“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 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.
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.
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:
- “I am stuck”
- “This is just the way I am”
- “I can’t change”
- “I’m not good enough”
- “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.
Living with purpose – on purpose, requires clarity of values, what matters to you. To perform at your best you need to make conscious choices about what really matters to you. Without a definite purpose it is all too easy to be distracted by “the latest greatest thing.” It requires a decision to focus yet at the same time having an open mind to filter through relevant insights, information and opportunities. It requires an expanded vision to live an inspired and creative life.
This will require not only a higher level of self-awareness, but also mental agility. Adaptability. Confidence. It is not likely to be the most popular way of living as unfortunately, the masses of people live overcrowded or externally directed lives. Unfortunately, Henry David Thoreau’s words still ring true that,
“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation”
Meaning can’t be found outside of ourselves until we go within to feel into our heart – our passion. With all the fear and noise around us, we have to find our passion, which is likely to be buried under a mound of negative feelings. We can intentionally shift from worry, anxiety and mediocrity when we make up our minds – and heart – to do so. Sometimes we can’t find our passion unless we actually acknowledge, what really makes us angry? Not in a self-righteous way, but in a way that shows concern for a cause greater than just us.
We will have to ask some questions if we want new answers, questions such as,
1. Where do I want to go, to experience? Why?
2. What do I really want?
3. Can I envision it in my mind’s eye?
4. Can I communicate it…to myself?
5. Who or to what cause do I want to serve?
Leadership and the workplace are evolving rapidly. Daily life in general is moving faster than ever and how we experience it is contingent upon how we view ourselves relative to our environment. We can view ourselves as helpless victims of circumstances or as capable human beings able to learn, grow and adapt successfully to our challenges. Our inner self-image has never been more important, especially as leaders.
It’s not often addressed, yet how we see our self is reflected in our chosen leadership styles, our choice of clothing and even they way in which we communicate and connect to others. Self-esteem or how we esteem ourselves affects confidence and decision-making. Sometimes we overcompensate by being pushy and aggressive and sometimes we shrink back into our shells.
An interesting fact is that, neuroscience reveals what I figured out a while ago – that our level of self-esteem and confidence is changeable and evolves according to our own self-perception.
To the degree that you make time to reflect on where you are, you can move yourself from a victim mindset of, “that’s just the way I am,” to a victor’s mindset of taking the reins of your life and personality into your own hands.
You have more control than you probably realize.
In the meantime here’s some perspectives on self-esteem – how you esteem your self, the “who you think you are,” versus confidence – the ability “to do,” to take action, to engage. Self-esteem highlights your inner feelings regarding worth of your self, confidence expresses your ability to accomplish or do something. As a leader, these two factors can influence your performance and ability to lead. As a human being, it impacts your relationships on every level. Here are five ways that self-esteem and confidence can show up within the context of life:
Truth is, it takes courage to change your mind. Particularly when we live in a culture that expects us to have all the answers and make no mistakes. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard and then we wonder why change is so difficult. Many if not most people, are standing like deer in the headlights when it comes to making changes in their behaviors that are no longer serving them. Why?
In order to see change in your life, you have to make changes in your way of thinking and feeling – first. The fact is, who you think you are, what you think you can do, be or have is a “story.”
Our brain forms, “autobiographical memory” – the story or narrative of who we think we are. The good news is that thanks to “neuroplasticity” – the ability of our brain to rewire and change itself literally – we can change our story on demand the more self-aware we become. The bad news is, if you don’t have the courage to trust yourself, listen to your own heart and feel the need to be validated by the so-called experts, you may live and die with the greatest parts of yourself locked deep inside, never to be shared with the rest of us. Now that’s unfortunate.
I had an interesting conversation with someone recently whom I greatly admire. He’s a person of integrity and he speaks his truth, which I admire. I’ve asked him to always tell me his truth, and don’t worry about how I’ll take it. I like honesty and I can learn by listening and becoming self-aware of my blind spots. In a nutshell, because he, like probably most people, didn’t realize that an eye surgeon (an M.D. medical eye physician) has professional training in the brain and nervous system in order to do their job, he made an erroneous assumption, that I’ve come to realize is not unique to him. I took note; perhaps I need to be more explicit. The upside of this is that it made it loud and clear how important perception is, so perhaps I can help some people to get out of their own way by educating them on the fact that neuroscience is a part of my training as an eye surgeon as it relates to the message I share. I’d say most people have been conditioned to believe that nearly everything we do has to have validation by an institution.
This need for institutional validation is the point I want to focus on in this article and why we need to change our story about this constant need for external validation. There is some value to this, yet we have taken it to ridiculous proportions in many cases.
Love is not often thought of as “power,” especially in business. Usually there is a conversation about “power” and then there’s “love.” After listening to a very impactful video on RSA by Adam Kahane, Power and Love, I had an insight. In this video, once again there was “power” and then there was “love.” A couple of days before viewing this video I had a discussion with a Twitter friend on “power versus force,” the title of a book by Dr. David Hawkins. I have been making a distinction between power and force, as if love is power and that other “power” was really force.
After watching this video, I would now say this…that which we call “power” should really be preceded with the word, “will.” It’s really will power, for it is certainly not the only power – love is a power also. Will power plays an important role in self-determination and human potential, yet, as the video points out, it can become destructive when it is not integrated with the power of love.
In the video he defines “power” as the drive of everything to realize itself – growth/self determination. He then defines “love” as the drive toward the unity of the separated – the underlying unity is fractured and love seeks to unite. I would also argue that love also is a part of the drive of everything to realize itself in that love is also involved in the begetting of life and growth.
There is also another point I would add. Love is power. There’s not “power” and then there’s “love.”
Self-determination requires “will power.” Maintaining unification and a life supporting system (integrity, wholeness) requires, “love power.” In fact, when love power takes hold, it can be a force that is powerful beyond measure. When it is balanced with will power it can be more powerful than will power alone, once this integrative will/love power takes hold. For the remainder of this post, I will refer to “power” as “(will) power” in some sentences as love is also a power as well.
He goes on to explain in the video how (will) power and love can both be degenerative or generative when lived to the extreme pole, one without the other. He used the example of the traditional husband and wife relationship:
Productivity is not simply activity. Without a clear vision, a heart-felt why and a clear strategy, you will waste your resources – time, energy and money. You will also increase the likelihood that you will create dis-ease in your body from overworking and stress.
On the surface, these different aspects would appear to be disconnected issues. Really, underneath there is a cause for the effects. The cause is a lack of, “brain awareness” – we don’t understand how to control our own brain and mind consciously. We have lost a sense of PEACE in our lives because we live in “pieces.” Just running down a ‘to-do’ list, or creating a goal without a clear context and clarity for long-term results will cause burnout – emotionally, physically and organizationally. You won’t have a sense of purpose. The interesting fact is we must slow down in order to accelerate our results. Life is full of paradox. When we can optimally operate our brain, we can perform at our best.
Our left-brain logic alone doesn’t see the “big-picture.” It is great at steps and strategies, but if you don’t create a clear blueprint, a clear map, you will probably end up who knows where. Our right brain is wonderful at the big picture. Yet, we will have to slow down to see it. Reflection comes when accessing not only our “right-brain” but also the area of our brain that can envision and problem solve. You need a calm mind to access this level of thinking. This is the area that pulls together SEEMINGLY dissimilar parts. It weaves new creative solutions together. Then your left-brain can take action on these new ideas. The catch here is that you will have to be willing to slow down in order to:
Understanding optimism is important to elevating your performance. Finally, the power of feelings and emotions are beginning to be openly discussed within the context of science, business and leadership. Historically, the term, “touchy feely” has been used to dismiss important aspects of ourselves that we were not comfortable dealing with. We perform at our best when we approach performance from a holistic perspective.
We human beings are an “eco-system.” We are not just a mind in a body. We have spiritual and emotional aspects to ourselves also. Optimism points to the important role that feelings play alongside our intellect in making decisions that influence our future performance – in all areas of our life. Optimism is an attitude that chooses to look for the good in situations, with positive feeling. So how do I define optimism as it relates to performance?
Optimism is not about denial of current reality; it’s about the resiliency to rise to life’s challenges with faith, hope and courage.
Often when I hear the discussion of “optimism” there is a connotation of ignoring the facts. There is an implication that one is looking through, “rose colored glasses.” There is a type of cynicism or stigma that if one is optimistic, they must have their head in the sand. No, I disagree. I’m an optimist and I know that this attitude has elevated my performance over the years and it is not because I pretend that there are not roadblocks or challenges.
Quite the contrary; optimism allows me to look right at the scary issues, stand my ground with composure and stay open to insightful solutions to overcome them. We need to stop “facing reality” as the pessimists do. I assess the situation that I am currently in and I address what needs to be immediately addressed but I divert my intention and attention to solving the problem, not continuing to “face it” and talk about it. That is where negative attitudes and pessimists fall down in performance; they need to stop facing reality so much and focus on finding new solutions. Besides, as Einstein said,