Category Archives: EI

If you’re a leader is safety or happiness more important to focus on for your people?

If you are a leader, start with making your people feel safe. Address their fears first. Then work your way up to happy. Calming the amygdala in the brain is the first step. Then you can engage the frontal cortex. That’s the order. 

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Safe or happy?

The amygdala part of the brain wants to keep us safe. It’s its primary function. The frontal cortex part of the brain developed after the amygdala. It is more interested in whether you’re happy, fulfilled, have good connections with the people you care about or not. In any given moment one or the other is in charge. Not both. So that means in any given moment – like this one – you’re either focused on feeling safe or being happy. What we say we want and what we act like in daily life are often two different things. Lastly, safe and happy are in two different categories. They don’t happen at the same time. When I say ‘happy’ here I’m not talking ‘yay!’ Happiness in this case is a sense of fulfillment of flourishing of being at your best. You won’t find safety there. This is the Hero’s Journey – the trip into the scary unknown. You leave safety in search of happiness.

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Freeze, Fight or Flight, which comes first?

For us modern humans working in offices, freeze usually comes first.  This is especially true when speech and language are involved. We interact with someone and then we have to process a potential verbal attack. Although the brain ultimately doesn’t differentiate between a literal and a metaphorical threat, it still takes longer to figure out words than it does actions. Our brain prepares us for fight or flight – shunting oxygen from the brain and dumping chemicals in our bloodstream to make us stronger and faster – to MOVE. Meanwhile, we’re frozen. And then when our body screams at us to move, but we’re in an office, in a meeting, on the phone, we also know we can’t. So we stay frozen. And ten to thirty minutes later when the chemical ‘dust’ clears in the brain we think of things we wish we had said – the verbal versions of fight or flight. When does fight ever come first? In traffic when road rage happens, fight usually comes first. Which comes first for you – freeze, fight, or flight? Does that help you in life? How does it hinder your development to becoming your best version of you?

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Freeze, Fight or Flight?

When we get emotionally triggered, it’s common to call that our ‘fight or flight’ response.  There’s a third option that may be the most used, however: freeze. This is the classic posture adopted by small(er) animals. Then they choose flight, or like the possum, may just continue with freeze. At the beginning of a potential threat, an animal (and we’re animals) may be uncertain the location or severity of the threat, even if it really is a threat. So fight or flight doesn’t make sense yet. Freeze happens. When your brain gets hijacked by something that feels threatening, what’s your go-to – freeze, fight, or flight?

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To ask well is to answer

The Jungian analyst Robert Johnson writes, “To ask well is virtually to answer.” He’s writing about our internal process of individuation, navigating our internal landscape in search of wholeness.  Also true? It’s how we best connect with others, how we can calm someone down who is emotionally triggered. A true question – one ‘asked well’ – engages the frontal cortex, the connector part of the brain.  If you want to influence and make a change, ask well. It’s like answering, but better.

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Oh, that’s bad, no that’s good! (What I learned watching Hee Haw)

There is a classic skit on Hee Haw where Roy Clark tells a story and Charlie replies with either “oh, that’s good” or “oh, that’s bad”. The joke builds as every time the “that’s good” reply is corrected with Roy Clark saying “no, that’s bad.” What we thought was good news turns out to be bad in the story. And what someone would normally label as “that’s bad” gets corrected by Roy (“no, that’s good”) as we realize that the ‘bad news’ turns out to be good news as the story unfolds. What’s in your circle of control? Larger forces work their dark magic on us and we find ourselves in situations that might be called ‘less than wonderful’. Things happen, bad things happen, beyond our control. Wonderful things happen too. We can focus on what a shame it is we didn’t win the lottery, had that car accident, got that illness, didn’t get that raise, on and on.  And we can also focus on what is in our control – how we perceive and react to what we see. We can consciously choose what our perception is instead of how our unconscious bias labels. If you’re unsure of how to do shake things up in this way, try a simple trick. Whatever you’d normally judge as bad, label it the opposite. What if it’s great? The Buddhists are wonderful at this, welcoming discomfort in the service of learning. And Carl Jung took this contrarian view with this patients – good news was met with dismay because they’d be less likely to do the hard work of individuation, and bad news was met with celebration. So, is what is happening right now good or bad? Are you in heaven or hell right now? Are you sure? “Everybody has that opportunity. It’s our choice of perception. How do we perceive the world around us? We can perceive it negatively and go to hell or we can perceive it positively and make it work well and go to heaven, you know, play with the angels.” – 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer

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When do Americans love to suffer?

A student once asked Tulku Urgyen Rimpoche what was interesting about Americans. He replied, “The people in America love to suffer before the suffering comes.” According to the Institute for Health and Human Potential, 40% of our thoughts are about the future, 12% are thoughts of doubt and 10% are worries about our health. The amygdala in the brain is always scanning for potential threats. It’s just trying to keep us safe. But the unfortunate result is that we anticipate future suffering. We ‘suffer before the suffering’. Are you suffering, really suffering right now? If so, it’s something to welcome in. If you feel bad but nothing bad is actually happening, it may just be anticipatory suffering. That’s not necessary or helpful. It may be more helpful to notice what’s actually happening right now. And wait to experience the inevitable future suffering only once it has actually arrived. (Thanks to Joseph Jastrab for passing along the quote)

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What percent of Florida panthers are black?

Q: What percent of Florida panthers are black? A) 22% B) 100% C) 12% D) 0% Correct Answer: D) 0% In your mind’s eye, when you think of a panther, what color is it? Probably black. Our minds are good at things like that. Minds like to fill in the blanks, to simplify the world, to organize it into right and wrong, good and bad, friend and foe. It’s easier and has historically been safer not to concern yourself with nuances when a saber-tooth tiger is charging at you. The mind says, “that’s foe.” The problem? When the mind fills in the blanks for things that aren’t immediately life-threatening. And that’s pretty much most of our experience. We live in a complex self-induced web of duality. As Antonio Machado said, “In my solitude I have very clearly seen things that were not true.” Growth mindset says we’re not at our best when we’re right – we’re at our best when we’re learning. There’s the story we tell ourselves and the real story. Get curious about learning the real story.

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“That’s not me”

“That’s not me. That’s not who I am.” “That’s not us. That’s not who we are.” This is an element of a very common public apology. I guarantee you’ll hear it sometime in the news in the next few weeks. Someone famous does something stupid, or not as well as they would like and that sentence gets inserted. It’s also what we tell ourselves when we do something stupid, something we regret, something that is less than wonderful. It also often shows up when failure does. If not you, then who? Actually, that IS you. And that is that public person that did something they don’t recognize once the smoke has cleared. That is the team that froze in the spotlight. And that realization can hit to the core – a real self-identity quake. That is a sign of a full-blown amygdala hijack. The fight/flight/fear part of the brain decided it was in danger and took over the driver’s seat, shoving the frontal cortex into the backseat. Or it’s a sign that your brain isn’t yet fully formed. Our brains don’t get to full maturity until our mid-twenties, which is why so many kids do so many amazingly stupid things, like tweeting racist tweets if you’re going to be a top-five NFL draft pick. But if you’re an adult and you do something, it’s you. It’s really you. It happens inside your brain. It’s your lower impulses trying to keep you safe. It doesn’t care about damages incurred. So you can either deny it’s you. Or you can get humble and fully own it. Owning it is the only place where learning can happen. You get to learn what you do when the amygdala hijacks your smarts. You learn what triggers the amygdala. You learn the effect the amygdala aftermath has on what you care about. And you learn what’s important long-term that you can recommit to. These are very, very important pieces of knowledge. If you’re brave enough to be humble, that IS you. That IS me. That IS us. It’s okay, it’s going to happen and keep happening. And never forget that even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment we always have a choice. We can tear what we love apart or listen to the better angels of our nature. I vote for the angels. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – Abraham Lincoln (part of his 1861 Inaugural Address)

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Giving Voice to Joy: The Antidote to Fear

“Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all. We have heard, perhaps, too much of lesser matters. Here is the door. Here is the open air.” -Robert Louis Stevenson In these often scary times, we have an alternative to the fear that inevitably arises – an antidote. When it seems or feels like things in life, the good things in life, are getting scarcer and more uncertain, to defeat that scarcity, the smallness inside and out, the antidote is to give, and to give freely – to give joy to yourself and those around you, and to give to joy. Now is a wonderful time to see clearly how richly and deeply the natural world gives to us. As the birds sing and make their nests, and the flowers bloom, and the leaves open on the trees, and the sky is clear and blue, and the warm sun lights up our faces and bathes us in warmth, we’re better able to see how simply beautiful being alive can be. And we can see how effortlessly and simply the world gives to us all of the simple joys that we need to lighten our loads. The challenge and the way through any moment when you are scared is the courage of giving freely and trusting that that giving frees up the river that flows both ways. It may be helpful to remember that this giving is a natural part of our life. Each moment we give away a breath and take in a new one again. Everything we own, every gift and natural ability we possess has been given to us. The Chinese sage Lao Tsu said, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” Research tells us that that happiness travels from person to person farther and longer than sadness does. Give voice to your joy and watch it travel. May you find the strength to courageously give voice to your joy, give your best to the world and notice as it gives its best to you. Learn more: Emotional Intelligence Works  – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success.

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