a leader achieve MSC leadership, to better engage your people at their intrinsic level and unleash better performance? By applying mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion first to yourself, then to your people, and then to your organization The Mind of the Leader takes you step by step through this process.
Since MSC leadership begins inwardly, with your own mind, and then projects outward to your people and your organization, the book is structured to take you on that journey. By understanding yourself— your mind— you can lead yourself effectively. By leading yourself, you’ll be able to lead others effectively. And by leading others, you can better lead your organization. This is the overarching structure of the book.
Please check out the interview with Jacqueline giving more in-depth information about the Mind of the Leader and MSC leadership.
About Jacqueline Carter book co-author and radio show guest
Jacqueline Carter is an International Partner and North American Director for Potential Project. She has over twenty years of experience working with organizations around the globe to enhance effectiveness and improve performance. Jacqueline is a regular contributor to business publications including Harvard Business Review, and is a sought-after speaker for her thought leadership, knowledge, and engaging facilitation skills. She holds a master’s degree in organizational behavior and undergraduate degrees in labor management relations and mathematics. Before joining Potential Project Jacqueline held a number of senior leadership roles. She also worked for Deloitte in the US, Canada and Australia in their Change Leadership practice.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this book are from our interviews conducted between September 2016 and June 2017.
M. Bazigos and E. Caruso, “Why Frontline Workers Are Disengaged,” McKinsey Quarterly , March 2016, http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why- frontline- workers- are- disengaged.
B. Rigoni and B. Nelson, “Do Employees Really Know What’s Expected of Them?” Business Journal , September 27, 2016, http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/195803/employees – really- know- expected.aspx?g_source=EMPLOYEE_ENGAGEMENT&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles.
B. Carroll, R. Singaraju, and E. Park, Corporate Learning Factbook 2015: Benchmarks, Trends, and Analysis of the U.S. Training Market , Bersin by Deloitte, August 8, 2015, https://www.bersin.com/Login.aspx?p=http://bersinone.bersin.com/resources/research/?docid=19202&h=1.
J. C. Magee et al., “Leadership and the Psychology of Power,” in The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research , ed. D. M. Messick and R. M. Kramer (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005).
P. Drucker, “Managing Oneself,” in The Drucker Lectures: Essential
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