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How the Brain Can Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

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How the brain can boost your emotional intelligence

Understand Brain Science, Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

Many people think “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but not Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel. They understand the brain science, which shows we can all grow new pathways in our brain that support our emotional intelligence and Mindsight. That science explains the mechanism of neuroplasticity – lasting change to the brain. During the Brainpower webcast series, Dr. Goleman and Dr. Siegel describe concrete ways leaders can grow their own brains AND help their employees build their capacity for emotional intelligence and Mindsight.

How to Develop a Connected Brain

A key to emotional intelligence and Mindsight is having a connected brain, where different parts of the brain communicate well with each other. How do you make a more connected brain?

Dr. Siegel explained,

“Here are the steps to making a more connected brain. You grow new connections between neurons with synaptogenesis and synapse modulation. You grow new neurons, at least in the hippocampus. Myelinogenesis is the creation of myelin. Myelin when it’s laid down, allows the action potential. This means that the ions flowing in and out go 100 times faster and the resting period, the refracting period between firings, is 30 times shorter. So 30 times 100 is 3,000. So with myelin, you’re 3,000 times faster and more coordinated and balanced.

So, how do you build myelin? Dan’s insightful book, Focus, talks about the key: focus of attention. The way I think about it is this: Where attention goes, neurofiring flows, and neuro connection grows. Where attention goes – how I use my mind to focus attention – gets neurons to fire and where neurons fire, they grow and rewire. I use the acronym SNAGS: Stimulate Neural Activation and Growth. One of the main things to SNAG a brain is the focus of attention. But the context in which that happens, trust, actually helps you promote more growth. There’s a social engagement system that’s turned on when you get trust going. As a leader, that’s the way you can help promote neuroplasticity. Learning and unlearning and deep practice in skill building – this is all stuff that builds myelin.”

CEO of the Mind and the Mind’s Radar

Dr. Goleman responded to Dr. Siegel’s comments focusing in on two parts of the brain that play an active role in emotional intelligence. Dr. Goleman said,

“I want to hone in on the prefrontal area of the brain. This is the part of the brain that’s really the brain’s executive, the CEO of the mind. It focuses attention, can help us integrate, plan, make decision, process information, strategize, learn, pursue goals. The prefrontal area should be the boss of the brain and is in our best moments. The amygdala, however, is at the bottom of a kind of spiral of emotional centers in the brain. The amygdala is the radar for threat in the brain; it’s the trigger for strong negative emotional responses. When the amygdala looks around, it’s asking: am I safe? Is there a threat? And if the amygdala thinks there is a threat, it can take over the prefrontal cortex in what I call an amygdala hijack and in the hijack, several things are going on.”

Three Signs of an Amygdala Hijack

Dr. Goleman explained, “First of all, there are three signs of a hijack. One is that you have a really strong emotional reaction. It might be anger, or fear, or going numb. It’s something that doesn’t help in the situation. The second is that it’s very sudden. It kind of takes you over. You’re surprised by it. Third is that it leads you to do something that doesn’t work, that’s inappropriate.”

What Happens During an Amygdala Hijack

Dr. Goleman continued, “In a leader, an amygdala hijack is never helpful. The mind state during a hijack, as shown by the research of Joseph LeDoux at New York University, tends to be very childish. The logic of the amygdala is that of a child, that of poetry, art, myth. Anything is possible. It’s a very fuzzy logic. It’s not the logic of the prefrontal cortex.

Attention also fixates on the threat. That was great in evolution because we needed to see what was rustling in the bushes. But, today the amygdala responds to complex social realities, symbolic realities. Feelings such as ”˜I’m not being treated fairly’ can cascade in the body a whole flood of reactions. Also, memory reshuffles so what is salient to what we think the perceived threat is, is what we most easily remember. This leads us to rely on over-learned response. During an amygdala hijack, our responses are rigid. We do what comes to us most easily, which is what we’ve practiced the most. It might be something very immature such as ”˜I’d like to hit this guy.’”

Managing an Amygdala Hijack

Dr. Goleman offered tips on how to manage a hijack.

“There are many ways to manage a hijack, but here’s one approach. First, pause whenever you sense it’s coming on or are in the midst of it. You may not realize because it can happen so suddenly. We need to collect ourselves, pause. Mindfulness is very helpful here. Dan also mentioned something in another webcast that’s really helpful here. ”˜Name it to tame it.’ If you can say, ”˜Oh, I’m having that reaction,’ you already are doing something neutrally with your mind. You are deactivating the amygdala and energizing the prefrontal cortex. It shifts the ratio of power.

A third thing you can do is calm down. Focus on your breath. Or, if it’s possible, take a break. John Gottman at University of Washington, who studies marital arguments, which are really mutual emotional hijacks, recommends that a couple take 20 minutes out. He says it takes about that long to calm down from the hijack. Then you can come back and talk things over.

The fourth step is repeat as needed. This takes advantage of the neuroplasticity that Dan is talking about. What we’re trying to do is develop a new way of reacting to those triggers.”

How to Help Others Build Their Brainpower

Dr. Siegel described concrete ways to help others build their brains. He said,

“These are ways as a leader you can help promote neuroplasticity. You can have relationships that build trust. You can create a culture with a lot of strength and integrity and intention that encourages the people working in your organization to get good sleep. Sleep is the greatest thing for neuroplasticity. We’re now beginning to understand that sleep helps clean away the toxins that are inevitably produced during the waking state. So, people who are sleep deprived are accumulating toxins. They don’t pay attention as well, they can’t remember as much, they’re irritable. The brain does not consolidate learning when it is sleep deprived. Nutrition. People need to be eating well. Aerobic exercise, keeping active, humor. Some studies suggest that humor actually helps promote brain growth. Novelty, having new things go on and the close paying of attention. All of these things help promote building a connected brain.”

“At drdansiegel.com, we’ve had a lot of people download a simple practice called ”˜The Wheel of Awareness.’ It takes about 25 minutes. The results have been absolutely fascinating. I’ve collected and recorded responses from over 10,000 people who I’ve given this to in person. You can actually integrate consciousness to promote self-monitoring and self-modulation. That is, you can modulate your internal state through this very simple practice. What you’re doing basically is distinguishing the knowing from the known of consciousness and in doing that, you’re giving a huge amount of power for choice and change. This is exactly what we as leaders want to do is to provide the people we work with the opportunity to actually create more integration in their life.”

leadership development

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership is a collection of four streaming videos with Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel. This series provides leaders, executive coaches, management consultants, and HR professionals with a science basis for their leadership development work. The video content is a recording of Dr. Goleman and Dr. Siegel’s live webcast series broadcast in February 2016.

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The Brain’s Role in Making Ethical Decisions

ethical decision making
ethical decision making
Source: iStock/mattjeacock

How can a leader’s intention steer a company toward – or away from – a society-harming path?

What happens to our own sense of ethics when people around us make morally questionable choices?

What’s going on in your brain when you face a moral dilemma?

How can emotional intelligence and Mindsight help us build our moral muscles?

These are a few of the questions Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel explored in their first of Brainpower webcasts. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

A Leader’s Intention

Dr. Goleman addressed the power of leaders to make ethical decisions that impact the direction of their company:

Is there something fundamentally undeveloped in a human who cannot know when they’re behaving immorally? That really speaks to a deficit in the ethical system and the literature I’m familiar with describes what’s called the Dark Triad. These are people who are Machiavellian or very manipulative or sociopaths, like Bernie Madoff, who can play people in a bad way. The common underlying deficit from a neural point of view is very often prefrontal cortex damage. Dr. Raine and colleagues at the University of Southern California found that a history of brain damage in this area impacts moral decision making. I don’t know that we can use that to explain Bernie Madoff, but Dan, I’d love to hear what you think. What is undeveloped in someone who has moral lapses?

Dr. Siegel responded:

To think about it from a brain point of view, as an individual, your brain makes lots of maps: maps of what you see and hear, linguistic maps, all sorts of maps. One of those maps is a Mindsight map. You can make a Mindsight map of yourself, what’s going on inside of you. That’s the basis of insight. It includes mapping past, present, and future. You can make a Mindsight map of the other person. That’s the empathy map where I wonder what’s going on in another person. A third kind of map is a Mindsight map of we, honoring the differences and promoting linkages. It’s the basis of morality and there are different aspects of neural studies that support this idea.

Our Ethics in Conflict with Others’ Choices

The two talked about the moral norms of organizations and situations where our ethics conflict with those of the people around us. Goleman said,

If you look at Volkswagon, for example, where for years and years many people colluded to design a device, which defeated the ability for a government to monitor whether a car produced too many toxins in its exhaust. That went on for a long, long time. Many people in the business world are caught in the moral tension between individual ethics and the imperative to make money at any cost. This can create moral dilemmas of all kinds for people. No matter what your own moral rudder may tell you, if people around you are acting very differently and you want to keep your job, feed your kids, send your children to college, and you have your own fears, couldn’t it override that moral north pole?

Our Brains and Moral Choices

Dr. Siegel discussed some of the neurobiology that is at play when we face moral dilemmas.

There may be just innate, inborn reasons you don’t have what’s called a conscience, realizing you are part of a larger connected whole. Your brain may not have developed the necessary integrative circuits. Also, some studies of attachment suggest you can block the development of morality through certain attachment patterns where there isn’t honoring the differences between a child and a parent.

There’s a difference between amorality – lack of morality – and immorality where you commit violent acts towards others. The absence of morality isn’t the presence of violence. However, if a person’s filled with anger and also they’ve had a blockage of the development of morality, then there can be a violent act. There are lots of reasons for that. There’s a very painful and powerful book called “Ghosts from the Nursery.” It is about how many people on death row had not just emotional abuse and neglect, but physical injury to the brain. Such injury may have cut off some of the integrative circuits of the prefrontal region that allow maps of morality, Mindsight maps of “we,” to be made. When you combine having a lot of rage with the absence of a sense of connection to others, that’s a pretty dangerous combination.

Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence Can Build Moral Muscles

Dr. Siegel said,

If you are highly intelligent, you can manipulate numbers, you can do physics, chemistry, biology, even psychology of certain sorts. That is all “physical sight.” Physical sight allows you to figure out how to make a profit. Without the Mindsight map of connections to others, you can use your physical sight to manipulate governments so they can’t monitor what’s going on in a car and can get away making more money. Now, it’s not just VW. There are many other examples, such as the Wall Street system of mortgaging described in the movie The Big Short. We all experience that.

Greed is a factor of physical sight. How much stuff can I get? Mindsight and the emotional and social intelligence it creates allow you to feel moral challenges inside your own body. You would say, “This act we’re doing to deceive the government.” Bernie Madoff lacked the Mindsight to recognize the immorality of his act of taking money from non-profit organizations that are trying to help others and private investors, so he could rip them off. That shows a lack of social and emotional intelligence, a lack of kindness, compassion, and empathy.

Additional Resources

Fortunately, there are many resources available for people who want to increase their empathy and compassion. Tania Singer and her colleague have created training programs to do just that. Howard Gardner and Daniel Goleman discussed ways to develop an ethical mind in our discussion for Leadership: A Master Class. Richard E. Boyatzis and Goleman wrote about “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” for the September 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review.

leadership development

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, provides leaders, executive coaches, management consultants, and HR professionals with a science basis for their leadership development work. Register for the live four-part webcast series with Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel throughout February here. The high-definition recordings for each webcast are available to stream shortly after each broadcast.

 

 

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Mopping Up Emotional Messes After Mistakes

mistake
mistake
Image: iStock/Bplanet

What’s Worse? Making a Mistake or Poorly Processing the Mistake?

Susan hasn’t been the same since she made a mistake in a meeting with an important potential client. She used to be the most confident member of the sales team. Now she’s hesitant to go after new accounts.

While Susan’s manager Glenn is frustrated with her mistake, what he really wants is his confident and high-producing salesperson back.

What’s getting in the way of Susan’s recovery from her mistake?

What can Glenn do to help her move on?

Replaying Mistakes in Your Mind

Ever since her mess-up, Susan has replayed the events in her head. The soundtrack for that mental film: “How could I have been such an idiot? I should have known that strategy wouldn’t work with this guy. Why didn’t I read his cues that I was off-track sooner? I’ve lost it. I’ve just been fooling myself to think I am good at this job.”

No wonder Susan feels hesitant. With that constant stream of negative self-talk, she’s continually reinforcing her feelings of shame and fear. Susan is triggering brain activity that keeps her in the brain’s “low road” emotion centers instead of the “high road” part that allows for clear thought and creativity.

Here’s what Daniel Goleman said about this phenomenon in his book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships:

“When we are under stress the HPA axis roars into action, preparing the body for crisis. Among other biological maneuvers, the amygdala commandeers the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive center…. As our brain hands decision-making over to the low road, we lose our ability to think at our best. The more intense the pressure, the more our performance and thinking will suffer. The ascendant amygdala handicaps our abilities for learning, for holding information in working memory, for reacting flexibly and creatively, for focusing attention at will, and for planning and organizing effectively….

The neural highway for dysphoria runs from the amygdala to the right side of the prefrontal cortex. As this circuitry activates, our thoughts fixate on what has triggered the distress. And as we become preoccupied by, say, worry or resentment, our mental agility sputters. Likewise, when we are sad activity levels in the prefrontal cortex drop and we generate fewer thoughts. Extremes of anxiety and anger on the one hand, and sadness on the other, push brain activity beyond its zones of effectiveness.”

Recovering from Mistakes

Cleaning up after a mistake requires a range of practical and mental steps. For Susan, the key is to shift away from replaying the scene continuously in her mind. Being able to change her focus from that past incident will help ease the brain chemicals triggering her distress. Goleman wrote about such recovery in “Can You Pass this Stress Test?”:

There’s a simple way to increase our recovery time from stress, as research at the lab run by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin shows: rehearse letting go of our thoughts and returning our attention to a chosen topic. That mental move is the essence of mindfulness, or any other meditation. In my own research at Harvard on this, I found that people who meditated recovered more quickly from a stressful challenge later. I start my own day with such an inner workout.”         

How Managers Respond to Mistakes

Glenn has a choice. He can come down hard on Susan and reprimand or punish her. Or he can help her learn from the mistake and move on. That second, kinder path doesn’t mean he accepts what she did. He can talk with her about how it impacts business and look at how she could have done things differently. Such a response shows he understands what’s best for Susan and his whole team in the long run.

Here’s what Goleman wrote about taking the kind path:

“If you respond without losing it yourself, it boosts an employee’s loyalty to you enormously ”” and he or she just might learn something about doing better next time around. It’s even better if you can deliver your reaction with a supportive tone, not a judgmental one. Call it managing with compassion. And despite its soft ring, research finds that compassion has better results than a tough-guy stance. For starters, people like and trust bosses who show kindness – and that in turn boosts their performance.”

Stepping Away from Frustration

Knowing your best choice is to manage with compassion doesn’t make it easy. How can Glenn step away from his frustration?

Here are three possibilities:

  • Pause before you react. Taking a mindful moment – or a longer pause to cool down – when you notice you’re getting angry can give you the window you need to calm down before you respond. And a calmer state makes you more clear, so you can be more reasonable. Better self-awareness gives you more emotional self-control.
  • Take the bigger view, beyond this particular moment. Remember everyone has the potential to improve. If you simply dismiss a person as faulty because they screwed up, you destroy a chance for them to learn and grow.
  • Empathize. Try to see the situation from your employee’s perspective. You might see reasons he or she acted as they did – things you would not notice if you just had your knee-jerk reaction. This allows you to nod to their viewpoint, even as you offer your own alternative.

Make the Most of Mistakes

Susan isn’t the only one who can grow from her mistake. A skillful response from Glenn can help his whole team learn lessons to make them more effective in their work. And, he can reap a bonus as well. Employees who see him react to Susan with understanding rather than anger will become more loyal. Feeling positively toward your boss is a bigger factor in loyalty than a big paycheck.

leadership development

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, provides leaders, executive coaches, management consultants, and HR professionals with a science basis for their leadership development work. Register for the live four-part webcast series with Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel throughout February here

Additional Resources

 

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Why Brain Science Matters in Leadership Development

leadership development
leadership development
Image: iStock/kmlmtz66

Leadership Development for the 21st Century

An effective ship captain makes sure his vessel’s systems are optimized to provide the best performance. As a leader, your brain is the navigational system steering the ship. To guide your organization in the right direction, you must optimize your brain and how you use it.

Science provides us with new information about optimal brain performance. Understanding how top-functioning brains work allows managers to choose leadership styles that enhance their ability to effectively focus on and perform their job. It also helps them seek out the right development partners. Just like a ship captain chooses the best experts to maintain and repair the ship’s systems, a wise leader will hire an executive coach or leadership development professional who understands the neuroscience behind their work to better provide the direction each leader needs.

Not Sure That Understanding Brain Science Matters?

Chances are you know a leader like this: Chris was furious after reading an email message saying a key project would miss its deadline. Chris stomped down the hall to the message’s sender and blew up, yelling “Missing this deadline is NOT an option! You all need to do whatever it takes to make sure we meet it!”

And, you must know (or have been) the people working for a leader like Chris. Some leaders think nothing of being tyrants, harshly ordering people around. On the surface, this might seem like it works. Employees will go along with whatever the alpha boss orders. But inside they’re saying, “I hate working for him.” That mindset does little to motivate a normally productive team.

In a recent article, Daniel Goleman explains that Chris’s behavior is caused by a particular brain system.

“Take that executive who lashes out, alienating the very people she depends on for her own success. Research by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux at New York University tells us such emotional hijacks suggest an amygdala insufficiently controlled by the prefrontal cortex. That pattern of amygdala hijacks can be seen in toddlers, many teenagers – and quite a few executives. In the case of kids and teens, the normal maturation of the brain’s self-management circuitry should take care of the problem. For the executive, this could call for some focused work with a coach.”

A Wise Coach’s Strategy

Now, imagine you’re Chris and the CEO told you to work with a coach, Pat, on your leadership style. Your reaction? “Whatever! My style is fine!” But you’ll do what the boss says.

Pat realizes Chris needs convincing. And, Pat knows his knowledge of the neuroscience behind his advice will help. Pat doesn’t pull suggestions out of thin air. His coaching is based on understanding brain systems and using that information to make changes in leaders’ actions. He also knows leaders who understand brain science are more likely to buy in to change.

When Pat met with Chris, he said, “Your department has been very successful this past year, but I can help you accomplish even more. To motivate your employees to give their all, it helps to understand how minds work and how to manage ourselves and use a style that motivates employees to give their all. Science tells us about styles of relating that are very effective at inspiring and motivating people. And, more motivation equals more productivity. The good news is that brains can change with repeated practice and exercise. Let’s put this data to work for you.”

leadership development

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership provides leaders, executive coaches, management consultants, and HR professionals with a science basis for their leadership development work. The live four-part webcast series with Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel takes place at 3:00pm – 4:00pm EST on the following dates:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Registrants will have access to the recorded discussions shortly after each broadcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Help Children Develop a Healthy Mind

develop a healthy mind

develop a healthy mind

A key component to helping children develop a healthy mind is teaching them self-awareness and empathy.

Like learning any new skill, these two kinds of awareness can be developed through regular practice. We know from modern neuroscience research that to establish new connections in the brain, systematic practice is essential. Unfortunately, traditional curricula often ignore these topics, which are building blocks for all other types of learning.

If children are unable to exercise cognitive control and to pay attention, they won’t be able to learn – or worse, manage their emotions. Starting in preschool, we can introduce very simple exercises to cultivate these qualities of attention.

Notice a Sound

For example, here’s an exercise that can be done with four- and five-year-old children. Ring a bell that lasts for 15 seconds. Ask the children to pay very, very close attention to the sound and, as soon as they no longer hear it, to raise their hand. What happens in a class of 25 children during the time the bell is sounded? There’s a dramatic stillness. Kids will just start to raise their hand. They love this exercise.

develop a healthy mind

Notice a Sensation

Other exercises have children pay attention to internal bodily states. Practicing this helps cultivate attention and empathy, because empathy very much involves understanding how your own body is responding.

Tania Singer, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute, studies empathy. Tania says that when you experience empathy, systems within your own brain are automatically attuning to the emotional or internal state of another person – and duplicating that in yourself. In order to know how the other person feels you actually are attuning to yourself using the insula as a principal pathway. Those changes can occur consciously or non-consciously. To take full advantage of the changes you must become aware of them.

Notice Your Breath

How can we strengthen the brain circuitry, the prefrontal circuitry or insula circuitry, in children for this kind of awareness? Practice attention training. Another simple exercise for children is to have them practice paying attention to their breathing. While the children are lying on the floor, have each child place a little stone or stuffed animal on her or his belly. Ask the children to observe the object rising and falling with each breath cycle. Not only is this extremely relaxing, it’s also something that helps them focus their attention on their internal bodily sensations.

 

Additional Resources

Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

develop a healthy mind

The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education

triple focus

Focus Back-to-School Bundle

back to school bundle

Focus for Kids: Enhancing Concentration, Caring and Calm

focus for kids

Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth

bridging the hearts and minds of youth

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What to do when worry dominates your attention

develop a healthy mind

develop a healthy mind

Did I unplug the iron?

Traffic is brutal. Will I be late for my meeting?

I haven’t heard back from my friend. Are they upset with me?

Worry is a natural response to an upsetting situation, the unknown, or if we’re run down and frazzled. It can be difficult to get a handle on distressing thoughts. Fixating on a worry can exact a toll on our brain and our body. It also affects our decision-making skills, even our relationships (spending too much time with a “worry wart” can be draining).

Daniel Goleman spoke with Dr. Richard Davidson, founder of The Center for Investigating a Healthy Mind about the role of attention training in optimal brain functions in Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function. Here’s what they had to say about attention driven by worry.

Human beings are endowed with a very large prefrontal cortex, which gives us the ability to do mental time travel. That means that we can anticipate the future and reflect on the past, which clearly has its advantages. But it can also create a lot of problems.

We can worry about the future. We can anticipate threats that don’t actually occur, which, in most cases, turn out to be far more significant than real threats.

Our brain on stress

When we’re under stress, the brain secretes hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that in the best scenario mobilize us to handle a short-term emergency, but in the worst scenario create an ongoing hazard for performance. In that case, attention narrows to focus on the cause of the stress, not the task at hand. Our memory reshuffles to promote thoughts most relevant to what’s stressing us, and we fall back on negative learned habits. The brain’s executive centers – our neural circuitry for paying attention, comprehending, and learning – are hijacked by our networks for handling stress.

In today’s over-stimulated, fast-paced culture, it’s very difficult to respond effectively to worry and stress. Our old habits kick in: we shut down, lash out, ruminate, stress eat, and on and on. But you can develop more positive responses to stress.

Write it down

In Paul Ekman’s book Emotions Revealed he encourages people to keep a log of regrettable angry episodes. Write down:

  • what the incident was about
  • how it happened
  • what set you off
  • and what did you do that you think you shouldn’t have done.

After a few journal entries, try to see the commonality in the triggers and responses. You’ll usually find a particular script that underlies what’s causing you to have a particular perception on certain situations, to cast people into roles that they really aren’t in, and to try to replay a plot that doesn’t really fit.

Exercise your mental muscle

Practice different mental exercises to calm the mind and body down after a stressful arousal. The more you practice, the easier you can recall these tools when you need it most. Try these very simple exercises when you’re stressed or angry:

develop a healthy mind       develop a healthy mind

Know your stress type

Stress hits each of us differently. Some of us feel it in our bodies. Others just can’t stop worrying. Knowing how you experience stress can help you find the most effective relaxation methods. Try different exercises, such as deep breathing, auto suggestion or sensory focus. See which methods work best for you.

Stop and see

Stress management expert Elad Levinson developed the stop and see practice for the overwhelmed executives he coaches. Try this:

Begin with a simple exercise of thoughtful observation.

  • How would I characterize my mind right now? What does it feel like?
  • If I had to guess its revolutions per minute, what would I guess?
  • Does it feel hot or cool?
  • If my mind were a river, would it be a lazy river or a rushing river?

Next, try a slow deep breathing exercise to calm the mind.

  • Inhale and count to 3, 4, or 5, depending upon how deep an inhalation you can take.
  • Now exhale, doing the same.
  • Try this for one minute.
  • Notice any differences in you body, or changes to the content of your thoughts.

Additional resources

Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

Working with Mindfulness

Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit

Knowing Our Emotions, Improving Our World

Training the Brain: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

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Is it Worth It? When it’s Time to Question Your Career Ambitions

career
career
Source: snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com/Pexels.com CC0 License

The late New Zealand-based art director, Linds Redding has recently gained notoriety for his brutal rant against the soul-grinding culture of the advertising industry. He started a blog after he was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer. Many of his posts reflected on his career – a rather impressive one in the creative field. Yet despite his accomplishments, he felt it was all a waste of time.

Redding wrote, “It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did…Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn’t really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be? We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota.”

Could that have been his understandably stark end-of-life perspective, or a legitimate warning to all who put pleasing the client and the company before their own wellbeing? And is this exclusive to the advertising industry?

Pushing yourself – or others – past their limits isn’t sustainable. Burnout, resentment, and backstabbing are common symptoms of work cultures that expect everyone work at a break-neck pace. But some of the most successful organizations recognize that productivity, profits and personal fulfillment are intertwined. Such a corporate mindset is often identified as “good work.”

Multiple Intelligences author, Howard Gardner defines good work as a combination of the three Es: excellence, ethics, and engagement. When what we do becomes good work, we love what we do at every level: we feel competent, happy, and that our efforts have meaning.

[PODCAST: What is Good Work?]

How Can Leaders Create a Culture of Good Work?

Creating a workplace that embraces the good work concept must start from the top. When Daniel Goleman spoke with Gardner in his Leadership: A Master Class video series, he asked him: What would a business leader look like who exemplified good work? Here’s an excerpt from their discussion.

Gardner: A business leader who exemplified good work is somebody who understood himself or herself, understood the corporation or company that they were in very well, knew something about their history, understood the domain and had some sense of the mega-trends going on in the world. You cannot be an excellent leader unless you’ve thought about this kind of knowledge, so that’s excellence.

Engaged means they really love their work. They want to do it. Their energy crystallizes other people, and the other people on their team love them and want to be with them. Charisma doesn’t hurt, but you ought to be able to inspire people even if you’re not charismatic, because of the way you behave.

And a person doing good work is someone who is always trying to do the right thing. The right thing, of course, involves the self, and it involves the company. But if it’s only about advancing the company, then it cannot be ethical. There are many things we could do to advance the company that are bad for the company in the long run, or bad for society.

Goleman: Well, I think I need to push back a little. Did I hear you say that you can’t be a good leader if all you care about is promoting the company?

Gardner: Of course you need to promote the company, otherwise you shouldn’t be the leader. But if you’re promoting the company at all costs, you’re not thinking about how the workers are being affected, what happens to the company in the long run, what are the externalities. If you’re not thinking about the people that might be hurt by what you do, then you certainly would not be an ethical leader, and it’s a continuing conversation. You never get to be ethical or not. There’s always an effort to try to figure out what is the right thing in the broader picture, and whom we respect over the long run.

Don’t Wait to Make a Change

If you find yourself in an organization or an industry that puts profit over people – and don’t know how to transition out of it – consider Gardner’s tips on developing a career using the good work model as a guide.

Decide what you really would like to spend your life doing. According to Howard, this is much more important than deciding what particular job to hold, as the employment landscape changes so quickly. Let’s say you went into journalism with plans to work for a newspaper or magazine. Those outlets may not exist in their traditional forms now, but you still might want to write about interesting things. You want to investigate and talk to people. So you have to say “Where could I carry that out?” and be very, very flexible about the venue and the milieu, but not flexible about what you really get a kick out of and where you excel.

Think about people whom you admire and respect. Then think about people whom you don’t want to be like. Consider why you admire certain people and why you’re repelled by others. If you can’t think of people you admire, that’s a warning sign. It’s not necessarily a warning sign about you; it’s a warning sign about the culture around you. Perhaps you’re in a situation where you can’t admire anybody at all, or the people you admire don’t do anything related to what you do.

Consider where you want to work. Then ask yourself, “Is this the kind of place where I can see myself in others and where I can see others in me?” For example: Say you have job offers from both a small startup company you believe in, and a large corporation with a worrisome reputation for treating employees unfairly. You might make five times more money in the latter position, but does that reflect who you are and where you want to be?

If you’re a coach working with people in career transition, help them approach their search through the good work lens by asking them these three questions:

  • How much of what you do now is good work?
  • What could you do to boost that percentage?
  • How could you develop your career to maximize good work?

Additional Resources

Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

Today’s Leadership Imperative

The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership

Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit

The Competency Builder

The Coaching Program