Posted on

Your Body’s Role in Making Difficult Decisions

making difficult decisions

making difficult decisions

Don’t let the voice of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”- Steve Jobs

When it comes to making difficult decisions, how do you hear “your inner voice,” that your heart and intuition somehow already know?

Listen to your body’s signals.

Making Difficult Decisions: Gut Feelings

Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, explained the complex process of how our minds and bodies formulate and respond to a hunch for our video series Leadership: A Master Class.  You can read the excerpt here.

There’s wisdom in the body. When you’re self-aware, you get a gut feeling. You have a heartfelt sense. Our gut feelings are messages from the insula and other bottom-up circuits that simplify life decisions for us by guiding our attention toward smarter options. The better we are at reading these messages, the better our intuition.

Yet sometimes, if we have been traumatized, for example, the gut feeling we get can lead us astray. If you’ve been bitten by a dog or hurt by someone who had red hair, when you see a dog or a person with red hair, your gut may say “bad, bad, bad”, and may create a tone of negativity that is based on past traumatic experience. So bodily input doesn’t always mean you should respond to it directly. You should analyze it.

Making Difficult Decisions: Somatic Markers

Somatic marker is neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s term for the sensation in our body that tells us when a choice feels wrong or right. This bottom-up circuitry telegraphs its conclusions through our gut feelings, often long before the top-down circuits come to a more reasoned conclusion. The ventromedial prefrontal area, a key part of this circuitry, guides our decision making when we face life’s most complex decisions, like who to marry or whether to buy a house. Such choices can’t be made by a cold, rational analysis. Instead we do better to simulate what it would feel like to choose A versus B. This brain area operates as that inner rudder.

Making Difficult Decisions: Sensing

Erica Ariel Fox spoke with Daniel Goleman in his Leadership: A Master Class video series about “direct knowing”: I know this, but I don’t know how I know it. I didn’t read it in a book. Nobody told it to me. I didn’t have an Excel spreadsheet that laid it out for me. Nonetheless, I know it. She argues that we have a set of skills that coaches and leaders who work with teams might call “reading the room.” Others call it attunement or discernment. It’s not data processing and thin-slicing, and it’s also not having an emotional evaluation of decisions. It’s a sensing. When she works with a team in crisis, she recognizes that tuning in to the group’s feelings and emotions helps her ask the right questions about what’s happening.

Making Difficult Decisions: Use Your Body

When we’re under pressure, we become narrow minded and tense. We aren’t able to tap into our body signals. But we also forget to use our body to help us refocus. Taking a time out also allows us to hone our self-management skills. Paying attention to the mental and physical signs and experiences that occur during stressful situations gives you an opportunity to practice composure.

Breathing is often abandoned or compromised when anxiety arises. A few conscious deep breaths will oxygenate your brain and improve the clarity of your thinking. Here is a simple exercise you can do: Breathe in and count one… then breath out and count one. Breathe in and count two… then breathe out count two. Breathe in and count three… then breathe out. Keep repeating this in a steady rhythm.

To ground yourself further during the process, place your hands on your abdomen or chest and observe the sensation of your abdomen or chest rising and settling. Learn to relax in the experience.

Master the Art of Making Difficult Decisions

making difficult decisions

Registration is open for the Mindful Leadership Breakthrough System, a live webcast series with executive coach and senior meditation instructor, Dawa Tarchin Phillips. The program is designed to help executives and leadership development professionals apply mindfulness principles to overcome common internal and external barriers to presence, productivity and performance.

Posted on

What Oprah Winfrey Has Learned from Daniel Goleman

Super Soul Sunday

Super Soul Sunday

SuperSoul Sunday with Daniel Goleman and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey uses what she has learned from Daniel Goleman every day. And, she thinks everyone can learn from Dr. Goleman’s work. That’s why she sat down with Dr. Goleman for an interview on SuperSoul Sunday. Here’s a taste of what they covered in their wide-ranging conversation:

What is the difference between IQ and emotional intelligence?

Technical and intellectual knowledge can get you in the door for a job, but emotional intelligence is what keeps you there and successful. Oprah shares examples of how she has seen the power of emotional intelligence.

What are the three kinds of empathy and why do they matter?

Any relationship or interaction is enhanced if we can empathize with others. Can you understand how someone thinks and how they feel? Does your understanding lead to concern?

How does Focus relate to Flow?

What is Flow and how can we intentionally get there? Dr. Goleman shares a key to achieving a flow state – pay attention. Goleman and Oprah discuss how our attention is under siege in daily life and how to step away from distractions.

It’s never too early, or too late, to develop emotional intelligence.

At any age, our brains can change, and we can build the mental muscles of emotional intelligence. Parents and schools can help children develop emotional intelligence from an early age. Dr. Goleman talks about the use of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs in schools and how cognitive control is a predictor of future success.

How can we each be a force for good in the world?

Oprah asks Dr. Goleman about his book, A Force for Good, his friendship with the Dalai Lama, and his work to help spread the Dalai Lama’s vision for the world. In the face of what seem like overwhelming challenges, we can each take steps to be a force for good. Dr. Goleman shares the greatest lesson the Dalai Lama has taught him.

Why does the media focus on negative news?

Dr. Goleman explains the brain science behind our fascination with news that is threatening or scary and how the media capitalizes on that fascination. Oprah and Dr. Goleman discuss how to manage the barrage of negative news.

What is the impact of the stories we tell ourselves?

Emotional intelligence allows us to change our relationship with our own thoughts and feelings and have more choice.

Watch the full SuperSoul Sunday interview with Daniel Goleman and Oprah Winfrey.

 

 

 

Posted on

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

 

Posted on

Building Confidence: A Pillar of Well-Being

Build Confidence

By Rick HansonWe have natural needs to feel seen, understood, recognized, included, and valued. There’s nothing wrong with this! Having these needs fulfilled, particularly during childhood has a variety of positive consequences:

  • secure attachment
  • resilience
  • self-regulation
  • optimism
  • self-worth
  • exploration.

The resources that fulfill these needs are sometimes called “healthy narcissistic supplies.”

On the other hand, not meeting our interpersonal needs can lead to insecure attachment, reactivity, poor self-control, pessimism, inadequacy, and withdrawal.

Whether positive or negative, these traits often carry over from childhood to adulthood.

There is a place for healthy remorse in a moral person. But for most people, the shame spectrum of feelings is far too prominent in their psychology – typically not so much in terms of feeling chronic shame, but in terms of how they pull back from fully expressing themselves to avoid the awful experience of a shaming attack.

Some of these feelings include:

  • Inadequacy – Sense of being unfit, useless, not up to the task, inferior, mediocre, worthlessness, less than, one down, devalued
  • Humiliation – Embarrassment, disgrace, degradation, loss of face, slap in the face, comedown
  • Guilt – I did something bad; [I know it]
  • Shame – I am something bad; [they know it]
  • Remorse – Contrition, regret over wrong-doing, feeling abashed, self-reproach, conscience-stricken

These are powerful, sometimes crippling, even lethal emotions (e.g., people killing themselves for the blots they think they placed on their family’s honor).

“Confidence” in the deepest sense is an umbrella term referring to a sense of worth in your core – that you are loved and lovable, giving and contributing, valued, and a good person. Building confidence requires us to repeatedly internalize a sense of worth. This enables us to go for the gold, knowing that there’s a goodness inside that we can rely upon in times of trouble.

Shame is a very primal emotion, it grew and evolved with us through millions of years of evolutionary history, and as such it can be a difficult feeling to combat. To fight against it we need to develop a deep reservoir of inner resources which we can draw upon in a time of need.

Cultivate Inner Allies

In effect, we grow strong “inner allies” that protect us from our “inner critics.” To function in life, we need to learn from our experiences, and that requires feedback. We have to look in the mirror and see if there’s some spinach stuck in our teeth. We need that internal evaluator continually registering: that worked and that didn’t; that helped and that hurt.

As long as the evaluator is clear-eyed and friendly, that’s a wonderful internal resource. But if it grows harsh – often through absorbing the emotional residues of the anger and contempt of others, or the meanings derived from social exclusions – it can become a terrible monkey on your back. That’s the inner critic.

The process of growing inner strengths is the focus of my new online course The Foundations of Well-Being, which covers the 12 Pillars of Well-Being including Self-Caring, Mindfulness, Learning, Vitality, Gratitude, Confidence, Calm, Motivation, Intimacy, Courage, Aspiration, and Service.

To grow inner strengths – particularly the key inner strengths that will help the most with an issue – consider the four questions below. You can use them for yourself or explore them with others. Throughout, it’s good to have an attitude of curiosity, kindness toward oneself, and resourcefulness.

  1. What’s the issue?

Pick an issue. (Maybe you’re the rare person with just one.) Try to be reasonably specific. “Life sucks” could feel unfortunately true, but it doesn’t help you focus on resources or solutions.

If the issue is located in your world or body, be mindful of how it affects you psychologically. Sometimes we just can’t do anything about a condition in the world or body, but at least we can do something about our reactions to it.

  1. What psychological resource – inner strength – if it were more present in your mind, would really help with this issue?

This is the key question. It can be interestingly difficult to answer, so an initial confusion or struggle with it is common. Clues toward an answer could come from exploring these questions:
• What – if you felt or thought it more – would make things better?
• What – if you had felt it more as a child, or whenever the issue began – would have made a big difference?
• Does the issue ever get better for you – and if so, what factors in your mind (e.g., perspectives, feelings, motivations) help it be better?
• Deep down, related to this issue, what does your heart long for?
There could be more than one resource, of course, but for simplicity and focus, it does help to zero in on just one or two key resources at a time.

Sometimes we need to grow an intermediate resource (e.g., capacity to tolerate feeling rejected, so that we are willing to risk experiencing that feeling) in order to get at the key resource we need to develop inside (e.g., inclination to ask for love).

  1. How could you have experiences of this inner strength?

In other words, how could you activate it in your mind so that you can install it in your brain? (This is the first step – Have – of the HEAL process; you can learn more about it in my book, Hardwiring Happiness, or in this video on Taking in the Good.)

It could be that the resource is already present and you just need to notice it (e.g., the feeling that the body is basically alright right now). But often, you need to deliberately create it (e.g., call up a sense of determination from the emotional/somatic memory of times you pushed through a difficulty). In Hardwiring Happiness, I go through 16 ways to have (to activate) a beneficial experience, and you could draw upon one or more of these methods.

  1. How could you help this experience of the inner strength really sink in to you?

In other words, how could you enhance the installation, the neural encoding, of this experience to grow this resource inside yourself?

This involves the second and third steps of the HEAL process: Enrich and Absorb.

If you like, you can be aware of both the resource (e.g., feeling determined) and one or more psychological aspects of the issue (e.g., feeling helpless) so that the resource starts associating with and helping with these aspects of the issue.

Build Confidence

The Foundations of Well-Being program uses the power of positive neuroplasticity to hardwire more happiness, resilience, self-worth, love, and peace into your brain and your life.

This yearlong, online program is taught by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. – a neuropsychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and the New York Times bestselling author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

Sign up for the course today.

Additional resources from Rick Hanson:

Managing the Caveman Brain in the 21st Century – The human brain evolved in three stages: reptile, mammal, and primate. Each stage has a core motivation: avoid harm, approach reward, and attach to “us.” Modern life challenges these ancient neural systems with bombardments of threat messages, the endless stimulation of desire, and social disconnections and tensions of industrial, multicultural societies. This talk from the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference will explore brain-savvy ways to cultivate mindfulness in young people, and then use that mindfulness to internalize a greater sense of strength and safety, contentment, and being loved.

SaveSave

Posted on

Meditation: Breathing New Life into an Ancient Practice

California has always been open to the next new thing, whether a technology, a vintner’s innovation, or what the cultural winds blow in from over the Pacific. That’s how I first tried meditation, back when I was a student at the University of California in Berkeley, then the epicenter of the try-any-new-thing attitude.

As a competitive undergrad, my first impression of meditation was that it eased my worries. I used it as an anti-anxiety measure. Like a pill, I took it morning and evening. Those late in the day sessions proved another benefit: as a chronically sleep-deprived sophomore, I would nod off for a nap as soon as my meditation started.

When I went on to study psychology at Harvard, I did my doctoral research on how meditation helps us recover from stress. But I was ahead of the curve in my interest; my professors thought I was a bit batty to take a serious interest in what was then an exotic method.

Now, though, the meditation story has changed. Several decades of research, including state-of-the-art brain imaging, reveal that this simple method trains the mind and shapes the brain, with a basket of benefits that ranges from sharpened concentration to lower blood pressure. Medical clinics routinely teach meditation to patients with chronic diseases from arthritis to diabetes to help them live better with their symptoms. And businesses are offering their employees the chance to learn meditation in order to improve performance.

Meditation refers to a range of techniques, from mantra repetition to mindfulness, which all share a common cognitive method. It boils down to retraining attention. Research at Harvard has found that our minds wander on average 50% of the time, that is, when we’re trying to focus, our minds are elsewhere.

Meditation trains attention by having us focus on one target (such as a mantra or the breath). Then comes the crucial difference between meditation and other ways to relax, whether exercising or spacing out online: in meditation, when we notice our minds wandering, we bring them back to a mental target and keep them there. Then when it wanders again, repeat. And again and again.

Brain imaging studies of this simple mental process, done at Emory University, find that the mental circuitry for focusing on what’s important becomes stronger. Attention is a mental muscle, and every time we repeat this cycle it’s like lifting a weight: each repetition makes us just a bit stronger. And focusing on what’s important is what every leader, student, coach – anybody – needs to thrive.

The research shows that this mental gym pays off after the session, throughout our day: meditation enhances people’s ability to concentrate, to keep their minds from wandering too much, and to focus in general. “Every time my mind wanders off during a business meeting,” one executive told me, “I ask myself, What opportunity did I just miss?”

A bonus here is that the same strips of neurons that help us focus also are crucial for managing our distressing emotions. The longer people have been meditators, the better their bodies become at recovering from the agitation of stress.

The biological advantages from a faster physiological recovery from upsets include a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar levels, just to mention a few.

When researchers at the University of Wisconsin taught mindfulness to stressed-out workers at a biotech startup, they found remarkable changes after eight weeks (average daily practice time: 30 minutes). Mindfulness led to a shift in the centers that control moods: they went from anxious and stressed to upbeat and enthusiastic. Spontaneously, they recalled what inspired them about their work. And, to the researchers’ surprise, their mindfulness also resulted in a boost in immune effectiveness.

A caution, though, if you’re thinking of starting meditation. Many people expect that they will somehow experience a high during the session. But the practice is more like going to the gym: at first it can be a struggle, though it gets easier over time. Many first-timers report, for instance, that their minds are more wild than ever during meditation, actually a sign that they are finally paying attention to how often our minds wander.

The real payoffs come during your day, not necessarily during the meditation session. Don’t expect miracles; the changes are gradual and can be subtle. Dan Harris, the ABC news anchor, calls it “ten percent happier” in his account of why he meditates. But the improvements are real, as research studies verify.

The CEO of a construction firm, a meditator himself, asked me to share these methods with those working at his headquarters. Understandably many were dubious. But I approach the method as a way to train the mind, not as some woo-woo magic, and the science behind it brought people around enough to give it a try. The CEO later told me the most enthusiastic person turned out to be his head of HR; she organized an ongoing meditation group there. And she was initially one of the skeptics.

Now that I’m in my 60s, the finding I like best comes from Harvard Medical School: some parts of the brain that shrink with aging actually seem to grow larger and their neurons more densely connected in meditators!

This article originally appeared in The Private Journey Magazine.

Additional resources:

The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

Working with Mindfulness CD

Working with Mindfulness Ebooks

Training the Brain: Cultivating Emotional Skills

Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth 2012 and 2013 Conference Videos