Have you ever had a moment where you’ve said something and as you’re saying it you kind of can’t believe what you’re saying? You’ve heard yourself telling the same story about how you endured a soul-sucking job, tolerated your obnoxious boss or felt exhausted and stuck in your business.
I was catching up with some old friends this weekend about some of our experiences and how our lives have changed over time. I was telling the story of when I first started my private counseling practice how I was contracted by Social Services to help clients who were “unmotivated and unwilling” (i.e., court ordered) referred by social services who were at risk of losing their children to the court system.
And especially about how I was on call 24/7 (remember pagers?) and we couldn’t take a family weekend away because there was no one else who could be “on call.” Sometimes I needed a police escort to my appointments. How every Monday morning I’d find myself thinking “why am I doing this?”.
Since the social services contract made up 90% of my private practice, I was very busy. I did the “crisis counselor” thing as an in-home-intensive-family-therapist for about 8 years. And for the last six of them I’d be thinking “why am I doing this?”
As I explained this it dawned on me that it had taken rather a long time for me to go from realizing I wasn’t enjoying it to actually doing something about it. Over 6 years. Wow. I was being held hostage by my own habits.
Much of the work I do today with business and executive coaching clients these days gives them a new perspective on their business and their impact. Shows them possibilities and solutions they just hadn’t thought of before.
But often, just like me on a Monday morning, they already know they need something different. Sometimes they even know what that different thing is. But they feel stuck. Held hostage by habits.
Because when you’ve done something for a long, long time it becomes part of you. It’s just what you do. For some, It’s who you become. A mindless habit. It’s easy. It’s familiar. It’s certain. You know how to do it. I’ve heard it all (and done it myself).
Even though you don’t like it, or it’s not really getting you the results you need, it’s a lot less scary than something completely new that might not work at all. Or might make you look silly. Or you might fail.
It took over six years (and a lot of encouragement from my husband) for me to get the courage to give up the certain income that came with that counseling contract and do what I really wanted to do.
Don’t let it take you that long to try something new in your business (or career).
You don’t have to change everything. But pick one thing you don’t think is working well and drop it for a few months and do something else instead. Stop saying “yes” to every request and say “let me give it some thought and I’ll get back to you.” Stop taking on new clients who don’t fit your ideal client profile and say “Thank you, but it’s not a good fit, let me refer you to someone who could be a better fit for your needs.”
If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try something else – sooner rather than later.
Not rocket science. Obvious on paper. Trickier to do in real life. Therefore the six years.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t you waste six more years, or even six more months doing something that constantly drains you, leaves you feeling exhausted or fails to bring you joy.
What’s one small thing you are willing to do (or stop doing) today so you aren’t held hostage by habits?
Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership. An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, key executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last.
To apply for a confidential Strategy Session to explore your business or career goals or to inquire about a professional development program for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at email@example.com or (970) 387-8935.
Remember your last argument? Neither of you remember how it started or what it was about and before you know it it’s off to the races.
Twenty minutes later a great comeback pops into your head … Aha! “Damn, I wish would have said that instead. Why couldn’t I think at the time?”
Because of Lizard Brain and our brain’s hard wiring, did you know we cannot manage our emotions?
The good news is we can learn to manage our behavior and respond instead of react to our emotions. The bad news is it is harder than we think. The good news is “practice makes permanent.”
A complaining customer, a whiny child, an out of control teen or a grumpy boss, at some point we all lose our cool. People push our buttons and we feel irritated, frustrated, overwhelmed and sometimes we just explode. Or, we hold it in, tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t make a difference what I say, so I’ll say nothing and pretend it’s okay and march on (a recipe for stress-related disease).
Either way, we feel regret, shame, and humiliation at how we’ve just lost our temper again. Here come the “should’ve-s”: I should’ve known better, stayed calm, counted to ten, remembered what happened last time I lost my temper. Lizard Brain makes it impossible to act on the should’ve-s, and here’s why.
What is Lizard Brain?
The part of the brain responsible for survival, our amygdala, an almond-shaped area at the base of our brain way down deep and part of our limbic system, otherwise known as “fight or flight central” still exists, even though we are no longer running from saber toothed tigers. Otherwise knows as “reptilian brain” or “Lizard Brain.”
The good news is our brain has evolved since we were cave dwellers. Today, humans have complex language, use tools to make and fix things, and send people into outer space, due to the evolution of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. But before the “thinking” part of the brain evolved, our reactions were dictated by Lizard Brain.
Despite the existence of the Pre-Frontal Cortex and our ability to reason, in response to stress (even perceived stress), our limbic system goes into high gear and our fight, flight or freeze response gets activated. This is an automatic, instinctive reaction and there’s no thinking or deciding involved.
Triggers might be his/her yelling or icy stare and can often include what I call Universal Lizard Brain Words such as (hands on hips, finger wagging eye rolling optional): Why did you …? You always or You never …! You should… No!
Our limbic system has been triggered and Lizard Brain is now in charge. We feel emotionally hijacked and now our “thinking brain” is rendered helpless. These triggers can bring up strong emotions (i.e., pain) from the past right into the present moment, as if it’s happening all over again. The Lizard’s primary responsibility is to protect us from perceived harm. The Lizard has now jumped into the driver’s seat and we are in the back, a passenger hanging on for dear life, yet the road is oddly, comfortably “familiar.”
How come Lizard Brain happens repeatedly to highly intelligent people? Because it’s not about IQ or an inability to learn from past mistakes. It’s just the default wiring of our very human brain.
The Lizard Brain(LB) switches off the Thinking Brain, or the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), where reasoning, understanding happens and which explains why your aha! moment after an argument comes later in time, probably after a few deep, belly breaths when the reactive
Lizard Brain is no longer driving the bus and your Pre-Frontal Cortex gets the oxygen it needs to regain control. It’s a myth that if we understand “why” we react then we will automatically be able to respond calmly next time our buttons get triggered. The rational PFC can’t always prevent the LB from engaging, it’s out powered and just not that evolved. It is impossible to “not feel” a feeling. Not a weakness, just wiring. So, stop trying.
What’s the Good News?
The good news comes from recent scientific discoveries that our brains aren’t hard and set like concrete at age three, which is what neuroscientists (brain researchers) believed until very recently. Neuroplasticity is the good news. Our brains can and do make new connections and build new neural pathways by the millions every day, most of which we are not even aware of …. Scary.
How? By changing your habits and creating new neural pathways, the process is actually quite simple. Becareful not to confuse the two – I said simple, but not easy. Change is hard, but not impossible.
Pick one person or situation that triggers your Lizard (the holidays are coming up, it won’t be hard family gives us ample opportunity to practice).
Begin by simply noticing opportunities to recognize Lizard Brain as it creeps up on you or identify situations where Lizard Brain gets triggered.
Next, we’re going to create a new habit or neural pathway.
1. Notice the pattern – Simply become an observer of the pattern, as if you are watching from the sidelines. What has to happen to trigger your own, your partner’s or your bosses Lizard Brain? Describe the pattern sequence to yourself or someone else. Do you react to “Lizard Brain Words?” If so, which ones? Do you use them with others? Notice what happens when you replace a judgmental Why did you …? question with a sincere question, for instance How do you see it? When asked with genuine curiosity, words such as What or How land differently than Why and allow you to create more productive pathways in your brain (and his/her brain).
2. Acknowledge the emotion – Use your powers of observation without judgment (ban the should’ve-s). Notice the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion without feeling you “should” change it, stop it, or judge it as “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, see what happens when you respond with an emotion such as curiosity and words such as “Mmm, interesting …” (with your eyebrows up, please!). See if you can get a little distance and prevent an emotional hijack by observing the conversation, as if you were a bystander.
3. Rename the feeling – Label or rename the feeling (not the person, not their motivation, not their intention) as “sad, scared, hurt” instead of ANGRY. Anger is actually not a primary or real emotion, it is a secondary emotion, just a “safer” feeling and often hides primary emotions such as Sad, Scared or Hurt. When we believe someone is angry, our LB gets activated and we can feel defensive. When we can re-label anger as “Sad, Scared or Hurt” or a combination of those feelings, the part of our brain responsible for empathy is engaged, the Lizard can get out of the driver’s seat and our thinking brain can work again.
Practice makes perfect and new neural pathways. Changing our behavior or learning to do something new takes awareness, intention, action and practice. Just like when you learned to ski, ride or play the guitar. There’s no way around it.
By understanding a few simple facts about how our brain works and making small adjustments to the words we use and practice.
Hint: Just the act of imagining yourself taking these steps will create new neural pathways because our brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real), you can create new habits and stay cool under pressure, lower your blood pressure and, as crazy as it sounds, begin to see conflict as an opportunity for practice (and have a little fun, too).
Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership. An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last. For more information about leadership training or presentations for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 387-8935.
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Stress just comes with your job and the good news is that stress isn’t necessarily “bad.” Here’s what you need to know about how chronic stress effects your brain and your ability to fullfill your responsibilities.
As a supervisor, manager or CXO, you are paid to think and make the right decisions quickly. You are also responsible for managing and motivating others, which isn’t always easy (or fun!). And you still have to deliver on time and on budget.
Next to your heart, your brain will be your most valuable asset or your biggest liability. Given all of the constant pressure from every direction, how are you supposed to get it all done, do your best work, answer to your boss(es) and be a good boss yourself, too? Stressful, right?
If you are paid to think, your greatest asset might just become an endangered species. And if you don’t learn to adapt quickly, you and your career might just become extinct, too. the Manchester study found almost 50% of newly hired or recently promoted executives get fired or quit within the first 18 months in their new position. Wonder why?
As an executive coach and leadership development consultant (and a licensed therapist), I have seen more people’s lives come crashing down around them as a result of unrecognized or unresolved stress that leads to overwhelm that leads to burn out, then often bouts with anxiety or depression. They get the wake up call from their doctor “If you don’t slow down you’ll have a heart attack.” Or the wake up call from the board “You’re under-performing” or worse “you’re fired.” Or the spouse“I want a divorce” because they are burning the candle at both ends and their relationships have been suffering for far too long.
The speed with which we get information, process information and take need to action today is light years faster than even 10 or 15 years ago. Because of the globalization of business, fierce and fast competitors, the digital age and social media, the expectation is business gets done 24/7 365. There is no down time. Our human, fragile brain is powered by rechargeable batteries, not 220v. We can no longer keep up the pace, much less effectively or efficiently process the 40 million pieces of information that’s being hurled at us every waking hour.
Many people believe that stress in our “crazy busy” lives is a “given” and we should be able to “just deal with it.” Recent discoveries in brain science tell us we aren’t doing such a great job. Not only is stress increasingly affecting our physical health and our mental health, stress negatively impacts our ability to think, to make decisions and to communicate. Very critical skills for business owners, managers and leaders at all levels.
When I am speaking to audiences I ask, “What’s your biggest problem at work today?” and the answer is often “I have too much to do, not enough time to do it and not enough resources to do it right.” Yes, that’s a problem, but is not the problem. Because we can’t create more hours in the day, the solution that has now become the problem is to work harder and longer. And now “overwhelm” is a state we visit frequently. Our tolerance for stress is increasing and it’s comfortably familiar … the “new normal.”
And it’s getting worse. Many of us are now addicted to the powerful brain chemicals produced by chronic stress. We can’t get things done and need higher and higher levels of these chemicals to motivate us. Our immune systems are on overload resulting in disease. My personal observation is we feel more disconnected, from ourselves and from each other. As a result we are experiencing more interpersonal conflict and dis-ease at home and at work than ever before. Bad news.
Stress leads to chronic overwhelm and ultimately to burnout. If you ignore the early warning signs, chronic stress will quickly derail you, your career and your personal relationships. If you only strive to “manage stress” (which is no longer possible or feasible) you will slip down the corporate ladder faster than you can blink an eye.
Denial will not serve you when it comes to learning how to transform your relationship with stress. The bad news? Most people will nod in agreement, yet continue with their same habits and take no action.
If you are paid to think, you must treat your brain and your energy as precious commodities that need daily TLC to function most effectively and with ease.
Do you know the early warning signs of burnout?
If you are a business owner, senior manager, director or CXO interested in identifying the early warning signs (7 will surprise you) click here to take a brief stress survey to avoid burnout. The first 5 people each month who complete the survey will receive a personal review (not just a computer-generated score) and 45 minute complimentary and confidential Strategy Session by a licensed professional (yours truly) to see where and how you can take steps now to transform stress into peace of mind.
The good news? Transforming stress is easier than you think and absolutely possible! My coaching clients tell me that when they learn and apply practical tools to manage their energy and attention instead of trying to manage their time, the results are almost immediate. Now instead of feeling chronically stressed out and overwhelmed, they feel confident they can make a difference AND feel happy, satisfied and productive at the end of each day. The result is they become Sustainable Managers & Leaders. Click here now to take the survey.
When you, focus instead on responding rather than reacting to stress you will be able to transform “bad stress” into an opportunity to be a much more effective business owner, manager or CXO. You, too can become a Sustainable Leader: A person who is in a position of authentic influence that creates value and who is built to last from the inside out and for the long haul.
What do Sustainable Leaders are do differently? Hint: They learn and practice skills to actively focus on both how much they DO and DON’T DO to successfully conserve brain power, transform stress and become very efficient with their energy.
P.S. Stay tuned for the next post: The 7 Habits of Highly Sustainable Leaders, then pick one of the 7 tips to practice each day for two weeks. Notice what happens to your mind and your mood. You can learn new habits to transform stress, be more productive and have peace of mind at the end of the day knowing you’ve done your best work and helped your team do their best work, too. Don’t want to wait? Get started now: Click here now to take the survey.
Christina Haxton, MA LMFT – Speaker, Author & Executive Coach, CEO & Founder of Sustainable Leadership, Inc. For leadership speaking, leadership coaching or leadership training inquiries, contact Christina at email@example.com
As a director, manager or executive, you know growth, while good, has its downside.
You may have even noticed a little more stress now – sleepless nights and ongoing worry wondering how you are going to keep your team on board, headed in the same direction AND get deliver the results everyone is counting on, too.
Stress just comes with the territory, right?
Keeping yourself AND your team engaged and productive while you are going through growing pains may be top of mind right now. You are focused, you delegate, you make critical decisions quickly, and you probably handle high levels of stress much more easily than your peers. Yet it could get lonely at the top, too. And you are (still) human.
There is a lot research and buzz about the rewards of having engaged employees and the costs of having disengaged employees. Did you know that disengaged employees costs organizations $3,400 a year for every $10,000 in salary … and turnover—the inevitable outcome of disengagement—costs organizations between 48 and 61% of an employee’s annual salary?
What would be the cost to you personally and professionally as you have to do more with less, meet even higher demands (from your boss AND your team) AND deliver on time and on budget despite your company’s growing pains? The cost would be two-fold: you could end up being that “stressed out boss” AND have “stressed out employees” because emotions are contagious.
When the early signs of “leadership stress” – a unique type of stress experienced by people who are responsible for the well-being of others. When the first signs appear you might not notice, but others will … and they may not tell you. As you get stretched too thin watch out for the negative ripple effect of stress down the line to your team members, who will then become less engaged, more distracted and less productive.
That would be a problem, especially right now for someone at your level of responsibility … for your team, your career and your company. As a licensed therapist and executive coach for more than 15 years, I’ve seen the devastating outcomes for leaders, careers, companies and families of ignoring the early warning signs of (leadership) stress. I have assisted hundreds of smart, insanely busy leaders to identify the key leverage points and strategies to prevent career derailment.
I am very excited to announce a resource that could be of interest to you! Through extensive research and experience, I have compiled 30 key questions to isolate and identify …
An 8 minute, quick and easy assessment tool so you can identify the early warning signs and make simple changes before it’s too late :
THIS IS NOT a computer generated assessment! As a licensed professional I will evaluate your results, which includes a customized, personalized and confidential review AND solutions, your unique leverage points and a strategy for turning it around. Your results are 100% confidential and will be shared with no one but you.
To help you be exceedingly more productive, get more done in less time with fewer resources, resourceful, optimistic, agile, resilient, effective, engaged, confident, happier, satisfied and connected “best boss” (and help your team do the same). Most importantly, you can love the heck out of what you do again or through this exciting time in your growth period.
I have reserved a limited number of appointments on my calendar for the first 10 leaders who complete the survey to receive a complimentary Leadership Strategy Session to review your results with you.
I will personally provide you with a customized, personalized and confidential review AND solutions, recommendations for leverage points so you can turn it around quickly.
Whether you can benefit from knowing the signs for yourself, or knowing the signs to assist someone on your team from stress leading to burn-out leading to disengagement, you’ll want to know the critical signs … before it’s too late!
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Did you know that 47% of newly hired or recently promoted Senior Executives get fired or quit within the first 18 months on the job? But I”m not a Senior Executive or “Leader” … you say. Why would you let that stop you from learning from their mistakes?
Why? One reason is poor performance, another is burn up and burn out caused by the stress from the inability to get onboard with the “human side” of the success equation fast enough: Connecting and building trust with your new team!
Not just any stress is the culprit … Power Stress*, a unique type of stress experienced by those who are responsible for the well being of others – your team, your employees and possibly even your clients.
Unrecognized and unresolved stress Power Stress will paralyze your ability to think quickly and use your intuition to make the right decisions? Because stress is contagious, your team suffers, too … especially when you need then the most!
If you are a newly hired or recently promoted leader building trust with your new team is essential for success in your new role.
Beware … awareness is overrated!
If you don’t have an executable accountability plan for WHAT, WHEN & HOW TO you could find that the fall down the corporate ladder is much swifter than the climb up …
What if you had a 3 Step Approach to Leverage Power Stress so you can reduce, manage and yes, even leverage the inevitable people challenges that come with your new position …
If you don’t yet have an executable plan for making lasting change – make one. To qualify for a complimentary, no obligation Leadership Strategy Session click here.
To Your Sustainable Leadership!
P.S. Now booking for 2014 for keynote or meeting presentations. Contact Christina to inquire about her most popular presentations or to book your event today: 3 Steps to Leverage Stress for Leadership Success!
I recently had the pleasure to be invited to be the keynote speaker for the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) Women in Business Leadership Conference (“Women Redefining Business”) where the keynote message was about communication, connection and courage as a pathway to Professional Intimacy: The Key to Sustainable Leadership.
The breakout session piggybacked on how business owners can leverage stress by learning how to have authentic conversations with their employees in order to avoid entrepreneurial burn out.
When I give this talk, I usually ask the audience for a raise of hands if they consider stress a problem for them at work (i.e., negative effect on productivity, experience physical stress-related symptoms and relationship problems like irritability).
When the audience is predominantly male, only about 30% of the men in the audience raise their hands.
This audience was 98% female, and about 80% of the audience raised said “Yes!” to is stress a problem for you at work.
Why such a large difference between men and women?
According to research published by the the American Psychological Association on gender and stress:
” … Men and women report different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. They attempt to manage stress in very different ways and also perceive their ability to do so — and the things that stand in their way — in markedly different ways. Findings suggest that while women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, they are doing a better job connecting with others in their lives and, at times, these connections are important to their stress management strategies.”
The bottom line is whether you are a man or a woman, an entrepreneur, a senior manager or CEO, your unrecognized and untreated stress could quickly be the end of your career, your relationships and quite possibly your life as long as you ignore the symptoms or refuse to change your behavior.
While work/life balance is a good solution, I’m not convinced it’s the only solution. There is another most surprising solution, that can be executed at work just about any time of the day and there’s zero financial cost.
A process I have developed over many years of working with highly successful business people whose steps are backed by scientific research and will reduce stress and prevent burn out. Simply stated, you can execute the steps in quick and simple conversations and relationships at work. I call it “Professional Intimacy: The key to becoming a Sustainable Leader (one who is built to last for the long haul).
There are three simple steps to Professional Intimacy … (a special thank you to Heather Martinez, who crafted the Story Map of my Keynote )
1. Connection – Know the answer to these four questions asked by Kevin Cashman, Author of Leadership from the Inside Out:
Who Am I? Where Am I Going? Why Am I Going There? and I’ll add Who is Going With Me?
2. Curiosity – When it comes to brain science, the truth is the same chemicals that are involved in a fearful are also involved when we feel curious or excited. What’s the difference? The story I tell myself to explain the situation, why it’s happening and what’ll be the result. Asking better questions when it comes to making meaning of my environment will result in my responding rather than automatically reacting because I’ve assumed the worst case scenario (which is likely not the case, anyhow).
3. Communicate – Have the courage to communicate you care when it comes to your team. Be a real human being, not some ivory-tower-untouchable-walk-on-water-CXO. Vulnerability, letting people see you sweat, showing your emotions (I didn’t say wear your heart on your sleeve), asking someone “How are you doing? What do you need right now?” when they appear to be having a rough day. Oh yes, then shut up and listen … the most important part. Doing this will build trust and respect, which will go both ways. Try it, I dare you.
If you would like more information on how you can reduce, manage or leverage stress and avoid burning up or burning out in your career by using the 3 Key Principals of Professional Intimacy, join me for a free webinar replay available for two more days: You can get more information or register here to get immediate access: Free Webinar “What Your Brain Wishes You Knew About Leadership Stress: Myths & Solutions” – This full video is packed with practical strategies to reduce stress and feel happier and more satisfied at work AND a special announcement at the end!
For your free video: 7 Simple Strategies to Eliminate Stress for Busy Managers & Leaders – Get access now by signing up for access to the video to your right:
Here’s a terrific article on how to manage work stress for everyday or extraordinary leaders:
How ordinary (and extraordinary) leaders can use the practice of mindfulness to feel happier, satisfied and more productive at work. Oh, and leave WORK at work so you can truly enjoy your family time … read Judy Martin’s blog post on Forbes.com here: 5 Daily Rituals to Manage Work Stress
Post below and share your favorite daily rituals to manage work stress:
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Your behaviors are a result of your feelings … which are a result of BS!
Believe it or not, that’s good news …
Because there IS one question you can ask yourself to turn STRESS into PEACE …
Find out what this question is (and the other 20 Ways Managers & Leaders Can Eliminate Workplace Stress) on a free webinar:
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Watch your language!
To eliminate “lizard brain” (the emotional hijack caused by stress) avoid asking questions like “Why did you ..??” “WHY can’t you …?” “WHY don’t you …?” “WHY?” not only results in the listener feeling defensive, but also rarely matters when we are looking for solutions to a problem.
A better question effective leaders ask begins with “what” or “how” and helps people think. One example is asked with genuine curiosity (remember to manage your frustration first) … “What did you hope would happen by doing XYZ?”
Then, if you want people to trust you, shut up and listen.
To get the other 20 Ways to Eliminate Leadership Stress for You AND Your Team, click the link below to register for a free webinar:
Stress causes more than just physical symptoms. Did you know stress in the workplace erodes trust, productivity and creativity of you and your team?
Discover 21 Ways to Eliminate Stress to be able to do your best work, feel happier and more satisfied at the end of the day (and help your team do so, too!)