Have you Noticed?

noticing

We have a special role for one of our staff members at Thought Design. Shelley is our CNO. Don’t know what that is? That’s because not many companies (or any?) have one, though I think they should. Shelley is our Chief Noticing Officer. It’s her job to notice stuff. She notices when things are out of place, when a customer changes a pattern, and even when her co-workers might need one of her wonderful corny jokes. It’s actually her job to pay attention to stuff.

Noticing is an incredibly important skill. Noticing requires us to quiet our minds enough to be fully present where we are, with those we are with. Your mom probably told you to look for the good in the world. She was right. When you practice paying closer attention to what’s happening around you and especially noticing what’s good or right, you are training your brain to go to positive thoughts, which it doesn’t naturally want to do. You are also practicing something called “Mindfulness”, which helps to improve your ability to focus when you need to.

Are you a good noticer? What stuff do you notice? Changing your brain happens one little habit at a time. Here’s your challenge for today: work to notice five positive things in your world that you normally would have missed. Slow down, take more deep breaths and pay attention. It’s there.

(Come back and let us know in the comment section what you’ve noticed!)

Celebrate!

celebrate

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state – it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle… Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”   Abraham Joshua Heschel

It’s a week before Christmas, a time when most of us are in the midst of preparing celebrations of all kinds. Or maybe, if you’re like me, you’re so focused on other things, the celebration part of the holidays will probably get lost in the midst of the to-do list. (I think this blog post might turn into something of a confessional…).

All year long as I work with teams, I ask the question “What is RIGHT?”. I get them to tell me about what they love and feel proud of. It’s usually not too hard to get some answers. The next question is “How do you celebrate and protect these things?” Often at this point, the room goes somewhat silent.

Did you know that our brains are five times more likely to go to the negative than the positive? It’s part of how we were prepared to recognize danger. From a survival standpoint, it’s important. From a quality of life standpoint, it’s a real challenge. It means that we are more likely to focus on our problems and challenges than celebrate what we have achieved.

Celebration is good for your brain. It releases dopamine, of course, which is the “pleasure” chemical. Dopamine is a natural antidote for stress. Celebration is also important because of something called “attention density”.  Simply put, the more you give good, focused attention to any thought, the more it is imbedded into your brain in a permanent way. When we celebrate, giving attention to things that bring us positive feelings, we are actually training our brain to be positive. When teams celebrate the things that go well, they are actually embedded the behaviors that help them retain the things that are going well.

Did you do enough celebrating this year? Did you have enough parties? Did you belly laugh enough? Do you know what things in your life you should be celebrating? Let’s start by celebrating together. Post one thing you are celebrating today in the comment section and we can all yahoo with each other. I’ll start… I’ve been wanting to start this blog all year and I’m really doing it!!

Now you…

Can you Relate?

conversation old man

You’ve probably heard that if you want to truly master a skill, you need to spend 10,000 hours on it. According to Matt Leiberman, author of Social, Why our Brains are Wired to Connect, you had already spent that 10,000 hours understanding people and how we relate to them by the time you were TEN years old. Just a few years ago, the technology was developed to gather MRI data on more than two people at a time in a social context (as opposed to being shoved into an MRI tube together). What researchers found not only confirmed the belief that our brains are primarily social, it exceeded what was previously held to be true. Our brains are so dependent on other people that if a newborn baby were completely isolated from any human contact, it wouldn’t survive more than a few months. In other words: Your brain is made to connect with the brains of other people.

Our brains are so tuned into our relatedness with others that it scans our environment five times every second, rewarding us with either a sense of well-being or warning us with some stress signals if our relatedness is being threatened in any way. Our brains actually experience social pain in the same way as it experiences physical pain. This is probably why we describe a break-up or the loss of someone as a “hurt”.

So think about this a minute: if your brain is that wired up for people, doesn’t it make sense that managing your relatedness would be an important part of managing your overall life balance and brain health?

This last week was both challenging and enlightening for me. I have a very close group of girlfriends and this week brought two unexpected deaths and a major health crisis for family members of my little tribe. The days were filled up with text message updates, making meals and sharing tears. There was shock, sadness and fear. I noticed something, though: at the same time, my sense of well-being was strangely deepened. Here’s what I realized – the experience of being deeply loved and connected to others is stronger than sadness. Another way of putting it is that because my brain was getting it’s need for relatedness met so strongly, the other stresses and threats had less impact.

The funny thing about our brains is that they don’t always care how they get what they need. Those deep relationships with friends and family are the foundation of our overall social connections, but our brains connect with others all day, every day. The person that checks out your groceries, the guy you rode the elevator with this morning, the people in your office… your brain registers a positive or negative from every encounter.

Where is your opportunity to keep your connection with others more positive next year? Will you smile and greet more strangers as you go through your day? Will you spend more time or energy being present to others? Would you like to spend more time with friends? What will you need to change in order to make it happen?