Yes, I said “BS.” Let’s start at the beginning:
Question: What makes a problem a problem?
Before I answer this question, how would you answer it? Think of a recent situation you’d define as a problem. Got it? Now, describe that problem. For example, “I was frustrated because I was stuck in traffic.”
What was the problem? Being stuck in traffic wasn’t the problem. Being late wasn’t the problem. Was feeling frustrated the problem? Almost. My feeling or emotion of frustration (interpreted by my brain as a negative, painful emotion) resulted in my behavior (honking my horn).
But where did THAT feeling come from? It came from BS.
Answer: Bulls*&t? Could be. Belief System (which are often interchangeable concepts). My BELIEF (or my “rule”) was that if I was late to my meeting, then I would feel pain. Was that bulls%t? Maybe, maybe not.
Recent studies in the field of social cognitive neuroscience show our human brain works harder to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. My brain was working hard, very hard. Maybe as a child being late was severely punished. Maybe I had one negative experience being late for a meeting (and feeling embarrassed or ?) which combined to create a cellular memory (or rule so I didn’t let it happen again in the future) of pain so my brain could keep me safe.
So what makes a problem a problem is the not only the negative or painful emotion attached to it, but the rule or pattern your brain created when it connected the feeling to a situation in the past and projected it into the future.
So, why is this important? Empathy. The #1 secret to keeping cool under pressure is drumming up the feeling of empathy. Because of the wiring in our brain, we cannot feel empathy and angry at the same time … the experience of empathy occurs in a different part of the brain and we can’t feel both at the same time.
Next time a peer or colleague gets upset about a situation you feel is “no big deal” and you wonder why she’s so upset, just say “it’s not her, it’s just her brain.”
Perhaps empathy on your part could subvert a potential conflict or misunderstanding and you both could get the job done more easily.
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Christina Haxton is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of The Center for Sustainable Strategies, a business strategy & executive advisory company, assisting technology and life science entrepreneurs, business owners & CEOs to build a strong, purpose-driven company, achieve sustainable growth & avoid burnout. Contact Christina at (970) 387-8935 or firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about speaking, training, coaching and consulting solutions for yourself or your company.