Mind the Gap! Assess Your Culture.

21 May

If you’ve ever taken a train you’ve probably heard the term Mind the Gap. It’s a precautionary warning to note the gap between where you currently are and where you want to be. In terms of a train or airplane jet way the idea is to avoid falling into the crevice – that would be quite unfortunate!

Expanding the idea of Minding the Gap to other areas of your life – work, family, community or personal – is there a gap between:

  • Where you say or think you are
  • Where you actually are
  • Where you want to be

Sometime we begin to believe our own press – if we say if often enough, loud enough or emphatically enough – it will be true.

“I am an optimistic person who watches what I eats and takes care of myself.”
“Yes, our family is very close, there are no secrets or arguments.”
“Our corporate values are Trust, Respect, Collaboration, and People First.”
“All viewpoints and opinions are encouraged and welcomed.”

Really? Is that what everyone experiences day-in and day-out?

In Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she lists 10 questions you might want to pose to help determine if there is a gap, and if so, how big it is. This is a great exercise for individuals, a family, schools, work teams, a department or company.

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stand the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new thing, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort?

A few perspectives to consider when looking at the questions:

  • What do you espouse to be true? Your values, mission, beliefs or self-press?
  • What do you, or others, experience day-in and day-out?
  • What’s the size of the gap?
  • What is the cost of the gap on relationships, moral, reputation, personal wear and tear, resources, etc.?
  • What will you do about the gap?

You have choice!! Print off the questions. Take the quiz for yourself. Ask your family members a few of those questions. If you’re really curious and brave take the questions to your next staff meeting and see what people think!

Live life out loud! It keeps shame at bay.


Wholehearted Living!

11 Apr

I believe passionately that we are all created uniquely and perfectly so that we can contribute to the world in a meaningful way – that our unique abilities and contributions are needed to create completeness.

I also know that the wear and tear of life tarnishes our beautiful, unique brilliance.  The norms of our cultures try to convince us that in someway we are not enough.  You know the drill; what advertising tells us, our work culture rewards, people answer their phones and text while we’re talking to them, and the commonplace eye-roll.  These not enough messages attack on every front and, they miss the most important truth.  You were born perfectly and uniquely – you are worthy just as you are.

My passion in life is to help clear away the rubble and let true brilliance shine!  To that end, I totally resonate with Brene Brown’s message of Wholeheartedness!

Wholehearted Living:  Engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness and ability to be resilient to shame; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risk, and knowing that I am enough.  Wholeheartedness is defined by compassion, courage, and connection.

What Wholehearted people have in common:

  1. Cultivate authenticity:  Letting go of what people think
  2. Cultivate self- compassion:  Letting go of perfectionism
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit:  Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
  4. Cultivate gratitude and joy:  Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith:  Letting go of the need for certainty
  6. Cultivate creativity:  Letting go of comparison
  7. Cultivate play and rest:  Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  8. Cultivate calm and stillness:  Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  9. Cultivate meaningful work:  Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  10. Cultivate laughter, song, and dance:  Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Today’s choice, which I strongly recommending you do!

  • Print a couple of copies of the Wholehearted list (I’m serious!).
  • Read through the list.  Note where you currently engage in Wholehearted Living and where you allow our culture or others to rob you of your unique brilliance.
  • Connect with friends and family members; ask them to do the same.
  • Ask those friends and family members to help you be honest about where you are engaging and being robbed.

Research indicates that if you call out and name something you dramatically increase your ability to do act on it.  If there is shame involved, speaking it out loud robs the power.

If you’d like to read more by Brene Brown, check out the Daring Greatly Book Report.  Enjoy!

Shame and Fear Talk!

5 Apr

Get a load of this…Shame and fear talk to you!  And they are very clever because they disguise their voices to sound Just Like You!

Don’t you ever know when to stop talking, eating, teasing, working …”
“No one really cares, pays me what I’m worth, listens to me, respect me…”
“I will never win, fit in, get ahead, get it right, figure it out, look good…”
“I am such an idiot why did I believe him/her?”
“I’m fat, stupid, a bad parent, partner, employee.”
“Someone’s going to find out I’m lost, confused, in over my head…”
“That person doesn’t really like, value, respect me…”
“No one get’s me, I’m alone.”

Do you ever feel the need to control the conversation, situation or others?  Guess what?  Shame and fear are usually behind that too.

I wrote that introduction four years ago after an interesting conversation with my good friend Mira.  Now there is researcher out there talking boldly about shame in the business world!  I thought it was time to get back to this important topic.

Have you heard of Brene Brown?  She’s been researching shame and vulnerability for over a decade!  She describes shame as “the painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  She goes on to say that shame is the fear of ridicule, belittling and disconnection. And, shame not only talks to you, it stalks you!

Stress, imbalance, unforgiveness and conflict are all great friends of shame and fear.  The voice of shame and fear flourish and multiply when you’re stressed, swirling in ‘unfair’, out-of-control-busy, tired, hungry, holding a grudge or alienating others.  The noise can be deafening.

While shame and fear do talk to you – you don’t have to accept or even tolerate their opinion.  The only authority shame has is the authority you give it.  You have choice!

It’s time to be a detective of your mind.  Pay attention to what voices you hear and what they are saying.  If it’s shame or fear talking you might want to ask yourself a few questions?

  • Really, in whose world is that true?
  • Are there times where that is not true?
  • Where does my self-worth come from?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What else is true about this situation or me?
  • Do I want to accept this version of the situation or myself?

It’s your choice; control the voices that are influencing your mood, attitude, live and relationships.  Be a detective of you mind…choose your truth.  You are worthy!

If you haven’t checked out Brown’s Ted Talk, you might want to! http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability  and  http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame

 Coming soon is the book report on her latest book Daring Greatly!


31 Jan

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days (check out the Time Magazine cover story for Feb.2014)  Many people are unfamiliar with the term, but probably recognize the behaviors.

Scientists define mindfulness as the experience of paying close attention to our present in an open and accepting way, or directly knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves moment-by-moment.  FYI, this would be the opposite of scarfing down a piece of stale chocolate cake you didn’t really want – just because it’s there, or letting your brain run wild creating a fictitious negative scenario about some jerk at work.

In our uber busy worlds our brain is most often projecting forward or rehashing backwards.  We’re considering what isn’t yet done, how an event will go or what went wrong with the last event.  None of those thoughts help us to be effective in this moment or even in the next moments.

Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention rather than living in our heads.  “It is our ability to pause before we react,” Dr. Siegel explains.  “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned.  It is not difficult to do it, it is difficult to remember to do it.  The challenge with being mindful, or fully present, has everything to do with the autopilot narrative, or storytelling, going on in our brains (see Oct. 31, 2013 post).

Research has found that people who can stop and be aware of their internal experience (thinks about what you’re thinking about) heal more quickly from operations and skin disease, are less anxious and can decrease recurrence of depression by 75 percent.  Basically they are physically and mentally more healthy.

Dr. Yi-Yuan Tnag’s conducted a study where two groups of 40 individuals underwent training for twenty minutes per day for five days.  One group was trained in an integrative body-mind technique (mindfulness), the other in relaxation.  The mindfulness group had almost 50 percent greater immune function on average and cortisol levels were also lower.  Mindfulness apparently is more than just relaxation.

So, how to become more mindful?  One, pay attention to what you are thinking!  Switch off your autopilot.  Thoughts are simply “mental events”, they do not need to control you – you don’t have to believe all of your thoughts!

Two, take time each day to practice being mindful:

  • At least once a day, pay attention to what you are eating.  What is the texture and taste, what does it look like, smell like and taste like?  We tend to ‘think’ about food more in the past and future than we actually experiencing it in the present.
  • Pick one activity a day and stay fully present – possibly driving to work, taking a shower, walking the dog.  Turn the autopilot off and notice what is going on around you.
  • Believe it or not, breathing is critical.  Practice breathing slowly and thoughtfully (see May 2, 2013 post).  The best is if you can take 15 min. once a day and literally just pay attention to your breathing and nothing else.  If that is too daunting to start, take 60 seconds and breath deeply while focusing on your breath.  Do this at the beginning and end of each day, meeting, meal or when you feel stressed, it changes the physiology of your body and your brain!

Your choice for today…RIGHT NOW make a note or do something that will remind you to practice being mindful today and tomorrow!

Additional resources to consider.  Your Brain At Work book report.  There are tons of on-line resources, here is one example:  http://www.get.gg/mindfulness.htm

Multitasking and Distractions

14 Jan

Do you pride yourself in being good at multitasking?  Guess what, research indicates you can’t do it very well!  When people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old. A University of London study found that constant emailing and texting reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test.

Multitasking isn’t a skill issue; it’s a brain design issue.  While you can hold several chunks of information in mind at once, you can’t perform more than one conscious process at a time without impacting accuracy or performance.

When it comes to conscious activities your brain works in a serial way – one thing after another.  Research by Harold Pashier found that people attempting to perform two basic tasks at once took twice as long. Practice did not change the results (you aren’t actually saving time!)

A second study by Pashier found when participants were asked to do one simple mental task and one simple physical task simultaneously their performance dropped by 20%.  When asked to do two tasks that required very simple cognitive ability, their performance dropped by 50%. So, you can’t look for your favorite pen and listen attentively at the same time, and thinking you can skim your email while participating on a conference call is a fallacy!

“No, I did not get that email.”  “What?  I didn’t agree to that on our call!” – Are you sure??

Get a load of this!  One study found that office distractions eat up an average 2.1 hours a day.  Another study found that employees spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before being distracted.  After an interruption, it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they do at all.  People switch activities every 3 minutes, either making a call, speaking with someone or working on a document.

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task and they make up to 50% more errors. Any distraction, however small, diverts your attention.  It then takes effort to shift your attention back to where it was before the distraction, especially when a circuit is new or weak.

 Whether you are multitasking or being distracted by text, emails or calls, “always on” is not productive; it forces the brain to be on “alert” far too much.  This creates an artificial sense of constant crisis, which can cause the fight or flight system to kick in.

A few choices you might act on…

  • Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down.
  • The only way to do two mental tasks quickly, if accuracy is important, is doing them one at a time.
  • Find ways to decrease external distractions.
  • Turn your phone OFF for a few hours each day!  No, the world will not stop twirling if your phone is off!
  • Read the full book report Your Brain At Work by David Rock.

Your Brain is Like a Battery

25 Nov

Your brain uses energy much like a big rechargeable battery.  Most days you drain your brain battery pretty much dry – sometimes long before you’re done working!

Conscious mental activities use up battery power (the fuel in your blood) significantly faster than automatic brain functions such as keeping your heart beating or your lungs breathing. So, as you might imagine, we have a limited amount of resources for activities like decision-making and impulse control.  When we’ve used up fuel by making one difficult decision there is less for the next one.

Have you ever said “I feel brain dead today?”  You probably are.  Your battery is too low for the level of brain activity you’re trying to do.

Your brain is designed to conserve energy wherever possible.  As soon as you repeat an activity even a few times, that activity is moved from the energy-hungry part of your brain (prefrontal cortex) to the energy efficient basal ganglia. The basal ganglia handles routine activities that don’t require a lot of mental attention – these actives function beneath conscious awareness (why you can drive a car and think about other things at the same time.)

Think of it like this:

  • The prefrontal cortex, where you do all of your tough brainwork like decision-making, problem solving, analyzing and prioritizing, consumes energy like a big old air conditioner on full speed.
  • The basil ganglia, where you processes repetitive patterns, is like running a fan.

From an energy perspective, your brain prefers patterns so it is designed to put things into the unconscious pattern process as quickly as possible.  For example, toddlers have to concentrate on picking up a cup without spilling the contents.  Learning to do that takes the air conditioner part of their brain.  Once the activity is mastered it moves to the fan part.  We continuously move things from one part of our brain to the other throughout our lives.

On the positive side:  when you have to learn something new to keep up with technology, road construction or TSA rules at the airport, after a few repetitions you begin to do it the new way without much thought or brain energy.

On the not so good side:  after the 2nd or 3rd consistent encounter with a person you find challenging, you might put them into a ‘category’ and start responding to them the same way every time, even if their behavior changes.  If you’re asked to make small modification to something you’re currently doing, the fan part of your brain might want you to skip the small nuance and just do it the way you know.  Because the fan part of your brain runs at an unconscious level, you may not be aware that you are stuck in your behavior.

So, what are your points of choice today?

  • Start to recognize how much battery power various activities take for you.
  • Do your most important brainwork early in the day (making big family/personal life decisions after dinner may not be optimum!)
  • Restore your battery: eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Read “Your Brain at Work” book report for more details.

Autopilot Brain!

31 Oct

Oh boy, I’ve finally finished outlining the book Your Brain at Work, by David Rock.  It’s been 2 years in the making!  This book is rich with super cool, practical brain stuff, and of course, I had to try to apply all of this information as I took it in.

I’m going to post a couple of concepts over the next few weeks, but I highly recommend reading the book report  or even better read the book.

 The Stories in our Head!

Have you ever noticed there is almost constantly a story of some kind playing in your head?  “He said – she said, what was that person thinking, what am I going to do, why is this happening, what the heck?”

There is an explanation for this.  According to Rock’s research, people have two distinct ways of running their brain with respect to interacting with the world.

A Narrative Circuitry – a story line with characters interacting with one another.  Your brain holds vast stores of information about your own and other people’s history and future, which you weave together in the narrative.

When you experience the world using this narrative network, you take in information from the outside world, process it through a filter of meaning, and add your interpretations.  The narrative circuitry is your default process – it is active most of your waking moments and doesn’t take much effort to operate.

The second option for running our brain is Direct-Experience.  This is taking in information through your senses in real-time.  You are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people or yourself.  You are fully present, taking in raw data. The Direct-Experience network allows you to get closer to the reality of any event.  You perceive more information and more accurate information about events occurring around you.

Here’s what I find interesting about this…Think about it!

Our default network is narrative, which means we take in bits and pieces of information and immediately add our own interpretation based on our state of mind, past experience, impression of the players involved, etc.  If we’re not paying attention to how we are thinking, we now conclude that this version of reality is TRUE.  (Yes, it is our reality but that doesn’t make it true, we doctored up the information on its way into our memory bank!!)

On the other hand, we have the ability to turn the narrative off so we can be fully present and take in more pure, accurate data.  Noticing more real-time information allows you to be more flexible and, less imprisoned to the past, your habits, expectations and assumptions.  You are better able to respond to events as they unfold.  You are better at putting words to experiences, faster at identifying subtle patterns and increasing your ability to make subtle changes.

These two circuits are inversely correlated; one will dominate at any moment in time.  The narrative circuitry is your default network.  Activating the direct-experience network requires conscious choice.

You Have Choice!  Will you think about what you are thinking about today?  Can you keep the events of life closer to the truth by turning off the interpretive story and staying present?

Your Brain At Work book report.



Say “I Don’t”!

5 Oct

Saying “I Don’t” instead of “I Can’t” increases your likelihood of success!

So simple and obvious!!  My friend Alex sent me an article on the power of say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” when faced with temptation.

  •  I can’t have dessert
  • I can’t watch TV all evening
  • I can’t blow-off my work out
  • I can’t avoid reading that text, tweet or email right now

“I can’t” isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction. It creates a feedback loop of limitation.  “I can’t” undermines our sense of power or ability to influence our environment.  Our brain is wired to – fight or flight –  in response to a loss of control.

  • I don’t eat dessert
  • I don’t watch TV for an entire evening
  • I don’t blow-off my work out
  • I don’t read every text instantly

“I don’t“ creates a sense of choice and empowerment.  “I don’t” is an affirmation of determination and willpower – our brain loves that!!

The article sights research for both:  in the moment temptation, as well as repeated temptation over time.  In both cases the test groups that said, “I can’t” failed to achieve the desired outcome significantly more often that the test groups that said “I don’t”.

So simple and obvious!  Try it!

To read the entire article: http://blog.bufferapp.com/a-scientific-guide-to-saying-no-how-to-avoid-temptation-and-distraction

Just Try This! BREATH

2 May

As you know from my April 4th and March 20th blogs I’ve been reading about the affect of God, prayer and meditation on our brain. Being an active learner, I have of course tried it to see if it really works.

It does!

You have a choice… you could try this tiny, short little exercise for a week!  In fact, I’m going to recommend it!  I believe you’ll enjoy it and feel better.

Five minutes per day. (You can find 5 minutes even if it is in your car in the parking lot before you go into work or home.)

  1. Relax.  Close your eyes, get comfortable, drop your shoulders out of your ears and  stop clinching your jaw.
  2. Breath.  Yes, I know you were already breathing.  Now, breath deliberately – deep, slow breathes.  For the first 30-60 seconds of your 5 minutes do nothing but relax and pay attention to your breathing.
  3. Add a single focus to your relaxed state and deep breathing. Pick one single word such as: love, peace, or joy  (a positive word!)  Let’s say you pick peace as your word for today.  As you breath in, let peace fill you up.  As you exhale, let your peace out.  (You don’t need to keep your peace in, you get to have more with your next breath – give some peace to others!)  As you keep a single focus on your one word, pay attention to how peace feels, what color is it, does it sound like anything.  Don’t try to ‘think’ about it – just notice if there is any sound, color or feeling.  It’s totally okay if there isn’t.

That’s’ it.  You’re done!  Five minutes – relax, breath and enjoying one positive word.

I’m not kidding, I want you to try this for a couple of days and report back.  How did that go?

In the next blog I’ll give you the science behind improving your brain, your day and your disposition through prayer/mediation.

Don’t forget, I really want to hear if you tried this and what you thought!

Hooked – The Science of Sex

11 Apr

Yes, another Brain Book – but this one is about SEX!  Hooked, New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children. 

If you have kids under the age of 20 this book is a must read (I seldom recommend the actual book!)  Even if you don’t have kids the book report is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

Hooked does an excellent job of explaining why so many youth, and adults, get into troubling sexual situations AND why so many adults don’t seem to be able to stay connected to their partner.

From a brain perspective, sex is optimized when you have one partner for life. In fact the authors, both MD’s and researches, would go so far as to say the only healthy sex there is (according to your brain), is within the confines of marriage.  Your brain chemistry and neurotransmitters want you to bond for life.  Having multiple sexual partners literally damages the emotional bonding mechanics build into our systems. (Does that mean you’re doomed if you’ve gone beyond one partner – of course not, but it has, or will have, an impact.)

When it comes to thinking, decision-making and affecting your brain, sex often starts waaayyy before intercourse and doesn’t even require it for the brain to be impacted.  Brain studies define sexual activity as any intimate contact between two people that involves arousal, stimulation and/or a response by at least one of the people.  Arousal is the point at which chemicals start to be released and emotional bonding begins!

The author’s main purpose in writing Hooked is to inform parents about the inner workings of the adolescent mind and body with regard to sex. There is an awful lot of unconscious science going on that can dramatically impact behavior and decisions.  Yes, of course, there are hormones raging around, but it’s also about the chemical make up of how our brains and body’s do sex as well as general brain development. With that said, research shows that the home environment has a greater influence on behavior than hormone levels with regard to risky sexual behavior in puberty.  Parents, this is where you come in.  The authors are quite passionate about helping you avoid the impact ignorance can play on your child’s long-term ability to do relationships well.

For those that have already passes the youth decision making point, this book can offer insights and possible focus for restorative options.

There are a slew of interesting statistics:

  • Approximately 75% of graduating high school seniors have had sexual intercourse (I wonder how many non-graduating students had sex?)
  • Approximately 70% of college students have had sex with at least one partner in the last year (remember, multiple partners in a life time damages your bonding mechanics.)
  • 80% of unwed fathers don’t marry the teen mother of their baby.
  • 80% of unwed teen mothers eventually receive welfare.
  • Individuals who have sex before marriage are less likely to experience marital happiness.
  • In the 1960’s there were only two sexually transmitted infections – gonorrhea and syphilis, both treatable.  Today there are more than 25 sexually transmitted infections, most of which are viral and cannot be cured.

This book is a surprisingly easy read.  The writing style and format is well suited for its intended audience.

Your primary choice today is about information!  Check out the book report to decide if you might need the whole book!