Posts Tagged ‘mindset’

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

Becoming a Change Agent

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“If you do not create change, change will create you.” — Unknown

A change agent is a person who initiates, promotes, and supports a new way of doing something, whether it’s the use of a new process, the adoption of a new structure or bringing about the transformation of an old way to a new one. In business, some are given this title to bring about the necessary change within an organization, whether it be in management processes or structure or a shift in the business model. But whether or not it’s in your job title, in some form or another, we all are called to be agents of change.

If you are change resistant, it may surprise you to learn that change happens whether you like it or not. Take aging, for instance, that process which happens to us all which is associated with biological, behavioral, physiological, and social processing changes. In her article entitled, The Science of How Your Body Ages, Nicole Saporita explains how change is continually shaping our bodies. Her words? “Aging is happening on a cellular level at every moment”. [https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a27630177/aging-process-signs/].

And as your body reshapes itself, day by day, so does your brain. Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist, believes that our brains arrive in the world unfinished, and it takes a lifetime of experiences to further wire it. In his words, our brains are “rewriting themselves all the time.” You can read more about this at https://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/09/we-are-wired-to-learn-change-and-engage-the-brain-with-dr-david-eagleman/.

And I don’t think there is anyone who can disagree that the world around us is changing at rapid, if not alarming, speeds.

Being able to catalyze change when needed is a competency of emotional intelligence. People who have this ability demonstrate the mental agility needed to consider new ways of doing things. They recognize the need for change, picking up on early signals and signs which communicate a shift is needed. They are willing to take ownership of change initiatives, and when barriers arise, are quick to figure out ways to move them out of the way. They are open to challenging the status quo and aren’t afraid of resistance or opposition. Not only do these change agents champion change, they are able to inspire others to join in its pursuit.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”Benjamin Franklin

Don’t feel bad if you’re not strong in this area — many are not. How can you tell? You most likely are happy with the status quo and find yourself saying often, “But this is the way we’ve always done it!” or, “Things used to be better in the old days…”. You may have a bit of a closed mind when it comes to innovative ideas and those new employees with all the fresh ideas? They may really get on your nerves. While it’s normal to resist change, this fixed mindset can result in a failure to be adequately prepared for the future and keep up with changing times.

How do you know when it’s time to make a change? One of the primary signals of a necessary transition is the feeling of being stuck. Often in life, we hit places where we feel like we aren’t making a difference, or can’t, or feel as if life is just a series of dull routines which have no significant outcomes. You may feel bored. Frustrated. Disheartened. When you are experiencing that ho-hum feeling, it can be an indication that change may be just what the doctor ordered. And though there are some things in life you just can’t change, as we mentioned above, there are many choices we do have to bring about change.

“Resistance to change should be a thing of the past if we could develop growth mindsets and create organizations with growth cultures.” ― Paul Gibbons

Consider these simple changes which may create some movement for you in a new direction:

1-Change your scenery — It’s time to take a break from looking at your phone and computer. Most of us can agree we spend way too much time looking at screens. Get up, take a break, and get a fresh perspective. Work from a different room in your house, set up an outside desk if possible, or simply face a new wall in your home office. Take a walk down a path you’ve never explored. Drive along a different route than usual. Try a new restaurant. Read a new book. Take a weekend trip to somewhere new. Altering your surroundings can be an easy first step toward embracing change.

2-Change your media intake. Do you have the news on 24/7? Or always listen to the same podcaster with the same opinions? Try a new source of news, or listen to a podcast with a unique perspective. Even bolder, try turning off media for a while, or make a decision to stop scrolling on social media for a period of time. Listen to an audio book instead, chat with a colleague, or crazier yet — try enjoying some silence. Sometimes our best insights come when we create space to really hear.

3-Change your social interactions. Making new friends may be tough right now, but new connections can boost your spirits and spur a growth mindset from the sharing of ideas. Join a local social group, or a special interest group (kayaking, birding, book club, social justice, etc.) and join their next virtual meeting. Get to know a colleague better who shares a similar vision. Make a point to deepen a connection with a family member or neighbor, or simply ‘show yourself friendly’ with the next human you come into contact with.

4-Change your order of operations. We tend to develop routines and stick to them, and this can be a great asset toward accomplishment of goals. But don’t be afraid to mix things up once in a while, to stay open to new perspectives. For example, instead of always sitting at your office desk for work, try working from a coffeeshop or a shady spot in a nearby park. Instead of always eating at 5 pm, try a late-night dinner. If you always go on a run for exercise, consider trying a new sport or activity. Changing up the routines can fire new neurons in your brain which can boost creativity and innovation.

Learning to embrace change (and even initiate it) can add value to your life, bringing about advantages such as personal growth, flexibility, strength, and resilience…all qualities which help us get to the other side of tough times.

“So I beg you to think of change more positively. When we say “This is a game changer,” that connotes something good and positive.” — Allen Karl

In his article, 20 Reasons Change Is Good For You, Allen Karl outlines a number of benefits of change. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Change helps avoid stagnation
  • Change forces us out of comfort zones
  • Change introduces adventure
  • Change conserves energy (it takes more energy to fight change than to embrace it)
  • Change brings about learning
  • Change enables you to see possibilities
  • Change provides fresh opportunities
  • Change forces you to move in a new direction
  • Change can help you overcome fears
  • Change is a harbinger of possibilities

[https://www.allankarl.com/everything-must-change%E2%80%A620-reasons-why-change-is-good/?]

If becoming change agent is a competency you’d like to develop, you may find John Kotter’s book, Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996) , a good place to start. Kotter came up with eight steps to bring about successful change. You may want to start with number one and work your way up, or, notice which step you’re stuck on and brainstorm ways to gain traction in just that area.

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Collaborate with others and build teams
  3. Establish the vision
  4. Communicate clearly to win your team’s buy in
  5. Empower team members to take action
  6. Figure out ways to celebrate short-term wins
  7. Build upon gains to push forward
  8. Anchor the change so it sticks

What is one area of your life which needs a change? As you ponder each step above, jot down a few notes around how each could move you closer toward your goal. As with most things in life, change can only happen when you begin. So start small, with one, forward-moving step.

What will you do today to initiate forward movement in an area of your life?

“Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”Ann Morrow Lindbergh

3 Innovative Ways to Set New Year Goals

Article contributed by guest author Diana Lowe

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Every year we all follow the same pattern with new hope in the air and the feeling of a fresh new start to all the possibilities that lie ahead. It is only natural that we want to set new goals for the new year.

Sadly, as we also know that that fresh recommitment to having a different type of year only lasts for a few weeks into the new year. In fact, “Research shows that as many as 50 percent of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10 percent actually keep them for more than a few months.”

According to an article on FSU News “On average, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. Research shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.” Clearly, that 6 weeks in period is not enough time to change behavior.

The truth is that COVID-19 shook us up and we are still dealing with this “new normal”. Well I think nothing is normal these days at all if you ask me. But we are more like in an experimental laboratory trying to figure out what works for us and others.

Because of this uncertainty, I came up with 3 innovative ways you can still make goals regardless of your external circumstances and what may happen this year. After all, we can’t change our external environment unless we change our internal environment.

Think about it, goals are always about what I want to attain, acquire, or achieve from the outside, financial goals, team growth, etc. Instead, I invite you to try something different. Focus on goals from within. Challenge your weaknesses, confront your fears, and raise your skill level.

The first innovative way to “Set New Year Goals” is to make a “feeling” your goal. This is no easy feat, but with conscious effort, positive reinforcement, and accountability you would be changing your environment around you.

Let’s say for example you have the feeling that the world is against you. That means that every challenging event that you encounter would essentially be against you, either holding you back or keeping you down. If you changed your “goal” to focus on the feeling of being courageous in the face of challenges, you will encounter the challenge in a very different way, and take different actions. The key is to become more self-aware of your natural tendencies and what you’re thinking, your behaviors, and overall your habits.

The second innovative way is closely aligned with the first way. It is to become more acutely aware of your physical actions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Anyone who has practiced mindfulness can attest to the powerful transformation it can bring to one’s life and state of being. There are numerous studies on the benefits of mindfulness, and because it is a practice. It is something that we attempt every day.

As I write this I am practicing being present feeling my feet on the floor, my back against the seat, and the satisfying feeling of my fingers dancing on the keys. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be sitting still it can be just putting our attention to something right in front of us, or around us. Focusing on self awareness, mindfulness, and even awareness around other peoples feelings can and will change our outlook on a situation. It’s the act of being present, which is a gift.

And the third way is focusing on de-triggering yourself. What does that mean? A trigger is a “cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.” So by a ‘trigger’, I mean an event or situation that can cause us to have an undesired negative reaction or response emotionally (it could even be physically).

We all have ‘triggers’ and the reaction can appear in many different ways and sometimes can be released at the most inopportune moments.

My clients tell me at work ‘triggers’ might be an off handed comment about their work, the feeling that they are talking and no one is acknowledging or listening to them, an email response that doesn’t come back in a timely manner, or even a facial expression by a coworker.

I notice, personally, I am triggered when I feel emotionally drained and then my little one does something that just is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, like refusing to eat what I have cooked! So it takes extra emotional energy to have that compassion. So instead I just learned how to de-trigger those moments.

This is a skill I work on with, with myself and my clients too. And we all have some sort of trigger that makes us feel like we lose it emotionally. Some people can be set off easily and for others, it takes more time but eventually, it comes out in some way.

Now in a workplace environment, in general, most professionals try not to emotionally lose it in front of others, but guess what? It leaks out! In your actions or lack of actions, your tone, your words, your facial expressions, etc.

And what some deem as “not losing it” others think “wow they really lost their composure”. By working on de-triggering your most stressful moments you can also affect your environment for the better, and your ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

There you have it, 3 simple and innovative ways to “Set Goals” for the new year, which allows you to grow in your personal and professional capacity.

What other innovative ways have you tried to “Set Goals”? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Sources:

  1. https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/business/triggers/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CA%20trigger%20is%20any%20stimulus,motivation%20and%20understanding%20and%20ability%E2%80%9D.
  2. https://www.westernconnecticuthealthnetwork.org/newsroom/article-listing/new-years-resolutions
  3. https://www.fsunews.com/story/news/2020/01/05/how-make-your-new-years-resolutions-last/2818222001/

Ending the Year with Celebration

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

It’s been quite the year. The thought of looking back on 2020 with a celebratory outlook may seem like a joke. A bad joke. If I asked you to name for me all the negative things which have happened this past year, I’m guessing you could rattle off a dozen or two without effort. Me too. It makes sense that we may not find reason to celebrate this past year, in any shape or form.

But it’s no joke. Though the heartaches and disappointments we’ve experienced are very real–not to mention the powerful, negative emotions which accompanied them–they don’t encompass everything we’ve experienced. Sprinkled throughout the bad have been very good things, though they may take a little more work to remember. And learning to reflect on the positives alongside the negatives of this past year can have a great impact on how well we launch the coming year.

If you’ve been a human on this earth for very long, you are well aware that life is a jumble of joys and pains, happys and sads, positives and negatives. And without the lows we can’t fully experience the highs.

But be aware of this: our brains have a negative bias. Think about the last time you felt really, really discouraged or down. Maybe it was this morning. Did you notice how easy it was to ruminate on the negative, and how those thoughts affected other thoughts and actions you entertained during the negativity? It’s like we get tunnel vision and nothing seems to go well. It’s normal because our brains are wired to function this way. Kendra Cherry, in her article, “What is the Negativity Bias?”, notes, “It is the “bad things” that grab our attention, stick to our memories, and, in many cases, influence the decisions that we make.” In one study, researchers found that the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain which plays a key role in perception, awareness, thought, memory, and consciousness, registered a much strong response to negative images than positive ones. Originally, this leaning toward the negative was probably a survival adaption, in times when danger was ever-present. Those who were attuned to potential danger had a greater chance of survival. But for many of us, we no longer in constant physical harm. Yet the negative bias remains. If we’re not careful, this slant can have a harmful effect on our relationships and decision-making. [https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618]. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill, Founding Co-Chair of the Association of Positive Emotion Laboratories, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has done extensive research on the power of positive and negative emotions. Her work shows that negative emotions narrow our minds, to the point of seeing fewer options, diminishing our creativity and problem-solving skills, assets we most need when times are tough. [https://www.huffpost.com/entry/positive-thinking_b_351220].

“This bias toward the negative leads you to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.” — Kendra Cherry

We also have the ability to choose a positive mindset, and make a choice to celebrate our wins, no matter how small or few and far between. And in doing so, we can begin to see our way through the tough times. I’ll never forget the example of this I experienced when I was in Africa, on a mission trip. Our small team paid a visit to a home (a one-room structure made of mud bricks with a dirt floor, which housed a family of seven), where one woman offered up the most heartfelt prayer of thanks I had ever heard. As she enthusiastically expressed her gratitude for their “overflowing and abundant blessings”, I looked around me and saw nothing but poverty…a rusted bicycle with a flat tire, the dilapidated house, children in ragged clothing with flies crawling on their dirt-encrusted skin, broken, cracked cooking pots, and an array of old, yellow gas cans scattered across the hard-packed ground, to be used for gathering water…yet she exhibited more joy than I had ever witnessed. This amazing woman chose to see the good aspects of her life and celebrate her wins despite her tough circumstances. She made a lasting impact upon me.

James Clear, in an article entitled, “The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work”, says this: “When you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life.” In turn, positive emotions allow us to build new skills and resources vital to navigating tough circumstances. [https://jamesclear.com/positive-thinking]

So, choosing to ruminate losses or celebrate wins is a choice. We get to decide which mindset we’ll make a part of our everyday routine, and no one can make the choice for us. If we decide to focus on what’s gone wrong, we’ll be walking in step with most humans who are bent on negativity. However, if developing a celebratory mindset is appealing, here are a few ways to get started:

Reflect on what went wrong. What went wrong? Yes, it’s a surprising one, but ignoring negativities won’t help. Acknowledging your struggles and allowing yourself to experience grief from losses can actually help you move forward. Write these down and/or find a close friend or counselor to talk through them with if needed.

Note the emotions you felt during the tough times. Try to name them, specifically, and connect each to the why. For example, you could say, “I felt disappointed, and angry, because my company let me go and I had live off of unemployment. This resulted in me feeling downhearted and cynical.”

With each wrong, list one good thing which came along with it. This may be a stretch to discover, but they are there. For example, if you lost your job, maybe you were able to get more sleep due to the extra time off work, which improved your physical health. Maybe the process sent you on a job search to find a career you actually enjoy. Possibly you were able to encourage others who were in the same shoes as you. Find the positive side effects of the negative events and write them down.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

Express gratitude for the things that went south because of the joys which came along with them. There are many ways to express gratitude, but simply saying “Thank you” aloud is a good place to start. You could write an “I’m thankful for ____” list, or have a conversation with a friend and share your appreciation for the good and the bad with them.

Now remember all the things that went well. These may be as trivial as finding a mask in your coat pocket when you thought you’d forgotten to bring one to the grocery, or as grand as business successes or relationship wins. Write these down, tell them to a friend, add them to your journal. Be sure to acknowledge the people who contributed to your successes, and personally thank them.

Don’t underestimate the impact you are having on others. Even if you think others aren’t watching, you may be surprised how the simplest of actions affect others. Try this one on for size: Post a negative comment on your social media page and sit back and watch how many people chime in with negativity. On the flip side, phone a friend simply to let them know how much you appreciate them, and be specific with your words. Watch and see whether this causes them to feel discouraged or encouraged. Just as negativity breeds negativity, positivity breeds positivity. If not for yourself, embrace a positive mindset to encourage others.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Weisel

Remember that adversity builds resilience. There’s the old fable of the donkey whose master no longer wanted him, so he threw the poor animal into a deep, dark pit and began scooping shovelfuls of dirt to bury him. Instead of letting this terrible act of unkindness defeat him, the ingenious donkey instead tamped the dirt down with his small hooves and built a staircase, upon which he used to ascend out of the dark pit. How can you repurpose the troubles of 2020 to construct solutions and climb out of your pit?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

Know that you are stronger than you think. Robert Schuller, pastor, motivational speaker, and author, once said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Just as the positive emotions of joyful events eventually fades, so does the pain from losses. In other words, emotions come and go, but we are able to keep on keepin’ on. A 2002 study of widow and widowers proved this point, in which, barring those who experienced chronic grief, the data showed that most participants returned to their baseline of functioning after a year and a half. [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/ctx.2006.5.4.22]. As my kids and I used to remind ourselves when times were challenging, “We can do hard things.”

Incorporating these practices into our day-to-day mindset won’t necessarily come naturally or easily. Embracing positivity takes effort, especially when the popular mindset is to focus on what’s gone wrong. But this shift can provide the fuel necessary to start the new year off on a good foot. Instead of looking back on 2020 as the worst year ever, consider reflecting on the past year in a new light. Find those positives — the new skills developed, the deeper connections built, the lessons learned, the insights incurred — and celebrate 2020 as the year you ________! (fill in the blank)

This positive-but-realistic mindset of celebration can frame the coming year with the fresh, innovative outlook needed to navigate what’s to come.

“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” – Doe Zantamata

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