Your brain wants to be negative… RESIST!

The human brain fascinates me. This author of this article explains a biological evolutionary characteristic – the human brain wants to be negative. 

The explanation makes sense but is equally fascinating: Negative-feeling hormones like cortisol are immensely valuable from an evolutionary standpoint. These help a person to identify and respond to obstacles that may endanger a person. Negative hormones are super accessible in a healthy brain.

Our brains are meant to find problems. Our brains like to be negative.

Conversely, happy-hormones like serotonin are in shorter supply and are much less accessible. From an evolutionary standpoint, they have their place, but are harder to tap into. They’re frequently in short supply and are evolutionarily meant for short bursts of activity and hyper-focus.

Our inner selves want to be positive. The self and the brain are often at odds with one another.

If you’ve felt this inner game of tennis, like you’re traveling down a negative feedback cycle and struggling to snap out of it, it’s nothing to feel ashamed of. In fact, given the previously stated facts, it’s no wonder that we – as leaders and professional problem solvers – can be so focused on the glass so frequently being half empty. If we weren’t good at identifying these solutions, we wouldn’t be good at our jobs – so this is to be embraced to a degree. But how do we identify when things are out of balance? And how do we keep things together and maintain our position of positive influence on others? There are three things that help me:

1. Recognize what is happening. If I get too focused on all of the things that are not perfect, I hear it in my social circles. My friends approach me less. I might even hear comments that let me know I’m being too negative. I am always listening for these flags to pop up so I can course correct ASAP.

2. Externalize the negativity. I am frequently inundated with solving problems, so much that it can feel like everything is a problem that needs to be solved. I will create lists or journals to itemize everything I am currently trying to optimize in my job environment. This serves to remind me that the amount of things I’m focused on solving are fewer than it feels – and if I need to, I can systematically mark each off the list sequentially.

3. Do things that perpetuate positive hormones. Don’t be afraid to use reasonable bio-hacks when necessary. Going outside, exercising, socializing, and laughing allows you to feel dopamine and other happy-hormones. I personally enjoy doing really intense Crossfit WODS (workouts), as I find they bring on that endorphin rush and snap me into a positive mindset quickest. These grand moments interrupt chains of negativity and allow for new feedback cycles to begin.

What works for you? How do you stay balanced on identifying problems without letting everything feel like a problem in life?

 

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Normalizing Celebrity

Everyone has been starstruck at some point or another.

This can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people as they encounter higher-ups in their company.

I remember being 6 years old and going to a White Sox/Brewers game. We would arrive an hour or two early to seek autographs. On this day, I had the good fortune to attain a Russ Morman autograph.

I was on cloud 9. Seriously. As a 6 year old, within a foot of a real life baseball player, this was a big deal. If you haven’t ever heard of Russ Morman, you’re definitely not alone, as he never really developed into a strong major leaguer. In fact, he spent year after year unsuccessfully pursuing that baseball dream, earning a small stipend, and eventually he retired. He then became a minor league instructor and coach, the baseball equivalent of a blue collar job. And then he retired.

The person whose autograph I once was so excited to get was just a normal dude.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve met other people of varying celebrity status. I continue to realize that… they’re all just normal people, pursuing a better version of themselves and living life as best they’re able.

I’ve learned…

We’re all imperfect people.

We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

We’re all humans, composed of the same cells, matter, and chemical reactions.

We all deserve the same respect. 

The next time you meet a person you’re starstruck by, try to remember that the person you’re looking up to is just like you, just like me, and just like everyone else. There’s no need to get jittery or nervous. Keep cool and connect.

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Let your obstacle become your guide

It’s human nature to dislike things that aren’t fun. Duh.

But what if these challenging things were interpreted less as obstacles and blockades and more so as guides, path shapers, and fulcrums to embrace, pivot from, and grow beyond?

This is the idea of stoicism. If you don’t know about that term, check it out. Every leader can benefit from this healthy and mind-shaping approach to tackling adversity in a constructive way.

The last few weeks, I hit my stretching point. I normally have a very large threshold for stress and duress and hitting this point doesn’t happen often. I can handle a lot through working really hard but also working really smart. However, recently, the opportunity to delegate the great amount of tasks on my plate was compromised and I was forced to individually contribute much of this myself (hitting the top priorities and letting smaller things go for later). To make this challenge even more daunting, my life outside of work and leadership roles hit a really big rough patch.

I could feel the cortisol in my brain reaching new limits. Fun, right?

But here’s what’s cool. Even though emotionally I wasn’t happy about what was happening, I intellectually understood the stoic principles on growth and I knew that these challenges would manifest eventually as opportunities to grow my ability to handle more, be more in tune with my surroundings, better learn to govern stressful emotions, and overall to become a better and stronger person and leader for my team.

As I come out of this stormy period, I’m now able to see the bigger picture. I am now better equipped to help another person through a similar period in their life. I am much more prepared to prioritize on the fly and to select when something should be delegated, completed by myself, or simply allowed to slip for the time being. I know that I am being prepared for future opportunities, either in my current role and location or for another role that may come along- and I am a step closer to being able to execute in higher impact, more stressful situations.

My obstacles have become path shapers and I am stronger because of them.

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Be the spark and let them be the fire.

A leader’s motto.

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Counterbalancing

In my gym work, I am usually good about laughing and having fun while pushing myself to my limits. However, today at the gym, I found myself frustrated. It started with my warmup. I was working on a simple lift and just couldn’t get my form right. One of the coaches at the gym gave me some great pointers but I struggled to find my groove. Then on another lift, I found myself missing some simple form pieces in spite of the solid coaching I got. And mentally, things just kind of spun out and I got away from who I am and the usual feeling of fun the gym brings to me. 

I processed this to find out what was so unusual. I’ve had similar moments from time to time and there’s something there. Icame  to the conclusion that my counterbalancing was off. 

Balancing involves having similar pull and push forces on an object, which keep it neutral in its net movement. Counterbalancing refers to negating the push or pull on an object. In my case, my internal dialogue and my surroundings were out of balance. My inner dialogue is usually tough on myself while remaining focused on enjoying my activity. I make an effort to be in an external environment that is usually supportive and positive. 

Today my inner dialogue was tougher than usual. “Why can’t you do this?!” kept coming up and my environment was (rightfully) pointing out shortcomings that needed to be corrected. Way more push than pull and I just felt like crying out of frustration. 

As leaders, we are used to pushing ourselves to grow but balance is essential. Healthy dialogues, affirming environments, and personal care cannot be understated in achieving additional success and growth while not compromising one’s character and health. 

So why did this morning stink? Maybe I didnt get enough rest. Maybe I tried to do too much. Maybe I didn’t have enough for breakfast. I don’t know. But I do know that by seeking better balance, I can counterbalance the adverse voices that want to pull me back. 

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what do you practice?

I have a friend who had a bumper sticker that reads “Practice Kindness.” More that later.

At my workout today, we did sprint work. I haven’t sprinted since I was like 20 years old. Heck, I do these silly workouts so that if a situation arose, I wouldn’t have to run 🙂 Something that stuck out today, however, was a simple statement. The leader of our class said that we were going to practice sprints so that we can get better at them. Not really a mind-blowing statement, right?

However, being me, I pushed myself through those workouts but found myself thinking philosophically about this the whole time. We’re sentient, condition-able beings and the more we do something, the more we develop that behavior as a part of our being. I began to ask myself “What do I practice each day?”

If practice makes us more able to do something, wouldn’t it make sense to practice things that matter? 

Do I practice communication?

Do I practice listening?

Do I practice leading with equity?

Do I practice time management?

Thorough-ness?

Self-care?

Do I practice anything?

Do I practice kindness like my friend’s simple but wonderful bumper sticker?

 

And what does what I practice matter to the big picture?

 

Good questions to mull over on a beautiful Spring morning.

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when to not be a leader

So many of these articles are about becoming a leader, leading others, increasing potential, etc… I guess that’s the theme of this website and a theme in the jobs and lives that so many of us lead on a daily basis.

However, something I’ve recently been thinking about is when we as leaders are not actually called to be the leader of a group. It’s a weird feeling and kind of hard sometimes. Finding contentment in that different role is stretching.

I’ve played music my whole life. Having the natural leadership ability thing, I’ve often found myself leading the band, either through stage direction, recording, writing music, or planning strategies on how to grow our popularity and marketability. However, the last couple of years, I’ve been playing music in an environment where I am absolutely not the out front leader. There are very qualified, talented, and awesome people in that role – and I’ve been learning to be a supporter, an accessory, and a teammate for the group. A spoke in the wheel, if you will.

It’s been a weird feeling.

It’s different.

Humility.

I’ve had to flex.

Keep the ego in check.

Put the group before myself.

Humility again. 

At the church I attend, I’ve been involved in the music/worship ministry. My favorite role in that band is playing guitar. It’s the most enjoyable band role for me because it allows me the most creativity. But we have a lot of guitarists. Josh, the leader of our group, recently asked me what I’d like to play and contribute. I thought about it for a second and (given this recent venture around servanthood) I responded “I’ll do whatever the group needs and wherever I can be most helpful.” I wanted to put my ego in check and attempt to truly benefit our group. So I’ve been working sound and production. I’ve been playing a lot of bass. Occasional guitar. But the band has been better because of that flexibility. And it’s actually been an awful lot of fun.

The group has been better because of my flexibility and attempt at humility.

And that has been incredibly satisfying to be a part of.

I think this venture has made me a better leader. So much of my time and brainpower is invested in skill and behavioral development. Being able to not be a leader sometimes has allowed me to have more energy when I am a leader (avoid burnout). This has stretched me to grow personally, in my ability to flex, and to refine my character. It’s also provided me with additional empathy for the group environment so that I can understand how people around me feel when I am the leader. Perhaps they’ve been in a similar place before as a leader and they are just seeking to help the group.

So to my fellow leaders – how can you be leaders by not leading?

 

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