The Courage to Lead: Changing Our Story

Collaborative Leadership, Women Leadership, Innovation, Retrain Your Brain, Neuroscience of Leadership, Valencia Ray, The Efficace Group, Personal Power, Team Development, Executive Coaching, Self-Awareness

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.

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Productivity and Performance: Mastering the Making of Memory

Perform at your best, neuroscience of leadership, Mental agility, team performance, adaptability, innovation, creativity, memory
We can learn how to make our memories work for us, instead of constantly against ourselves. Your memory of your experiences of this past year will have a powerful impact on your productivity and performance in the future. In fact, your reaction to many of your experiences this year are directly impacted by your past memories, even from decades previous.

I’ve come across articles that share the mechanistic process of how dopamine is involved in the memory making process because of it’s physiological impact on the hippocampus, the “memory bank” of the brain. While this is interesting information, what is left out is that fact that memory is not “mindless.” Memory is not objective linear process; it is subjective based upon your level of self-awareness to impact it. If you do not understand the power of perception to form your experience and actions, you will continue to believe that your brain just, “made you do it.” We have choice, but only to the degree that we are aware of how we are creating the mental models and narratives that determine our sense of self-image and abilities and lead to the choices we make.

For example, let’s say you found yourself in an unpleasant life situation. Let’s say you have a business idea that you worked really hard on to launch. You used a great deal of resources and you did, “the best that you could.” Yet, things didn’t turn out as ideally as you had hoped. If you are not self-aware and you are conditioned to equate failure and disappointment with “bad,” it is likely that you will feel this as a threat to you sense of self-worth which in turn will trigger your self-defensive, “fight, flight freeze” response. Once the emotional perception of fear is triggered and your amygdala flips on with profoundly rapid speed a series of neurotransmitters get triggered, including dopamine that you commonly hear about. Your memory in the way that you structured it gets glued into your memory bank (cellular memory, really) that this is a “bad” experience to be avoided for safety’s sake and you will file it away that risk and entrepreneurship is “bad.” You will assume that this is the “way life is.” You will take it for granted that you are “right.” Eventually, this belief gets recorded in cellular memory goes unconscious and filters future opportunities. BUT WAIT….!

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Leadership: Navigating the Powers of Will and Love

Empathy, Leadership, Neuroscience of Leadership, Adaptability, Emotional Intelligence, Resilience, Mental Agility, Change Management

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:

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Mental Agility: Assumptions that Stall Change

Performance, Perform at your best, Valencia Ray, Neuroscience of Leadership,

Many leaders make assumptions that ironically limit their leadership capacity every single day. One assumption is that they always objectively view the leadership and performance capabilities within themselves and their team. Another is that they are already so smart and experienced that they can shrug off learning and development. These assumptions are a blind spot. The belief that the way that we see life is objective…we assume we are right, that how we see is “the way it is” – is often the very thing that creates a leadership stumbling block. This is a closed mindset.

In other words, we really don’t know what we don’t know and unfortunately, all too often we are not open to examining our own thinking. Why? I believe one reason is that we assume (there that word is again) that to raise our hand for leadership development implies that we are “broken” – that we need to “fix” ourselves. Our society as a whole seems to assume this connotation is true as well.

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Perform at Your Best: The Paradox of Too Much Busy-ness

Work Life Balance, Stress, Personal Power, Team Building, Happiness, Neuroscience

Busy work is not productivity. It is just activity. We have too much of it and it is costing us our excellence in performance. It is costing us our health and happiness due to the killer, stress. It is a contributor to poor relationships – who has time for relationships after all? It reduces creativity. In 2012 Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine et al. did a study in which they deprived 13 people in IT business access to email for five days and studied them intensively. They found that people without email concentrated on task for longer periods of time and experienced less stress. This would support the McKinsey Global Institute’s study that revealed that skilled workers spend a quarter of each working day responding and writing emails. That’s 25%!

There are many people going nowhere fast. When we see life in pieces – such as “to do” lists without an overarching purpose, we can lose our meaning for living, our zest for life. Passion is lacking because we are too busy to develop it, too busy to “in joy” our work. Most people have forgotten who they are at their core, and life is a series of going through endless motions.

My conclusion, based on my experience with perception and also neuroscience (which is validating my conclusion) is that, our energy is going where our attention is going. We believe that to be successful we have to work really hard. What, enjoy work? Now that would be a novel idea! We believe that more is always better and that to rest is to be lazy. We believe that “enough is never enough” so we keep working harder and harder – instead of smarter. Smarter would include purpose, clarity and innovation. It would include re-energizing so that you can be more efficient in less time. Then you can have more time to have some fun.

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The Intelligence of Emotional and Mental Agility

Emotional Intelligence, Neuroscience of Leadership, Perform at Your Best, Valencia Ray, Self-awareness, Leadership, Innovation

Emotional and mental agility is a skill set. Repressing feelings instead of learning how to manage them reduces performance levels and can negatively impact health. Of course it is not rational to believe we can “check our emotions and feelings at the door.” It is not very intelligent to believe we can disconnect from our body’s physiology. Numbing or distracting our self is not the same as actually disconnecting.

Unfortunately it was a type of cultural “code” at one time to think that we could ignore our feelings.

The intention was to avoid discomfort. Yet, when we become more self-aware, we can learn to become comfortable with feelings. The feelings were not checked at the door; they were circulating in the mind and body causing havoc within the body and inauthentic, and not surprisingly disengaging relationships within the office. It was just an example of being asleep or in denial about what was really going on within us. I used to deny my feelings admittedly; I bought into this myth at one time myself. An added benefit to me for quitting this self-deceptive practice has been an even healthier body – and heart.

One important, intelligent and giant step forward is to recognize that “you are not your thoughts and feelings.” We get into trouble when we buy into thoughts running through our minds as if they are facts/truth. We need to question our thoughts before mindlessly accepting them. You must learn to “name them” if you are ever to get a grip on self-managing your state of mind. You must be mindful to call out the thoughts and to begin to notice the repeating patterns.

You can’t get unstuck without becoming aware of them – so that you can take charge of them. You can learn to redirect them in healthy ways, and in so doing, reconnect with your passion for life, joy and inner peace.

Here are three common patterns for managing thoughts, emotion and feeling. When we are not aware of what feelings are or that we can manage them, they tend to:

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Emotional Intelligence Matters to Performance

Emotional Intelligence, Self-awareness, neurosicence of leadership, mindfulness

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Emotional intelligence, as a term was first documented in an article by Slovey and Mayer in 1990. We have multiple intelligences, not only IQ as Howard Gardner from Harvard University has theorized. If we want to perform at our very best, with confidence and purpose, we must know ourselves. IQ has its place, yet, in order to apply the data and factual information, we also need to have an understanding on other levels of our intelligence beyond just the facts themselves. Problem-solving effectiveness depends also on our emotional intelligence.

It’s time to stop the attitude of, ‘checking your emotion at the door” as this is only a self-deceptive concept. Decision-making involves our emotional brain and without it, there have been studies shown that even making simple decisions – such as what to wear in the morning – can be insurmountable. By the way, there have also been psychological studies revealing that people who seem to be so out of touch and repressed in their emotion are more likely to test as psycho/sociopaths. I think I’ll happily learn about healthy emotional states of mind, thank-you.

An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. ~Howard Gardner

Self-awareness helps us to raise our emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is not only awareness of your “self”; it includes your ability to become aware of the emotional states of others and your relationship to society at large. Not only are you able to be in tune with your internal landscape; you are better able to navigate the external world landscape all around you. The foundation to developing emotional intelligence begins with addressing your “Intrapersonal Self-awareness” – by making friends with your feelings.

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5 Factors that Fuel High Performance

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

Performing on the stages of life with enjoyment and success will require among other qualities a sense of humor. It will also require self-management.  Often times we face challenges when we attempt to achieve new heights – be it getting into physical shape at the gym or starting a new business. Optimism and lightheartedness can go a long way when you have to have to rise to the occasion to learn and grow out of your current comfort zone. Things don’t always work out as plan so,

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” ~Jonathan Winters

While you are swimming, hopefully you are learning new skills to enable you to complete the course. We can always learn to swim better as the waters can become unexpectedly choppy at times. I have found that it matters not how smart you are, how many degrees you may have or who you know – sooner or later uncertainty will find you and the environment will shift. You see to perform at your best you will need a growth mindset, one that is flexible and willing to expand. Are you able to relax and also enjoy the journey?

You will need to have good people skills, as it is getting quite tough to go it alone; the Lone Ranger is no longer popular. You will need to think and see clearly to avoid potholes along the way. Here are five factors that can fuel high performance that are not often taught in “How to be Successful” tips when making a career shift, starting or expanding a business. These are factors that are not as simple as taking a sales course and hiring a new accountant or consultant. They are skills or traits that we all need to develop within ourselves to a functional degree if we desire to perform at our very best.

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Optimism Optimizes Your Performance

Perform at Your Best, Valencia Ray, NeuroReInvention, Neuroscience of Leadership, Optimism

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,

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Emotional Intelligence: Mind Has Heart

Copyright 2013 Valencia Ray, M.D.

Copyright 2013 Valencia Ray, M.D.

Emotional intelligence helps us to be smarter about our emotion.  Emotion is a part of our mind-body connection. It is another expression of our intelligence. Feelings are the effect of our emotional perception. They add color to our lives.  I say “perception” because how we look at a situation determines the meaning we assign. Let’s keep this simple; there are only two classes of emotion – love or fear.

If we ‘emote love’ our feeling sensation that follows for example, will be in the category of well-being and thus, ‘feel good’ or what many refer to as positive. We tend to (though we at times make poor choices) move toward things that we think will make us feel good or better. Feelings in the emotion of love category would include, joy, peace and enthusiasm.  Emotion moves us.  It is energy in motion…E-motion.

The opposite, fear, especially when chronic, can harm our well-being. The emotion of fear tends to move us away from the situation. If it is a threat to our life, it’s useful. If it’s due to irrational fears…like worry about things you can’t control…it can be harmful. It can hinder our leadership performance and weaken our people skills. Emotional quality is important to our decision-making ability.

In order to act more intelligent with our emotion, we will need to recognize that our mind has two aspects, intellectual mind and the emotional mind. Our mind is not only, ‘logical’ as represented by the left-brain. Our mind is also intuitive and deeply connected to our emotion and feeling states – the right-brain dominates in this realm.

The right-brain can be thought of as a metaphor for our heart – our connection to others, our spiritual and intuitive aspects and our purpose/big picture context for our lives, as examples.

The qualities of our right-brain mirrors what we commonly think of as our, ‘heart’. If we only think of our mind as hard, cold and calculating, we will act without heart – without wisdom. A heartless mind is no way to live. Our brain hemispheres contribute in different ways for important reasons – two hemispheres really are better than one. One is not better than the other; both are required for optimal performance and effectiveness.

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