Category Archives: observation

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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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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how to suffer without going crazy.

A few days back I posted about the gift of putting oneself in a position to suffer (so as to learn, grow, and break through plateaus). For me, when thinking about struggle states, the next question revolves around how to get through that state of frustration and duress in a way that allows growth to occur and to get through in one piece.

humility

Suffering stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it is not supposed to. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, pain serves a very specific focus: it forces us to provide effort and attention to an area that requires improvement or to cause a condition change.

Think about a time when you were motivated to accomplish a big task, example being passing a large test. You probably felt an intrinsic stress to study, learn, cram, and get it together to win the test. This distress most likely propelled you to surpass your expectation; without it you may not have accomplished your goal.

So what are some helpful ideas and tools to remain in that state while not being bowled over by the distress? Here are some that help me:

  1. Community – I try to stay connected and avoid isolation. Let’s make it clear – I am an introvert – and big groups of people can make me tired. However, even if I can stay in communication with a couple people who can support and uplift me – or who have been in a similar place and can provide opinions or advice – this helps me to remain confident that I will grow beyond the frustration state I am in.
  2. Reflection – I make time every day to meditate or simply stop what I am doing and reflect on existence. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the purpose and why does it matter? Keeping the big picture perspective in view allows me to know that my efforts can have significance and that intrinsically motivates me to push onward.
  3. Health – I choose to not allow any challenge compromise my own personal and physical health. Ensuring that I am eating well, sleeping well, and exercising allows my body to remain healthy – which allows my brain and conscience to make clear and smart decisions that support my efforts… and to hold a degree of optimism.
  4. Forgiveness – As leaders, we push ourselves to great lengths to be the best. Not being the best at something can be hard but internally berating ourselves when we’re not the best can be easy. Remember to stick it out and that your state of struggle is short-term, not permanent. Allow your max effort each day or time to be good enough for now.

struggle-state-graph

An example of my own intentional struggle can be seen in the daily cross fit classes I attend. Last year, I became bored of standard gym-type exercising and I do not have any mountains around where I live any longer (so I am not able to hike like I used to [and deeply miss]). My goal around doing cross fit was to become stronger, happier, and healthier. Two months in, I am far from my strength goals. In fact, I’m firmly in last place in most classes. I won’t lie – I genuinely hate to see myself, a person used to being successful, struggling to just finish some workouts – and my hyper-competitive internal dialogue can have relentless, shameful, and unforgiving tendencies. But then I think about the above assistance points: I am surrounded by positive people who support me in this endeavor, regardless of what place I come in. I will be stronger long-term because of the pain and ridiculous effort I have to put in every day just to get through these workouts.

My arrow is pointing up and this state is temporary. I must remember that.

Someday I will not be in last place. I might even be good… and that is when the flow state will start to show itself a bit more. I will continue to weather the storm in the temporary to enjoy the future capacity growth and other benefits. I have faith that my hard work is creating ability and will lead to some degree of success, however that may look.

A fifth point not mentioned above is also worth mentioning: gratitude and appreciation. We leaders push ourselves to meet almost-impossible success standards. Don’t just focus on future happiness, but recognize the small moments of happiness and victory during this season. Life is too short to allow a relentless drive to manifest an ever-present sense of discontent. Don’t forget to notice on the happy and wonderful things around you. I actively choose to laugh and enjoy the daily struggle of cross fit – and to embrace the opportunity I’ve been given as joyously as possible, even when it’s remarkably hard, and it keeps me going back every day.

Humility is not fun… but conscious and proactive choices can make this state of being manageable. Because of our intentional struggle, we grow, accomplish, and become more than we can imagine. We further actualize our potential and increase our capacity to be amazing.

What are some struggles you intentionally put yourself through? What things you do to make struggle states more bearable? When have you struggled to eventually overcome a plateau?

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Becoming Superfluous

We’re leaders. We’re used to – well – leading our teams and other leaders. That’s sort of our thing.

Being leaders, we’re used to calling the shots, making the hard decisions, and spearheading positivity from the front. But what if we were present with our teams but unable to do most of that when it mattered most?

This was my last two weeks.

In retail, the holiday season is gigantic. Come November, one half of our being is spent focusing on the normal job stuff but the other half is spent preparing for the last two weeks of December. I am no different here. However, around December 15th, something unexpected happened: I lost my voice. When I say “lost,” I mean straight up “lost.” We’re not talking Joan Rivers voice or Dom DeLuise. We’re talking whispering as best case scenario but even then it felt like broken glass in my throat. What’s more is that it was almost totally gone up until today, December 26th. What the heck?

I am a firm believer in the value of learning in every moment. It really bugged me that I was stuck stocking or doing office stuff when I wanted to be sweating and laughing alongside my team amidst the holiday shopping frenzy…but it didn’t take long to realize that I was largely not needed… and that is awesome.

It showed me that I have outstanding leaders just waiting to take flight, waiting for their chance to step up and shine. Everything I’d invested in my people could now be put on display…and did they ever shine!

Customers were happy. The sales floor looked awesome. Morale was great. Numbers were fine. No disasters happened. Everything was awesome.

How often do we stand in the way of our leaders, even when it is well intentioned?

How many people are ready to jump up to the next level and take our place of leading leaders?

So here is my challenge to you: Get the heck out of the way. Let your leaders lead and be awesome. Even if it is uncomfortable – and it should be uncomfortable – trust your leaders to learn on the fly, lead their teams confidently, make some mistakes, and make some awesome decisions. Give them feedback and create factors in the environment that will allow your leaders to grow through that process. It may surprise you who steps up and how they step up.

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December 26, 2016 · 8:14 am

The economy of our time

How profound would your life be if you truncated fluff from your daily schedule and replaced it with actions that matter?

Let’s say this is a prototypical weekday schedule for many American millenials:

6am-7am – Workout

7am-8am – Get ready for work

8am-5pm – Work

5pm-6pm – Eat

6pm-7pm – Browse internet, facebook, chat with friends

7pm-9pm – Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, etc…

9pm-10pm – Get ready for bed, various tasks

10pm – Go to sleep.

This is pretty close to typical for many people in my age group. It’s not a bad day – and let me make it clear that I am not against this – but what’s the point?

“Wake, eat, work, eat, work, eat, rest, sleep, repeat.” Is that what we hope others remember of us long after we’re gone?  Where is the impact on the world?

What if life could have more purpose by rearranging some things and prioritizing a more profound focus on others?

6am-7am – Workout

7am-8am – Get ready for work

8am-5pm – Work

5pm-6pm – Eat

6pm-7pm – Volunteer somewhere

7pm-8pm – Journal/meditate/pray/blog about your volunteer experience

8pm-9pm – Decompression time. Netflix, book, whatever.

9pm – 9:30pm – Intentional time to connect with a loved one

9:30pm -10pm – Get ready for bed

10pm – Sleep

In an ideal world, consider this schedule. A person gives 1-2 hours a day towards bettering others. There is still self-care, still introvert time, and still time to let the brain rest…

Imagine a world where we each invested 1 hour a day in improving each other.

Each person would give 7 hours a week, 365 hours a year to others.

A town of 50,000 people would give 350,000 hours a week to each other!

How would this effect society? Politics? Socio-economic divide? Poverty? Depression? Mental and physical health?

Is this commitment possible? What do you think? Or am I just one more idealist millennial blogger, dreaming big and believing too much in the goodness of others?

 

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