Tasty Tidbits from Social Neuroscience

I got the opportunity to attend the 14th NeuroLeadership summit in San Francisco last week. So many wonderful insights from social neuroscientists about how the newest brain research is shedding light on our behaviour. A couple of nuggets for you, our faithful blog readers:

  • Brain exercises do not increase your brain power, despite what Luminosity spends on marketing. Use that time to learn a new language, develop new skills or exercise your body; your brain will reap more benefits.
  • Collaboration does often yield better problem solving and more creative decisions, but it slows things down and the best companies reserve it for special occasions, not as a default.
  • The “in group/out group” response by the brain is constant and pretty much random. This means that the brain is constantly assessing whether other people are “on our team” or “not on our team” and this effect can be created by scientists merely telling you that some people are on your team and others are not. You will instinctively see those on the other team as adversaries.
  • Understanding one’s values, articulating them, writing about them and repeating them increases emotional resilience. Not sure how or why yet, but wow, who knew? The best argument ever for engaging in our Leadership Point of View exercise.
  • One of the most robust findings about learning is that the more “spacing” is used while learning – breaking the content into small chunks and repeating it a couple of times over a period of days with sleep between times – the better. Spacing ensures that the content is encoded into long term memory. Cramming information – learning it quickly right before an exam, for example – will result in the information staying in short term memory and then disappearing. A terrific support for Blended Learning!

Are You Too Comfortable?

Man Relaxing In Easy Chair - Retro Clipart IllustrationUnder the category of “Everything I Need to Know, I Learn from My Clients”: one of them said a remarkable thing last week. We were talking about a new, high pressure, high visibility job he is settling into and the fact that his To Do list far exceeds the realities of the time/space continuum. As we brainstormed what he could let go, reprioritize, or delegate, he kept balking. Then—complete silence.
He took a deep breath in and said, “I was talking to a good friend who recently became CEO of his company. He told me he was struggling with the fact that regardless of what he was ‘supposed’ to be doing, the things he does naturally are the things he loves doing and is comfortable doing. I think that’s exactly what’s going on with me.”
Well, he certainly made my job easy.
When you step into a senior leadership role, the task list is never, ever done. The only way to keep from drowning is to stay focused only on the things that really matter. And the things that matter most are often things that are new to you and, therefore, uncomfortable. You will automatically engage in the behaviors and activities that are easy and relaxing unless you stop, breathe, pay very close attention, and choose to do the stuff that really needs doing—and that isn’t going to be easy or relaxing.
So what happened with the client, you might be wondering. He continued to self coach. He decided that his homework would be to look at everything he was supposed to be doing, delegate the things someone else could do, and focus on the things only he could do.
Feeling overwhelmed? Too much to do? Ask yourself: Am I defaulting to doing the easy stuff that can wait (or be delegated) instead of staying focused on what really matters, even if it is harder.

How to Be Grateful

Coaching isn’t all about achieving happiness, but it certainly is almost always focused on the pursuit of what the client believes will make him happy.  You may have heard already that the happiest people are happy because they are grateful rather than grateful because they are happy.  It is not a chicken/egg proposition.  It is in the research – The Happiness Advantage, The How of Happiness.  Consciously choosing to constantly scan the environment for what you are grateful for, and keeping lists of the same, changes the brain and literally makes you happier.  So if want to be happier, there is one super simple easy thing you can do right now.  Today: this minute.  Be more grateful.  Not just once a year on Thanksgiving, not just when you get a promotion or good news.  All the time.  But how you might ask: how do I be more grateful?  Well, David Steindl-Rast explains it perfectly in his TED talk – you can take 14 minutes and watch it or you go with my Cliff Notes.  Here they are:

 Stop. Look. Listen.

That’s it. 

 Stop. Look. Listen.

 Notice what is going on that you are grateful for – the sun, the rain, running water, indoor plumbing, shoes that fit, electricity, your adorable dog/cat/child, your funny colleague, your car started! Your new desk chair you had to lobby five years to get. Functioning internet. So much.  An endless list.

 When?  As often as possible.  Here are some ideas to get into the habit:

  •  Any time you start obsessing about your To Do list, stop and think of things you are grateful for instead.
  • Anytime you start second guessing what you should have said in your last meeting, stop and…
  • Set a timer on your phone to do it every 15 minutes. 
  • Every time an email/text/tweet comes in.
  • Every time you hear a beep of any kind (I do this; you would be amazed how much beeping goes on.  It makes it much easier not to be annoyed at the sound of trucks backing up!).
  • When waiting at a stop light.
  • When brushing your teeth (Oh the possibilities, unlimited clean water, hot water! toothpaste, dental care!).
  • Every time you sit down at your desk. 
  • Every time you get up from your desk.
  • When you get into bed.

Other ideas? Try it, and see what happens.

Running on Fumes

I recently spoke to a friend and colleague who needed my input on something.  This colleague has the highest IQ of anyone I know ( not exagerating), and an intimidating work ethic.  She is literally the gold standard for productivity in our companygas tank on empty.  After a string of emails, I failed to understand what was required of me so I picked up the phone to chat and found my friend literally incoherent with stress.  It took me several minutes to get her calmed down enough to explain what she needed from me.

It made me stop and think. 

We forget that we are a finite resource.

We can do so much and no more.  Even if we practice (highly recommended by coaches everywhere) extreme self care*, we can do so much and no more

My sister Mia is a lovely person, does for others all day long.  She is chatty, fun, highly engaging and extroverted until about 8 o’clock at night at which point she says “I am out of words”, and goes to bed with a book.  Such a role model.

It is critical for all of us, as  leaders, professionals, parents, and friends to know at what point we “run out”. Out of gas, as it were.  Do you know when you are at a quarter tank?  Do you have reasonable boundaries around your rest time?  I have found that it isn’t so much others we have trouble saying no to, it is ourselves.

Stop and think.  Remember, you are a finite resource.

 *Extreme Self Care: A term coined by Thomas Leonard, a pioneer of the coaching profession and popularized by Shirley Anderson, considered to be a Yoda of the coaching profession. It could be defined as: enough sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, down time, meditation and/or prayer, time to connect with others, and fun as you need to operate at 100%.  Click here for more information about the multiple aspects of well being from a Neuroscience standpoint.

5 Questions to Match Your Style to Your Job

Man Working on Personal ComputerAre you a jack of all trades or are you a subject matter expert? Review the two definitions below. Think about the type of work you do now…which term best describes you in your current role?

generalist: one who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas.
specialist: a person devoted to one particular branch of a subject or pursuit.

Some people are very passionate about having extreme task variety. They love to do a little bit of everything and get bored when focused on one thing. Others are very passionate about having a specific area of focus and being able to dedicate the majority of their time to learning and mastering that pursuit.

Now review the two definitions again. Think about the type of work you like to do…which term best describes you when you’re happiest and at your best?

If you answered the same way both times, then you’re likely on the right path. If the type of work you perform in your current role is not in alignment with how you work when you’re at your best, then it’s time to consider some changes. Analyze your current role to see if there are adjustments that can be made to position the role to better suit your style. Or, perhaps you need to consider if the solution is to find a more suitable position within the organization or elsewhere.

Begin by asking yourself some questions…

What does my ideal job role look like?
Where are the gaps between my current role and my ideal role?
How can I begin to close those gaps?
What obstacles to change am I likely to encounter?
Who can help me facilitate the changes that need to be made?

If you’ve discovered that you’re a specialist in a generalist’s role, or vice versa, preserve your sanity and increase your happiness by making the necessary changes. Navigating this type of journey can be a difficult, overwhelming adventure and you’ll need help.

Sounds like you could use a good coach.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Why Is Your Tummy So Big? (4 Factors for a Powerful Question)

(Editor's Note: This is not the author's tummy.)

(Editor’s Note: This is not the author’s tummy.)

I’ve always battled with my weight. This last year has been especially tough as I’ve had to take a break from my other career (as a prolific goal scorer in adult recreational soccer leagues) due to nagging injuries that have turned into chronic injuries. I started playing almost 30 years ago and haven’t had any significant periods away from the game until now. The wear and tear has caught up with my knees and ankles.

When you’ve got chronic pain in your knees and ankles, getting regular aerobic exercise is a challenge. It hurts to walk, let alone to go for a jog or a run. Exercise for me has always been specific to the sport I’m playing. Take away the sport and I don’t get enough exercise. Take away the exercise and my clothes fit tighter than they should be.

I’ve been telling myself that I need to do something. Yeah, tomorrow I’ll do something. Of course, tomorrow soon turns into yesterday, then last week, then last month, and here I am still sitting in my recliner. So one night while I’m sitting there with my 5-year-old son, he turns to me and asks, “Dada, why is your tummy so big?”

As soon as the words left his lips, my wife chuckled and then got embarrassed for me. I initially had a similar reaction. Kids say the darndest things…often when you least expected or are prepared for them. During my pause to think about how to respond, I realized he’d asked an incredibly powerful question. For his purposes, I used it as a teaching moment and answered it with a simple statement about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, and that I needed to get better at both.

The answer I gave him was good enough for him, but it wasn’t good enough for me. Like most Dads, I want to be a superhero in my son’s eyes. And, I don’t want my alter-ego to be “Flabby Man.” So his question got me off the recliner and moved me into action. I did some research on local gyms and will be signing up for one this week…let the journey begin.

Upon further reflection, here are four factors that made his question so powerful:

  1. The Person Delivering the Question. There’s built in credibility. He looks up to me and I don’t want to disappoint. Most importantly, there’s an established positive relationship.
  2. It Lacked Judgement. Consider the alternative that most of us are used to hearing…“have you lost weight?” Which is roughly the equivalent of saying, “you were fat and I can’t tell if you’re any less fat than you used to be.” The best questions are those that aren’t judgmental, accusatory, or have hidden agendas. I honestly don’t know if my son loves my big tummy or is disgusted by it, he just wanted to know why it is the way it is. But…
  3. It Caused Me To Think. I was pushed to examine the factors behind the issue in question. And…
  4. It Motivated Me Into Action. After voicing the factors that led to the issue, I was motivated to consider the solutions and to act on them.

Good coaching sometimes comes when you least expect it and from those you least expect it to come from. Out of the mouths of babes.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Seriously, How Are You Doing?

“How are you doing?”

What a loaded and complicated question. Even though I hear it on a daily basis, and know it’s coming, it always catches me off guard.

It can be incredibly difficult to tell if the person posing the question really wants an honest answer. More often than not, they’re using it as a simple greeting. Like when you pass someone in the hall and, without skipping a stride, have this simple exchange:

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“Good, you?”

“Good, thanks.”

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