Managing Your Anxiety in the Workplace

Posted by on Dec 16, 2014 in Mindfulness, Self-awareness | 0 comments

A client called me from a trip to San Francisco for a job interview, experiencing heightened anxiety. She doesn’t need the job as she already has a good one on the East Coast. Plus, since she has been recruited by several organizations and has had multiple phone interviews with no anxiety, we discussed where the increased emotional response came from. Based on my reading about the brain, we have highly developed sensors for novelty, as novelty or ambiguous situations can be threatening. Threat arouses the amygdala, and any previous similar threat that has been encoded in memory in the hippocampus adds to the fear response. The hypothalamus then sends messages to the pituitary glad where most hormones are governed. Cortisol and oxytocin flood our system, along with the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradreniline, speeding up our heart and shutting down clear thinking. In my client’s case, she has moved several times, and finds moving emotionally challenging and administratively complicated, stories encoded in her hippocampus. Being in San Francisco, as opposed to the telephone interviews, heightened her awareness of the moving aspect of taking another job, and increased her anxiety. What can she do to control the anxiety, especially before and during her interview? She can use a technique called reappraisal, where she uses the cognitive or executive functions of her brain to reinterpret the experience, actually reducing limbic activity. She can remember that part of the nervousness of each move is excitement, and that after the initial challenges, she has enjoyed discovering each new place. In the interview itself if anxiety surfaces, trying to suppress it doesn’t work, as that actually can heighten limbic arousal, and surprisingly, can throw off the person interviewing her. Simply naming the feeling can help her, as labeling it takes it to the abstract, engaging the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and moving the brain activity away from the amygdala. In the moment, if she is overcome by anxiety (especially if thoughts of past moves intrude), she can refocus her attention and divert activity in her brain by attending to the present and noticing sounds in the room, or the feeling of her feet on the carpet. Everything has a social emotional context, as much as we want to think of ourselves as thinking logical beings. Our responses to threat to move away are so quick because they help us survive. We can experience threat all the time at work, whether from real threat, or perceived threat both of which have the same impact on our limbic system, sending our hearts racing, and shutting down our thinking.  Our brains  give us an opportunity to reassess and control that automatic response, and we can learn techniques to practice and get better at emotional...

Read More

What do Email, Pot, and Lost Sleep Share?

Posted by on Nov 18, 2014 in Competence, Fatigue, Mindfulness, Problem Solving | 0 comments

I have been checking my email frequently, and the more I do it, the more I experience the compulsion to check it even more often, in spite of the constant interruptions causing wasted time getting back into my work, and it makes me somewhat agitated.  I am discovering it has a significant consequence in my loss of brain function – as  much or more than missing sleep or smoking pot, according to research. A study done at the University of London found constant email and text-messaging to drop IQ points an average of 10 points, the effect similar to missing a whole night’s sleep and or smoking pot.  It has an even more significant impact on men than women. One of the reasons is that the brain is being forced to be on alert far too much.  It increases your allostatic load, a reading of stress hormones and other factors relating to a sense of threat.  There is a real detrimental impact on the brain.   It puts it in the constant fight or flight mode, like constantly under attack by saber tooth tigers.  So my brain wants to be on alert even more – check that email again! Furthermore, multi-tasking or switching my focus of attention from my primary task to my email, negatively impacts my ability to learn and remember.  Even if I think I am good at multi-tasking, evidence shows that it actually deteriorates my performance, and also my awareness of my performance.  In other words, I think I am doing better and I am actually doing worse. So no matter how important I think my email is, I have been inhibiting my ability to think creatively, to problem solve, and to work efficiently and effectively. Instead,  I am going to experiment with breaking the pattern of checking email and texts frequently, and treating my brain with more care.  So if you don’t hear from me right away, congratulate me!  ...

Read More

6 Essential Elements of a Productive Career

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in Leadership Priorities, Mindfulness | 0 comments

  The following was part of author Dan Pink’s irregular newsletter of interesting stuff.  It seems appropriate, given this graduation time of year, to think about the elements of a satisfying career, and to take a moment to evaluate whether you have one.  If yes, great.  If no, what can you do about it? 6 ESSENTIAL LESSONS OF ANY SATISFYING, PRODUCTIVE CAREER Once students graduate, they need to find something to do besides playing Xbox in their parents’ basement. So a few years ago, I wrote a book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need to help young (and old) people understand the world of work. The 160-page graphic novel about a hapless office clerk, a tart-tongued sprite, and some magic chopsticks takes a whopping half-hour to read. But I know you’re busy, so let me save you 29 minutes by listing the book’s 6 key career lessons: 1. There is no plan. Make decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons. 2. Think strengths, not weaknesses. Do the things you do well — that give you energy rather than drain it. 3. It’s not about you. The most successful people improve their own lives by improving others’ lives. 4. Persistence trumps talent. There are massive returns to doggedness. 5. Make excellent mistakes. Commit errors from which the benefits of what you’ve learned exceed the costs of what you’ve screwed up. 6. Leave an imprint. Recognize that your life isn’t infinite and that you should use your limited time here to do something that matters. More: The Adventures of Johnny...

Read More

Want to increase your focus? Practice!

Posted by on Feb 13, 2014 in Mindfulness, Self-awareness, Time Management | 1 comment

A client called at the end of the day with fourteen open files representing fourteen different projects.  Starting but not finishing is a common problem of time management that comes, in part, from lack of focus.  Dan Goleman (think emotional intelligence) offers these thoughts and tips on focus in an interview reported on Linked-In. If you struggle with maintaining focus in meetings, this post ends with three tips for you.  “There are two obstacles to focus. Both of which have to do with how we manage our inner world. First: emotional distractions. These are the things in our lives, often relationships, that trouble us, but we can’t stop thinking about. Rumination is the most powerful distraction. On the other hand, thinking them through, and let the worry go is a good thing. Second: mindlessness. Our mind wanders and loses focus. The good news, mindfulness can be strengthened like a muscle. We can develop a habit of monitoring our attention and bring it back to what’s most important. “  “The benefits are very real at the brain level, shifting moods toward the positive, enhancing concentration, and speeding recovery from stress arousal.”  To increase your ability to focus, to control where your mind goes you need to practice it as a skill.  Here’s a one minute clip of Goleman talking about the skills practiced in a focused classroom in Spanish Harlem in New York.  (Hint – bring a teddy bear to work) Goleman offers three quick fixes for managing your wandering mind in another post : Manage the temptations around you Monitor your thoughts and become aware when you go off-track (the second thought, he calls it) Practice mindfulness daily And finally – what is grit and how does it relate to focus???? “Grit is the term psychologist Angela Duckworth uses for the ability to keep your focus on long term goals and strive for them despite setbacks. The ability to focus is the center this capacity. Cognitive control, being able to focus on one thing that’s important and ignore distractions, is essential to every step toward that larger goal. Both grit and cognitive control can be classified as self-regulation, which is a major part of emotional intelligence.”  Here are three tips to help you maintain focus in meetings from Duke University professor Cathy Davidson: Take notes to engage your brain and think critically Contribute to the discussion Refocus on the task at hand if your mind starts...

Read More

Your Awareness Filters Determine Your Choices

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Decision Making, Leadership, Mindfulness, Teams | 0 comments

Paying attention means seeing with as much clarity as possible, including seeing those filters through which you interpret the world and which determine what you tend to see and what you tend to miss.  You need to become more aware of what you don’t see.  Differences in culture, generations, training, family background, gender, etc. are all filters that determine what you notice and respond to. What age lady do you see in the drawing?  (Your experiences color how you take data and make sense of it.)  Hint:  there are two women of different ages, one looking down and one looking away. Context also determines how we filter information. Since it is physically impossible to pay active attention to all the stimuli around us, our brains are constantly choosing what’s important and what’s not important.  When my son was in an African game park doing research and sleeping in a tent, he paid careful attention when he heard grasses rustling outside.  I’m unlikely to notice grasses rustling outside the window of my office when I’m preparing a budget. Unfortunately, too many leaders allow their filters to blind them to important clues in their organization or in their marketplace.  That’s how Sony lost out to Apple and iTunes in the revolution of music distribution. Perspective also filters what we’re aware of.  Depending on where we’re standing, we see different sides of an issue.  If you stand on the beach to the left of the ball, you think it’s yellow.  If you stand on the beach to the right of the ball, you think it’s red.  Same in an organization; if I’m in sales, I’m aware of different issues than manufacturing.  Organization silos cause problems because of this filtering.  Cross-functional teams have problems when not aware of their distinct filters. My colleague and friend, CEO John Wipfler, JD, MBA said it well.  “In any one moment you are bombarded with multiple data points.  Our own awareness is a filter for what we allow in and what we do with it.  The more cleanly I take in information (without adding my biases) the more I open myself to my environment.” What filters are you looking through?  How do they differ from those of your colleagues?  Your customers?  Your vendors?     More on this in THE AWARENESS PARADIGM, A Story of Leadership Success Due out in...

Read More

The Awareness Paradigm – Why Awareness Matters

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in Leadership, Mindfulness | 1 comment

My new book is called The Awareness Paradigm, A Story of Leadership Success because I see awareness as the meta-skill from which all other leadership skills develop. You can’t lead if you don’t know who you are or where you’re going, so at the core of leadership is your ability to see all that is going on in your environment (including yourself) and make some meaning from it.  Then you need the skills to inspire others to be willing and able to follow. You can train yourself to increase your capacity to notice more, so that your awareness becomes more sophisticated and discriminating, just as you can increase your ability to discern differences in wine, beer or chocolate.     Try an easy exercise.   Start by writing down everything you are aware of right now. Everything.  What’s going on inside you, what’s going on with others around you, what’s in your environment that you can see, touch, smell, feel, or hear, or recall.  That’s just global awareness – being present to what is around you. Then look over your list to notice how some of your statements are judgments. (The color of this room is ugly.) Some of your statements are just data. (This paint is chipping.)  Notice how some are external – the room is square, and some are internal – I’m hungry. Do the exercise again, and you’ll see things you missed the first time around.    Go deeper into detail, and larger into broader observations. You could do this exercise first thing when you arrive at your office, increasing your awareness of the challenges you’ll face or the people you’re scheduled to meet, or the options for how you’ll use your time.  Quickly you will discover that you are taking in far more subtlety and detail. Increasing what you notice, whether it is happening inside you (internal) or happening outside you in the environment or within another person (external) is a key leadership skill.  Using that knowledge to make more informed choices allows you to carry out the tasks of leadership more effectively:  developing a vision, executing on the vision, developing people, holding people accountable, achieving results. I was fascinated to pick up a magazine from my son’s college and see on the first page a reiteration of how important awareness is to leadership.  In an essay on leadership in the William & Mary Alumni Magazine, president W. Taylor Reveley, III observed that with constant change around us, all successful leaders and institutions are always “under construction,” in order to stay relevant.  He goes on to describe what leaders do that matters:   “It’s rare that anything out of the ordinary in an organization – political, academic, corporate, not for profit – actually gets done unless someone, a live human, a leader, cuts through the fog of competing priorities and ever-present uncertainties, identifies the key contemporary needs, and persuades people to move effectively to meet them. So leaders spot things that need to be done and ensure priorities...

Read More