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Think About What You Are Thinking About

4 Apr

Let’s start with a juicy topic.  If you think about God, what do you think about?  Is your perception of God authoritarian or benevolent?

Research shows that those who embrace an authoritarian God tend to favor the death penalty, want to spend more money on the military, want to give the government more power to fight terrorism, and insist that prayer should be allowed in public schools.  Envisioning an authoritarian God will activate the limbic (emotional) brain that generates fear and anger. Thus, the brain is primed to fight.

Those who perceive a benevolent God activate a part of their brain that can envision love, compassionate images, faces or thoughts. When stimulated, it suppresses the impulse to get angry or frightened.  It also helps generate feelings of empathy towards other who are suffering or hurt.  This part of the brain is called the anterior cingulated and sits between the emotional brain and the thinking brain.

As far as the brain is concerned, if you give an experience a label (God) and saturate it with meaning (authoritarian or benevolent), you will perceive your experience as something that actually exists in the world. The personality you assign to God has direct neural patterns that correlate with your own emotional style of behavior.

Basically, we all have two brains – one selfish and suspicious, another that is open-minded and can be kind.  If you’re wondering which brain will win? It’s the one you feed!!  What you think about creates your reality.  Needless to say this extends beyond God, it plays into your perception of other people, situations, activities, beliefs and values.

You can change your perception of other people, situations or God by choosing what part of your brain you feed.

Based on research, you can rather easily develop neural circuits geared towards compassion and open-mindedness.  (Easy, as in, it doesn’t require a lot of training or resources, however, it does require consistency and intentionality!)  Here’s what you do, absorb yourself in thoughts associated with the feelings of kindness and love as you breath deeply and relax. Do this for at least 12 minutes per day for 6-8 weeks.  You will begin to build and strengthen new neural circuits of compassion.

In addition, if you consciously interrupt pessimistic thoughts and feelings with optimistic beliefs – even if they are based on fantasies rather than reality – you will stimulate your brain to create new circuits that decrease fear, anxiety, and irritability and increase your sense of peacefulness.

FYI, if you obsess on doubts and worries, your emotional brain will slow down your thinking brain which decreases your ability to be empathetic and feel pleasure.

When love goes up – fear goes down.  When anger goes up – compassion goes down.  If you focus on a benevolent God, the authoritarian God recedes. You can control non-conscious circuits in your brain when you choose what you think about. The choice is entirely yours!

ANTS! Automatic Negative Thoughts

3 Sep

Are ANTS infesting your day and ruining your joy?   (More about ANTS by Dr. Amen

Whoa, I just returned home from a business trip.  Not surprisingly there was airline craziness; misinformation, cancelled flight, oops, not cancelled, etc.  There were ANTS everywhere!!

One red-faced, pacing, fuming man announced to me that he “yelled at that idiot behind the counter…”

“Did that help?” I asked curiously

“No, he’s an idiot!”

“I kind of feel sorry for him” I said, “I’m sure he’s not too excited about this situation either.  I’ll bet he wishes he would have called in sick today.”

“True, but I still need to get home today and he’s not helping me,” said the red-faced man, now a bit calmer.

The older executive-type gentleman on my right piped in, “I paid a lot of money for this ticket so I bought the right to yell at that man if I want.”  (Seriously, he said that!)  “This whole problem is the airlines screw-up and he’s the only person I have access to, so I’ll give him a piece of my mind – maybe that way it’ll get back to the company.”

I tried again, “well, I still feel badly for him.  I’m sure he can’t produce a plane or explain why the airline sent us all the same erroneous message on our email.  All he can do is try to fix the companies mistake.”

“Why are you so empathetic?” asked the executive type.

“I used to train people like him.  It’s a pretty helpless feeling when you have no answers for the situation you’re in” I said.

“Well maybe you can be empathetic because you worked with them, but I don’t have to!”

CONTRAST:  Sitting next to me on the same flight was a delightful woman from Scotland.  She was telling me of her journey that day which included the subway breaking down while she was on it, having to find a cab, her fear of flying, getting the inaccurate message on her cell phone and basically an ANT infestation starting while in the cab.  She looked at me “then I said to myself, today a thousand people will be told that someone they love is sick or dying – get over yourself!!  Then I calmed down and decided to roll with the punches.”

I Love it!

Your Choice!  First, check for ANTS.  Note every time you start to laps into Automatic Negative Thoughts.  Write them down, you might notice a pattern!

Second, decide on one ANT killer that you will use.  An ANT killer is typically an Automatic Positive Thought.  Something in your life that inspires a sense of gratitude or appreciation.  The Scottish woman was happy to deal with a delayed flight versus a sick loved-one.  This is a move away strategy (March 25 post  ) but it worked for her.  Find yours!

FYI the red faced man apologized to the gate agent, TWICE!  And, I would guess had a much better day when he got home.  The executive guy is probably still angry.   For more on ANTS,

Getting Past Stuck

14 Jul

Do you have a “stuck” topic in any of your relationships?  You know, were you try to have objective, calm, practical discussions about a complaint but you don’t seem to make much progress – the challenge, problem, or complaint remains.  Talking about it more isn’t helpful and quite frankly isn’t fun!  It might even seem as though one or the other person is being unreasonable in their expectations?  You are at an impasse.

Back to our brain and what is behind the scenes.  Resting beneath most of our behaviors are emotion that drive those behaviors.  For example, Elli is hyper-vigilant about the house being neat.  There have been many discussions and arguments about how anal she is and how inconsiderate they are.  Ellie was not consciously aware of it but, at the root of her behavior were a fear of being embarrassed and a desire for her family to have freedom. Elli grew up in a house of clutter and chaos. She often felt humiliated – going to school with mismatched clothes and missing schoolwork or books because of the chaos.  She would never invite friends over.  Her world felt out of control.

We all have emotional drivers and many of them are unconscious (90% of what is running around in our brain is at an unconscious level.)  Whether we’re aware of it or not these emotional drivers effect how we behave and make decisions.

Dr. Gottman takes about uncovering dreams. I would reframe that a little and suggest it’s about uncovering values, passions and desires.   All of us have values or principles by which we live life, even if we’re not consciously aware of all of our values, we will typically defend our values tenaciously.  Watch when someone cuts into a line – some people’s value of fair will flair, others value of compassion will be obvious.

Likewise we all have desires, things we long for.  This could include material things, but more often the desires we defend have to do with our sense of purpose, possibilities, or expression of who we are.  And, where we have passion we can be persistent in wanting our way.

In situations where there is an impasse, our focus is usual on the behavior.  What we need to do is stop having the same argument and look below the surface.  What value, desire or passion might be at risk for this person?  Uncovering the driving concern can help bring the deeper issue to the conscious mind, offering a new perspective to discuss.

Once Elli’s family stopped arguing and started listening for values, desires and passions they were able to understand that in her mind, her behavior was out of a desire to serve and help them.  This allowed the family to have a different conversation.

Learning to listen for values, desires and passions is a skill that I teach in leadership training.  It works! It is a skill that is quite easy to build, but it does require practice.  So, the choice I’m offering you today is to “learn to listen for something new.”   Pick a touchy topic in your world.  Stop having the same old conversation and start listening for the driver beneath the behavior!

If you have questions about this – let me know, I’d love to dialog!

Sorting Styles, In-Time, Through-Time

28 Mar

In the sorting styles trilogy, I think this is my favorite! I have taught this to people all over the world.  It is a very practical tool in every walk of life!

In-Time or Through-Time is about how we code time; the duration from event to event creates our image of time.  Do any of the following situations frustrate you, or even more dramatic, do they actually offend you?

  • People that arrive late, seemingly unaware or caring that they are late.  When you address it their response is usually “I’m late?”
  • When you ask “Are you ready to go?”  “Yes” means it will be 30-60 minutes before you’re leaving.
  • People who constantly rush you!  Rush you off the phone, into decisions, out the door, and through your meal.
  • People that tap their watch and give you “the eye” as if you can’t tell time.

Time issues tend to be at the center of conflict, arguments, hurt feelings and even CLMs (career limiting moves).

For In-Time people time is sort of like bubbles.  Once they have climbed into a bubble, time is pretty irrelevant – the task, relationship or conversation is most important.  In-Time people are often offended if an activity ends based on some artificial time constraint.  “Of course I was a couple of minutes late, I was on the phone finishing up a conversation.”

Through-Time people are pretty much the opposite – time resembles a series of blocks that you walk along side, moving from one to the next at an even pace.  A day is 24 one-hour blocks that are assigned – so many units for sleeping, eating, working, playing, etc.  A Through-Time person will typically pack-up their materials 5-10 minutes before the end of a meeting so they can transition smoothly from one block to the next.  They are often offended when time is not adhered to and valued as a resource.

Are you starting to see yourself in one of these?  This sorting style is very closely tied to feelings of respect, which is why it’s also tied to conflict.  In-Time people tend to feel respected when they are allowed to experience the freedom of exploring or completing the process, conversation or idea.  Through-Time­ people tend to feel respected when others use their time wisely

Yes, of course, everyone can and does function in both types of time, however, most of us have a preference.  The good news is that both styles contribute significantly in life.  A friend once said, “It’s great to have a Through-Time person plan a vacation, but you want to go on vacation with an In-Time person!”

CLICK HERE for the paper and quiz! Please remember – this information is to help you appreciate and manage different preferences, it is NOT to justify bad behavior or condemn others!

Sorting Styles, Move Towards – Move Away

25 Mar

Notice the difference?“

  • You can go outside, as soon as your room is clean.”  OR “You can’t go outside until your room is clean.”
  • “This room will look so great when we finish remodeling.”  OR “We won’t have to live out of boxes once the remodeling is done.”
  • “We will greatly improve productive with the changes we’re putting in place.” OR “ We can avoid a lot of rework and loss of revenue but putting these changes in place.”

Where you able to pick up on the difference?  Did you find yourself more drawn to one over the other?  This sorting style addresses the reward strategy that is most likely to motivate you – Moving Towards or Moving Away.

Some people are inclined to see the bright shinny things in front of them and are motivated to go after it with minimal concern for the risk (Move Towards).  Others are more motivated to create a safe, stable environment where risk is minimal (Move Away).

Just to be clear – everyone is motivated to move towards absolute pleasure and away from obvious pain – this strategy is a bit subtler.

Interestingly, the end product or result of a project may very well be the same regardless of which strategy is employed; the key is to use the best strategy for the person you want motivated.

Let’s face it, very few kids really want to clean their room.  The question is, did they even hear the entire request?  Often a Move Towards kid (or adult) wants to know about the bright shinny thing they can have, then, they can hear what the cost of acquiring it is.  For a strong Move Towards person, if the request starts with roadblocks, barriers, obstacles or threats their brain is likely to tune out and miss the reward.  “You can’t go outside, blah, blah, blah.” All they heard was what they can’t do – not a motivator for them!

Likewise, the Move Away kid doesn’t really want to clean his room either but he really wants to avoid the reality of having to stay in doors so there is motivation to take down the barrier.

All of us tend to motivate others using the strategy that is most comfortable to us – often this happens at an unconscious level.   So, your first choice is to figure out what your preference is.   To read the short paper or take the 15 question quiz CLICK HERE.  Then really pay attention to your kids, co-worker, and family member’s to find their preferred patterns.  If you consciously look for clues, you’ll find them.  Consider starting with people that don’t seem to respond to your requests with enthusiasm – they probably have the opposite style.  If you aren’t sure of a person style or you’re talking to a group – say  it both ways!


Sorting Styles, Sameness and Difference

20 Mar

Do you know someone that says “Yeah, But” to almost every comment or suggestion made?  Or, “That won’t work” before you’ve even finished your thought?  A self appointed “devils advocate.” They are a total killjoy when it comes to brainstorming.  Even though it was clearly explained that there is no evaluation during idea generation – they pick apart every idea brought up!  Does it ever feel like you just can’t win with some people, they always point out the other side of the story?  Are you one of those people?

On the other hand, do you know someone that can’t make a decision, all wishy-washy?  They jump on the bandwagon of whatever idea is being promoting? They often skip details as if they’re irrelevant.  Everything is a brainstorming, including where to eat; we could go here or here or here or here!  And, yet for all of their brainstorming, most of their ideas are the same – they resist new ideas and change?

OK, before you get all caught up in judging you might want to learn about this particular Sorting Style.  We all have two basic ways that we work with and compare data.  Those of us that tend to match information to what we already know have a Sorting Style of Sameness.  Those of us that tend to look for what is mis-matched from what we already know have a Sorting Style of Difference.

Yes you can do both, sort by Sameness and Difference, in fact mot of us do.  However, we usually lead with one  – that’s our preference – and then maybe, we consider the other.   Statistically there are more Sort for Sameness people, but doesn’t it seem like there are more Sort by Difference?  Maybe the Difference sorters are more noticeable?!?!  Opps, I’m one of them!  I like to think of myself as appropriately managed – it’s a choice (both doing it and thinking you do it.)

As you might imagine both sorting styles have a purposeful role in work, play and life.  And, both present challenges.  Sorting styles aren’t good or bad.  Like any other personality or temperament trait – they are something to be understood and managed.  (You might want to check out the March 17th blog for an overview of Sorting Styles.)

If you’re curious about your preference, or someone else’s, you can  CLICK HERE.  You’ll find a very short paper explaining the concept in a bit more detail along with a 15 question quiz to help you sort out your style!

Your choice for today is to learn more about your gift and consider how to use it without annoying the heck out of others!


Sorting Styles, training stuff

17 Mar

Do you ever notice that some of your family members, co-workers or other drivers on the road seem to see the world though a different lens than you?   As you probably already know – the do!  The question is, how are they doing it?  Or maybe the question is… how am I doing it?   One considerations could be your sorting styles.

What are Sorting Systems? We all have internal filters or sorting programs that we use to take in information, process the events around us and dictate how we think about that information.    Our behaviors reflect how we sort this information, even though the filtering systems work at an unconscious level.  By observing our behavior in a given situations we can identify our current sorting systems. Understanding our sorting preferences will provide context for behavior patterns and awareness that will help us adjust or change our behavior if we choose.

Each person filters or sorts information uniquely however, general patterns have been identified.  This week I will outlines the general patterns for 3 specific sorting systems.  Most people will find they are not 100% of any one sorting preference, but most everyone will be able to identify a stronger tendency or preference.

This learning process is not about “changing” your sorting systems, but learning how you might “manage” yourself to be more effective.  Understanding these sorting systems will help you adapt your behavior and suspend judgment of others

No sorting system is inherently good or bad nor are the associated behaviors inherently good or bad.  However, some behaviors are more or less appropriate given the situation and the preferences of the people you are in relationship/communication with. By recognizing your sorting preferences and the sorting preferences of others you may be able to stop reacting to behaviors and choose responses that will increase your ability to better communicate and relate to others.

How we sort information in any given category may change based on the situation or the people involved.  It is possible that people will sort differently in an intimate or close relationship than they do in a work situation.  Also, all sorting is on a continuum from one extreme to the other.  Few people operate at either extreme, all the time.

My next three blogs will cover 3 sorting styles.  Each blog will have a short paper and assessment that I wrote for one of my classes while getting my master degree in Human Development.

  • How we work with and compare data (sorting for sameness or difference)
  • How we’re most likely to be motivated (move toward or move away)
  • How we evaluate and refer to time (in-time or through-time)

If you find you’ve become a sorting styles junkie, you could check out  the book Figuring Out People,(2002) Hall& Bodenhamer, the authors explore 51 different Meta- Programs, or sorting systems.


MBTI, DISC, Learning Styles, Enneagram

8 Mar

My guess is most everyone reading this has taken an assessment of some kind.  My burning question… did you make any life enhancing choices based on the information?

Personally I am a huge fan of assessments, and, they scare me.  Well the assessment doesn’t scare me – the users do.  I have seen too many well-intended HR people or trainers use assessment to pigeonhole people or label them.  “You’re an ISTJ?  Go sit in the corner and work, you’re not a people person!”  For anyone that has been abused by an assessment process, I apologize.

Even if you’re not currently a fan of assessment – I’m going to ask you to consider my argument FOR assessments.  If you are a fan, or at least a willing participant, do you get the full value?  Follow the rationale…

“Top performers extract 3 – 5 times more information from feedback then average performers.” (The quote is from IHHP, a super groovy company I have the privilege of working with.  If you’re into Emotional Intelligence check them out  Back to my point… If a top performer and an average performer were each given the exact same feedback, a top performer would learn more from the information.   Let’s apply this to assessments.

Starting with a low performer… “See, this is just how I am!”  Assessment results tend to be justification for not playing well with others.  “Now that you know who I am, get over it – I can’t change.”

An average performer will consider their results and often learn a lot about themselves; their preferences, tendencies, how and why they behave the way they do and try to adjust some of the behaviors that are career limiting and relationship stunting.  That’s all good stuff!

However, a top performer will mine the full value of an assessment.  They’ll do the same great work as the average performer in terms of becoming aware of and monitoring what they learned about themselves – that is step one.  Then, a top performer will seek understanding about others; their preferences and the ways they do things.  They understand that for others, doing things in a different way is as natural to them as your way is to you.  The top performer will put themselves in others shoes and try to see the world from their perspective.  They will consider what it feels like for that co-worker, boss, employee, spouse, friend, or family member to have to live and work with YOU!

Learning more about yourself and others preferences does not mean you have to change who you are – to the contrary – it helps you understand your natural abilities and strengths.  The key is to understand how others function at their best and, how to bring out the best in one another.

Today’s point of choice…dust off your old assessments, or take some new ones, be a top performer.  What can you learn about yourself and equally as important what can you learn about being in relationship with others?

If you’re interested, I created a Quick Reference Guide for 13 assessment tools while working on my Masters.   It’s only 2 pages CLICK HERE.

Reframing for Resilience, Training for the Worrier and the Negative!

21 Feb

Do you know someone who always sees the worst case?  Are YOU someone who tends to see hassles, destruction or headaches around every corner?  Do you over think things to death (according to family members and friends)?  Are most projects and plans a breeding ground for potential disaster?  “You’ve just won the lottery!!!”  “Oh great, people will be hounding us, our lives won’t be our own, the kids will become greedy and undisciplined…”  And don’t even get started on the new changes at work! That new system, boss, employee, office, project…Do you know what I’m talking about?

Now, in all fairness, there are a few personality types that tend towards feelings of anxiety and worrying a bit more than others.  And, research indicates about 50% of the population is naturally optimistic and resilient while the other 50% tend towards pessimism and find it hard to rebound – so we might need to cut them a little slack.  However, learning to manage excessive worry and negativism is very possible – it is a choice!

Here is a relatively simple exercise that anyone can do when they are feeling pessimistic, anxious, or are becoming a buzz-kill.  Take a piece of paper and make three columns.  On top of the first column write “Worst Case Scenario” (may as well get the negative over with!)  Above the third column write “Best Case Scenario” (now we’re talking – positive is a choice!)  Go a little crazy with column three!  You might want to be somewhere in the universe of realistic, but let yourself explore those positive thoughts!  Above the middle column write “Most Likely to Happen.”  It isn’t hard to see where this is going.

Few things in life truly fall into either column one or three; it’s usually a blend of the two.  However, you get what you look for.  If you’re looking for the positive you are much more likely to find it.  If you’re looking for the negative, you will also find that.  Please, I’m begging you – for your own well-being as well as the people around you – play in the “Best Case” column once in a while!  At the very least reel-in the crazy dark side!


“TAKE 5” – A Training Tip

14 Feb

Have you ever been running late for a meeting and felt stressed?  You started rehearsing excuses for your tardiness, blaming it on traffic, stoplights, a slow elevator, a blabby client, cats, dogs, kids or garbage trucks?  By the time you get to the meeting you’re not only late, you’re a blathering idiot?  Or maybe you received a stupid, abrupt, inaccurate email and before you stopped to consider the consequences you fired back an equally stupid, abrupt inaccurate response and cc’d a half dozen people.  Generally speaking, these are not great ways to demonstrate your superior intelligence and capabilities.

I could go into all the brain science as to why we become blathering idiots or irrational email participants, but I won’t in this blog.  My focus today is on a relatively simple activity to help you avert such childish, career-limiting behavior.

TAKE 5 is an exercise designed specifically to help you redirect your attention in the moment or “think on your feet”.   Its entire purpose is to pull you out of an emotional tailspin so you can engage your thinking brain in a situation where your emotional center is about to win the battle of “who’s in charge.”

This process is very simple and very effective.  Whether you are alone or with others, this technique will create an effective and helpful pattern interrupt. (A pattern interrupt is anything that interrupts your unhealthy pattern of thought and allows you to look for an alternative path.)

Here’s how it works:  you’re about to do something you won’t be proud of later…

STOP! Ask yourself…

Will this (situation) matter in:

  • 5 years?         If yes, seriously? Why?  Be specific.
  • 5 months?     If yes, really? Why?  Be specific.
  • 5 weeks?        If yes, how?  Be specific.
  • 5 days?           If yes, how?  Be specific.
  • 5 hours?         If yes, can you change it?  Be specific.
  • 5 minutes?     If yes, you now have perspective about how much energy you should put into it!

 Seriously, you have to ask and answer all the question to fully engage your brain…this is not rhetorical.  The idea is to provide perspective. The emotional part of your brain might be trying to convince you that this situation requires extreme, immediate action.  If the thinking part of your brain is allowed to participate – it will probably provide appropriate perspective, thus avoiding behaviors you might later regret.  Realistic, receiving a stupid, abrupt, inaccurate email might deserve 5 – 10 minutes of your precious time.  If you react badly it could turn into a 5-day or 5-year problem!  So, TAKE 5, before you respond!