Mindset: Is Your Reality Really an Illusion?

Mindset, Neuroscience, Self-Awareness, Performance

You may be thinking, “Of course my reality is real, I’m looking right at it; seeing is believing.” Well, I know that’s the only part we’ve been generally taught. Yet, behind this is a deeper truth; believing is seeing. This is the essence of perception—we “see” what we believe. “How” we focus matters. We find what our brain perceives to be true often based upon past conclusions drawn, accurate or not. What we focus on expands. Neuroscience evidence supports this concept now.

“Reality is an Illusion; albeit a very persistent one” ~Albert Einstein

Einstein had it correct, and it is persistent for the reasons you will see as you read on.

By the time we see our “reality” in the physical 3D, we have undergone a process within our brain and nervous system that we are generally oblivious to. While what you see before your eyes is real in the physical sense, the interpretation of the situation or circumstance is quite subjective and changeable. You see, the meaning, the ‘story’ that you assign to the situation, relationship or circumstance is not objective. Even more to the point, the story or meaning that you tell yourself about what is going on around you will cause you to take actions that lead to your behaviors over time and eventually will become an unconscious habit. This ultimately determines the outcomes of your life.

These habitual behaviors are so automatic that they will blindside you before you even realize what hit you. It’s not that they are ‘good or bad.’ They are just patterns that you are likely to have unwittingly “programmed” into you own brain. You see, the metaphor of the “quantum computer” is a good one for our brain. We really don’t understand the intricacies of how it all operates and frankly, most people do not even realize there is an “operating system” to their brain in the first place. It is a system that they have no clue as to how to access or self-manage. So what does this look like in everyday life?

So here’s an example. John is a VP of marketing and he has a goal of becoming a Senior VP within his division within the next 18-24 months. While this is what he writes down on paper in his notebooks, he struggles with feeling confident during leadership team meetings with his ‘boss.’ He expects the worst and he focuses on what he doesn’t want instead of what he does want. This only makes the brain more prone to zeroing in on repeating his own self-sabotaging behavior—very persistently. Because he is a perfectionist, though he would not call himself this, he is overly concerned with being right, over prepares with irrelevant minutia and has trouble completing his responsibilities on time due to over micromanaging. Yet, he fails to effective coordinate following up on his team member’s assignments that his is overseeing.

One habit he has is focusing on what is wrong in a situation and ignoring what has gone well. So, of course, he doesn’t tend to acknowledge his team for a job well done either, which damages morale. While being a worrier may have motivated him in college, life has become so much more complex that now, he can’t even sleep at night due to a busy overactive brain. This of course creates stressful feelings of dread, anxiety and distracts his energy, vitality and concentration. It’s pretty hard to make good decisions and organize your work if you lack clarity. This causes him more anxiety, more worry and more distraction—a vicious cycle, which keeps him up at night. It makes him show up as scattered, lacking confidence and not exactly the most productive member on the team. So how is his brain reacting to all of this?


Straight Talk on Self-Talk to Improve Your Performance

Self-awareness, self-esteem, confidence, self-talk, leadership, empathy, neuroscience

“Gosh, what a stupid mistake I made.” “I’ll never be able to_________.” “I’m too old to learn ________.”

Have these or similar thoughts ever run through your mind before? Do they happen on a regular basis? If so, you may want to learn how to, “Reign in Your Brain.” Self-talk is essentially the inner dialogue we have with ourselves that can be either positive or negative, though unfortunately it seems to be typically not very self-supportive for many people.

Where do these thoughts come from? Our brain is constantly seeking meaning of our experiences, whether the assumption made is accurate or not. The narrative, or “story” that we assign to an experience is subjective and is frankly, determined by our sense of self-identity. The storyline follows how we see our self in relationship to others and to our environment. It’s a story of “who we think we are” and this story is stored in our brain and mind as, “autobiographical memory.” This forms the basis of our self-talk.

The key word here is, “subjective.” Ultimately, YOU are the director and scriptwriter of your life and experience, even if you are not aware of doing it. Your brain and nervous system will store your scripts of meaning in the cellular memory of your body and with the feeling quality in which you first created the context. Think about it, an event happens, yet it’s how you respond and interpret the event that creates the memory, the construct, the meaning.

We begin to form our self-identity early in life, a time when we are immature and often feel little (well, children are little in statute) and helpless. Children also have limited experience and often take the blame for whatever is hurdled at them, including the harsh words of an irritable teacher who unwittingly responded without first thinking about what came out of his or her mouth. If a child takes it personally—and typically this is the case—that voice becomes wired into one’s memory as fact, irrational or not. Ever heard of the “boogeyman?” Children can have some pretty wild, irrational ways of thinking, so it’s understandable.


Is This You? – But We’ve Always Done it This Way

Leadership, Organizational Change, Business Optimization, Change Management

Is the strong tendency to resist change “just the way we are?” Are we “just born that way?” Are our brains, “just made that way?” Simply put, the answers are “no, no and no.” Now I know there are those who will dismiss this as just B.S. in a derogatory way, but I would argue that if it is B.S., the B.S. should stand for “Belief System.” It is our belief systems that wire our brain and mind in the manner that leads us to generally fear and run away from change.

We can create effective belief systems that would change our brain in effective ways—literally. Frankly, it’s illogical behavior to keep doing things in ways that no longer serve us. Why would you just stand there watching your ship go down, or continue to walk over the edge of the cliff, in the name of, “But we’ve always done it that way.”

Remember old household names, like Kodak, Blockbuster—ships that went down, doing things the way they’d always been done. They ignored the change, and the price they paid was high. These organizations poorly managed changed. Blind spots can lead to disaster when persistently denied. “Elephants in the room” can seemingly overnight (… it is really a slow death that didn’t just happen overnight) run wild and trample over everything in their paths—including your whole company.


Leadership: Leading with Your Authentic Self

Collaborative Leadership, Team Building, Emotional Intelligence, Personal Development, Valencia Ray

Does leadership really have a gender? Is leadership really, “male or female?” As a female, am I stuck with certain behaviors just because I’m female? I think not. Can we start moving our conversations on leadership BEYOND gender? Many people incorrectly believe that leadership style is determined biologically by one’s gender, as exemplified by business conversations in the media on “Male Leadership versus Female Leadership” comparisons.

This can lead to not only blind spots in our vision of how we view others and ourselves; it can affect our own leadership development. It can contribute to unrecognized bias that we unwittingly build into our own brain. It can also interfere with living out our personal values, living as our authentic self. The focus on gender as what defines one’s leadership ability powerfully illustrates our lack of understanding about how our brains can create the way that we view ourselves and our lives and how our brains can shape the way we operate in the world as men and women.

This lack of “brain-awareness” also literally impacts all areas of our lives. I use gender and leadership as the context here for illustrating how our mindsets can get stuck—regardless of gender. Gender stereotyping, for example, is applicable to men who stereotype other men and women who unconsciously stereotype other women as well.

Brain-based stereotyping is an equal opportunity phenomenon.

While the leadership and gender argument regarding “Male Leadership” versus “Female Leadership” can point us to the root of our lack of success, we need to seriously consider that there is a deeper question that is really at the root of our dilemma. Getting to the root is essential to uncovering our own values and authentic leadership style. What is the root of our dilemma? It is the lack of understanding “how our own brain works.”


Can You Be a Good Coach Leader without Vision and Strategy?

Clarity of Vision, Leadership, Self-awareness, Employee Engagement, Strategic Vision

Can you be an effective leader without clarity of vision and strategy for yourself and your team? Think about this a moment… Stop here a moment and focus on this question.

Did you notice that by focusing on this question, you had to give your attention to it? When you focus, you are tapping into the brain’s basic navigating tool. You had to make a decision to turn away other thoughts floating through and focus on the question at hand. “Focus” is a basic way that the brain operates to guide your choices. What you focus on expands in your awareness. What you give your attention to is sending a command to your nervous system that the object of attention is your goal—for better or for worse. When you coach and engage your team into creating a clear vision and strategy, you are increasing their focus on where the company wants to go. Of course, allowing people into the process not only increases the likelihood of ownership; innovative ideas could also be an added benefit.

If you want to engage the minds and heart of your team, you must be able to paint a clear and emotional vision and implementable strategy. Of course, just writing a vision down and putting it in the drawer or on a PDF file will not engage people’s passion, commitment and accountability. If you design an impeccable “big data” management strategy without taking into account people and their roles, skills and needs don’t be surprised when your organizational change initiative becomes a part of the 70-80% Failure Club.

Just having a design on paper remains theoretical until implementation brings it to life. The vision and strategy must be articulated and designed clearly and the stakeholders/people must be engaged in the process. This takes creativity and mental agility on the leader’s part. Otherwise vision and strategic planning is simply more busy work, unproductive meetings and mindless activity. If this were your scenario, it would be little wonder that people do not see the value of vision and strategy.

I came across Google’s 8 Rules for Effective Leadership the other day. I’m glad to see that their analytics revealed the fairly obvious list of what makes for an effective leader. It is important to many people to have objective data and research upon which to base their decisions on and it really can be useful. The one Rule though that really stood out to me that was strange however is Rule 7, “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team” which was next to last. This list was created based upon order of importance in a descending order. I’m curious, how can one…


Mindfulness: The Key to Self-Awareness—Now What?

Meditating business partners

Self-awareness has finally become a commonly used and acceptable term in business circles. So has “mindfulness” and “meditation.” While mindfulness is a key to developing self-awareness, it is not all that is required to self-direct your behavior change. You will need to “see the need to change” and you will need to learn new adaptive skillsets. Fortunately, skillfully applied, practical application of neuroscience concepts can help. Of course, having real-life experience on how to actually do this does matter. Leading by example can be crucial as many people can simply read a book or research articles. Actually retraining your brain matters also.

I recall when I first started learning the skill of practicing mindfulness—about 14 years ago—this idea was still being ridiculed within the halls of academic neuroscience. Being the pragmatic, results-oriented person that I am—and courageous—I did it anyway. I learned, years ago, that mindfulness practice is only an initial ingredient to performing at our best. True, it is a key to unlocking the higher Neo-cortex area of our brain, which I refer to as Level 3 Brain. I hear this comment being made all the time. When we can start to separate from our thoughts and reconnect with our feelings in our bodies, we can begin to “take back the steering wheel of our mind” I like to say.

Yet, if you don’t know how to drive and operate your brain, don’t be surprised if you find your way into a ditch.

At the heart of successful change is changing our behavior on purpose. Changing behavior in my world does not mean, “fixing yourself.” You are not broken, where do we get these ideas? Who decides who is broken? This negative connotation for learning is one reason why few leaders want to raise his or her hand in the first place to ask for coaching. It’s also why adults pretend that they already know it all.

Behavior needs to evolve based upon context and desired outcomes. If you want to become a more effective leader, team member or to learn new skills from strategy to relationship building, you have to have some grit, courage and to lighten up before you burn yourself out. Too much activity is like too much of any “good thing.” We have gotten way out of balance and the stress, ineffectiveness in performance and lack of creativity are all results of not growing ourselves to keep up with the environment around us. It is a result of having a stuck mindset.

Very few people are actually enjoying their work or lives to tell the truth. Mindfulness is an important first step but you will also need to: (more…)

Are You Feeling Heard – Yet?

listening, conversation, empathy, engagement, leadership

People are doing a lot of talking, texting and technology…but are they feeling heard? Better yet, do you feel heard? While at one time the masses of people may not have been able to “speak their truth” as we were gagged and bound it seemed by “the media control” that allowed access for an elite few or those with sizable enough bank accounts to bankroll one’s message or agenda.

Now, with social media and Internet access, technology allows anyone with access to a device to create a blog, open a free social media account and to upload free videos. Some people have seemingly become overnight, Justin Bieber for example, wildly successful entertainers by getting started on YouTube. There is a lot of talking going on, but I’d have to agree with an article I read on The Atlantic, “Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” written by Megan Garber, that people may be using the various technology platforms in record breaking numbers…yet they are not having real conversation. Paradoxically, this leads to feelings of isolation in the midst of the crowd.


The Illusion of Control

Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence, Teamwork, Communication Skills, Neuroscience of Leadership

Early on in my medical practice I was a “bossy boss.” After finishing my medical training, I immediately began plans to open my own office. During that time of my life, I was a very driven, self-centered person. I was driven to “prove myself” via achievement and goal setting, and “enough was never enough.” After achieving my medical degree and training ahead of schedule, I charged directly into opening my new medical practice—without skipping a beat.

Medical education is notorious for fostering a competitive mindset and for not helping physicians to develop people skills. The only thing that saved me in the realm of patient care is my natural tendency to care for those whom I feel responsible for with empathy and deep commitment. Back in those days, if you were not in this category, you probably would not take very long to discover my short temper or curt attitude when (easily) provoked. I not only put undue stress and pressure on myself, I had an inner critic that was perfectionistic and worked over-time.

Now imagine me as the leader of this new medical practice. When I was in college, before I became an overly assertive grouch after medical school, I was a supervisor for a major grocery store’s customer service desk. This was the extent of my professional managerial skills. Suddenly, after opening my practice, I found myself not only responsible for full-time employees, I was also responsible for what seemed like an astronomical office overhead and I had an acute need to accelerate my business development skills!


Leadership Advantage in the Modern Workplace

Collaborative Leadership, Team Building, Emotional Intelligence, Personal Development, Valencia Ray


Women do have an advantage in leadership style in today’s workplace, not simply because we are women, but more so because “heart” behavior, such as showing another person empathy or exercising better listening skill is becoming more socially acceptable as exemplary leadership behavior. Yet, do not men have a “heart” as well? Judy B. Rosener in the Harvard Business Review article “Ways Women Lead” postulates that characteristics generally considered to be “feminine” accounts for why women are succeeding in the 21st century workplace. “Macho male” leadership styles tend to lead to disengagement in today’s world.

Let me be explicit here for a moment. While I know that our language implicates “feminine” as being only of the female or woman, I find it striking that the functional qualities of our right-brain parallel qualities that our language defines as feminine or female. Yet, human beings – men included – have a right-brain hemisphere. Perhaps we need to rethink the etymology of “feminine” and realize that with the clearer understanding of the roles of the brain hemispheres, our tendency to define behavior along gender lines may be antiquated. Our brain capabilities give us the ability to act as we need to in order to evolve and adapt to our environment.

Could it be that we have artificially segmented and categorized behaviors unwittingly according to gender, when really it is culture that has determined what is “feminine” versus “masculine” behavior? That true biology as related to the physiology of our brain has much greater flexibility than this?

For the sake of males who are leaders in today’s world where empathy is valued, I would think that looking at behavior based upon our brain’s ability to respond should supersede outdated definitions that connect behaviors along gender lines. Empathy is a human quality that can be cultivated, not a limited-to-gender quality. Perhaps we can start to recognize that our left-brain and right-brain contain functional qualities that can help us on an individual basis as needed, instead of pegging behavior into gender role-playing. Enough said; something to think about.


Mindset: Ready to Change Your B.S.?

Transformational Leadership, Perform at your best, self-awareness, more focus, mindset, Neuroscience of Leadership Development, more confidence, more momentum, more passion, mental agility, executive coaching, valencia ray

News Flash: where your mind is set—mindset—is not permanent. Your brain is flexible; you can learn throughout your life. Science calls it “neuroplasticity.” I call it, “NeuroReInvention®.” The belief that:

  1. “I am stuck”
  2. “This is just the way I am”
  3. “I can’t change”
  4. “I’m not good enough”
  5. “I’m always right; this is the way life is”

…is really simply B.S. and by this I mean it is a “Belief System.” You could also say it is due to blind spots in your life’s field of vision. It is my experience that we can change our B.S. Fortunately we now also have neuroscience for our skeptical, fearful-of-change logical brain. We can stop telling ourselves self-limiting stories that keep us from performing at our best at home and at the office. We can change our perceptions that interfere with harmonious relationships, our finances and our health. We can re-create our belief systems.

An important ingredient to this is to begin to understand that your personality and your potential are moldable. Your gender, race, creed or color doesn’t define the totality of you. In fact, whatever definitions are given are someone’s, somewhere subjective opinion and definition. Even your definition of yourself is subjective. You can stop believing it; you can change how and what you think. You can change how you feel. Perception is not objective.