This week we highlight the power of our minds to create what happens to us.
What we choose to tell ourselves dramatically affects the story we make for our own life. And the stories we choose to tell and make in our communications give us the power to affect and influence the lives of the people we work.
Ultimately stories give us the ability to create and enact not just our own hero’s success story of greatness, but the power to change the world and people’s lives.
Here is a great set of brain exercises by way of a warmup.
The right answers, when you find them, just see so obviously right you’ll know when you’ve found them.
I hope you enjoy these as much as we did…
Here is a brain teaser whose aim is to stimulate the connections or associations between words in your temporal lobe. You will see pairs of words, and your goal is to find a third word that is connected or associated with both of these two words.
For example, the first pair is PIANO and LOCK. The answer is KEY. The word key is connected with both the word piano and the word lock: there are KEYS on a piano and you use a KEY to lock doors. Key is what is called a homograph: a word that has more than one meaning but is always spelled the same.
Ready to stimulate connections in your temporal lobe(s)? Enjoy! (Solutions are below. Please don’t check them until you have tried to solve all the pairs!)
1. LOCK — PIANO
2. SHIP — CARD
3. TREE — CAR
4. SCHOOL — EYE
5. PILLOW — COURT
6. RIVER — MONEY
7. BED — PAPER
8. ARMY — WATER
9. TENNIS — NOISE
10. EGYPTIAN — MOTHER
What follows in this post are some different ideas about how we can do this.
The journey of a hero at its earliest, most humble beginnings is nothing more than a desire for greatness…
And legends aren’t born from mediocrity. They are born from excellence. They are born from being the best. From being the hardest working. Legends are born from failure. They are born from falling down time and time again and having the grit to get back up again. Legends are born from adversity. They are forged in the crucible of struggle. Heroes come and go. But legends, legends live forever…
How to use the hero’s story to present better, the tension of creative work and commerce, learning to let go, and the power of turning failure into your life’s work…
Most believe great presenters are born and not made. Nancy Duarte would argue against this. After all, she received a C- in Speech Communication class in college. Since then she’s gone on to become a world-renowned author and expert on the art and science of delivering compelling presentations.
Today her firm works with the world’s top brands like Cisco, General Electric, The Food Network, and Twitter to help their employees evolve their presentation skills into messages that shift beliefs and behaviors. In addition, her books Slide:ology, Resonate, and HBR’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations do much to fill in the knowledge gaps of how to make presenting easier and more engaging for your audience.
Presenters tend to quickly go to tools like PowerPoint, which is used second only to email, to communicate. But strong communicators are able to visualize their ideas…
Your vision needs to be clear and if people can see what you’re saying, they will understand you. Practice sketching what you see. There is tremendous power in being able to sketch out an idea so others can see it…
“You have the power to change the world…”
If you put slides between you and another person, you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to create a personal connection. In one-on-one situations, you have the chance to make a really rich human connection yet so many times that opportunity is lost due to putting technology between you and them.
Instead of looking at each other, people end up looking at technology. When you’re on-on-one, try using a piece of paper between you instead. You can have some concepts on the paper, or it could be a printout of your slides that you both build on, or even start with a blank sheet of paper.
What this type of setup says is, “Let’s both create something.”
by Jan Hills, adapted from the content in her new book, Brain-Savvy HR
You and a colleague have been working on a new project proposal which gets rejected by the board. You’re gutted, and finding it hard to get past the sense of disappointment, the feeling that your career has stalled. But your colleague seems to be much more philosophical about the decision. She’s shrugged it off and seems to be getting on with things. Didn’t she have as much invested in getting the project off the ground – didn’t it matter as much to her? Or is she just coping better?
The difference is resilience.
It’s the art of adapting well in the face of adversity: when a proposal is rejected, when a valued colleague moves to another company, or if you lose your job in a downsizing. Some people describe it as the ability to bend without breaking.
Biologically, resilience is the ability to manage the physical and neurological impact of the stress response. Stress can have a significant impact on the immune system, and make us physically ill, but the effects are entirely dependent on how we, individually, react to it. (Read more about that in the chapter in this section “I can’t avoid stress in my job.”
What makes us resilient?
Studies of twins suggest that at least some of our response to stress, and our ability to cope with it, is inherited. Having a sociable personality that embraces novel tasks and interests, and being accepting of yourself and your faults makes someone more resilient.
But our environment also comes into play: the patterns of behaviour we’ve learned, our education, support from our family, our income and security. But research also shows that we can build resilience with some discipline and consistent practice.
Resilience in the brain develops through repeated experience. Any experience, whether positive or negative, causes neurons in the brain to activate. The strengthened connections between them create neural circuits and pathways that make it likely we will respond to the same or a similar situation in the same way that we reacted before.
This is the brain’s natural way of encoding patterns that become the automatic, unconscious habits that drive our behaviours. It relies upon the neuroplasticity of the brain: its capacity to grow new neurons and, more importantly, new connections among the neurons. When we choose to act in particular ways, repeatedly, to the extent we form new habits and ways of behaving, we are engaging in self-directed neuroplasticity.
How can we become more resilient?
Some of the effective strategies that are well-supported by scientific evidence for developing resilience include:
Learn “emotional regulation”
Two approaches to self-regulation that have been extensively studied are reappraisal and mindfulness meditation…
Reappraisal is a technique for reinterpreting the cause of a negative emotion or stress. So instead of seeing your rejection for promotion as a failure, you reappraise it as an opportunity to build mastery and deepen expertise in your current role
Columbia University’s Kevin Ochsner has found that reappraisal results in changes in the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex: the centre for planning, directing and inhibiting. It also decreases the activity of the amygdala, responsible for emotion. The result is that an experience is less emotionally charged and it’s possible for the person to interpret it more positively. People who practise this technique report greater psychological wellbeing than those who suppress their emotions.
So when you’re faced with a negative experience you may find it useful to ask yourself: “Is there a different way to look at this?” Be like the optimistic friend who would put a different spin on it for you.
Our experience of using this strategy with clients, especially in very tough circumstances, is that it can be challenging and it takes practice. Ochsner has found that training in reappraisal, especially using the technique of distancing from the problem, is successful.
Another method for increasing resilience and managing emotions is mindfulness meditation, which has been found to improve focus and wellbeing, and encourage more flexible thinking. Brain scans have shown increases in activity in the left prefrontal cortex (which is associated with emotional control), a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings of disgust, anger and fear.
Adopt a positive outlook on life
Optimism is associated with good mental and physical health, which probably stems from a better ability to regulate the stress response. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson has found that negative emotions tend to increase physiological arousal, narrow focus and restrict behaviours to those which are essential for survival, like just getting your report done in the usual way, and avoiding social interaction and helping anyone else.
Positive emotions, by contrast, reduce stress and broaden focus, leading to more creative and flexible responses. In this frame of mind you’d be more likely to come up with a new report format which works better, get input from colleagues, or help your junior by coaching them to do the data analysis.
Do you believe you’re in control?
Psychologist Julian Rotter has developed the concept of “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience: they have an internal locus of control. Others believe that things are done to them by outside forces, or happen by chance (an external locus).
These viewpoints are not absolutes, says Laurence Gonzales, author ofSurviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. “Most people combine the two,” he says, “But research shows that those with a strong internal locus are better off. In general, they’re less likely to find everyday activities distressing. They don’t often complain, whine, or blame. And they take compliments and criticism in their stride.”
Developing an internal locus takes discipline and self-awareness, but it enables you to envisage options and scenarios based on intuition and foresight, which means you can create plans in anticipation, or in the midst of a challenge.
And what about optimism?
Resilience is associated with a type of realistic optimism. If you’re too optimistic you may miss negative information or ignore it rather than deal with it. Over-optimism results in taking or ignoring risks, which may actually increase stress. The most resilient people seem to be able to tune out negative words and events and develop the habit of interpreting situations in a more positive manner. Oxford psychologist Elaine Fox says we can train ourselves to do this.
What this means for us in business is that we should take a positive outlook whilst carefully assessing and acknowledging risks using techniques like pre-mortems and appreciative enquiry.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve attention, planning, decision-making and memory. And exercise appears to aid resilience by boosting levels of endorphins as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which may elevate mood. It also suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Develop your resilience muscle
Researchers recommend “workouts,” or tasks that get gradually more challenging. This idea of “stress inoculation” is based on the theory that increasing the degree of difficulty teaches us to handle higher levels of challenge and stress.
If you dread giving presentations then offering to give the after-dinner toast at an annual dinner, and signing-up for a speaking club, can be part of a process gradually training yourself out of the fear.
The same approach as training for a marathon also works for mental challenges, according to the authors of Resilience: the science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. However, just as with an athlete’s training and competition programme, it’s important to build-in recovery time: extended periods of stress without a recovery period can be damaging. One of the skills of resilient people, according to performance psychologist Jim Loehr, is knowing when they need a break.
Maintain your support networks
Developing your network of supportive friends, family and colleagues is another important way to enhance your resilience. Don’t be too busy to do lunch, help someone or stop and talk to a colleague: it reduces your stress response and bolsters your courage and self-confidence, and creates a safety net.
Social ties make us feel good about ourselves: they activate the reward response in our brain. Objectively evaluate your network and analyse its strengths. You may have support in your home life, but do you also have it at work? Who do you know who could help you with different types of challenges? Who understands you, and has the skills you could call on in a crisis?
Follow good role models
We’re familiar with the idea of role models in business and leadership development. But thinking about who your models are for resilience may be a new idea for you. Consider who you know who has been through tough times in the business and has come through. What are the characteristics of their strength and how did they manage the challenge?
Psychologist Albert Bandura believes modelling is most effective when the observer analyses what they want to imitate by dissecting different aspects and creating rules that can guide their own action.
It’s all about belief
Psychologist Edith Grotberg believes that everyone needs to remind themselves regularly of their strengths. She suggests we cultivate resilience by thinking about three areas:
- Strong relationships, structure, rules at home, role models: these are external supports.
- Self-belief, caring about other people, being proud of ourselves: these are inner strengths that can be developed.
- Communicating, solving problems, gauging the temperament of others, seeking out good relationships: these are the interpersonal and problem-solving skills that can be acquired.
At the heart of resilience is a belief in ourselves. Resilient people don’t let adversity define them: they move towards a goal beyond themselves and see tough times as just a temporary state of affairs.
Researchers have confronted us in recent years with example after example of how we humans get things wrong when it comes to making decisions. We misunderstand probability, we’re myopic, we pay attentionto the wrong things, and we just generally mess up. This popular triumphof the “heuristics and biases” literature pioneered by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky has made us aware of flaws that economics long glossed over, and led to interesting innovations in retirement planning and government policy.
It is not, however, the only lens through which to view decision-making. Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has spent his career focusing on the ways in which we get things right, or could at least learn to. In Gigerenzer’s view, using heuristics, rules of thumb, and other shortcuts often leads to better decisions than the models of “rational” decision-making developed by mathematicians and statisticians.
I always wonder why people want to hear how bad their own decisions are, or at least, how dumb everyone else is. That’s not my direction. I’m interested to help people to make better decisions, not to state that they have these cognitive illusions and are basically hopeless when it comes to risk…
Assume you are a turkey and it’s the first day of your life. A man comes in and you believe, “He kills me.” But he feeds you. Next day, he comes again and you fear, “He kills me,” but he feeds you. Third day, the same thing. By any standard model, the probability that he will feed you and not kill you increases day by day, and on day 100, it is higher than any before. And it’s the day before Thanksgiving, and you are dead meat. So the turkey confused the world of uncertainty with one of calculated risk. And the turkey illusion is probably not so often in turkeys, but mostly in people…
Gut feelings are tools for an uncertain world. They’re not caprice. They are not a sixth sense or God’s voice. They are based on lots of experience, an unconscious form of intelligence.
I’ve worked with large companies and asked decision makers how often they base an important professional decision on that gut feeling. In the companies I’ve worked with, which are large international companies, about 50% of all decisions are at the end a gut decision.
But the same managers would never admit this in public. There’s fear of being made responsible if something goes wrong, so they have developed a few strategies to deal with this fear. One is to find reasons after the fact….
Using data more intelligently is a good strategy if you have a business in a very stable world. Big data has a long tradition in astronomy. For thousands of years, people have collected amazing data, and the heavenly bodies up there are fairly stable, relative to our short time of lives. But if you deal with an uncertain world, big data will provide an illusion of certainty. For instance, in Risk Savvy I’ve analyzed the predictions of the top investment banks worldwide on exchange rates. If you look at that, then you know that big data fails.
In an uncertain world you need something else. Good intuitions, smart heuristics.
by Maria Popova
Among the most intensely interesting pieces in the Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion collection is one by science journalist Jo Marchant, who penned the fascinating story of the world’s oldest analog computer. Titled “Heal Thyself,” the piece explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies — an almost Gandhi-like proposition, except rooted in science rather than philosophy. Specifically, Marchant brings to light a striking new dimension of the placebo effect that runs counter to how the phenomenon has been conventionally explained. She writes:
It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself — rather than a particular drug — might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.
Realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.
It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress — the belief that we are at risk — triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.
What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too — feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself…
Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response — the opposite of fight-or-flight.
Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers” — people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them — have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.
Marchant notes that it’s as beneficial to amplify the world’s perceived positivity as it is to amplify our own — something known as our “self-enhancement bias,” a type of self-delusion that helps keep us sane. But the same applies to our attitudes toward others as well — they too can impact our physical health.
by Maria Popova
“Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.”
See also this beautifully drawn reworking of the seven things Maria Popova learned from the first seven years of making her eclectic and wonderful blog
You can also see these drawings and find all of of these stories and more in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection.