My friend David has a job that he absolutely loves – except for one thing. And it’s the one thing that may push him out the door soon. David has a boss that is prone to outbursts of anger. David’s boss seems to be a great guy that knows his stuff, but no one wants to be around him, because you never know when the fuse is going to be lit.
Marcy plays an important role on her team and everyone loves her – until they are almost to deadline. Then Marcy’s perfectionism turns into acute anxiety and she makes everyone crazy with her intensity.
Did you know that your emotions are contagious? Our brains all contain mirror neurons, which help us to be connected and empathetic to others. Because of those mirror neurons, when David’s boss blows up or Marcy gets anxious, everyone around them is impacted when their brains start getting hijacked.
Quick brain science lesson: when the brain senses any sort of threat, whether emotional or physical, a little organ called the “amygdala” takes over. It will slow down or shut down function in other regions of the brain (especially the part that is responsible for critical thinking) and push you into a “fight or flight” response. We call this an amygdala hijack. It happens to all of us. It comes in handy when you’re getting chased by a bear, but it’s not too helpful when you’re in a meeting or even a family dinner, and everyone around the table starts hijacking.
Do you know how your emotional responses impacted others this year? If there was one emotional hijack pattern that you could change this next year, what would it be? The good news is that there are things that you can do to manage those hijacks and reduce the negative impact on yourself and the people around you. Here are a few ideas:
- Keep a log of regrettable episodes. Write down what happened to trigger it, how your brain and body responded and what you did that you regret.
- Ask the people around you for some feedback on your emotional behaviors. It’s good to know both the positive things that you want to keep doing (are you a good smiler?) and blind spots you may be missing.
- Work with a coach or someone that can help you change the way you respond to some of your more common triggers.
Do you wear “I’m busy” as a badge of honor? Or as excuse for not doing the things you really want to be doing?
If anyone is truly busy, it might Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn. He has been writing on his personal LinkedIn page about a practice that he calls “underscheduling”. He references the famous quote by Einstein, who said that if he only had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about it and 5 minutes working on it. In his recent posts, Weiner talks about the importance of thinking time for leaders. He schedules chunks of time for thinking into his days, with the same importance as meetings and appointments. He recently told the audience at a Economic Club of Grand Rapids meeting, “The only sustainable means of business leadership is thought leadership.” It seems that after decades of chasing productivity and non-stop action, we are coming back to the simple value of good thinking.
How is your schedule? Do you get enough time to do good, productive thinking? Not just time alone to check email or post on Facebook, but time for deep, reflective, real thought. That kind of thought is absolutely necessary for making good decisions, being creative, and being prepared for problems when they come your way. If you really adding up the time you took for good thinking this year, you might be shocked at how impulsive and thought-less a lot of your decisions actually were. Do you want or need to make that different next year?
Need a reason to justify reading Fifty Shades of Gray? Well, here it is: a team of researchers from the University of Toronto recently conducted a study of 100 students that were asked to read either a short story or a piece of non-fiction prior to taking a survey on their emotional need for certainty. Those who read fiction had much lower scores, indicating a higher capacity for ambiguity. High needs for certainty can create rigid thinking, fixed mindsets (which often lead to depression) and make you more prone to stress.
What role has reading played in your life? Do you read for pleasure or for purpose? Do you avoid it or crave it? As the Toronto study shows, there are a lot more tangible benefits than just escaping. I am a reader. I read blogs, I read magazines, I read as many books as I can squeeze in my tired brain at the end of the day. I have an intimate relationship with Amazon. And yet, I think I have some changes to make next year. I don’t read enough fiction. It’s been forever since I’ve treated myself to a short story. I might need a bit more variety next year. There are places in the world and periods of history that I’ve never explored. Many this next year, I’ll expand myself through fiction or some other genres that I’ve been neglecting.
How about you? What might you change, add, or experiment with next year?