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Transforming The Workplace We All Hate

It’s All About The Brain

The annual Gallup Lifestyle study reports that 75% of us are stressed, 38% to an extreme degree, and 75% of us say stress got worse this last year. Stress costs us and our organization at every level that matters. Research has established beyond any doubt that a brain chronically under stress is incapable of sustaining peak performance.

  • Stress hormones cause higher order brain networks to shrink, retarding the creative, analytic and practical intelligence that enables you not only to succeed but excel.
  • A stressed brain is incapable of generating the emotional intelligence that keeps you passionate about your work, joyful about life, and cool, calm and collected in a crisis.
  • Stress hormones also block neural networks driving the social intelligence that makes you influential, authentic and trustworthy.

Stress also makes you sick. There are a million Americans absent from work everyday due to stress and even more missing due to presenteeism. Add all the stress related illness together — from heart diseases to immunodeficiency — and you have the #1 cause of death in America. The long list of stress-related diseases is driving-up the cost of health benefits.

Stress also accounts for nearly half of turnover and is rated as the #1 problem for 90% of senior executives. The price tag is somewhere around a trillion dollars. It’s a mess and few companies know what to do to solve it. Most would tell you there is no solution. There is as solution and comes straight from breakthroughs in brain research over the last ten years.

The neurological opposite of stress is peace. It may surprise you to learn that peace is a highly dynamic neurological state. It is a core condition that expands the physical brain structure to increase analytic, practical and creative intelligence. It is also the core condition that promotes a mindset for emotional and social intelligence, optimal health and psychological resilience.

Breakthroughs in neuroscience make it clear that the prescription for peak performance is to shift our attitude — from stress to peace. This shift in attitude involves a simple set of processes anyone can learn. These simple processes literally rewire the brain to produce a highly creative, emotionally balanced, and increasingly healthy employee.  A dynamic state of peace represents a shift in perception that allows us to relate to demands without fear. A simple but consistent practice that shifts anxious, stress-provoking attitudes at the point of inception generates significant changes in brain structure and in a relatively short period of time, in as little as six weeks time.

  • Higher gamma wave activity, indicating the brain is linking and processing information from all of its parts faster and in a more organized manner. Gamma waves are associated with high levels of intelligence, higher cognitiveprocesses, and peak performance.
  • Higher levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex, indicating that a positive perspective has become the emotional default, producing a calm, clear, optimistic, and emotionally resilient way of being.
  • Greater activity in the center of the brain (caudate and right insula,) indicating a higher level of interpersonal resonance and social intelligence.

This change is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that a change of attitude which changes our experience, physically changes our brain. As you shift our attitude from fear to peace, your brain rewire. This resolves chronic stress by quieting the primitive neuro-circuits of fear and amplifying higher brain function.

In this new environment, companies generate a neuro-competitive advantage. The emotional climate shifts from negative to positive, from survival mode to the joy of excelling. Challenges stretch people in positive ways, instead of taxing them. Work becomes an intrinsically rewarding experience that energizes people instead of rendering them drained and dissatisfied.

The ROI for making this shift is enormous, solving chronic problems that are costly, such as turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism, worker comp, and health care costs.

Stress, Success and Your Attitude

The preeminent stress researcher, Richard Lazarus of the University of California-Berkeley, divides “stress” into two parts: a stressor and stress. He defines a stressor as any kind of demand that life imposes. It can be another task that gets added to your to-do list, or a traffic jam or a difficult boss. Stressors are relative: The same stressor that ruins my day may not bother you at all, and vice-versa.

Lazarus defines stress as the appraisal that this demand is something that must be addressed, together with the perception that the demand overwhelms your resources.

Most people relate to the term “resources” as something external. It’s things like time, money, equipment or the support of other people. Add weather, war and the economy to this list and you have the elements of what can be defined as The World.  The World is everything in life you don’t completely control. Meaning there is always some problem with money, time, computers, the economy and especially people that mess with your perfect plan.
Evolution or the Universe or whatever you might call it gave you one resource over which you have absolute control in this world: your attitude. As it turns out, it was an enormous gift. The power of attitude can move the world in the direction you want to go.  Attitude is everything.  It is the essence of your spiritual nature and the sole means by which you control your destiny. Napolean Hill, the father of motivational psychology who mapped out the law of attraction more than 80 years ago, said if you “fail to direct your attitude you can be sure you will influence little else in this world.” The great psychiatrist Karl Menninger, who founded the Menninger Institute, said “attitude is more important than facts.” Viktor Frankl asserted that it is the only thing that could make an inner triumph of something as horrible as Auschwitz. Neuroscience now defines attitude as “neuroplastic,” which means it can rewire your brain to lead with creative intelligence instead of fight, flight or freeze.
Fundamentally, stress represents you losing touch with your greatest resource: the power of attitude. The key to success in life is building the attitude that gives you the inner resources to deal with any kind of stressor, regardless of circumstances.

Neuroscience has discovered that the most powerful attitude we can mobilize is a dynamically peaceful attitude. It’s the attitude through which we face life’s challenges without fear. Some people think peace, especially in business or politics, means losing your edge or becoming complacent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Set aside a few moments to write down in one or two words phrases your experience when you are at the top of your game. Identify your internal experience when you’re in the flow, in the zone, running on all cylinders, making things happen.

The qualities that are present in you at such times are the same qualities attributed to peace. Peak performance is a mystical experience. I challenge you to spend the entire day choosing to be at peace, regardless of circumstances. See what happens to your mind, your brain function, your level of energy, to the way you relate to others and how you feel about yourself and what you achieved at the end of the day.

Bingo

A while back a series of problems surfaced in my life, one after another, all of them with serious ramifications.  A business deal fell through, a money problem surfaced, two members of my family became very ill and the medicine each had been given wasn’t helping. The problems got under my skin and I watched helplessly as concern gradually grew into anxiety and anxiety devolved into depression. I worked at letting my fear go but the feelings of upset persisted. It was sort of like ushering an intruder out the front door and to the street, only to find him there in the house when I came back inside.

About three days into this struggle I went for a walk on a trail in the hills where people often walk with their dogs. I felt a sense of dread as I started up the trail because I am afraid of dogs. My uncle was viciously attacked by one when he was a child and my mother and grandmother conditioned me and my siblings to be on guard around them. I had hiked this particular trail a number of times with other people and every dog I’d ever come across had been friendly. Some even seemed to have smiles on their mugs, if that’s possible. But facts are irrelevant when the part of the brain in charge of fight or flight has been aroused by a troubled mind. And that day I was out alone, without the buffer a companion can provide.

For an hour I hiked the trail while my brain’s fear center scanned the terrain for the monster dog that had torn into my uncle’s face nearly 75 years before. The legacy of this old family trauma was still embedded in my brain cells, infusing the present moment with an event that had happened back when they were still making silent films.

Ironically, I did not see one single dog the entire way to the top of the trail.  It wasn’t until I came through a wooded area on my way down. Then suddenly a large unattended dog appeared, bounding up the path, coming straight at me. My body froze and my stomach churned.  My mind began feverously devising escape plans, while at the same time striking a fearless façade, which of course any animal could smell right through. When the dog reached where I stood he stopped and eyed me curiously, tilting his head to one side, as if to say, Are you OK, pal? Even in my paranoid state I could sense that this dog was gentle and meant no harm. I relaxed and said hello, upon which he immediately came over and nuzzled his head against my knee, coaxing me to pet him. I knelt down and we gave each other some affection for half a minute until his owner came up the trail.

“What’s your dog’s name?” I asked.

“Bingo,” she said.

Strangely enough, that’s what my uncle used to say when he found the solution to a problem. I told the woman this and she smiled and said Bingo often helps her solve her own problems just by making her feel more loving.

Her words helped me remember once again that there is really only one problem and only one solution. The one problem is fear and the solution is to have faith in love and to be at peace. By that I don’t mean emotional love or passivity, but rather the healing power of love and the enormous intelligence we tap when our mind is at peace. The last few days I had lost sight of the power but love eventually found me, as it always does. The very thing I feared on this hike turned out to be the one thing that loved me.  It woke me up. It felt like a miracle telling me I wasn’t alone. It meant in facing difficult circumstances, I could count on a power greater than myself.

As I walked down the hill, I felt much better. The shadows that had dulled the land on the hike-up had receded and now everything was vibrant in a peaceful light that fell around me like silence. In its calm light all of my conflicts disappeared.

Never, Never Give Up

If you don’t give up you will succeed.  It’s The Law.

We’ve come far in life, through the trial and error of our own seeking and with the help of friends, family, angels, saints and ancestors helping us traverse distances we could not have spanned on our own.  Now, more and more we see the lightsurrounding us and know it’s real.  We know there is a force inside of us we can count on, especially in hard times when money is tight and jobs aren’t secure.  We can live like Robert Frost, who said, “I always entertain great hopes” and never give up.

It still remains the case that those who don’t give up succeed at life, whether it’s winning a game, building a business, overcoming an illness or attaining enlightenment.  The world will always present problems and adversity that challenge us but we can meet these difficulties with our most powerful asset:  Attitude.  The correct attitude makes us larger than circumstances.  Listen to what Winston Churchill said:

“The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem.  Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

The Dalai Lama said the very same thing:

“No matter what is going on, never give up. Work for peace, in your heart and in the world. And I say again, never give up.”

Great hopes and firm resolve doesn’t mean you have to put your nose to the grindstone.  “What we demonstrate today, tomorrow, and the next day,” stated Ernest Holmes, “is not as important as the tendency which our thought is taking . . . the dominant attitude of our mind. If everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day we are expressing more life, we are going in the right direction.”

If you don’t give up you will succeed.  It’s The Law.

Forgiveness is How the World Changes

When I was 12 years old I fell in love for the first time – with Janie – and all I wanted was to kiss her on the mouth. One day I did and it was sweeter than I imagined. That kiss that day made me excel at baseball, but going home at dusk was a short-lived glory for I knew when I got home I would have to pass my stepfather, and he would be drinking.

“Where you been?” he growled as I came in. “Playing baseball,” I answered, concealing how he frightened me. As I turned his shadow fell on me, followed by a blow that jarred my soul from my body. Then he dragged me to the door and threw me out. I found a hiding place and cried until I was empty, believing nothing mattered. Not the kiss, not baseball, not feeling grand. I swore someday I’d kill him.

He was a Scottish immigrant, charming on the outside but frightened underneath, working every waking hour. Soon he had it all: a business, a house, a Cadillac, and waiters who knew his name. But the castle of his life was built on sand and one day it all came down. The bank locked up his business, foreclosed on the house, and repossessed the Cadillac. I was eighteen by then, old enough to walk away, and I did, as far from him as I could get. And I vowed my children will not suffer as I did. But as good a father as I became, part of me was wounded in my hatred for this man, and at times my children had to withdraw from the darkness hate made of me.

One day my wife said, I called and spoke to him. He’s living just across the river. He has no one and nothing to his name. It’s time to heal. When I refused she said, If not for you, then for our children.

He wasn’t well. A.A. had set him on his feet but his body was shot from years of booze and cigarettes. On Sundays I would visit him. He would ask about my life, my kids, my dreams, and I could feel him take me in and sensed the happiness it gave him. As time went by I realized that there was love in him for me and returning home I would wonder, how did this happen that my heart is peaceful and at one with his?

One day he collapsed at work. The ICU cheated death for three days, but it was hard. When he grew frightened he would say I made a mess of everything, I hurt everyone I loved. I stayed beside his bed, stroked his hair, and helped him be at peace, and in the silence as he died I could see the essence of his being softly shining through, blessing me.

After that, I loved better, especially my children. I judged less and forgave more. Now, years later, my greatest joy is beholding the loving way my children care for their children, and I think: this is how the world changes.