85% of What We Worry About Never Happens

canstockphoto2930006Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.  Now there’s a study that proves it.   This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen. Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

Montaigne’s quote has made people laugh for five centuries, but worry is no joke. The
stress it generates causes serious problems.   The stress hormones that worry dumps into your brain shrinks brain masslowers your IQ, makes you prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicts martial problems, family dysfunction and clinical depression, and makes seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.

If we could get a handle on the worry that habitually, incessantly, and often unconsciously seizes hold of our mind, we would greatly increase the odds of living a longer, happier, and more successful life.  But don’t worry; new research has found that you can rewire your brain to stop worrying.  It starts with the decision not to believe the misfortune that your worried thoughts see in your future.  An example of someone who made that decision is an elderly woman my friend Martha was asked to drive to the clinic for an annual check-up.  Martha didn’t know this woman. All she was told was that this person was more than ninety years old and probably quite frail. But the person who opened the door when Martha knocked could hardly be described as old and frail. The person who stood before Martha was a sprightly lady who appeared to be in her seventies at most.

“Do you mind me asking how old you are?” Martha asked on the drive to the doctor.

“Ninety-three,” the woman answered.

Martha was astonished. “You look so much younger,” she said. “What’s your secret?”

“Well, honey,” she answered, “Thirty years ago I made the decision to stop worrying and I haven’t wasted a moment on worry since.”

It was this decision that made her younger and healthier than her chronological age.  Think of all the energy she gained through her decision not to worry.  Think of all the anxiety she spared herself, all the needless stress she avoided.  Martha said that it showed on her face, in her attitude, and in how well her brain functioned.

It’s possible to make this same choice to let go of worry and gradually move past worry Clear Button 120 Resaltogether.   You can rewire your brain to quiet the worry circuit.  It takes a decision and it takes a special kind of practice, but it’s simpler than you might imagine. I present 20 proven tools and processes in my book, The End of Stressthat are neuroplastic in nature, meaning they represent a change of mind that can rewire the brain to extinguish knee jerk fear reactions that set off incessant worry … and all in a matter of four to six weeks. A tool as simple as The Clear Button can get you started.

Here’s how it works. You imagine a button at the center of your palm. You press it and count to 3, thinking of each number as a color.

  • Breathe in, count 1, think red.
  • Breathe in, count 2, think blue.
  • Breathe in, count 3, think green.
  • On the exhale, completely let go of thinking anything for a moment.

Nature gave us a 90 second window to bust stressful thinking before it takes a long walk off a short pier, and The Clear Button gets us through the window in time. The more you bust stressful thinking during the day, the more your brain will strengthen synapses that end worry.

Here is the neurological reason why the Clear Button works.  The part of the brain that causes stress reactions literally has the intelligence of a toddler. And every parent knows you don’t stop a tantrum by appealing to a child’s logic.  You distract the child. This tool distracts the terrible two-year-old in your brain from casting you off the deep end.

Another simple approach to dissolving worry is called Finish Each Day and Be Done With
It facilitates the choice to let go of the day’s problems, so you don’t take them home.  This piece of wisdom comes from a letter written by the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter who was worried over a mistake she’d made. This is what it says:canstockphoto4611554

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders, losses, and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. 

Tomorrow is a new day; let today go so you can begin tomorrow well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. Each new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

By “old nonsense Emerson is referring to our worries and woes. Research also found the two to be synonymous. In the study I cited, nonsense and worry were one and the same thing – not once in a while – but nearly every single time.

I invite you to cut-and-paste the statement and post it where you’ll see it at the close of your work day. If you allow Emerson’s words to release you completely from your day’s labor, your evening is guaranteed to be more enjoyable, more relaxing, and more restorative.  You’ll also sleep better. I’ve framed Emerson’s statement and placed it on my desk and I read it with conviction before closing up shop for the day. Then I head into the evening committed to being happy and at peace, so I can enjoy the people and things I love.

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Study Reveals the One Step Most Parents Miss in Raising Their Kids; And It’s a Critical Step

It opens the door to behavior and learning problem at school.

It opens the door to behavior and learning problem at school and later in life.

Today’s parents are devoted to their kids, there’s no mistaking it.  But the vast majority of these same parents are stressed at work and they’re taking it home, and research shows that what’s stressing kids the most is how stressed their parents have become. Most parents are oblivious to the impact their stress level is having on their kids and fueling the problem is the fact that 83 percent of Americans are doing little or nothing to alleviate the stress in their lives.

This bodes poorly for children because mom and dad’s stress opens the door to kids having problems at school and even later in life. A parent’s stress registers with the kids and sets off stress reactions that send unhealthy amounts of stress hormones coursing through the child’s developing brain, and that can mean learning and behavioral problems.

The area of the brain most vulnerable to stress is the prefrontal cortex or higher brain. This region generates everything we think of as human intelligence, and provides the top-down regulation for emotions, desires, and impulse control. Stress hormones shrink the prefrontal cortex, debilitating higher brain functions. It weakens memory and learning, and it can even alter a child’s DNA in unfortunate ways.

And it all starts with the work stress mom and dad bring home.

One child in the study said, “I know when my mom has a bad day because she doesn’t smile.” Another child feels it in the slow way his dad walks into the house.  Another child voiced what the researcher concluded from the data. He said, “If our parents were less tired and stressed, kids would be less tired and stressed too.”

Another study asked kids what they wanted most from their parents and then asked parents to guess what kids said. The parents thought it was for more quality time or a trip to Disneyland.

Not so.  What kids wanted was a stress free parent. They want their parents to handle work stress better, so they have less of it to bring home.  It’s a wake-up call for parents as they face the annual rite of passage called “back-to-school”.

Kids mirror their parent’s attitude, so the ball is in the parent’s court to learn to rise above stressors at work, and, happily, there are proven ways that strengthen our capacity to be calmer, more creative and optimistic as we face problems. These techniques could not be simpler.

One example is The Clear Button. This tool is an effective way of busting stressful thinking. We human being think our way into all sorts of stressful event purely in our heads, exciting upsetting emotions that produce a misperception of threat that can send the mind and body into an uproar. This pattern generates the vast majority of stress reactions people experience and it’s all linked to mere thoughts.  Michel de Montaigne summed it up 500 years ago, when he said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”

Nature gave us a 90 second window to bust stressful thinking before it takes a long walk off a short pier, and The Clear Button gets us through the window in time.

Clear Button 120 ResHere’s all you do. You image a button at the center of your palm. You press it and count to 3, thinking of each number as a color.

  • Breathe in, count 1, think red.
  • Breathe in, count 2, think blue.
  • Breathe in, count 3, think green.
  • On the exhale, completely let go of thinking anything for a moment.

The more you bust stressful thinking during the day, the more likely you will be the parent kids are hoping to see at the end of day.

What is the neurological basis for why this technique work?  The part of the brain that causes stress reactions literally has the intelligence of a toddler. And every parent knows you don’t stop a tantrum by appealing to a child’s logic.  You distract them. This tool distracts the terrible two-year-old in your brain from going off the deep end.

There are other such tools. I present 20 proven tools and processes in my book. These processes are neuroplastic in nature, meaning that – with practice – they can rewire the brain to extinguish knee jerk stress reactions and make a person relatively stress-free. All in a matter of four to six weeks.

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Developing Breakthrough Innovators

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Long-term success in the global economy depends on innovation that is both original and practical.  Few would argue with that statement. In fact, a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the most crucial factor for future success. Success is not only about developing breakthrough innovators. It also hinges on cultivating creative, out-of-the-box thinkers in sales, manufacturing, and leadership to prevent the company from devolving into bureaucratic mediocrity.

Yet most companies smother the creative spark, says the Harvard Business Review, because their understanding of how innovation works is rooted in false beliefs.

Science has dispelled these false beliefs, but companies have not yet caught up with the neuroscience on how the brain generates creative intelligence (CQ). As a result, most companies are failing to facilitate the creative environment that taps and expands CQ.

Innovation is all about the brain.  It’s all about meeting the neurological conditions that (a) stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain to generate creative insight, (b) captures the insight quickly, and (c) transfers it to the brain’s left hemisphere where it can be forged into something revolutionary.

The False Beliefs about Innovation

The great American psychologist, William James, described the creative process as “a seething caldron of ideas,” and now, for the first time, science is beginning to see into the cauldron itself. We are beginning to see how creative insight is actually generated inside our brain. And what’s been made clear is that our old ideas about the creative process are all wrong.

False Belief #1: We used to believe that people were most creative when stressed, anxious, and pressured, but a number of studies strongly suggests that stress undermines the creative cognitive processing that contributes to creative output in organizations (Forbes, 2012, Amabile, Mueller, 2002).  Studies have found that creativity is positively associated with inner peace, joy, empathy, and optimism, and negatively associated with stress and fear (Subramaniam, Kounios, 2009). A positive mood broadens your scope and allows you to look at a problem in new ways and come up with better solutions (Fredrickson, Branigan, 2005).

False Belief #2: There is the belief that creativity takes an intense, sustained focus, and yet research has demonstrated that intense focus is not the best approach when you need a creative solution (White, Shah, 2006). People with ADHD actually score higher on creativity tests and win more awards in art and science contests.

PICASSO DRAWING WITH LIGHTCreativity emerges initially in a spontaneous, free-flowing, and non-linear manner. The essence of creativity is as playful as a child.  Picasso said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” The way we remain an artist, according to Dr. Paul Torrance, the scientist who designed the gold standard for measuring creative talent, is to provide ample room for exploring, questioning, experimenting, manipulating, re-arranging, and stepping back to allow creative ideas to incubate.

False Belief #3: We have also tended to believe that innovation means we have to put our noses to grindstone, but the experience of 3M Corporation and Google have proven that the polar opposite is true, which research has corroborated.

For decades employees at 3M have been encouraged to use up to 15 percent of their regular work hours to pursue ideas of their own making, even if these ideas are outside 3M’s strategic pursuits. It’s called the 15-Percent Rule, and it’s credited with many of 3M’s stellar innovations, including the Post-It.

Google upped the 15-Percent-Rule to 20 percent, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that Google’s 20% rule was instrumental to the company’s ability to innovate, leading to many of its most significant advances, including AdSense, which now accounts for a quarter of the company’s annual revenue.

the anterior superior temporal gyrus Ah-Hah copyFalse Belief #4: Perhaps the most limiting belief about creativity is the notion that
people are either genetically gifted with creative talent or not. The capacity for creativity is built into the very structure of everyone’s brain (Beeman, Bowden, 2004). It’s merely that people who become highly innovative as adults had teachers, mentors, and parents who helped them cultivate creative intelligence as children (Runco, Millar, 2010).  But if we missed the leg-up as a kid, we can get it as an adult.  Creativity is teachable. Research shows that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better (Jung, Haier, 2008).

How Do Companies Develop Breakthrough Innovators?

The research on creativity indicates that raising creative intelligence begins with raising people’s emotional intelligence, and in particular their level of happiness and inner peace. In large part, this is because processes that increase positive emotional states stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain where creative insights are generated.

There are four proven approaches to facilitating the mental and emotional states that predict creative insight.  Each is quite simple, and they are easily learned and applied.

1. Decrease emotional negativity by teaching people how to alleviate stress, anxiety, and pessimism. This is achieved through a practice that (a) actively interrupts patterns of stress provoking thoughts and perceptions that stressed and anxious people habitually think (Robinson, Alloy, 2003), and (b) strengthens a dynamically peaceful mindset (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn,2003).

2. Elevate the capacity for positive emotional states through an active practice of gratitude, and by teaching people to visualize their “best possible self” (Sheldon, Lyubomirsky, 2006).

  • Gratitude is develop through a simple practice of counting blessing in a specific manner.
  • Invoking one’s “best possible self” is achieved (a) by identifying qualities we experience when we perform at the top of our game at work, and when are at our best in our personal life, (b) forming these qualities into a clear mental image of who we are capable of being, and (c) making our “best possible self” the primary goal we aspire to actualize every day.”

3. Integrate 20-minute breaks into the work-day, at least one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Breaks improve memory consolidation, which is essential to envisioning something novel or learning something new (Tambini, 2013), and breaks increase unconscious associative processing that facilitates creative problem solving (Baird, Smallword, 2012).

4. Encourage people to take a 90-minute walk periodically through a natural environment. A 90-minute walk in nature has been shown to reduce the mental rumination associated with anxiety and depression. (Bratman, Daily 2015).

The Bridge from Creative Insights to Innovative Solutions to Actions

Last but not least, implementing the most promising creative ideas that emerge from the new creative environment involves a methodical process, such as Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method (CPS).  CPS helps teams move from creative insight to tangible innovation through a process that clarifies the creative problem, researches it, generates and processes ideas, turns good ideas into best solutions, and then creates a plan to bridge solutions to actions.

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The Creative Intelligence of American Children is Declining

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-'80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students' creativity.

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-’80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students’ creativity.

Fifty years ago, psychologist Paul Torrance invented the test that has become the gold standard for assessing the creative intelligence (CQ) in children. Millions of children all over the world have taken the test, which is conducted over 90-minutes and consists of a series of discrete creative tasks.  The longitudinal studies conducted on the half century of data from the testing found that children who tested high in CQ grew up to become the ground breaking entrepreneurs, computer developers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, researchers, and statesmen. High CQ as a child is three times stronger than high IQ in determining who goes on to make a significant lifetime achievement.

Up until 1990, the IQ and CQ scores of American children had steadily risen, the results of good schools and good families making kids smarter. But since 1990 the creativity scores of American children have dropped, and dropped seriously in the formative years between kindergarten and the sixth grade. In assessing blame for the problem, most fingers point to the amount of time kids spend in front of screens, watching TV, playing computer games, or texting ceaselessly on their smart phones.

Certainly, the pointless preoccupation with electronic toys is diverting kids from creative-cubes-1509571engaging in more meaningful creative activities, but the decline in creativity appears to run deeper than electronic distractions.  The research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, father of positive psychology, found that children who grow up to make significant creative contributions developed in the stability and order of cohesive families and supportive schools that channeled, accepted, and broadened the child’s innate talent.

Sadly, most schools are not doing that any more. Our public schools have gutted the school curriculum of any kind of creative development. Ironically, the ability to think creatively is not on the list of core competencies, despite it being the strongest predictor of a child’s success in adult life.  Our education policy is missing the point research has established, which is that creative problem solving is the core competency in every subject.

An even greater irony is that although American scientists have pioneered the programs that teach children to think creatively, it is China and Europe that are implementing them.  China and Europe are dumping the old model of  “drill and kill”, which is the excessive repetition of simple, isolated skills, in favor of the new model rooted in the problem-based learning that America pioneered. The policy makers in Europe and China understand that a generation devoid of breakthrough creative thinkers are not likely to create a prosperous future.

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We Get What We Expect to Get ~ Part 1

Belief Creates the Actual Fact in Nearly Everything

Why it works

Why it works

Wishing on a star, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, crossing your fingers, or knocking on wood, all have one thing in common—the power of suggestion. The magic you imagine in the bones and fur of the rabbit’s foot makes you feel lucky and hopeful, which invites into your mind the anticipation that an outcome you desire could actually happen. The scientific evidence suggests that your anticipation mobilizes vast inner resources and directs those resources toward fulfilling your desire. Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Maryanne Garry of Victoria University of Wellington teamed up to review the most recent and intriguing effects of the power of suggestion on cognition and behavior.[1] The evidence shows that once you anticipate that a desired outcome could happen, you set in motion a chain of thoughts and actions that work together to actually make it happen. “The effects of suggestion,” Dr. Garry states, “are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think. If we can harness the power of suggestion,” Garry concludes, “we can improve people’s lives.”[2] Learning to tap this power moves into the higher stages of human potential, and the good news is that tapping this potential couldn’t be simpler (I’ll show you one approach at the end of the article).

The power of suggestion appears to be at the center of why some people succeed at school, business, or athletics while others fail, and why some people’s illness or pain resolves and others’ gets worse. Believing you are limited or blocked in some way drives the limitation. The great martial artist Bruce Lee said, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must go beyond them.[3] Our very thoughts are capable of extending mental and physical limits we tend to accept. It appears that the limits we perceive are not necessarily set by nature, but by our own mental attitude.

Most of what we know about the power of suggestions comes from the placebo effect, which describes real psychological and physiological changes that occur when the mind has been convinced to expect a therapeutic effect from a substance that is inert. In itself, the placebo does nothing; it’s the mind that generates the beneficial effect. While much of the research on the placebo effect has focused on alleviating pain, there is growing evidence that the placebo effect is multi-dimensional.  One such study relates to prospective memory. Prospective memory is how the brain remembers details or events that are to occur in the future. It gets us to appointments on time, helps us pay our bills when they are due, enables us to follow instructions, anticipates the next steps in a plan, and reminds us to take medication on time. Chronic stress debilitates prospective memory and researchers wanted to see if it was possible to enhance memory with a placebo.[4] They convinced subjects that a placebo they’d been given was a powerful “smart drug” that improved cognitive function and memory. In truth, the so-called smart drug was nothing more than a vitamin C drink. One group received the placebo and one group was given nothing at all. Then the researchers put both groups through a high-effort prospective memory task. Prospective memory improved in the group that had ingested the placebo, while the group that didn’t receive the placebo showed no improvement.

Perhaps nothing has turned our limited view of human potential on its head more than the research of Ellen Langer of Harvard University. Her research validates what William James, the father of American psychology, concluded about the power of belief more than a hundred years ago. James concluded that we can change anything if we believe we can; that belief creates the actual fact.[5] Langer’s most famous study showed this holds true even with the aging process. Our mental attitude can turn back the hands of Time, reversing the effects of aging. In 1979, Langer conducted an experiment with men in their late seventies, early eighties, who were languishing in nursing homes.[6] She took the men out of the nursing homes and to a retreat center where the men were asked to mentally put themselves back in time twenty years, to 1959. They wore clothes that were fashionable in 1959, ate the food they ate then, carried photo IDs of how they looked, read newspapers and magazines, and watched films, television programs, and discussed sporting events, all from that year. Their assignment was not merely to reminisce about bygone days,” Langer said, “but to make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years before.”

The elders did just that. “They put their mind in an earlier time,” Langer said, “and their bodies went along for the ride.”[7]  The results were astonishing. Langer’s time travelers showed greater improvements in blood pressure, joint flexibility and manual dexterity, and incredibly, their arthritis began to retreat. These were men who previously couldn’t bend over far enough to tie their own shoes, but their prowess improved so much that at one point they engaged in a touch-football game. Their IQs even improved and when they returned to real time, their families were astounded at how much younger they looked. The results defied belief. “It sounded like Lourdes,” Langer said.[8]  The mind can become Lourdes, or it can become a bed on a geriatric ward. Langer’s study shows that even aging is nothing but a mindset.

… Continue on to Part 2 of this article


[1] R. B. Michael, M. Garry, and I. Kirsch, Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior, Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, no. 3 (2012): 151–56.
[2] The Power of Suggestion: What We Expect Influences Our Behavior, for Better or Worse, News, Association for Psychological Science, June 6, 2012
[3] Robert Pagliarini, Meet Bruce Lee, Personal Growth Guru, CBS/MoneyWatch, August 27, 2012,  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/meet-bruce-lee-personal-growth-guru/
[4] Sophie Parker et al., A Sham Drug Improves a Demanding Prospective Memory Task, Memory, 19, no. 6 (August 2011): 606–12.
[5] William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume 2, Macmillan, 1891, pgs. 288-297
[6] Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (New York: Random House, 2009), 5–12. [
7] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/what-if-age-is-nothing-but-a-mind-set.html?_r=0
[8] Ibid

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