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You have a presentation coming up, you’ve prepped, you know the information inside and out, but as prepared as you are, how do you know if you are conveying an air of confidence?

This is almost more important than whether what you are saying is true or not.

Turns out, our brains have a primal, vested interest in the mental state of who it is listening to. We are neurologically wired to determine whether the information given to us by someone is being given to us with confidence or insecurity.

On a neurochemical level we want to know whether whom we are listening to can be trusted. It’s a carry-over from our primitive days when we were focused primarily on surviving.

No one wants to waste their precious time listening to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And while you might know what you’re talking about the brains in the heads of your audience might be tuning out on a primal level based on certain factors.

1. Work on your tone.

Turns out, confident voices tend to be lower in pitch, have a flatter intonation, and a faster speech rate.

Xiaoming Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuropragmatics and Emotion Lab led at McGill University discovered that our brain activity lights up when a listener encounters a “confident” voice, suggesting our brains like and give attention to what it considers a confident voice. Simply put, our brains are attracted to confident tones.

Which begs the question…what is a “confident” voice?

Jiang and his colleagues determined that a confident tone tends to be lower in pitch, with flat intonation, and a faster speech rate. A non-confident tone tends to be higher in pitch, slower speech, and rising in pitch towards the end (think: upspeak).

Confident speech also ends in a period and never a question (when a question isn’t being stated).

Our neurons pick up on these tones and we receive encoded information about whether this voice is a voice to be trusted, based on it sounding like it knows.

And what’s more, this all happens in under a second. “When a speaker is very confident about something, this can be assessed at a very early stage,” Jiang says.

So as soon as you mutter “This might…” or “I feel…” or “I believe…” your listener’s brain has placed you in the non-confident realm.

2. Stop with the disclaimers.

This might sound stupid, but…

Everyone, at some point, has prefaced something they were about to say with a disclaimer that let them off the hook in case it did indeed sound stupid.

Unfortunately, you’re not winning anyone over with your humility and/or lack of arrogance.

I’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s time to stop because you are doing yourself a disservice.

If you are up against a competitor or a colleague with a “confident” tone you put yourself at a disadvantage. And your listener won’t even be cognizant of how their preference is being formed because it’s happening on a neural level in less than a second.

Whether the person behind the voice does actually know what he/she is talking about is another story, but for our own sake it behooves us to try and project a tone of confidence, thereby eliciting the trust of our listener.

3. Make sure your body language matches what you are saying.

Don’t be confusing. You might be saying, “this might sound stupid” physically but not verbally.

What are your shoulders doing? What is your stance? Are your arms crossed or open? How do you stand when listening to someone?

None of it is inherently bad, but your body has to be putting your best self forward too.

Maintain a relational philosophy throughout the day where you are not on automatic pilot but are instead aware and as in the moment as you can be, so that you are relating to people in a self-aware mode.

Sounds obvious but we can easily coast over many interactions and not really be present at the same time.

Remember: you’re sending neural signals to your listener / audience with your tone and physicality. You want them in your reign.

4. Recognize cues that say you aren’t capturing their attention.

Cues such as someone speaking over you, faces and physicality that indicate a lack of interest, your listener looking away, etc.

When you see this, acknowledge it, either internally or externally. “It seems like I may have lost you on that last comment, let me rephrase it” etc, and readjust.

Cameron Anderson, a professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, has studied the effects and motivation of overconfidence. “When people are confident,” says Anderson, “when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior.”

In Anderson’s study, he concluded that overconfident individuals “…spoke more, used a confident and factual vocal tone…exhibited a calm and relaxed demeanor, and offered answers first.”

We see that mention of “tone” again. And what’s also interesting is that the overconfident individuals in Anderson’s study never made “explicit statements about their own abilities…or their certainty in their answers.”

How convenient! It suggests that tone and confidence is the only support overconfident individual require to put forth their opinions.

If there are those out there who can project confidence without having the skills to back it up – and if our brains are wired to detect confidence in under a second – then it behooves all of us to give ourselves a fighting chance in this competitive world.

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I hate managing people. Probably most people do. In my ideal world everyone knows what they have to do, they do it on time, without being reminded, and we all co-exist as a happy, independent – but also bonded – self-directed, motivated working family. Not so hard, right?

Well, it’s a tad hard actually.

Everyone has different skillsets, different brains, and different methodologies. Moreover, not everyone possesses a self-directed, entrepreneurial brain, despite the push these days to cultivate the intrapreneur. There will always be people who need specific direction and those that don’t, and neither is better than the other.

In a typical week I meet with my team to discuss agendas and ideas, then we break for the week, and then re-group the following week. I’m less concerned about adhering to a specific schedule or traditional workday than I am about giving people the freedom to work according to their individual style.

What I didn’t foresee when I started my leadership consulting business though is that:

too much flexibility and independence can set a low bar if not paired with strong accountability.

I’ve had my share of horrible bosses; I didn’t want to repeat their mistakes and bad behavior. I vowed to create a space where people could work and thrive independently.

Everyone was free to work according to their own schedule but when tasks and projects weren’t completed I allowed for further flexibility and understanding, which didn’t yield the desired results. I found myself repeatedly asking for work week after week that I wasn’t getting.

The following are some lessons I learned about how flexibility, understanding, and accountability work with – and against – each other.

1. Be specific about what you want so you get what you want.

It doesn’t make someone weak if they need specific directives. Have an initial conversation to uncover what kind of work style the person has (particularly in remote working situations) and what they expect from you. Maybe run an assessment on them so you get a glimpse into their personality. What you want to avoid is having this conversation repeatedly:

You: This isn’t what I wanted, this is what I wanted.

Employee: Oh I didn’t hear you say that.

You: I thought it was a given.

Was it a given? Or do you need to…

2. Manage your own expectations.

Not everyone is going to think like you. They may have the intrapreneurial gene but that doesn’t mean they will fill in the blanks for everything that needs to be done to carry the business forward. Develop awareness of your own expectations and of your employees’ abilities. Don’t expect someone with an “employee” mindset to be the best independent worker capable of doing what you haven’t outlined. On that note…

3. Don’t expect people to care as much as you do.

Even your hardest-working, most devout employee will never care about the company quite the same was as you. It’s not their baby, they don’t feel the day-to-day pressure that comes with owning and operating a business, and ultimately they can always leave if they want. This is a good starting point so you can…

4. Recognize everyone has strengths and weaknesses (including you) but don’t let them off the hook for their weaknesses.

People will favor their “strong arm” naturally but ignoring your weak arm causes injury to the rest of your body, so to speak. You owe it to your employees to challenge them to work on their weaknesses and hold them accountable for their development. If you allow them to only do what they’re good at, you will only give them certain projects, they’ll only expect to get specific projects, and you’ll end up doing work you probably should have delegated, which will build resentment, which is why you need to make it known that…

5. Flexibility is earned.

If they your people don’t do what they said they would, then they’ve lost their flexibility. They will feel the jarring brunt of that loss when they incur more attention on themselves and find they are being managed to a degree they hadn’t been beforehand. Or you may find it necessary to implement harsher consequences.

Netflix has been praised for having the ideal company culture under the umbrella of “freedom and responsibility.” You get all the vacation you want, you can expense without approval, they don’t have yearly performance reviews, you’re paid well, and you have the freedom to work and innovate without being bogged down by process. They take the high road and treat everyone as adults and as such they expect you to act and work like one.

They have a strong accountability in place: you’re expected to work at a high level or you might be asked to leave. Another way to phrase all this is…

6. The High Road i.e. “Don’t make me manage you.”

If everyone does what’s expected of them, then ultimately there’s no need for a “manager” per se. “Managers” exist when people can’t be trusted. They are carry-overs from the old guard when employees were considered “guilty until proven innocent.” If you set the expectations, are specific about what you want, and understand the work mentalities of your employees, then you state that your policy is the “high road” policy, where as long as expectations are met then flexibility is there for the taking. And if you find that you are not holding people accountable, then…

7. Self-analyze.

Ask yourself some hard questions:

Are you not being direct because you want people to like you?

Are you afraid to manage people?

Do you expect everyone to be entrepreneurs?

Do you in fact know what you want or were you hoping your employees would figure it out for you?

And when they didn’t figure it out did you then realize the onus is still on you to figure it out and now it’s one more thing you have to do?

And now you hate yourself and everyone else and you need go on a coffee run?

It’s ok, you can still…

8. Right the ship.

Start implementing continuous feedback and accountability. Create deadlines and don’t let people off the hook. A lot of pressure rests on the boss – and company – to build the perfect workplace culture, but it’s a two-way street: employees are also responsible for earning the flexibility and understanding. This is especially hard in remote situations, but make it a mantra that “accountability comes before flexibility.”

Create a working relationship where feedback is open and welcome; this is the only way you set the bar higher.

 

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Over the years I’ve found myself at the end of many a workday beckoning to the heavens, “Where did the day go???” I eventually came to the realization that I needed to streamline my life and structure my days around my energy levels.

I used to immediately grab my phone when I woke up to scroll through emails. To be honest, many mornings I still do if I’m anxious about some aspect of work, but I try not to because it drains me instantly.

These days I try to take a moment first — to kiss my husband, to kiss my cats — to have a moment of personal life before I entrench myself into work mode.

You can close the door to your office (if you have one), tell everyone not to bother you, and turn up the white noise in your noise-canceling headphones all you like (and believe me I have!) but when it comes to productivity and focus it’s all about preserving your energy — or willpower.

This stuff is personal and requires trial and error. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but here are some tactics I’ve adopted to put me at my most productive. And I’m thankful for them!

Pave the Road from Wake to Work With Something Fun, Relaxing or New

Bon jour, Madame! Où est La Rue Saint Jacques?

La Rue Saint Jacques? C’est là-bas!

I have started to learn French in the wee-early hours of the morning and I’m loving it. My husband and I wake up at the crack of dawn and take a brisk hour walk and listen to our French lessons, he a few feet behind me so I don’t have to hear him and his perfect French accent while I struggle with “Je.”

The morning air, the exercise, the brain cell increase from learning a new language — it’s a great way to wake up and prep the mind for taking in information.

Yes, there’s a certain willpower depletion that comes from learning something new, but because it’s not work-related it feels invigorating and allows me the time and relaxation in the morning to transition from waking to working.

If you can’t handle me in my active wear, then you don’t deserve me in my…active wear.

I wear active wear every single day that I get to work from home. Leggings and a shirt is my uniform.

By reaching for leggings and a shirt I don’t tap into any serious brain functioning to decide what I’m going to wear. Being that I get to work from home when I’m not with clients it doesn’t really matter anyway. Might as well be as comfy as can be. When I’m out with clients, I have my go-to also. A black skirt or pants, a belt and a button down blouse or a dress with a belt. Simple and done and already known.

Every decision we make depletes our willpower and you need as full a reserve of willpower as possible to get through the workday. My willpower is thus still relatively intact after I’ve showered and dressed for the day because I’m not thinking about what I’m going to wear.

Mark Zuckerberg does the same, as did Steve Jobs. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the uniform routine. I’m a believer in it; it helps me. I actively feel the absence of having to choose what to wear and that relaxes me, as do my leggings.

Find your uniform! It can be as simple as “I like blue shirts” or “I like boots” (and who doesn’t love a great pair of boots?)

Hardboiled eggs are my best friend; so is Sunday cooking.

I like a couple of eggs every day with some vegetables, maybe a little sweet potato, a cup of coffee and I’m good. No more “What am I going to eat?” “Where will I eat?” “Should I eat this?” I save the more exciting breakfasts for weekend brunches when I have the luxury of choice.

On Sundays I roast vegetables, bake sweet potatoes, boil eggs, cook some meat, and voila: food for the week.

Being able to not think about food, although it’s fun to think about food, saves so much time and so much energy.

Let it all out.

I need to be able to emote freely, speak at full volume on the phone freely, pace if need be.

Suppressing emotion or curtailing your personality in any way is a willpower zapper.

If you don’t have a door or a private room, step outside for a moment to vent; grab a cup of coffee. Make sure you have an emotional outlet, otherwise it churns inside you, gathers momentum and power, and steals your focus.

System Preferences → Notifications → None

“Cheryl also commented on Rebecca’s post about feeding the giraffe at the zoo.”

“@luvsrockclimbing44 has sent you a message.”

“LinkedIn Message: “Hi Nicole, I’m new to organizational psychology and was wondering if you could give me some pointers about…”

I love social media and I love the notifications, so much so that if I don’t turn them off I will find myself typing a lengthy considerate email to Jennifer Somebody about how to start your consulting practice while I ignore my own.

I save all social media follow-ups for post-dinner / TV watching or early AM coffee time. It has no place in the meat of the day. Only eating meatballs belongs in the meat of the day.

Chunk isn’t just a Goonies character, it’s also a productivity hack

At the end of each day I look at what I have lined up for the next day. Then I chunk out my day. Tasks that are going to require a fair amount of mental energy I schedule as early as possible.

Did you know that the average worker actually checks their email up to 74x/day???

Our willpower is fullest at the start of the day. You’ll need that willpower reserve for the tasks/projects that tax your brain. If you spend the first half of your day answering emails, crossing off the easy-to-do items on your to-do list you are putting yourself at a disadvantage for the harder stuff later in the day.

Sometimes life is boring…and that’s OK.

Resisting temptation — to abstain from distraction — depletes our willpower. The more depleted our willpower, the less we are able to attend to important projects and important conversations.

Giving in to every distraction versus training your brain to be still creates a scattered, inattentive mind.

I’ve learned not everything I do is exciting or interesting. Sometimes I need to perform a solo brainstorm session and it’s not fun. Sometimes I need to write lots of proposals that are boring. To get these tasks done so I can move on to the next point of business I have to accept that boredom is part of my life, and presumably part of yours too.

If you allow yourself to distract every time boredom creeps into your day you are empowering your ego, which aims to grab and attach to something — anything! — in every second of every minute, all day long.

Take back control of your mind. You steer the boat.

Productivity is less about tricks and more about just managing your energy in a way that works for you.

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A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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A couple of weeks ago I went on a California vacation. I was excited to take a well-needed break from work and drive down the Pacific Coast Highway for a little wine tasting in Sonoma.

As I always do prior to a vacation, I put my out-of-office notification on. Then I boarded the plane and settled into my much anticipated, guilty-pleasure, marathon catch-up session of Scandal.

Then my phone rang. It was my doctor’s office.“I’m on vacation!” I shouted in my head and happily sent the call to voicemail. They’ll leave a message, I figured. Back to Scandal with my phone in airplane mode. Sayonara.

Except…

My doctor’s office didn’t leave a message. They decided to email me instead.

And then my out-of-office email responded to their email. And then their server responded to my out-of-office email with their automated “this email cannot receive replies” email. And then my out-of-office email responded to their “this email cannot receive replies” email, and then their “this email cannot receive replies” email responded to my out-of-office email.

These two emails soon became old friends, ping-ponging back and forth for the five hour flight. When I arrived in California I had over 2000 undeliverable emails in my Gmail Inbox.

“Oh my god!” I said out loud when we landed — 2,000 undeliverable emails, and they kept pouring in. But, with every ounce of my vacation-cool, I ignored it. I got back in the present moment thinking I would just batch delete them later.

Except….

The thousands of emails piling up in my inbox resembled a spam account, which triggered Gmail’s algorithms, and they (Gmail? Code? Bots? The Illuminati???) disabled my account. If you emailed the account you received a message that it wasn’t a real email account, and this was both my personal and professional account.

I run two businesses via this account, and any email account I’ve had over the years forwards to this account. I know, I know…this is a terrible practice, but when easy works, I like easy.

Panic is an understatement for what I started to experience.

Contracts. Contacts. Paper trails. Years of correspondence. History. Files. Folders. Memories. My life!

Gone.

How to remain intact when the shit hits the fan. 

These are the moments in life we hope never happen, but they always do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation, or watching your kid’s soccer game, or having the worst week of your life. It’s not a question of if but when. And the choice in these moments is always the same — how will you handle it?

Yes, I thought about cancelling the vacation and flying back home. I thought about holing up in my hotel room until this mess was figured out. But this vacation was important to my husband and I. I needed to remain intact and present.

So, here’s what I did…

I paused and assessed what I could and could not control. This is called an internal locus of control: the belief that you can influence events and their outcomes; as opposed to an external locus of control, which is the belief that the external world controls you and is therefore to blame for whatever happens to you.

I took the necessary steps to reinstate my Gmail account. I filled out the reinstatement request form Gmail offers if you feel your account was wrongly disabled — a form that feels akin to writing the request on a piece of paper, putting it into a glass bottle and throwing it into the ocean.

I took to the Gmail forum message boards, searching for anyone who could help. I contacted friends and associates who might have insider access to the Google kingdom.

Whether Gmail would heed my calls and reinstate my account was out of my control.

So my next step was to look at cool art in Santa Cruz.

Of course, finding your internal locus of control is easier said than done, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier.

1. Give yourself space to freak out.

When going through stressful experiences I recommend a solid hour per day of what is known in the psychology world as a controlled freakout.

Ok, I made that up, but it should be a thing.

Each morning for the week we were on vacation, my husband would awake at about 5:30AM to the cool California morning breeze, the feel of crisp hotel sheets, and the sound of frenzied typing as I drummed up support on Gmail forums.

Then we’d talk about it. Talking helped me figure out my action steps, both physically and mentally. Without talking and processing, it all stays in your head and continues to grow. When you talk about it you release the anxiety.

Then I would move on. I was still alive, the earth was spinning, I was on vacation.

Every day I made a choice to find my internal locus of control.

2. Release anxiety by naming your emotions.

This is a process called “Affect Labeling,” it’s been around for awhile, but has only recently been named.

UCLA psychology professor, Matthew Lieberman, did a study that showed that labeling your emotions reduces the effect of the emotion. He coined the process “Affect Labeling.”

It works.

I talked about the situation with my husband, but also explained what I was feeling — sad, scared, anxious, and angry. But my emotions while watching this weird looking fish at the aquarium in Monterey were happy and curious.

By naming what I was feeling, I gained control over those feelings.

3. Recognize that you are in a period of intense learning.

I talk and write a lot about resilience and how it’s a major component for successful leadership, but I’m not Tony Robbins. I’m not always as resilient as I should be.

This was my opportunity to walk the walk. And a funny thing happens when you make a conscious choice to shift how you think about a situation: life becomes less scary.

In the moment, it often doesn’t feel like you have control over your emotions. But like everything in life, it’s a choice. Instead of living in panic, I chose to view the situation objectively, as one that would help me hone skills that are incredibly valuable.

Because the truth is, we should be activating our internal locus of control on a daily basis. It starts with recognizing that ultimate happiness doesn’t come from perfect lives or perfect vacations, happiness comes when we choose to take control over how we react to our emotions.

The shit will always hit the fan. How you respond is up to you.

Waiting, blaming, procrastinating, wondering, and self-pity will always make time for you. Inaction and external focus can bolster anxiety. Positive action, however, quiets the critical and anxious mind. When you take ownership and action, even if the end game is a losing one, you will know you did what you could do; you’ll sleep easier because you acted, you focused on what was in your control.

There’s a Buddhist saying that goes something like, “If you can do something about a situation then why get angry about it, and if you can’t do something about a situation then why get angry about it.” That’s some ancient leadership development for you.

Oh, and one bonus piece of advice — prevention is key. If you’re going to build your whole life and business on a single account, use one that has a customer service department, like G-Suite or Office 365.

And if you notice that your out-of-office notification starts going crazy, turn it off immediately!

And finally, if your doctor calls, answer the phone.


I would love to hear about your own coping mechanisms and times when they had to kick into gear!

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When my husband was a child, he couldn’t understand why his older brother would voluntarily go to Hebrew School. Worried he would face the same fate, he asked his mother if he would have to go at some point too.

“When you want to know what it means to be Jewish, then I’ll send you to Hebrew School,” his mother told him. Great, my husband thought, all I have to do is never utter those words and I’m home free.

Cut to:

His brother’s bar mitzvah: a huge, lavish party at an expensive hotel, with dancing, food, drinks, laughter, friends, family, and most importantly…TONS OF PRESENTS and MONEY.

The next day, my husband, eight years old at the time, said to his mother, “I want to know what it means to be Jewish.” And off he went to Hebrew School for five years, at the end of which he got his party, his presents, and some cash.

Cut to the present: He has not stepped foot inside a temple since.

I offer this parable to illustrate the effect of extrinsic motivation in the workplace, that being that the offer of rewards – bonuses, raises – do not create employee engagement, retention, or loyalty. With our eye on the prize, we will work towards the reward dangling in front of us until we get it – we will do the bare minimum to get it – and then we will move on to greener pastures.

This is in opposition to intrinsic motivation, which is inspiring someone from within, when an employee wants to do a good job out of a personal and professional sense of integrity. They want to do a good job for the company and for themselves because they find meaning in their work and that meaning gives them a sense of purpose in life.

It is up to the individual to come to work desiring meaning in their work, but it is also up to the leader to inspire from within.

When an Employee Goes Through the Motions

Neuroscientist Patrick Haggard, at University College London, studied the effects of intentional action vs action that is performed because of directives.

What he discovered is that intentional action creates a warped sense of time. If, for example, you have a button that makes a sound and you intentionally press that button to make the sound you will think the sound comes much quicker than it actually does (a phenomenon called “intentional binding”). This warped sense of time is absent from those who press the button because they’re told to; they have a clear sense of the time interval between the button being pressed and the sound created.

This warped time factor can be neurally recorded and this “neural signature,” as Gopnik put it, is how neuroscientists determine whether an individual feels a sense of agency or not with their decisions.

In their studies, whenever a subject was told to do something the intentional binding neural signature was absent. When a subject acted out of their own free will the intentional binding neural signature was present.

To be clear, If we feel a sense of agency, the neural signature of not being aware of time intervals is present; if we don’t feel a sense of agency the neural signature is absent and we clearly remember the time intervals between action and the result of that action.

The end result is that when the neural signature is absent the subject doesn’t feel as though the decision to, say, press the button was their own. It was an order given to them. And as such they don’t feel like it was they who did it.

How does this affect meaning in the workplace?

The more agency you give your employees the more they will feel that they themselves are doing the work, they are creating and assigning the value to their work, and this motivates them from within because they have a sense of free will.

If their job solely consists of taking orders and doing what they are told they will feel a lack of agency, and this lack of agency will create a gap between themselves and the work being done. They will not feel invested, like their own mind was being used, like they are making their own decisions and creating meaningful work on their own.

They will grow bored, feeling untapped. They will work to not be punished. They will work for the paycheck, and the paycheck only goes so far. You will create employees who feel no sense of loyalty and will not experience any guilt over leaving you high and dry should something better come along.

Inspire from within!

You want to create an aligned, harmonious culture where the people are engaged and feel a sense of loyalty to the work.

Doing so requires replacing our habitual, unconscious day-to-day behavior with a conscious relational philosophy built on heightened social awareness and skillful relationship management. It’s called having a relational philosophy.

Here are some tips for doing just that:

  1. Find out what other interests / passions your people have. And then utilize them. This creates more meaning for their life and feeds back into the company by creating an aligned, sticky culture. Promote individuality so people feel like their specific existence plays a valued role in the organization/company.
  2. Promote psychological safety. Create a comfortable environment where speaking up is nurtured. Feeling safe to be vulnerable, to take risks, to just be can be powerfully motivating. Google conducted 200+ interviews over the course of 2 years looking at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. They found the teams that had achieved psychological safety were the most successful.
  3. Create Supportive, Friendly Competition. Focus on how everyone’s individual efforts help the entire team achieve success. Remain alert for unwarranted complaints about others, angry outbursts, backstabbing, finger pointing, and sabotage. Create friendly competition, not an ultimate “win or lose” challenge among team members.
  4. Celebrate Success. Celebrating small wins motivates. It helps teams stay focused on what they are working for, and it gives everyone a chance to reflect on their successes. Take everyone out for drinks or create some time during the workday to acknowledge the wins.
  5. Show Appreciation. Feeling appreciated is a core emotional concern for all humans. It is part of our make-up. A simple thank you, a handwritten note, a pat on the back, or gratitude for someone’s unique contribution can be more motivating than money. If you want to give a token of appreciation, tailor it to the individual: show that you’ve been listening (e.g., a day at the spa, tickets to someone’s favorite band or restaurant that they keep talking about). This makes the gesture unforgettable.
  6. Pay attention to the environment. If you can, build a beautiful, cozy, fun, creative atmosphere for you and your people to work in. Research has shown that environment can be more important and more motivating than money. Our surroundings can inspire our brains.
  7. Hire for cultural fit. You’re building a clan. It behooves you to hire with personality in mind, not just credentials. We spend most of our lives with our coworkers, it thus makes sense for these people to be our friends, people with whom we’d like to get a drink and spend time with outside of work. For proof of concept, look to Zappos. I recommend reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness.
  8. Be flexible. For instance, if a remote work situation produces good results from a valued employee, work out an arrangement that works for all parties. Saying no just because it’s never happened before is spiteful. If you can’t reward with money, maybe there are other things you can do to show appreciation – be creative! Think outside of the box.

The tale of Sisyphus is oft-used as a metaphor for drudgery and drone office work. We can all potentially turn into – or feel like we are being turned into – Sisyphus, taking repetitive orders to complete mindless tasks ad nauseum.

But we don’t have to live that way. Our work lives don’t have to be mindless, hopeless struggles. Leaders should play a major role in that pursuit: create meaning in the workplace to the best of your ability, acknowledge successes, and reward the struggle.

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Few children grow up thinking, “Someday I’m going to be a manager.” Truth be told, few adults probably do too.

Management is an elusive field. It’s hard to find the right candidate because, aside from the stature and increase in pay, it typically raises your stress level and negatively affects your interpersonal relationships. Just the word “manager” can conjure negative feelings in employees.

Managers may not have clear visions of how to lead and what to delegate. They may fear a coup of their very position and then become withholding with regard to tasks and responsibilities. They may battle with inner demons of respect and loyalty. Managers are people who are rarely trained in the art of management and thus leave a trail of inconsistency in their wake.

Employees are oft left with the role of self-management in lieu of strong leadership. Navigating inconsistent management is a skill in itself. The good news is it can only help you!

Factors that Contribute to Inconsistent Management

The main ingredient for inconsistent management is a lack of self-efficacy.

Rarely is inconsistent management a case of someone so confident they adhere to the Emerson belief that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” More often it is someone who wishes to be perceived as consistent; their underdeveloped self-awareness is the very thing that leads to their erratic decision-making.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Western Ontario (J. Robert Mitchell, Dean A. Shepherd, and Mark P. Sharfman) conducted a study to figure out the how / why behind managerial erratic decision-making.

What they found was the following:

“Erratic strategic decisions are less likely from managers with greater metacognitive experience and for managers who operate in more dynamic environments.

Conversely, erratic strategic decisions are more likely from managers in more hostile environments, especially when dynamism in that environment is low.”

Meaning…

  1. Self-awareness – or the absence of – is one main component for inconsistent management. Managers who do not self-reflect and aren’t aware that they don’t self-reflect will lead to a higher rate of inconsistency. Their lack of self-awareness about how they’re coming to their decisions (past experiences, thought patterns, metacognitive processes) informs the efficacy of their decisions.
  2. Dynamism – The more dynamic the work environment the less inconsistent the decision-making; most likely because decisions have to be made, there isn’t time to deliberate. Given too much time, anyone can second-guess their decisions.
  3. Hostile & Changing Environment – The work environment doesn’t have to be hostile, it can simply be ever-shifting with regard to personnel, protocol, or allocation of space.

And I would add a 4th:

  • Lack of knowledge / experience – If you do not have any past relatable experience to draw upon, chances are you will not know what to do to produce a desired result. You may not even know what the desired result is.

Where does this leave the employee?

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is when we are conditioned to think we are powerless to change a bad situation for the better, thus accepting that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

In the context of inconsistent management, there are two forms of learned helplessness:

  1. When the manager projects an image of incompetence, sending out conflicting messages and confusing directions. The employee is left feeling hopeless regarding the manager’s competence.
  2. When the inconsistent management takes the form of inconsistent reinforcement, meaning complimentary one day and critical the next. The employee may have initially felt competent, but now feels incompetent due to their boss’ inconsistent reinforcement.

Solutions:

  • Speak with HR.
  • Find new employment.
  • Bounce experience off trusted colleagues for confirmation.

It is crucial for the employee to keep their self-efficacy intact. Doing so requires self-awareness that it’s even setting in.

Hopefully they’re reading blogs about learned helplessness. Hopefully they’re recognizing the behavior as inconsistent and problematic and running it by someone. It can be HR or a trusted colleague. They need to confirm their own sanity to ensure the problem isn’t on their end.

Emotional Contagion

A manager with inconsistent moods that lean toward negativity is a form of mild torture; you’re never sure who you’re going to get. The only upside is it it’s a great lesson in learning what you do have control over, which is your own mood. So, start there:

  • Step outside for a moment.
  • Watch a video you know makes you happy.
  • Listen to a song you know makes you happy.
  • Talk to someone that makes you happy.

When to confront your boss & when to let it ride

Good question. More often than not, I’d suggest letting it ride. Inconsistency is likely due to insecurity. Tapping into their issues may threaten them and consequently hurt your professional standing. I recommend:
  • Pick a time when you’re fairly certain you’re on their good side and they’re pleased with you.
  • Pick a time when they’re in a good mood and seemingly open and receptive to the outside world.
  • Pick your battles. Make sure this is truly a situation that needs to be resolved and addressed before you can move on with your work.

Reframe it back to the manager for clarity

If the inconsistency is with direction and conflicting messages, the employee should ask for clarification:

  • Reflexive mirroring. Repeat what they said back to them so they can confirm their own statement and add what you need clarification on. Have the manager give a clear directive so the onus is on them.

For instance…

“I heard that you want the project done asap, but that we should also focus on this other project immediately as well. I want to make sure I do exactly what you want – which should I make the priority?”

When it comes to inconsistent reinforcement, the employee can do the same thing – throw the ball back, i.e.:

“I want to improve and make sure I’m doing the best job – what is the area you feel I need to work on?”

Asking your boss for clarification shows respect and protects you from future misunderstanding. With inconsistency, there are no rules, so you want to do your part to get on as stable ground as possible.

Speaking up for yourself will also embolden you. When you act and express yourself – even if the conditions don’t change – you will change internally because speaking up for yourself has an ameliorative effect on the soul.

When you don’t stand up for yourself or your needs, you tap your willpower. You are left feeling drained, exhausted, and you increase the likelihood of learned helplessness.

——

We can be swayed by titles – manager, boss, CEO, etc – but it’s always important to remember these are not divine kings sent to us from the heavens, they are regular people who were hired into a position.

Though inconsistency and incompetence are infuriating, it’s important to allow compassion and understanding in. This is a person with faults, insecurities, goals, and dreams like everyone.

Perhaps they took on more than they can handle, maybe the inconsistency is a result of trickle-down inconsistency from the top and they’re just trying to stay afloat; perhaps they never even wanted to be in this position but couldn’t resist the pay increase.

Put yourself in their shoes, consider their life, what might be happening in their world. Consider the fact that if they leave and you get their job that a) that might have been one of their fears all along and b) you might not be so consistent yourself.

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A long, long time ago, in a world unknown, there were two browsers that ruled internet surfing: Netscape and Internet Explorer; and search engines such as Alta Vista and Excite. They were the kings of Internet browsing.

Then more browsers came along: Safari, Firefox, and then Chrome. And with them more search engines. You might have heard of Google. And Bing. And Yahoo is still with us.

Google is by far the best search engine we have seen yet, but it would have been very easy to think, “Alta Vista and Excite and Yahoo are already out there, how am I going to compete with them?” And the same reasoning could be applied to building a new browser, but the architects of Firefox and Chrome didn’t let the fact that there were already successful browsers out there stop them.

The Scrub Daddy is a sponge that won a deal on Shark Tank and is now in every Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Was anyone siting around unhappy with their sponges? Not really, but one person was and they decided to do something about it. The Scrub Daddy is now a huge success.

Look at the juice market, or the chips market, or the confectionary market, or the hummus market. New brands are always entering the fray and they are gaining shelf space among the giants.

Of course it’s better to build something the world has never seen, but the truth is, there is very little the world hasn’t seen, and so what? That doesn’t mean you can’t find a niche in whatever it is you aim to build or build something better than the world has ever seen.

The Illusion of Limited Resources


I’m always working as though there’s a finish line and if I don’t get there first someone else will; they’ll win the prize, they’ll take the business I would have won, make the money I would have made, get the rewards I would have received and then there will be nothing left for me or anyone else.

This attitude creates an anticipatory anxiety that is neither good for business or personal health. It also happens to be a false premise.

The truth is there is always enough to go around for everyone. The belief that there are limited resources and/or opportunities for each of us to be successful is the very belief that will keep success at bay.

Here are the 4 reasons why along with ways you can counteract getting in your own way.

The Self-Serving Bias

This bias is the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to our own behavior and negative outcomes to external factors. It is a great way to exonerate yourself and blame the world for why you didn’t get what you want.

For example, your business scores a huge sale and you think, “I did this!” Conversely, your business doesn’t score the huge sale and you think, “They/that did this to me!” It is a self-preservation technique to protect your ego.

This is biased thinking, meaning it is flawed, and it mentally places the responsibility for your life into the hands of others rather than yourself, even though – ultimately – it is always you who is to credit for your successes and your failures.

Protecting your ego is nice but it also prevents you from seeing the facts, dealing with them and having the information you need to make better decisions. When you start blaming, you start losing.

Blame creates a feeling of helplessness, that despite your best efforts the world was out to thwart you, so what’s the point. If you feel like everything is futile and there’s no point in pursuing your goals because clearly the world wants to see you fall then you will not have the motivation and willpower to do anything but live a status quo life. You’ll make a living, go through the motions, and in the end hand over the keys to your self-worth to the external world.

To persevere you need to keep your willpower intact. And to keep your willpower intact you need to stay motivated.

 Your Beliefs Affect Your Energy Level

We begin each day with a full reserve of willpower and as we go through the day and make choices, do our work, complete tasks and so on our willpower is depleted. It behooves us to keep our willpower reserve as in tact as possible so that we can stay focused and accomplish our goals.

 

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel did a study on the effect of our beliefs and motivations on ego depletion.

According to the study, “When the [ego] depletion is slight, there is ample and profound room for subjective beliefs and motivations to moderate the effects” but also that “no person can continue running or swimming forever no matter how much he or she may be motivated.”

Meaning, if we are only mildly depleted and we maintain strong self-efficacy we can keep that fatigue from overpowering us. Conversely, if we lack self-efficacy, the fatigue can gain momentum and further deplete our willpower. But at a certain point of exhaustion it doesn’t matter how much we believe in ourselves.

So, if you’re extremely exhausted it will not matter if you believe someone else’s success has erased your potential, but if you’re not extremely exhausted – the state in which we all typically begin our days – then believing someone else’s success has erased your potential can have a deleterious effect on your willpower, energy level, and ability to stay focused and accomplish your goals.

It thus stands to reason that you might as well give yourself the best chance you can by A) getting the rest you need and B) starting your day motivated, believing there is a space for you in this world to be successful and achieve your goals.

I want to drive home the point that motivation and self-efficacy can keep your ego depletion at bay.

Nothing Begets Nothing

There are unlimited resources for the things we don’t want to come true.

A backwards example of how momentum creates the goals you aspire to achieve is the fact that believing it can’t happen creates the reality where it doesn’t happen.

We build whole lives where things we want don’t happen because we don’t try to make them happen because we believe they won’t happen whether we do or don’t try.

That in itself is proof of success: we’ve become very good at proving nothing will happen with zero effort.

The reverse is also true: things happen when you work to make them happen. Why wouldn’t they? Be smart about it, work diligently, get a coach or advisor, learn from others that have done it already, and get crackin’.

Keep Your Eyes to Yourself

You want to stay focused while you’re building your career or business or working towards a goal. What does wishing you had what others do have to do with your goals?

You have a limited amount of energy given to you each day and you want to use that wisely. You will be shooting yourself in the foot if you expend your energy on what you don’t have, or focusing on what others have.

Instead use your energy to focus on what you want and what you’re grateful you have already. This strengthens the foundation you’ve already created and builds upon it for what you want to come to you in the future.

I don’t mean to suggest that every idea is a winner. Failure is part of life, but the path to failure is part of the path towards success. You’ll learn what to do and not do for the next venture. The key is to start, stay focused, with your eye on the prize, and put in the effort.

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Sometimes when my husband isn’t home at the expected time I assume he’s dead on the side of the highway being eaten by wolves.

So far, this hasn’t happened (but that doesn’t mean it won’t).

Hi, my name is Nicole and I am a Catastrophist.

Catastrophisizing is but one of many cognitive distortions we all fall prey to from time to time, sometimes on a daily basis.

Psychologytoday.com defines catastrophizing perfectly into two parts so I’m quoting them:

Part 1: Predicting a negative outcome.

Part 2: Jumping to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did in fact happen, it would be a catastrophe.

It’s interesting that anyone thinks like this because it so obviously doesn’t serve us, either in leadership or in our personal lives. Yet we do, because we want so badly for the good to happen, that we put equal amount of energy into fearing the worst might happen too.

Catastrophizing is – excuse the redundancy – catastrophic for leaders. As a leader you need to be a beacon of resilience. And unfortunately…

Excessive Worrying Reduces Resilience

One of the most important traits for a leader is resilience. Inherent in leading, building teams and building a business are setbacks. Actually “setbacks” has a negative connotation to it; really what we should call them are “events that happen that move us towards the events we’d rather happen.”

It’s part of the game. It’s actually part of life in general and resilience is crucial for your personal life too, but when it comes to leadership, resilience or the lack thereof can make or break you.

You therefore want to build an arsenal of tools that support the tendency of resilience. You want sleep, exercise, a good diet, recuperation time, and a growth mindset to focus on challenges as opportunities.

The irony about anticipating stress is that it creates stress, so you immediately bring into your life the very thing you’re trying to avoid when you worry that it will come into your life.

Assumptions and expectations that cause anxiety arise from our past experiences, what we witness from other people’s experiences, and what we see in society from film/TV/books/magazines/etc.

You might have been fired in a past job and assume you will be fired in your new job. You might have seen someone else get fired and assume you will also be fired. You might have seen someone in a movie get fired for something similar to what’s transpiring in your own life and you assume you will be fired too.

These are all fictions and fiction never fully reflects reality.

Furthermore, the future is a landscape that doesn’t exist. Worrying about the future is the same thing as worrying about anything that doesn’t exist. Would you worry that you’re never going to get to visit the country of Alparnia? Probably not, because it’s a country that doesn’t exist.

Keep your mind focused on what exists, which is the moment you are living. It is the only timeline you can control. This will help build a resilient attitude, which will in turn:

  • grow your self-confidence
  • give you a flair for adaptation and flexibility
  • cultivate the belief that you can influence life events

The Benefits of Anticipatory Anxiety

  • Makes you feel terrible
  • Creates the reality you fear most
  • Raises your blood pressure, stress level, and can lead to disease
  • Stresses out everyone around you
  • Makes you look incompetent, non-resilient, and fearful
  • Emotional contagion will spur others to leave you

Obviously none of these are benefits, but I wanted to label them as such to shine a light on our flawed thinking.

There’s an illusion of strength with your anxiety, that it is giving you control over the eventual outcome. Somewhere in the back of your mind you think “If I worry over it I can effect the outcome I want by thinking of everything I need to do to make sure what I don’t want doesn’t happen.” This is neurotic behavior that only attracts what you don’t want, because you’re only focusing on what you don’t want.

What you do want is nowhere in the equation.

Would you go about making a cake by focusing on all the ingredients that you wouldn’t want to be in it? You’d never make a birthday cake with broccoli, cumin, beef, sesame oil, and a microphone. At least not for someone you love.

Worrying about what you don’t want to happen is putting all of the aforementioned ingredients into a bowl, stirring them together, and putting it in the oven, all the while saying, “I hope I don’t make this cake.” And the only thing you’re doing is making it.

Why some of us are prone to anticipatory anxiety and excessive worry comes down to our core beliefs, which I wrote about here.

How to Deal

1. Take a moment to stop the train. You may have to forcibly take a moment to stop doing what you’re doing and just pause. Sit, breathe, close your eyes, and project what you want coming true rather than what you don’t want.

2. Find Something Immediately that Makes You Happy. It can be a video, a picture, a memory, it
doesn’t matter, just go there mentally, visually. You need to replace the anxiety with different thoughts. For me, it’s animals.

3. Full Steam Ahead. The best method is to proceed as though catastrophizing is something you’ve never even heard about. Make small choices towards your goals; keep putting one foot in front of the other towards the end game. This helps focus on the here and now while simultaneously keeping the anxiety at bay. What you don’t want is to sit in a chair ruminating without taking any action and/or taking preventative action towards a reality that doesn’t exist.

4. Make the Choice. The easiest and hardest part of moving past your anticipatory anxiety is making the choice to move past it. You have to want to move past it; you have to consciously choose happiness over suffering; resilience over stagnation; growth over regression; peace of mind over anxiety. It’s a choice, and the good news is you always have that choice available to you. Make little choices rather than huge sweeping ones. So, agree with yourself to make the choice not to have anticipatory anxiety. It’s not easy, and it’s not an immediate cure, but it’s a start.

Let go of the delusion that your worry is controlling the external world and creating desirable circumstances. Worry is not control.

The solutions, as the saying goes, “are in your head.” You may not permanently solve your catastrophizing, but you can learn to deal with it more effectively.

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We all talk to ourselves when we’re alone. When we’re walking down the street, when we’re sitting in front of the computer, when we’re waiting for our car to come out of the car wash.

And when we talk to ourselves there’s a narrator with a particular bent. Sometimes our narrator is inspiring, but sometimes our narrator confirms our deepest fears for us. Of course it’s always us narrating our own story.

You’d think we’d always choose an inspiring narrator, yet so many of us – myself included – fall prey at times to a terrible, uninspiring narrator. Where does this narrator come from? He/she is born out of our core beliefs.

Our core beliefs are all the ingrained positive and negative thoughts that influence how we think and feel about ourselves, and the world around us. Unless discovered and diminished, core beliefs tend to solidify and resist change.

Here is a list of some common negative core beliefs:

  • I always get the short end of the stick
  • I must be perfect at all times
  • I can never change
  • I must only look out for myself because no one else will
  • I am not a people person
  • I am never listened to or respected
  • I must strictly adhere to my plans

To compound matters further, our core beliefs start to hang out with our cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are beliefs our minds tell us to reinforce something that is untrue, and they typically reinforce something negative.

So you might start with the core belief, “This always happens to me” and end up with the cognitive distortion, “This will happen to me forever.” (Overgeneralizing)

Another example would be starting with the core belief, “I am never listened to or respected” which is then cemented in the brain with the cognitive distortion, “I must be boring and insignificant.” (Emotional Reasoning)

Do this enough and you will build a world around you that reflects your inner negativity, which will add to your stress, which will reinforce your negative self-talk, and so on and so forth. It’s a self-inflicted Murphy’s Law. The loop has to stop somewhere.

[There are approximately 15 cognitive distortions that psychologists have sorted out over the years that you can find here.]

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Reaction to Stress

These negative beliefs and self-talk undermine a leader’s ability to handle stress effectively.

If you take as an example the core belief of “I must be perfect at all times” it’s easy to see how this will create anticipatory anxiety: you will not be perfect at some point in the future.

That anticipatory anxiety becomes a daily stress – either in the forefront or as a constant background buzz. The reaction to that daily stress is to mount even more anxiety and high-wire behavior to avoid the fear from coming to fruition.

Then, should we find ourselves imperfect at some point (which we of course will) we do not have the required cognitive energy to handle the stress as the anticipatory anxiety has already burned it up.

As another example, a leader with negative core beliefs might react to the news that sales are down by thinking, “This always happens to me.” Or in anticipation, “this is going to happen to me.”

Again, this response does not have the required resilience to think about how to change course. It has already deemed the current reality as permanent and unfixable.

We all write scripts for ourselves for how we will act or not act in certain situations. Rather than write yourself as the character that gets killed in the first act, write yourself as the hero who thinks outside of the box, who keeps the negative self-talk at bay.

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Ability to Lead

When we bombard ourselves with negative self-talk, our anxiety mounts. As our anxiety mounts our stress builds, and it becomes contagious for all around us.

You might have an MBA from Wharton and a law degree from Harvard, but if you are a stress case your peers and colleagues will not notice your credentials; they’ll only notice your stressed out behavior.

Neuroscience backs up the notion that people find it hard to work for leaders who do not handle stress effectively. Everything that goes on in our environment affects the brain’s limbic system (emotional center). So it goes to reason that a stressed out leader will contaminate the emotional wellbeing of those around him/her. Frantic people make other people frantic.

Effective stress management makes you and everyone around you more efficient and productive.

How to Manage Our Negative Core Beliefs

Become Cognizant. Listen to your inner voice. How is it talking to you? Would you tolerate it if a friend talked to you in the same way? Pay close attention to your exact words and write them down. You’ll begin to see how the voice in your head contributes to stress.

Challenge the negative thought. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my negative thought?
  • What evidence proves this thought true?
  • What evidence proves this thought false?
  • What unhealthy feelings and behaviors does this thought cause?
  • What will eventually happen if I continue to think this way?
  • What advice would I give a friend who feels this way?
  • What conditions should I accept right now? What won’t change?
  • What can I do to make my thinking more positive?
  • What words will express my new healthy thought?

How to Ultimately Beat the Negative Self-Talk

We don’t have to become Pollyannas to shift our self-talk. Simply by maintaining a healthy dose of realism we can improve our psychological health and ultimately our leadership skills. It is a learned optimism.

1. Get a coach or therapist. If your brain is looping with negative self-talk I highly recommend a coach or therapist to help break the spell. It is a sign of strength to admit you need help and allow an outside perspective.

2. Commit to Your Life. Pardon the new age analogy, but if you were a plant would you be flourishing and robust or would you be withered and half-dead? Get yourself in shape, physically, socially, and professionally. Water the plant! The more you are fulfilling what you see as your innate self the less time you’ll have to listen to the negative self-talk, but also…the less it will actually be talking to you in the first place.

3. Perceive Control Over Situations. You can choose how you react to a stressor and thus exert some degree of control over it. This takes practice, but you have to start. Don’t fret if you aren’t a master at perceiving control over situations at the beginning. You need to create new neural pathways in your brain, which requires repeated tries.

4. View Stressful Events as Problems or Opportunities. Those who cope successfully with stress tend to look at the silver linings as well as the clouds. Plus, once the event happens you have to react to it in some way. Might as well do it in the way where you and those you lead stand to benefit.

5. Give yourself some space. If you find that you are consumed with negative self-talk and cognitive distortions you may need to clear your head with a vacation or some time off. I recognize this may not be possible given your circumstances but see if you can carve out some personal time to re-boot your brain.

The bottom line is how do you want to feel about your life on a daily basis? While it may seem like you do not have control over your thoughts, actually the opposite is true: you do. And in each moment when you hear negativity in your head you have the opportunity to halt it and switch to something that feels good.

There’s no question life throws “unfair” curveballs our way. I’m not asking you to like them, but I am suggesting that once the curveball is acknowledged you don’t dwell on how bad it makes you feel.

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