Green Tea and Dark Chocolate: Seven Steps to Guiding Your Brain for Success in 2017

Green Tea and Dark Chocolate: Seven Steps to Guiding Your Brain for Success in 2017

This will be the third time I have posted this blog as a kick off to a new year.  

 

Interestingly, it is the blog where I have received the most ‘likes’ and feedback over the past two years. (Hint: Please forward this to all your mates and ‘like’ it yourself – I’d love to break last year’s record!)

 

Being the third time, I feel I can now own this as my annual Green Tea and Dark Chocolate blog.  

 

Those who know me well know that I cannot live without my green tea; and dark chocolate, whilst attempting to reduce its influence on my life, still holds its own on my Five Essential Foods list.

 

Enjoy!

 

Having a theme for the year has served me well over the past few years.

 

Your brain is dealing with many, many bits of information and data entering your senses at any one time, and you only have capacity to pay conscious attention to a relatively small amount.

 

The RAS (Reticular Activating System) is a useful little part of your brain that decides what data – from outside and inside your body – your brain will pay attention to.

 

The issue to consider is whether the choices your RAS are making are useful for you!

 

In the absence of any direction from you, the choices and decisions your RAS makes will be…

 

  • random, or
  • based on your past instructions or interests or random thoughts, OR
  • in line with a more primitive decision-making set of instructions designed to ensure your survival.

 

In light of this, taking the time teach year to give my RAS the gift of a solid ‘theme’ for the year has served me well.

 

For example, my theme back in 2014 was ‘PROFILE’– I wanted to raise the profile of my business and my expertise to attract new clients.

 

What happened was three-fold:

 

  1. I started to come across (and pay attention to) more opportunities to raise or contribute to my business and professional profile.
  2. I was proactive in making decisions that supported that particular outcome over other potential outcomes.
  3. I was more likely to act on such opportunities than I would have been in the past.

 

As a result, I more easily achieved my business objectives than I had anticipated.

 

In the absence of a well-thought out ‘theme’ I would probably not have paid as much. Or any attention to the opportunities. Or I may have tended to continue to make decisions and choices similar to the previous year (stay in my comfort zone). Or I may have failed to overcome my inertia on acting on the opportunities due to a desire to protect myself from the risk of doing something new and different.

 

In 2015 my theme was REWIRE – helping my clients to change their thinking and behavioural habits through the evolution of my programs. In 2016 it was CORE and I was on the road to developing an entire curriculum around this concept. BUT, CORE didn’t actually happen – instead, it evolved to a different but even better curriculum.

 

Over the last three years, the specifics I had in mind didn’t necessarily appear precisely as intended, but something else of equal value did. It was the fact that I was on a journey and had a thematic end in mind that counted. The fact that the goal wasn’t so specific also let me off the hook so I didn’t get caught up in ‘failure’.

 

Doing new, great stuff is difficult for the human brain and requires deliberate attention and undesirable effort. So, to make this a little easier, I encourage you to take some time TODAY to start providing some guidance for your RAS this year.

 

Here is my SEVEN STEP process to get you started…

 

FIRST…take some time out and head to a café where you can indulge in coffee and cake (or green tea and dark chocolate in my case – there it is – finally the reference to the title), and a notebook or device or small whiteboard depending on your personal process for scribbling and creating!

 

THEN…just reflect on what you want—big picture 1/3/5 years from now, how last year went, what needs to be different, what will give you the biggest bang for your buck this year, what you don’t want to happen this year, where you want to be in December… Create a vision board of scribbles and key words—WHATEVER takes your reflection fancy. AVOID lists and lengthy prose – use bubbles and key words and pretty pictures. Do this…

 

SO YOU CAN…land on a series of tangible and intangible goals that excite you! Let your imagination go here…don’t hold back. You need to zoom in to some specifics before you zoom out again to find your theme (note…these goals must EXCITE you).

 

NOW YOU NEED TO…take a step back and consider the shift or change or ONE THING that is going to make a difference and help you to achieve these goals – what has been the barrier in the past, what has gotten in the way, or what have you failed to do enough of or well enough. Write down a few ideas and order another cupcake or dark chocolate thingy.

 

AND THEN…forget it all for a while… That’s enough for now. Stop thinking about it and take a few days to let your brain percolate over this. Add to your notes as ideas come. Discuss it over more coffee. Eventually, the WORD or THEME will hit you when you least expect it, and when it does…

 

PROCLAIM TO THE WORLD…write it, blog about it, draw it, figure out what it looks like everyday, share it with your team and discuss what it means for you and them. Immerse yourself in it, set mindful reminders to make sure it is in front of mind. Do whatever you need to do to clearly instruct your RAS that THIS IS IT FOR 2017…this is our (meaning you and your brain’s) goal, our influencing context, our foundation, our driver. Hardwire it into your RAS – then get on with your year. And finally…

 

TEST YOURSELF and PIVOT… At the end of a meeting or conversation ask yourself…did I engage with my theme? Set device reminders to make sure you check in and reconnect with it regularly. If things aren’t quite working out, then PIVOT – make a small change in direction or energy to keep you on track. It’s OK to let your theme evolve.

 

At the end of the day/month etc, diarise a green tea and dark chocolate meeting with yourself and/or your team to reflect on how your theme is going. The BIG TEST is whether the theme is influencing your professional decisions and behaviours. If not, it’s probably not the right theme, or you are not really committed to it – just interested in the idea of it! If this is the case, change it, or get off your butt and commit to it.

 

Good luck. I hope it works for you like it works for me.

 

By the way, my words for 2017 is LEADING HUMANS. I feel a passion for becoming one (a better version of myself), and for creating them, so they can in turn lead them! Watch this space.

 

Welcome to 2017 – your best year ever – and I look forward to supporting you on your professional and personal journey!

I’m busy…taking a break!

I’m busy…taking a break!

I am in Fiji with my family on a break, which really just means that I am working a bit less, and in a much nicer environment than usual!


I overheard this somewhat amusing verbal exchange whilst sitting on my ocean-view balcony… (I’m
sorry, I just had to mention that bit).


Isaac and Oscar, who I guessed were aged 8 and 10, were playing in the pool – loudly. Before long, the overused and much-maligned (if you are a mother) call began…


Mum…


Mum…


Muuuuuuummmmmm
!!!


A slightly irritated mature and female voice finally replied… “I’m busy!”


Oscar, equally as irritated, then responded with a delightful “Doing WHAT?”


Mum (gritting her teeth) quickly replied… “Having…a…holiday!”


After
a giggleI did start to reflect.


I wonder if primitive man needed to go to Fiji for a holiday to ‘get away from it all’. The Fijians, who openly and proudly operate on
Fiji Time, don’t seem to be stressed and in need of forced relaxation. The speed at which they operate in making my holiday wonderful, is not break-neck, yet it is effective, and most things manage to happen on time – at least those that are important. The Fijians definitely are not stressed, overworked or cranky!


From my observation, Fiji time is far from an excuse, it is a sophisticated attitude that keeps an entire nation calm, unstressed and functional, regardless of its challenges. It is an attitude that enables them to consistently deal with the present…with what is presented to them in that moment, and to be OK with that. After all, what can we usefully do about the past or the future without dealing with the present?


One are
a of focus in my Master Leader program is to help leaders to develop mastery in Execution – in getting the very best from themselves and others – leading to better performance. Not to mention the benefits in terms of sustainability and good quality cognition.


Here
is a reminder of some small things you can do that might have a big impact on how you ‘execute’ your day.


Get enough sleep – you’ve heard it before, but make sure you do. The best quality REM sleep for most people is between 10 pm and midnight – so going to bed early and rising early is much better for your brain. And remember, close down the blue light screens at least an hour or two before bed (just video record ‘The Bachelor’ and watch it on the
weekend).


Novelty – the brain loves novelty so change it up a bit during your day – have a meeting at a coffee shop, or a standing meeting. Schedule a meeting for 17 or 47 minutes and stick to it.
Novelty creates a release in Dopamine (the happy hormone) and dopamine helps us to be focused.


Brain breaks – take one every 45
minutes – even it that means to stare out the window for a few minutes and daydream, then you can get back to your task. Plan for the 45-minute break – focus on something that you know will take around 45 minutes to complete. You can download a ‘mindfulness bell’ (google it) to remind you to do that.


Brain cycle design – your brain will naturally work on a cycle of focus and mind-wandering around every 45
minutes, so be present to that natural break, then stop and ask yourself… ‘What have I achieved in the last 45 minutes? Was it quality? Was it useful? How should I best spend the next 45 minutes? Another app that can help you here is the Pomodoro effect (google it).


Manage your Executive Brain resource – you have around two to three hours of good quality thinking brain time – to focus on tasks and activities that are not automatic
for you. Be aware of that and manage that time well. Do your most challenging and high level thinking when you are fresh and aim to only do three of those kinds of tasks in a day. Make sure that you ‘top up’ through good quality nourishment, and are taking those brain breaks. If you don’t manage this well, you will, at some point, switch from running on brain fuel to running on adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) which have long term negative impact on your brain and body.


Harness the power of
mind-wandering – your brain will make its most powerful and useful connections (AHA moments) when NOT thinking about an issue or problem. So when you are trying to think something through…do the thinking, the research, and be clear on the outcome you want, then put it to the side and either do something else, take a walk, daydream about your upcoming trip to Fiji, or close your eyes and have a nap or a doze (between 6 and 20 minutes in a nearby park is all you need). This will allow your brain to work it’s magic.


Stay
refueled – your brain runs on a fuel of glucose and oxygen, and is heavily reliant on water (it’s made up of 80% water), so stay actively hydrated (maybe at that 45-minute break) and go for short and long walks when you can. In terms of your brain, walking is much better than running, because when you run, much of the oxygen you take in will be re-directed to your muscles rather than your brain, so make sure you do both. Take the stairs, deliver the message on foot rather than email, and of course some mindful deep breathing will also do the trick.


And finally, do not underestimate the power of deep, diaphragmatic breathing to manage stress. Your lungs, heart and head are connected in a ‘system’ and the most effective way to control the pace of this system is through your lungs – through breathing. Fast breathing sends a signal to the brain that there is danger
, and sets off the fight/flight system. Slow breathing lets it know that the danger is over, and the system returns to what is called ‘homeostasis’ and resumes normal functioning. Three to four breaths every 45 minutes will provide ‘amazing’ return on investment – great for before and after that very important presentation or meeting. Check out an app called ‘My Calm Beat’ to help you.


You may know all this, but so do I, and yet, in our busy and distracted world, we find it increasing difficult to implement, despite the benefits. So if you are struggling, put in place systems (use that distraction machine to download some apps to help you) that will help you to develop these habits of execution that will support you to be at your best more often. And maybe turn that machine off occasionally.


But…don’t let that stop you from booking your holiday to Fiji!


Michelle

Giving the Gift of your Attention in Conversations

Giving the Gift of your Attention in Conversations

My best friend from my childhood married much earlier than I, and had her second child around a year before I had my first.  After many years, we found ourselves in the same city and relished in the time we were again able to spend with each other.

 

They were those unique years when your children are young and you are in the cocoon of day care, kindy, and prep…spending time at parks, swimming lessons and a myriad of other activities designed to develop the social and physical skills of your kiddies.

 

We are two very different personalities – she the ever-calm and in-control introvert, and me the too-busy, everything must be done right now extravert.

 

But there was a moment I will never forget, that forever changed the way I now try to engage in conversation.

 

Her son was explaining ‘something’ and taking his distracted and typically six-year old time about it.  Me…I would have tried to hurry him up or get bored and make an assumption about what he wanted to say and finished his sentences for him.

 

But not my friend, she simply paused, looked him in straight in the eye, dipping slightly closer to his level, and waited for him to get it all out – and all with an encouraging and patient smile.

 

It is hard to explain but it was such a lovely and respectful moment.  She gave him the gift and respect of her complete attention – placing him squarely in a place of value and importance.

 

In that moment, of all the things competing for her attention, she chose to shine the light of her attention on him – and he shone.

 

From that time on, I have been so conscious, firstly with my children and family, and then to a wider audience, of the impact of my attention during conversations, and specifically during times of stress and rush.

 

What I have found is that not only does this have an amazingly positive impact on the recipient of my attention and their sense of self-worth, their ability to access their creative self, and their willingness to own their own stuff, but the value to me is enormous.

 

I see them more honestly, I listen better, I take the time to really understand them, and often my initial assumptions about what is going on with them are proven to be just that – assumptions – and I am much more able to be curious.

 

The ability to be curious is essential in building relationships, in getting to the truth, and in having conversations that count.

 

US psychologist, Dr Mark Holder, in his TED Talk suggests that there are three words that can literally change your life.  They are…

 

“Tell me more…”

 

or another three

 

“What happened next…”

 

This week’s conversation challenge is to tune in to when you are, and are not, giving your attention in a useful and respectful way.

 

Have a great day!

 

Michelle

How to win the Emotional Contagion Battle

How to win the Emotional Contagion Battle

Someone will always win – let it be you!

 

My friend ‘Harold’ and I were yesterday discussing the critical impact that conversations have on the culture and performance of an organisation. Harold is a highly respected and experienced businessman and consultant, semi-retired, and currently Chairman of the Board of a very large institution embarking on a necessary and significant cultural change process

 

Interestingly, he was lamenting the state of conversation he is experiencing across the board – in politics, in coffee shops, in business meetings and in Boardrooms. Harold came to Australia in the 1970’s – to a refreshing culture of boldness, larrikinism and authenticity which, in his observation, seems to have been diluted and sanitised to the point of non-existence – and in his opinion to the detriment of the culture of both our personal and professional worlds.

 

“You start a conversation over a coffee, and it ends up a whinge-fest and somehow you get drawn into it.”

 

And that’s called Emotional Contagion. It’s a real and powerful force. AND it operates predominantly below our conscious realisation.

 

Your brain is highly tuned to connect and align with the emotional states of those around you, and for good reason via some clever brain cells called mirror neurons.

 

Imagine you are not in the line of sight of some form of extreme danger, but your friend is. Your friend sees it, they become instantly fearful, and somehow you are able to instantly and intuitively pick up on that fear and feel it as well, without any form of deliberate or language-based communication needed and you respond accordingly. From an evolutionary perspective, this sophisticated human ability is quite useful in keeping you safe.

 

Emotional contagion is why you can intuitively ‘know’ when your child or partner is not happy, or that the manager at the end of the boardroom table is about to share something bad.

 

So when two or more individuals come together in two or more emotional states, there begins a battle. In this Emotional Contagion Battle, with the absence of deliberate and conscious overriding, the negative emotion will always win – for all the evolutionary reasons I’ve already mentioned.

 

And it is a difficult battle to win. It can feel a bit like yellow food colouring in a glass of water fighting to stay yellow when some black has been mixed in…! An uphill battle!

 

Sometimes, of course, this overriding negative view is necessary, but in our socially evolved and relatively safe business environments it gets in the way of the objectivity, logic and useful intuition needed for a great organisational culture to survive.

 

Now the evolutionary odds are against us here.

  • Humans are born with a negativity bias – an evolutionary tendency to view the world from a negative perspective before a positive one.
  • To save the expensive use of brain fuel required to think consciously, our brains encode and automate repeated patterns of thinking and behaviour – if you regularly see or engage in ‘whinging’, then your brain encodes (hardwired) that way of being.
  • Engaging in those hardwired activities is easy and preferred by the brain – again under the brain fuel saving banner.

 

So, it’s hard, but only when we are not paying attention. And of course, for all the same reasons we can start to REWIRE and train ourselves to firstly, reframe to overcome our natural tendency to be drawn to the negative, and then, with full conscious deliberate-ness, WIN THE EMOTIONAL CONTAGION BATTLE.

 

Someone will always win – let it be you.

 

So let’s apply Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle to this…

 

We’ve started with WHY it is important for you to be on the lookout and deal with Emotional Contagion.

 

WHAT do you need to about it? You need to recognise it, check in on your own emotional state and assess its usefulness and, if necessary, reframe it. And then hold your ground to win the Emotional Contagion Battle

 

HOW do you do that? Three easy steps…

  1. Acknowledge it – call the emotional state of the other person or the group. Eg, “I can see that this is really frustrating you”
  2. Shrink wrap it – people need to be heard and validated. Ask them to succinctly express their concerns and then shrink wrap that into a phrase or idea or concept that represents it – then put it aside. Eg, “So it’s really about….”
  3. Redirect it – gently redirect the conversation to what can be usefully done about it, or to a more useful conversation entirely. Eg, “What specifically do you want to now do about it so you can move on…”

 

Master leaders understand this and consciously and patiently, and with permission, redirect the attention of their teams to places where positivity, creativity and engagement can thrive.

 

Have a great day!

 

Michelle

Three reasons why you might not be getting what you want!

Three reasons why you might not be getting what you want!

Funny how we can have the same goals month after month, year after year…and yet never feel like we are getting any closer. Or at least we can feel totally frustrated that we can’t achieve something that seems so simple on the face of it.

 

As leaders (or really busy people), with so much going on in our lives, this overwhelm – and our apparent inability to deal with it well – has become endemic in 21st century western life and is, in itself, often the barrier to moving forward.

 

Let’s look at what is going on in our brains. The Executive Function in our brain (the prefrontal cortex – PFC) is the part of our brain that makes us human, that separates us from animals. It is our thinking brain. It would make sense that this is the part of our brain that is used to solve our problems – but in fact, this part of the brain whilst very capable, has many limitations. One limitation is that it can only really work with one complex idea at a time without some loss of processing capacity. As each new idea or aspect of the problem is considered, the brain’s ability to resolve it lessens. The PFC is a linear processor, it has to consider one thing at a time in order to make sense of it.

 

The part of our brain that holds the real processing power is our Basal Ganglia – or the automated brain. This is where our hardwired neural connections live – our habits – the behaviours and attitudes that our brain has automated due to the attention and repetition we have given them over time. This part of the brain is a non-linear processor and it can connect many ideas at a time in order to solve more complex issues for us.

 

BUT, the processing that occurs in the Basal Ganglia is non-conscious. In other words we can’t MAKE it work like we can consciously do with the PFC. So how do we make the best use of our brain in order to get what we want, resolve our mental issues, and move forward?

 

Firstly, there are usually one or all of the following three things that may be preventing your brain from moving forward:

 

  1. You don’t really know what you want (you don’t have clarity around your goals). This sounds so simple, yet can be so difficult to figure out on your own. 

     

  2. You don’t know how to get it (you don’t have a well-thought out methodology or strategy). Again, this seems simple, but there are just so many options… 

     

  3. There is something standing in the way (you haven’t figured out the ‘real blockage’). And more often than not, it’s you!

 

Engaging a coach can really assist.  Whether you just need one or two sessions to get the clarity you need to focus, or whether you have developed a number of habitual thinking patterns that are not serving you well (that need to be identified, unravelled and reset), professional coaches are trained to assist you with your thinking, to help you to figure out what is going on and why, and can support you and hold you accountable to making the changes you really want.

 

What is the value to you of being able to get focused and get moving?

 

If you think a coaching session or two could assist, we’d love to hear from you to have a chat about what’s possible. Or even better, you may be interested in learning how to do this for yourself, and as a leader or parent – to assist others around you with the clarity of their thinking. Feel free to visit our website to explore some options.

 

In the meantime, reflect on these three ideas, and I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences via our Facebook page. Click here to link to it.

 

 

Have a wonderful week!

 

Michelle

Brain training helps you stick to your goals!

Brain training helps you stick to your goals!

We all know that setting goals for ourselves is a good thing.  We all do it (mostly in the form of New Year’s Resolutions), and we then pretty much go about doing things the way we always have – that is, fall back into our comfort zone and our habitual ways of doing things.

Goal….’I will only drink on weekends’…then at 6.30 pm Monday on the dot, miraculously that wine glass is filled and halfway consumed before we remember the goal we had set.  Then, of course, we are not going to pour it down the sink, so we will start that one …..tomorrow…..Sound familiar?

The part of our brain that stops or ‘inhibits’ our habitual brain messages is the pre-frontal cortex or PFC. It is our Executive Brain, the one in control of our higher-level thinking, our decisions and our conscious actions.  Sadly, it is the part of our brain that is most fickle.  It tires easily, and doesn’t like to work very hard.

You can increase the capacity of your PFC to ‘inhibit’ through brain training, and therefore help you brain to stick to your goals.  Training your brain…ie, brain fitness…can provide you (over time) with a sharper memory, faster brain processing, improved focus, better self-control and better emotional control!  That sounds like a good way to get ready for 2014!

Try this brain training activity….

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