Your screen habits are human evolution in action.

Your screen habits are human evolution in action.

Evolution is not an event, it is a process.

Humans are on screens WAY TOO MUCH. This is not new. Screen usage was high before 2020 but now it is hard to hide or ignore our screen habits. There are unavoidable screens for work or school, and screens we choose like our daily feeds, scrolling habits, or social or other media practices. Our brains did not evolve for this breakless experience of staring at screens, but they are evolving now.

Just like grown-ups, children are evolving too. Some of them are thriving. Others are not. Your habits influence theirs.

We are one earth community. I feel and see this in meetings I have with people all over the world. Via my computer, I am in their home office, living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms while they navigate family, work, personal tragedies, and disruptions. We are not alone, but the way we are working is different and at times, it feels lonely. We must do screens differently to thrive in this new reality.

Your daily habits are evolution in process. What you choose to pay attention to, what you value, and who you value affects your body’s chemistry. Changes in the form of stress, have epi-genetic impacts to your future offspring. The way we work together today sets the foundation for our future work culture. 

Is your experience today what you want to pass down in your genetic and work legacy? If not, it is time to change your habits and structures and take some calculated risks.

Now, many of you will stop reading here. You may use an expletive as you click to close my words. You may have a sinking feeling of shame or guilt and continue reading. Whatever you do, whatever reaction you have to my words – is your pattern of response to stimulus and the habitual action you take.

Habits are recurring patterns of thoughts, mood, and action.

You are not alone in having recurring patterns. All humans develop habits of thought, mood, and action to meet our needs and create the outputs we desire. As we become painfully aware of our daily habits through not being able to escape them, we see and feel their impact on our lives. The reveal often feels like a lonely, desolate, and almost insurmountable place. A place we survive within but fail to thrive.

Evolving your habits is possible. It requires effort and risk. The risk you may be ready for. Many people I talk with will do anything at this point to breathe life into themself and work. Though, even the thought of effort may feel beyond your capacity. 

Shinzen Young, an American mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant says, “Energy follows attention and choice follows awareness.” Changing what you place your attention on – from surviving to thriving – shifts the energy of all systems – from how your body and mind function to your work or family system. 

The vagus nerve evolved along with the layers of the brain that monitor safety, connection, and dignity. It is a cranial nerve that enervates your face, throat, heart, and gut among other areas. It is 90% afferent – it sends signals from your body to your brain.

Energy fuels your ability to thrive. After humans meet the survival needs of food, water, and shelter, neuro and behavioral scientists have identified three basic needs to thrive: safety, connection, and dignity. These needs correspond to evolutionary layers in the brain and body. You are evolving right now to meet these needs.

Thriving is different for every person. Versions of safety vary. You may feel safe in a very different environment than another person. Maybe speaking engagements make you want to run away where others move toward them. Maybe your sense of connection is a large crowd where others prefer a deep woods experience. Maybe your version of dignity is someone showering you with praise while someone else wants to remain anonymous.

Your habits for thriving are yours. You consciously and unconsciously crafted them throughout your lifetime. If you are stuck in or choose patterns you don’t like or that don’t feel like thriving, examine them because your choices matter in the evolution of your workplace, family system, culture, and to our species.

Are you practicing, celebrating, connecting, and attending to what you feel is important to support generative evolution? 

Screen Survival

When my clients and I are on a screen together, they often tell me they feel better, more energized, or tired but less anxious, lighter, and have more capacity than when we began the call. I observed what was different about my calls that was not present in other screen meetings I attend. It was the sense of being in something together.  

During our exchanges, like in small villages of our ancestors, we share news, events or concerns that are important to us. Sharing what is important generates connection. It creates a sense of being seen. It opens us to share more because we feel safe and valued. Heartfelt connection literally has the power to settle your nervous system and reduce your stress level.

These short yet powerful exchanges that reduce or channel your stress provides energetic fuel that shifts how you move through your day. As my partner Neil McCarthy and I tend to our meetings, we watch and notice what is happening outside of the content, sense the increase or decrease in energy and direction, take risks through intervention, and shift the structures which changes the experience of participants.

The risks we take interrupt the habits. Risk spurs evolution through the integration of new practices that develop the entire teams’ skills. These structural shifts often go unnoticed in the moment, but upon reflection people realize they have an impact on habits and energy and tip the scale toward thriving. 

Screen Habits

Habits are essential for our sanity and survival. Repetitive action that delivers results saves energy. Since work life has changed, have you altered your practices to accommodate the change? Yes, you say I am definitely drinking more – coffee, alcohol, or hopefully water. Likely, your habits of interaction have stayed the same. On a screen meeting, you get the point, try not to talk over others, pause more, and maybe don’t speak up as much to allow for the pause.

I encourage you to break up whatever repetitive behavior feels like a habit. It is time to evolve to meet your need to thrive in diverse ways. I do not know what way will work for you – this is where risk taking comes in. You must shift various structures and try new approaches and then reflect to identify if the impact is positive. If you need it, I give you permission to try something new.

Here are some moderately risky structural shifts to tend to your people and change the energetic footprint of your meetings:

  • Turn on your camera. Invite others to do so as well. Mic drop.
  • Invite people into a one to three minute moment of silence or move together – stand up or stretch – to gather your thoughts, decompress from the last meeting, or prepare for this one.
  • Pose a question in the chat and share your answer inquiring about a work or personal moment that individuals are proud of.
  • Paraphrase each person who speaks during a meeting. With cameras off, people on mute, and being respectful of who is speaking, it feels often like you are speaking into a vacuum. When someone is finished speaking, replay what they said to make sure you understood. This simple skill is a powerful community and connection builder.

If these feel risky, or if your resist this idea you have just entered the fertile terrain of what if. What if I try and something changes? Fear and doubt are often a good sign of a formidable adventure.

Don’t all your meetings look like this?! Neither do mine, but the joy they all appear to be feeling makes me want to join.

Evolve and Thrive

You are evolution in action – the latest version of human development and growth. The habits you engage in daily are the future. You have the power to shift your work experience to one that is life-giving, connected, and meets your human need to thrive.

Identify a risk to take that works for you. A risk that feels edgy, yet still within your idea of safety. Engage your teammates in shaking things up. Ask for ideas they have seen or experienced that build connection. Ask people on your team or in your organization how they like to be acknowledged and valued. Be a curious researcher on your journey of evolution.  

Taking a calculated risk to shift your habits and existing structures generates energy for yourself, your team, and organization to thrive and evolve. 

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Intersecting Points of View (IPoV)

Leaders who excel at their craft transform different points of view into a common purpose. To do this, they listen; are open to influence; and are certain of and flexible in their position. They also know that only through understanding and speaking to the underlying purpose of another will people be interested in moving forward together.

Intersecting points of view is a model that describes the anatomy of a point of view, how to navigate the different parts, and how to intersect in ways that bring people together toward an optimal outcome.

Mindset

Intersecting Points of View builds on the first three foundations in leadership development. Being open to influence is a mindset. To do this you come to conversation with curiosity.

Listening with curiosity to another person while understanding you see the world differently is called a growth mindset. Instead of thinking narrowly – my way is the right way – you think broadly – how are my way and your way the same or different. Through the growth mindset of curiosity, you learn how the other sees the world through paraphrasing what they say to make sure you understand their words as they mean them – not interpreting them through your lens.

Once you become clear about what they propose or state, you walk through your mush separator in your mind or out loud to decipher how you feel and what might be behind your feelings or response to their perspective. This process builds the valuable skill of self-awareness.

Once you understand your point of view through applying these skills to your thoughts, you become able to influence the outcome. It sounds like a laborious process. And in the beginning it is. It must be. You are changing the way you see the world and expanding your mental models. This is no simple task, but to become a leader who influences others in the pursuit of a common task and a person people want to follow, it is necessary.

Intersection

Conversation happens where points of view intersect. The intersection occurs when you have similar or different points of view about a fact, concern, or purpose. To have a measured impact and create movement toward your desired outcomes requires a knowledge of and nuanced approach to these intersections.

A purpose is an essential commitment you cannot abandon or choose to uphold. Concerns are factors that you believe may interfere with achieving your purpose. When you uncover a concern and feel the need to speak or be heard, you reference or draw from relevant facts that support the validity of your concern.

It is easy to be curious and see beyond your beliefs, your stand, and your values when stress levels and stakes are low and when other’s right and wrong align with yours. As complexity and demands on time and resources increase, when diversity includes opposing perspectives, approaches, or language, you need a reliable conversational structure to guide you. A conversational structure that generates productive dialogue and elevates the conversation from arguing over facts, to understanding concerns, and ultimately aligning on purpose.

Facts and Confirmation Bias

Facts can be skewed to your favor. There is a study from Stanford University[1] where a group of volunteers were given an article to read. One group was pro-capital punishment. The other was anti-capital punishment. Each was asked to read the article, process the facts, and come back and relay if the article supported their case or not.

When both groups returned, they reported the article supported their point of view with a long list of facts. They both read the same article but chose the facts that supported their beliefs.

To support your point of view, it is common to select or recall information that validates your beliefs while disproportionately giving less attention to information that contradicts your point of view. This is called confirmation bias.

This phenomenon is found everywhere from mayonnaise choices to political ideologies. If you believe someone or something to be in opposition to your beliefs (point of view) you harden your stance, circle the wagons, search for facts to prove your point, and auger in for the good fight. This may be conscious or unconscious, but either way it happens.

The defend response is the historical remnant of a necessary evolutionary capability to know where you stand and secure your survival. The point of naming and standing for what you believe is right and wrong is a distinguishable developmental moment in a leader’s maturity. To remain in this place and continue to defend your point stalls your continued evolution – you narrow your choices with a fixed mindset and underutilize your breadth of skills and capabilities as a human being.

Concerns and Stress

Concerns are things that you perceive my interfere with achieving your purpose. When you have concerns, you draw from the relevant facts to validate your concerns.

In this example, Val and Gina, department heads at a water district share concerns and rebuttals from their specific point of view without finding a way to intersect. The lack of intersection leads them to discount or distrust the perspective of the other person.

Val: (unskillfully sharing her concern about the facts) What is you plan to address the water situation?

Gina: (thinking – does she not trust me?) Well, we are fine for now.

Val: (doubting her competency) Have you talked to people in other departs?

Gina: (feeling micro-managed) We will loop them in as necessary.

Val: (thinking she is defending) Is there a back-up plan?

Gina: (feeling judged) Hey, everything is under control.

Val: (sad, frustrated, and uncertain at how to move forward) Ok, thanks.

Gina: (annoyed, defensive, and ready to be done) No problem. Any other questions I can answer?

Val’s thought bubble: She is unprepared. I can’t trust her.

Gina’s thought bubble: What a micro manager!

Of course, we are all professional and would not let this discontent leak out, but it does leak out. This disruption gets relayed through looks and sounds – rolling of eyes and sighs, in and out crowds – who we feel comfortable with and invite to lunch, and who we feel has our back during a time of need.

Both of these people are good at their jobs and have the best interests of their organization in mind. Yet, each approaches the data differently. Val has concerns. Gina does not. Each pulls facts from their pool of relevant data yet no one shares the facts and the conversation ends even before it gets started, leaving both feeling unsupported and siloed, and silently judging the other for HOW they approach the conversation.

A gift of our humanness is we pick up on signals other emit when they feel troubled. This is dangerously unconscious. If this conflict exists, others in our companies, organizations, groups, or families will know. They create opinions, gather facts, and form siloes for protection.

This lack of trust, the need to defend, and the resulting confusion, discomfort, frustration, and disappointment happens frequently everywhere we work. It erodes trust and makes a trusting culture nearly impossible.

Until you broaden your perspective, the other person likely perceives that you are unaware of or disregard their point of view. They unconsciously consider you a threat – someone not to be trusted. Thus, they will actively undermine, avoid, resist, or attack any PERCEIVED threat.

To move past limits in skill and perspective, you seek to see the person as someone who has a purpose they cannot abandon or chose to uphold. To do this, you apply a structure until you become well-practiced to navigate these conversations with ease. And yes, eventually they become easy – with practice of the skills and the integration of the structure into conversations we evolve.

Purpose versus Outcome

When most people speak of purpose, they talk of outcomes. Outcomes can be shared but purpose is universal.

Purpose drives pursuits, what you stand for, and your behaviors. Purpose often lives unconsciously inside your mind and body. When others name your purpose, it is like air to the lungs. You are seen.

Humans are complex, but purpose is universal. All people want life to have purpose and meaning. This deepens over time if you are doing your work to learn and grow. Which helps you gain more choice when under stress.

Knowing your underlying purpose is an essential step to influence others. Uncovering and naming another person’s purpose is conversational art.

Here are six choices that encapsulate humans universal underlying purposes. Which one most resonates for you?

  1. Be in choice, do it yourself, or be spontaneous.
  2. Be understood for the intention beneath your behaviors.
  3. Make a difference in a project or effort and contribute.
  4. Be connected to and see how your work is supporting a collective purpose.
  5. Want processes, conversations, events to be efficient, feasible and workable.
  6. Be recognized or acknowledged for your effort.

With these in mind, let’s return to the previous conversation using the model to guide us.

Intersecting Point of View (IPoV)

When we apply IPoV, to this conversation, it is easiest to intersect with the most relevant common fact.

Val believes there is not enough water. Gina believes there is plenty of water. The water amount is the same – 5,000 gallons – but both parties’ level of concern is different. As the conversation takes place, more facts are revealed making each person’s point of view seem more valid and building a shared connection to purpose.

Val: I feel nervous. I do not think 5,000 gallons of water is enough. From your response, “We are fine for now.” it seems you and I have a different perspective.

By noting the facts – 5,000 gallons of water Val shares what relevant data she is referencing. She makes an internal fact public. She is concerned. Are they?

Gina: The data I have tells me that 5,000 gallons will be enough until our resupply. It is a long weekend in between now and then. Yet, there are two days where a majority of our population might not be drawing as much water as it will rain. And another water district has offered to loan us 3,000 gallons of water should we need it.

When Val shares her facts, Gina adds to them. We all desire to be helpful, this model helps us learn how to unlock the mystery and create productive and inclusive conversations.

Gina was not hiding these facts – holiday, projected rain, and an additional 300 gallons – she just didn’t know they were relevant or thought Val knew them already. Most people assume that others see the world as they see it. But no two people see or experience the world in the same way. Not even identical twins.

These additional facts prompt Val to share her concern.

Val: I am still concerned that we won’t have enough water. From my end, knowing that we have back up water helps me feel a bit more settled that the pipes will be lubricated at all times. As you may know, if we run out of water, we risk the joints of some pipe connections becoming dry. We are working on replacing all these joints but are not done yet. The absence of moisture may create leaks or pipe failures in these five areas.

Val shares more facts. These may or may not satisfy the concerns. But they allow the other person to see more of your point of view.

At this point in a conversation, it often still feels there is some obvious point that you can’t name but is important. This is when we crave being seen and heard, but often have a hard time figuring out how to meet that craving. The art is to notice and name purpose.

Gina: I see. I now more fully understand the stress you hold for the downstream effects that you manage when we get close to running out of water. I see your concern. I also want to manage the work efficiently and not stress our workforce with emergency repairs if pipes dry out.

Here Gina states the underlying desire that aligns with Val’s most important – number 5: efficiency. And she also acknowledges and recognizes Val’s efforts – number 6 on the list of Universal Underlying Desires. This moves each of them past the arguable facts whether 5,000 gallons is or is not enough, through each of their concerns, and finally to a place where they both find common ground – their purposes.

Val: Now that I know you understand the bigger picture, I feel more settled with your original assessment.

Gina: Thanks. Still, let’s put some more restrictions on water usage and order a bit more next time. Sound good? Keep me posted if you uncover any data that creates more concern for you.

More universal underlying desire, numbers 2: understood for intentions, and 4: seeing the bigger picture. This conversation leads to new procedures and solidified teamwork to manage the water issue.

This last piece connecting with another person on the level of purpose is the art of IPoV.

To create an inclusive culture, where people feel valued, safe, and work as a high-functioning team, it is essential to seek to understand each other, spend time in productive and structured conversations, and remember to discuss facts, share concerns, and reveal our most pressing purpose. 

For more information about IPoV, invite perspective. Reach out to us for a call. And stay tuned for our upcoming podcast, “Yes, you are a leader” – where you discover that your ordinary life is really quite extraordinary.


[1] https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.372.1743&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Reconnect

Reconnect

Somatic and Soul based Leadership Development

Reconnect is an eight session soul-connection course that supports you to shed ways of being that are no longer useful. It holds the space to hear your true voice. It clears away barriers and helps you identify how to move toward what is yours to do in this one beautiful life.

Reconnect is one in a series of courses that weaves theories, neuroscience, eastern and western practices, psychological modalities into a robust soul development process. Reconnect is nestled between other courses. It is held within a lineage of wisdom from others who have come before and is offered to those that will take this material and make something more beautiful.

This course is designed to be emergent. It has a foundational structure, theories, and practices, to which you provide the content with your stories of struggle and triumph. Through filtering your content through the structure, you strain out aspects and voices that no longer serve you. You are left with a clearer story of self.

Other teachings in this course come from the unknown. As in the Johari window (see below). What emerges is what you and I only know through conversation with the other. This type of wisdom is emergent. And it also feels eternal. This eternal piece is a link through history to your ancestors who also learned and journeyed in community and with mystery.

Your ancestors were connected to the world around them naturally – out of desperation and wonder. I do not envy their lives. I do envy their ability to deeply listen to the world around them without care about keeping one eye on their life path and one eye on keeping up with the Jones’.

Modern people must work at wonder. We must work at severing from what we have been told to want and moving toward what fill us. We work to understand how to be present in and to our community.

We have these skills. We simply need to reconnect to them. These skills live in our body. Our body knows how to connect to the unknown and emergent with openness and curiosity. In this connection lives a well spring of information and support that guides you and shares clues about your future path.  

“Reconnect was definitely a catalyst for me to begin to understand my purpose on this rock.” B. Griffith

This course reconnects you to your thread – from your ancestors and your future. To the essential part of you that only through listening in novel ways to what lies behind the habits of society, culture, family, and your mind will you ever hear the voice that is yours to speak.

Reconnect to your voice. Stand in and for your truth. Not as the only truth but as one as important as any other and valued.

Reconnect is about living the most brilliant life possible, because why not. You only have one life. You and your mental models, internal relationships, and fears are likely the only things holding you back.

Sheath your sword – In the age of instant gratification, seek first to understand

I draw my sword, then I remember defensiveness doesn’t build connection – it stokes fear. Tracy Rekart

I’m in a meeting with a leader. The conversation has become muddy. I feel myself lean forward in response to my confusion and the accumulating pressure in my chest. I think, “They don’t understand my point of view. ” My mouth opens as I move to speak, clarify, and defend. In this moment, I draw my sword – the sword of my words, point, and righteousness.

Then, I remember the sword causes pain. I feel empathy. I sheath my sword and come back into my body feeling the pain from previous wounds – theirs and mine. I sit back, pause, and say with a curiosity that comes from experience, “Let me see if I understand you.”

Humans are psychobiological organisms. If we are met with confusion, defensiveness, or challenge, our physiology responds. Our body takes action to protect us. This is a hard wired survival mechanism. It is difficult to bypass. Once you know what to look for, it is easy to notice. But, it is hard to stop unless you practice.

With this leader, I noticed my survival response because I pay attention to what happens when I draw my sword and feel the hit of the counter strike.

Like the time I went above my sponsor to her boss and burned that bridge forever. Another time I sent my recommendations to a client for a leadership development program that met my criteria but fell short of their need. And again, when I taught a workshop for many that only a few could grasp.

The wound is powerful and something your body/brain remembers.

Yet, the pressure in my chest is compelling. This sensation means … I defend.

The mind lives in the dark hole of our skull and only knows what happens in the world through sensation. It gathers sensate data and then pulls from historical experience. It responds with action by drawing its sword: this sensation means I do this.

If I didn’t know the prescient sensations in my body before I defend, I would not be able to stop. The moment to pause would pass by too quickly.

If you linger, your mind takes action – so practice what to do differently.

Pause. Pull your intuition, questions, and concerns back inside, settle and reflect, and then ask a question or play their words back to them, “Let me see if I understand.”

Through reflection and practice, you gain the power to interrupt the automatic survival loop and redirect your mind. “Let me see if I understand.”

You remain accountable to your skills.

So simple. Yet so difficult and nearly impossible at times.

If I didn’t pause in that meeting, I would have drawn my sword, defended my position or idea with my client in a very cordial and informed way. They would respond more emphatically. I would parry their move. Riposte – meet the blade. Parry – defend. Until the meeting was over and our time to understand each other had passed.

I know that to challenge, defend, and protect without first seeking to understand does not build community or connection. When I find myself acting out of my survival instinct, I pause, feel and apologize – I fall on my sword because I know better.

I walk my talk. I am accountable for my words and actions. Through practice, I built the resilience to survive the discomfort that arises from a new choice – to sheath my sword and build connection or apologize to maintain connection.

Be accountable to yourself. Value your skills as if they were gifts. Because they are. Practice regularly. Learn to pause, reflect, and be curious – “Let me see if I understand.” Build strength and resilience for your leadership journey.

If I can take away the pain of feeling the counter strike for one person, in one moment, this article has benefit.

You have Impact.

You have Impact.

We all have impact. My presence and actions influence other people. Yours do too.

Are you clear about your impact? Do you know what impact you want to have?

Three executives – a woman and two men – are sitting at a conference table waiting for others to arrive to begin a meeting. One man remarks about a woman to the other man, “Did you see Helen today?” Other man, “Yeah.” A look is exchanged between them – eyebrows get raised and a head nod/wiggle.

The woman – who is at their same level – knows Helen. She wants to say something in defense of Helen and in reprimand of the men.

In seconds, the following thoughts pass through her mind. Helen is confident in her body. She wears work appropriate clothing that accentuates her shape. That comment is disrespectful. How would you feel if a man your age spoke about your daughter like this? I feel disappointed and expect more professional behavior from you.

Yet, her voice wouldn’t come. She felt paralyzed.

These men had no idea of the impact they had on this woman.

While they were talking, another woman walked in. She was younger and a few levels below the others. She also heard the comment and saw the exchanged expression. She looked at the men and stated, “Don’t talk about women like that.” She held their gaze. They both apologized and sheepishly looked away. She took out her computer.

The woman who said nothing felt small. She silently vowed to find a way to speak her voice.

These moments happen for everyone. We watch people act in ways that we admire. We take action that others admire. Moments so small that one might wonder if anyone ever notices. They do.

Ten years later my client shares this story as a foundation of our work. She remembers – and has sought to become – the woman who stood for the dignity of another.

This event – and others like it – brought her to somatic coaching and work with me. She knew what to say – she was smart and savvy. She simply could not say it. She became paralyzed. She knew the choice to speak lived in more than her mind.

As we worked together through bodywork, movement, practices, and conversation, she refined her vision, “To stand for all beings.” and a dim light inside her became brighter. With this vision, she effortlessly, eloquently, and effectively speaks her mind and stands for the dignity of all beings. She is no longer paralyzed. She marvels at the simple yet profound transformation.

I attend many meetings. I see people take action and witness other people take notice. I see sparks of influence pass across the table and around the room. These sparks define and shape workplace culture. A story, comment, or action has long lived effects. Still, many walk around as if they have no influence.

My client never shared the impact of this powerful, future-shaping event with the influencer.

You have impact. Your actions influence others. Take accountability for your impact. Reconnect to your leadership impact. Use your influence to create the more beautiful world your heart knows is possible[1].

Influence is powerful action. It works when you have a deeply rooted vision and live your professed values. Organizations need leaders with clear visions and anchored values. These leaders create healthy cultures.

Learn to manifest your truth. Reconnect to your power.

[1] Eisenstein, C. 2013. The More Beautiful World our Hearts know is Possible. New York: North Atlantic Books.

Find Meaning – Become a Vision Keeper

Find Meaning – Become a Vision Keeper

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” Steve Jobs

Becoming a vision keeper is the single most important job of any leader. To keep the vision of an organization, first you must uncover YOUR vision “at the center of the image you were born with,” says David Whyte poet and inspirational, organization consultant.

Vision guides us. As Steve Jobs states above, vision is compelling. A clear vision helps people know if they want to follow you. We build a solid future from a clear vision.

To name your vision – not fall back on your organizational vision or the “I’m just here to support my family” vision – though both are noble, when you name your personal vision life gets real – you question everything. This by nature unsettles you. Bravery is naming your vision. The vision keeps you at your edge.

Through my work, I interact with, coach, and teach many people. I meet some people who embody their vision. I meet others who don’t. People have palpable presence when they embody their vision. There is no striving, they simply are, and I feel it. You likely do as well.

When Jim first came to me for coaching, he was exhausted. He spent much of his time taking care of others. He would say he was just doing his job, which is true. Jim had a strong commitment to support his family and his people at work. What we discovered as we worked together is that he lived life in fear of disappointing others. People would not pick that up from him. But during his visioning inquiry, that is what we uncovered.

From the moment he woke up until the moment he went to bed and even in his dreams he was running to keep up so he didn’t slip up and disappoint anyone. He was exhausted, in a perpetual state of sickness, and worried that he might never get better.

As he began to peel away the layers that kept him moving and began to settle into the parts of him that needed a break, he realized that until he took good care of himself he could not take good care of others.

This seems simple. You are saying of course. I could have told you that, he didn’t need to go through any process. I wonder if you are like me – human. I am so human that whenever someone tells me something obvious – like what is your point in your blog, there are too many points for me to know – I initially bristle and then breathe. I have learned that they are trying to help me. Yet, I still resist their feedback. It all seems so clear to me, they must be wrong.

Jim could not hear anyone. He was so focused on his path that he could not see any alternative. In fact, people were worried about him. They told him that he seemed dull and tired. He made the excuse it was just winter. When summer came around, he made more excuses. Only after he began the vision inquiry and started to sort out the data, was Jim able to see the patterns for himself. It was a eureka moment. He said, “I live my days in fear of disappointing people.” After he spoke, the thread of truth was lit. It illuminated where he learned this practice and why. He began to see this response in all his relationships and habits. He also felt instantly lighter. As if he just pulled a thick, wet blanket off himself.

Once Jim named his vision – to live in harmony with myself and others – he grew an inch and took up more space. His step was lighter and his voice that was once strained and slightly garbled became clear and strong. Within a week, he was not sick anymore. His was rested. And his dreams were more calm.

As he walked his new path, people noticed a difference. His presence demanded people be accountable. They didn’t always like the new Jim, and he was OK with that, because they believed in him now more than ever. They were more willing to work with him because he was able to hold onto himself.

The visioning process is not easy. It takes time and effort. But the effort is worth the time. Jim could align who he was on the inside – a lover of harmony – with his work and life more effortlessly. This is not to say there weren’t setbacks, conflicts, or disagreements. Whenever we name our vision, we must be prepared for an increase in challenges. Yet the challenges feel productive because we understand our why, our vision, our place of belonging. We discover why we are here and what our life is for. We gain meaning. And if there is anything humans crave besides safety and belonging, it is meaning.

Find meaning. Become a vision keeper.

Emotions: A Workplace Dilemma

He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. He frowned and sighed.

She responded quickly and sharply “That’s not what the data says.”

They responded to the dilemma by sharing a story about how disrupted expectations were managed at their last job.

She leaned forward and opened her mouth to speak, then sat back and looked away.

After the meeting, they went into the break room and poured a cup of coffee. They stirred it slowly while absent-mindedly looking at the sink.

After the meeting, she went back to her office and closed the door. She put her head in her hands and wondered why she tried so hard.

After the meeting, he dove into spreadsheets and tried to fix the relational challenge through technology.

Disruption happens in all organizations. When we feel unsettled, unmet, or unseen few of us know the steps to resolve it.

Disruption causes a cascade of emotions. These emotions usually remain unnamed and unspoken. When emotions linger – like after the above experience – they grow. They gain a life of their own.

Emotions find ways to manifest. Unless we name, build, and practice a healthy pathway to process emotions, they overwhelm us when we least expect it. A build-up of emotions makes us susceptible to react instead of respond to situations. The depressurizing of our system – our reaction – often causes unintentional harm.

In this organization, the woman sought solace from a co-worker. She used someone else to resolve the disruption she felt from not speaking her mind a second time at the meeting. Through the conversation she felt validated. She felt genuinely connected to this person by talking about the other two people at the meeting and receiving confirmation for her opinion. This is triangulation. Only with rock solid boundaries and a purpose to resolve the original disruption is this ever a good choice.

He thinks these two will never be able to deliver the results he wants. He explains the goals well, but they fail to produce anything new. He blames them for not working hard enough or for not being smarter. He contemplates a new hire, but they are so costly. He wonders if they might know a new way, but then dismisses their way as “touchy/feely.” Then, he dives back into his spreadsheets to alleviate his discomfort through relentlessly applying a technical solution to a relational problem.

They understand that until people feel safe enough to take risks in relationship at work this pattern will never be resolved. They hope the story from their last organization would be helpful. They think it might be a good time to find a job at another company that has a more progressive and proactive approach to interpersonal communication. The hope-for-the-best-but-keep-the-same-practices is not satisfying. They know there are other workplaces that value the emotional life of their people.

The emotional impact of interpersonal disruption looks different in all people. Some spray their emotions on other – by yelling or huffing and sighing loudly or through unexplained facial expressions in the workplace. They want you to feel or sense their pain or disappointment. This behavior is often unconscious. They get feedback like, “You raise your voice to make your point.” Or “Is something going on? You seem upset.”

Others turn emotions inside. They create a lock vault for their pain. They stew quietly. They own the whole problem, taking the fault all on themselves for their incompetence. In any relationship, whether it be work or personal, there are two or more people involved in the creation and maintenance of the relationship. When one person is disrupted, the other person or people have a role in their disruption. This is hard to see and hard to admit. This is how barriers between people become impassable. We refuse to admit our fault, or we take responsibility for the whole problem. Often wondering why we can’t solve it. People in this pattern receive feedback like, “You take things too personally.” Or “You are too sensitive/emotional.”

Others blame. They believe the problem exist outside of themselves. They let situations roll off their backs and get back to work. They take no responsibility for the issue. They move through the world as if emotionless. They have learned to stuff their emotions. These people often get feedback like, “I can’t tell what you are thinking.” Or “You seem withdrawn.” Or “Doesn’t this bother you?”

These are a few common organizational personas that we see in our work. There are as many ways to manage disruptive emotions as there are people. In organizations, as a manager, or employee, how can we create healthy expression of our disruptive humanness?

The first step is always to name your feelings. Then name your needs. This practice comes from non-violent communication principles made famous by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, and in a book Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. We find Grok Cards to be extremely helpful for this work.

When you name your feeling and need you settle your system. Try it. The next time you feel disrupted, name your feelings and needs. Choose as many as fit the situation. You will be amazed at the relief you feel from being seen – even by yourself! You will likely be a little baffled – how did this simple process help me feel clear? And lastly, you may feel dissatisfied. You are changing a pattern. Even healthy pattern shifts are disruptive.

Another tool comes from Liberating Structures. It is called Heard, Seen, and Respected. It is a 35-minute process that allows teams to talk about a time when they felt NOT heard, seen, or respected. This practice is structured to help participants develop listening skills and empathy. The way the groups are structured allows us to share our humanity in confidence with another person. Then move onto to a larger and larger group. When we move into the larger groups, we realize that everyone has felt NOT heard, seen or respected at some point. It normalizes the experience. The practice discharges pent up emotions and helps groups move forward consciously.

This work is important because, when we are in a group, we not only feel our emotions, but we are impacted by the emotions of other people. You impact others and they impact you. Whether we care to admit it or not. Mirror neurons – discovered by Italian scientists in the 1980’s – in our brains pick up on emotionally significant signals in the bodies of other people. Even if you are keeping your emotions to yourself, people still feel them. When we normalize emotions in our workplace, we take one step forward to creating a culture of trust.

Start there. Name your feelings. Name your needs. Normalize your humanness. Brené Brown’s forthcoming research on leadership[1] skills states that all effective leaders can name between 30 to 40 feelings and needs. How many can you name?

If you need help, invite perspective. We love conversations about how to build healthy emotional practices in individuals, groups, and organizations.

[1] Brown, B. (2018) Dare to Lead. New York: Random House.

Gossip: a common practice that undermines trust in organizations

Gossip: a common practice that undermines trust in organizations

Issue – Triangulation aka Gossip

Triangulation is the discharge of relational discomfort/disruption/energy with one person through conversation with someone else.

Client Story

A leader I work with has an open-door policy in their organization. The leader is open to other people’s opinions of their or the staff’s actions. People in the organization take advantage of this policy. People feel safe with the leader. The leader works hard to see people’s perspectives.

During these conversations with the staff, the leader listens and paraphrases – repeats back what they had heard. Shares their understanding of the issue. Offers a resolution – which is sometimes just a listening ear. People leave the office feeling heard and cared for.

Being open to feedback was a tough practice for the leader. It was uncomfortable to hear these opinions. They felt defensive but knew to hold back this response and keep listening. They worked hard to create a healthy workplace. It hurt to hear what was wrong, but it was essential to their overall goal. When the conversations ended, they had a lot of unsaid responses and hidden discomfort.

To release these thoughts and feelings, they talked to a peer in confidence about others. The peer would listen and validate the leader. Both would leave the conversation feeling connected. The peer felt like a confidant and friend. The leader felt seen for their value.

This arrangement felt safe. It allowed the leader to maintain a calm demeanor with staff and not disrupt the relationships. They avoided the conflict of different perspectives.

This practice had consequences. The peer felt superior to others because of their role as confidant to the leader. They had inside knowledge about others. This knowledge changed the way they saw people. This knowledge felt powerful. This power over others was felt by the staff.

Over time, the leader heard feedback that is was hard for the staff to connect with the peer. The staff felt talked down to by the peer. People started to alienate the peer in ways that created silos. Work became harder and people often kept their challenges close to them as they were uncertain of who to trust. The leader was able to maintain their image and power at the expense of the peer.

Through coaching, the leader realized they needed to stop discharging their relational discomfort with their peer. It clouded the peer’s opinion of others and eroded their reputation. It disrupted workflow and created silos. The leader needed a new solution to deal with their discomfort.

Identify – Triangulation

This story is about a common organizational challenge called triangulation. Triangulation is the discharge of relational discomfort/disruption/energy with one person through conversation with someone else.

Triangulation is a common, destructive, and often unconscious organizational strategy to manage the discomfort of conflict. It relieves interpersonal distress and eliminates the need for follow-up. This creates relief and connection for some and alienation and disconnection for others.

Triangulation is also called gossip. People are not informed they will be talked about. They are talked about behind their back. This “off-the-record” conversation negatively shapes the opinions of others. It increases factions and silos and creates and us and them relationship. It prevents work from being smoothly completed. It feels like but is not real connection. It decreases overt conflict and increases hiding and going around peoples back.

We triangulate in an organizational setting for a few reasons:

  • It is a practice. It feels right, because it is what we were taught and have always done. We justify the practice by saying we are trying to work something out or share best practices.
  • Conflict is hard and scary. We were never taught how have a constructive conversation about our differences.
  • Time is short. We choose the quick fix of discharge over the long haul of conflict. We often feel so much better after we triangulate that we forget or choose not to circle back with the person who disrupted us.

Triangulation happens in all systems. It keeps problems under the surface where they get more complex. It eventually entangles the entire organization in a web of mistrust and misunderstanding that is hard but not impossible to unravel. It requires some serious communication skill building to navigate this complex challenge.

Triangulation can be an effective conversational strategy to see a situation from multiple perspectives. Effective triangulation is overt and explicit. People agree to others sharing their opinion to forward the issue. As a group, a team creates guidelines for these conversations that everyone follows. Individuals are taught how to engage and are supported in conflict. People have permission to disagree with others. People do not hold grudges.

Notice – Triangulation

To notice triangulation in your organization, start with yourself. Get curious about you, your filters, and your patterns in relationship. Look at your family system. Notice how they deal with conflict or disruptive relationships. This is likely your go to pattern as well.

Notice who challenges you. Name what bothers you about them. When you are bothered by someone in a way that you cannot resolve, what do you do?

If you find yourself in conversation with another person about someone else, notice if you feel relieved about the situation when you are done talking. Notice if you are uncomfortable in the conversation. What creates the discomfort?

Notice who are your go to people. Usually, they are people who agree with you. This feeds your perspective and keeps you safe.

Apply skills – Triangulation

Most of us triangulate. If you find yourself in conversation with another person about someone else, name it. “I am triangulating.” This builds accountability and trust. People recognize you as self-aware. Self-awareness – understanding that you have in impact on the system – helps people feel safe with you. When people feel safe, they do their best work.

Most people do not know they triangulate. If someone else comes to you to talk about another, set a boundary in the conversation. Share with them, “Ah, this is triangulation. I am happy to listen. Here are my criteria: you take accountability for your part, speak about you and your issues – not the other person, and go talk to this person about this issue when we are done.” You may find people either come to you more or they never return.

Triangulation is helpful if you intend to get perspective and then close the loop. Find a person you trust will be honest with you and not gossip about the other. Ask them to be an objective listener. Tell them, “I am having a problem with …. Can you listen to me so I can sort out my feelings and needs?” Tell them how to listen, “Help me take accountability for my role in this situation. When I start speaking about the other person, redirect me back to how I feel and what I need.  Here is how to hold me accountable to have the conversation.” Name by when you will close the loop and  report back to them.

To engage in healthy triangulation – like in the above research example – all people are aware of and agree to the practice for the purpose of learning. All create and explicitly follow predetermined guidelines. There is a structure to the conversations. You reflect and are accountable for your contribution to the problem. You share your challenges, not the faults of the other. You do not blame the other. You are specific in your ask of the listener. And, you close the loop – you go back to the person with whom you are troubled by and use what you gained through triangulating to resolve or evolve the issue.

To learn more, invite perspective. This is our jam. If you want to advance as a leader, get ahead of triangulation and learn how to have productive conflict.

 

The Body Doesn’t Lie

The Body Doesn’t Lie

Risk Management Through Somatic-based Learning

During situations that increase stress, our fundamental capability to gracefully navigate risk exists both in the mind and in the body. The body helps the mind decipher our course of action.

Through the systems that surround us, we learn ways to ignore, dismiss, or override the body. This is beneficial. Instead of screaming out in pain or lashing out in anger, we modulate and use skills to manage or talk about our experience. These patterns of containment and meaning making have a cost. They limit access to our body and mind as a resource.

In our culture, our body is more of a vehicle than a co-pilot. We underestimate and underutilize the power of the body to help us thrive.

Our soma — our body and brain — work together. When we know how they work in tandem, we gain perspective that allows choice in our response. Our body becomes a conscious co-pilot.

To manage risk through the body happens in three ways. We learn how our mind and body choose, decipher, and optimize information to create our story. We learn how our body responds to stress to manage our basic needs to thrive. And we learn ways to increase and understand the communication between the two.

These insights bring clarity and confidence to our response. It allows us to be in choice — open and flexible to alternative perspectives. It helps us create our own safety net to manage risk with others through the co-modulation of our experience in our body and with others.

Managing risk is an essential skill toward a sustainable and thriving world. One that creates space for all people to be unique and contribute to the whole. It makes a better way possible. It uses a common crisis we all face — managing intra- and inter-personal risk — and offers a step toward a new vision.

DSC02281

The Body – The Key to Risk Management

As a species we are hard-wired to pay attention to discomfort. Discomfort alerts us that something is off. Yet, discomfort also helps us grow. It informs us of the edges of our capacity. Physical discomfort that we choose is easier to understand and navigate. Interpersonal discomfort is complex and risky.

We learn to navigate physical discomfort. You name an objective, train and practice, take ibuprofen when you overexert, and try again if you fail.

We are not taught how to navigate interpersonal discomfort. It is assumed that we know how with no objective, training, practice, and without failing. When we inevitably fail, we often hide our failure. We feel embarrassed. We are unaware that the complex results of interpersonal discomfort is interwoven in our body and stories.

We feel risk in interpersonal situations because something is at stake for us. Our body/brain system contain evolutionary layers that manage our needs for safety, belonging, and dignity. These are layered into our body, nervous system, and brain. These layers and corresponding needs optimize our ability to thrive. Every person has a different way to manage these needs and each need has a different meaning to each person.

Conscious awareness of how we respond to interpersonal stress give us a clue into how we manage our need for safety, belonging and dignity. It also offers us an advantage. We understand the edges of our capability, know when we are close the edge, and employ strategies to optimize our response. When we bring consciousness to our responses and patterns, we uncover a key to manage risk through our body.

Basic Needs to Thrive

We are a complex interchange woven of intricate threads of connection via nerve pathways, fascia, and organs. You are the result of years of patterning, winnowing, and practice.

Our distributed nervous system – the nerve pathways from our skin to our gut – interpret the world through sensation. These sensations stimulate chemicals that send signals via the nervous system to our body and brain that generate the impulse for all we do – our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

The systems that surround you provide implicit and explicit guidelines for how to behave. In order to stay safe, belong and have dignity, you learn, adopt, and adhere to these implicit guidelines. You disregard aspects of yourself that feel unsafe and adopt practices and habits that help you belong. Through this process, you walk your path of dignity.

The result feels like you. You became your habits. You are so fully your habits that to think outside of your box, or act in a way that is different, or have a bigger, new, burst of emotion is disruptively uncomfortable. It actually hurts inside of your body. Your stomach is upset, your breath gets short, you feel sick, your throat gets sore, your body becomes tight and hard to relax, and many other physical manifestations of your discomfort.

These are your bodies alarm bells when you take new action. Maybe you are in a difficult conversation, or you take the lead in a new way, or bring your voice when you are normally quiet, if the move is new to you, your body responds. It sets in motion a series of chemical processes that influence your thoughts, mood, and actions to bring you back to normal – to homeostasis.

Homeostasis[1] is your body at its rest. Your rest and my rest are different. Not only is your essential purpose fundamentally different than anyone else – more about that later – but the way we were shaped to feel safe, belong, and have dignity is different. Every single person on the planet has a slightly different version of homeostasis. And when anyone’s homeostasis is disrupted their system sets off alarm bells. What disrupts our system might be different, but we all get disrupted.

Disruption is generated from a sensation. A sense of something outside of or inside you that challenges your homeostasis. These sensations initiate chemical signals along your neural pathways. Your body and brain respond to these signals in their patterned way.

We react to maintain safety, stay in connection with our tribe, and uphold our dignity. If we don’t know these needs exist and do not understand how to manage them, we get taken on a wild ride through waves of emotion or weeks of shutdown until we arrive at a place stable enough to renegotiate the relationship. Occasionally, we become stuck in our response.

With awareness of our three basic needs to thrive – safety, connection, and dignity – and how we become reactive interpersonally, we gain language to name how our body interacts with the mind. This gives us insight into our interpersonal risk management and when our reaction puts others at risk.

Stress

Interpersonal challenge ensues when stress increases. The part of our brain responsible for complex thought neurochemically goes offline when we react, and we revert to our well-practiced, less flexible habits.[2]

Not all stress is bad. Stress brings us to the edge of our comfort zone. This grows our capacity. It can also push us out of what Daniel Siegel calls our window of tolerance[3] and set us into reactivity.

What we react to is different for all of us. This is called bias. The patterned way your body and mind respond to stimuli from your environment.

You generate assumptions about events and people from your deep memory. You believe these assumptions to be true. But they are not. They are simply well practiced assumptions that appear to be truth because you gather the data that makes them true.

Change blindness[4] is the study or how our brain fills in details of experiences that are not there. The science behind change blindness shows of the 11 million bits of new data per second people observe, our body and brain take in only about 50 bits or less than 1%. Our body/brain system generates over 99% of the information we believe to be in front of us from our deep memory.

Your brain generates a series of predictions says Eric Vance[5] from the 1% of new data you take in. You pull historical stories about the event and create new stories to make sense of it. While your brain strives to make meaning of the event, your body also adjusts – neurochemically. You show your response through emotions and action. You call a friend or cry or get angry at the dog or a fence post. You respond to the events in your patterned way. In the way that maintains your version of safety, connection, and dignity.

This is how the body/brain system works. It uses your life experience to generate possible outcomes from the data and then takes action. It handles the situation in your habitual way.

This way may be ideal for you. But it may not be ideal for others. Or maybe you are tired of producing the same results from your response. Change is possible. It begins with sensation.

Evolution

The brain is an efficient, pattern detection organ. It evolved in four layers[6] beginning with the distributed nervous system – the pathways of nerve throughout our body. As we evolved, our early organisms had the ability to sense and move. They would move and when they sensed a block, signals would travel to ganglia – nerve clusters – along a central line of nerves and initiate a new path of travel.

We sense through our nerves close to the edges of our body. This evolutionary layer still exists. It exists as our sensory motor nervous system. Its foundation is our sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. Senses also include internal sensations of the body, specifically the gut and heart – organs that have more neural synapses than the brain. Sensation is the foundation of our awareness.

Through evolution, we added capability. As the brain stem developed, it allowed for centralized reflexes and impulses. We could fight, flee, or freeze. This aspect of the brain managed our safety. Species were no longer at the mercy of their environment, they gained agency.

When mammals evolved, they needed a quick way to communicate with their young without words. The limbic system was the second centralized mechanism to layer on top of the other two. It enabled connection. This system interprets signals from the brain and body of another creature and takes action. Like a herd of zebras all organizing with their heads out and butts in to see 360 degrees around the herd.[7] They do this without coordinating. It just happens. Just as we know when something is off in a friend.

The last layer to develop was our neo cortex. It is responsible for dignity, social connection, and the management of our place in the pecking order. This is the place that literally gets shut out when we become reactive. We lose access to complex thought and flexibility.

These evolutionary layers exist in the brain and nervous system. Each part has a role to manage your safety, connection, and dignity. All parts work together to optimize your ability to thrive. If you do not know these are at play, you get stuck in your habit pattern of thought, mood, and action. You do not understand that these are simply practiced responses. To create a new output, you practice something else. Which is not easy.

As the Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman[8] states, the main way the brain operates – what he calls system one thinking – is lazy. The brain already uses 20% of our body’s resources. To take in new data and make new predictions uses more energy. To save energy and optimize the entire body/brain system, it prefers to use habit patterns from our deep memory to respond to the world.

If you have not been taught how and why to interrupt these habits, you reenact them. Sometimes you hope for new results from the same behavior, skills, or experiences. Other times, you settle for what you get. Never knowing that you can or how to change them.

The results are predictable. Our habit pattern of thought, emotion, and action is the fastest path to regain our comfort which equates in our body/brain to survival.

Modern ecological research purports that survival is not the goal of all organisms. The goal of all organisms is to thrive[9].

This is why trees in the forest cooperate for light and resources[10]. Trees in the forest people! Trees in the forest cooperate to share resources and thrive. We can too.

We have greatly underestimated our body/brain system. We use it in the way we were taught. It is time to innovate and explore the power of our body/mind to connect rather than compete. Change becomes possible through awareness.

The Mind

Awareness has everything to do with mitigating risk of any kind. To mitigate risk does not mean to strive for comfort. Far from it. To mitigate risk means to do what ever you can to be in conversation about risk before the risky situation happens.

Risk is many things. Risk is a difficult conversation. It threatens your habits of safety, connection, or dignity. Risk is putting your life in the hands of people you marginally trust. Risk is not having the conversations up front and saving them for a better time.

Interpersonal risk is not an easy path. It means you actively build resources that help you navigate complexity. The foundational resource is awareness.

If you are aware, you feel and notice your psychoneurobiological system at work. If you are not, a silent system is working in the background that returns you to a constant state of homeostasis at all costs.

At the slightest hint of something upsetting, our rapid fire, autonomic processes bring us back to our normal. They generate what we see and eliminate anything that threatens our safety, connection, or dignity. Even when the uncomfortable action moves you toward who you want to become or the direction you hope to move, your system tries to stop you.

Your body’s systems help you survive. You may appreciate your system for this. But it is not the way of the future. The system does not yet know the way. You must teach it.

Throughout the last 2,000 years, people have known that awareness is the key to change. They have worked to wake up their observer. To see clearly how they become swept away by their experiences.

The practices they use are quite simple, easy to employ anywhere, and effective. Some people know these practices and choose to use them. Others know they should use them but don’t. More balk at the idea that breath or awareness has anything to do with mitigating risk.

The science is clear. Our nervous system operates autonomically – under our level of consciousness. It manages breath, digestion, and balances our neurochemicals. Paradoxically, our nervous system is also malleable. Through a strong commitment generated by the mind, tied to a deeper, existential understanding of our purpose, we guide our nervous system to heightened capabilities.

When we work with our nervous system, we have the resources to help us and others not only survive but thrive – just like the trees. We have the power to guide our internal and external systems to respond consciously. It is time to step up to take accountability for our impact.

Center

Center is a term used to refer to an actual point two inches below the belly button. It is also a term used to reference a state of mind. These two references are connected. When you need to get out of homeostasis and choose your response, you center. You place your attention on your gut and your breath. When you do this, you bring yourself into the present moment. You pause homeostasis and create a space between stimulus and response[11].

Breath is important here. When you notice the rise and fall of your chest or gut over a period of five breaths or more, it changes the signals sent to your heart – a powerful mood influencer. The arrythmia of you heart shifts through the breath’s connection with the vagus nerve[12]. This is the physiological reason breath is important. It literally has the power to change the signals your heart sends to your brain. It reduces the amount of time you are triggered. It slows your reactivity. It expands how and what you think. Breath changes the story formed in your mind.

When you center, you anchor in what is happening right now. You gain the ability to take in new data. You remember your commitment. This changes the data your brain selects, and uses to predict and manifest your actions, thoughts, and mood. Therefore, it changes the outcome of the experience. You create your own reality. The reality you want to see.

When you center, you are accountable to a new future that has deep meaning to you. It is connected to your deeper purpose for being. It reminds you why you choose to take big risks.

Center is what some people find when they meditate. Center happens anytime you bring your attention to your body. And if you practice, center changes and deepens over time. If you find it when you meditate, try to meditate in a meeting with your eyes open or in the grocery line.

This give you data. Your experience versus your story of your experience. You begin to separate yourself from the stimulus. You gain new capacity to see your window of tolerance in action.

We are not taught to center. When you pay attention to your breath, you impact your body’s ability to modulate your reaction and find space between stimulus and response. When you center, you become aware and accountable for your reactions. You increase your chances for new action and the likelihood of a positive impact on the people around you.

In the 1980’s and 90’s, Italian research scientist discovered mirror neurons[13]. Neurons in our brain that pick up on emotionally significant responses from other people and set in motion a corresponding action in our body. When you react to events that are emotionally significant – like in an emergency, the systems of other people pick this up and react and respond accordingly. It is part of our limbic system that tunes into others to manage the need of safety. In high risk situations, if you do not know this is happening, you can inadvertently create more drama than you want.

Center help us choose our impact. It lets us be responsible for our actions in a congruent way. Centering builds trust.

The first step to center is to notice your breath. Our lungs change shape when we inhale and exhale. This major organ oxygenates our circulatory system. Our lungs are like balloons that expand and contract at regular intervals. They provide an entrainment[14] – a synchronized rhythm – that impacts the whole body system.

The lungs also massage the heart. Nestled in between the lungs, when you take a deep breath, your heart gets a snuggle.

During a deep breath, your heart rate speeds up a little. When you release the breath your heart rate slows down. The bigger the difference between your inhalation and exhalation heart rate the higher your vagal tone. The higher your vagal tone, the more easily you recover from stress.[15]

Your vagal tone was discovered by Steven Porges[16] and his research team – I include the research team as we all stand on the back of those that have come before us. They realized much like the brain and nervous system, that the vagus nerve also evolved in layers.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that enervates your viscera, facial expressions, voice box, and other responses. Porges and his research team discovered three layers. These three layers govern different functions: immobilization – a freeze response, mobilization – a fight or flee response, and social connection – our appease response.

When we are unaware of our breath, our vagal tone continues as we have practiced. When we wake up our observer and bring our attention to the breath, we can change the vagal tone, our affect on others, and we gain choice in our response.

With a woke observer, you see your patterns of action, thought, and mood that before lived under your level of consciousness. You notice when you are off. To add to breath, there are skills of the mind that help us understand how to move toward somatically managing risk in relationship.

Our Story

Our mind creates our personal narrative – how we think about ourselves and others. The narrative is activated through our sensations. We feel, see, hear, a word, action, or emotion and a story pops into our mind: a story line about us or other people.

This happens unconsciously. It is our brain’s role to take data from inside and outside us and rapidly categorize the data and make meaning. This narrative runs in the background of our daily lives. It drives how we meet our three basic needs to thrive: safety, connection, and dignity. These inform everything we do and how we perceive the impact of our thoughts and actions. This narrative is what we have been taught to believe. It is our habit pattern of thought. It is not the truth. It is our truth.

In our complex world, thinking we know the truth provides an extreme challenge. To increase our communication skills and create new outputs that make things happen faster and more smoothly takes more than our current truth allows. To understand and grapple with multiple truths is required. And we rarely learn how to do that skillfully.

The first step is to understand how your story was created. From center, we enter this inquiry. Center provides a space between stimulus – thinking about our story, and response – the reaction to parts of our story not being true.

When you understand that your story is not the story, you are curious in a new way. What is the truth? If my mind and body are not free, how do I free them? You use your body to center yourself and then question your story.

Our sensations drive a narrative. This narrative determines our choices. We make choices that have historically kept us safe, connected, and valued. When you step out of your narrative and into a bigger story it is destabilizing. You become uncomfortable. It feels difficult. We question who we are and why we are here. The questions set you on the path toward your ecological niche[17] – your individual way to contribute to the larger world. The path begins by taking intra- and inter-personal risks.

You learn about your narrative when you reflect on experiences and people, and converse with others. You see how your sensations drive your story. As you open to this fact, you disrupt long-held beliefs. Initially, this is unsettling. You disrupt homeostasis. As you practice stepping out of your story, the disruption becomes more common and less destabilizing. You realize that disruption in relationship happens. And it takes longer to recover when you are unconsciously stuck in your story.

The systems that surround us from birth, our life experiences, and the behaviors and beliefs of our family system influence our story. These are fundamental to who we are. When we question our story, we rock our ego.

Ego is the image we form of our self. It helps us know where we begin and end. It allows us to differentiate from others. It is the keeper of our story.

Ego development goes through phases[18]. Ego helps us know what we believe and take action. A healthy ego is balanced with our soul’s purpose[19] – the deep ecological niche we are here to serve.

When we marry our ecological purpose with our ego, we stand our ground and unsettling interpersonal disruption becomes easier to navigate. We know where we stand. We have examined and continue to examine our story. We see other people as individuals examining their story as well, instead of someone trying to take us off our game.

Say you have a conversation with a colleague about an upcoming trip or project. You hope – and often assume – you are on the same page. There is a short time between this trip/project and the next. Most of your trips/projects have been interpersonally easy. You assume this will be as well.

Then, your psychoneurbiology picks up a sensation. This sensation generates an automatic story that something is off. Your automatic protection mechanisms are activated. You begin to associate how this experience will play out from your deep memory. You activate skills to navigate the challenge.

You use your communication skills and mode of connection to discover more. You may go away and seek counsel about this person or idea. Maybe you confront them directly. Or you appease and try to connect with them to gain more information. These are our three basic moves to settle our disruption: move away, against, or toward.

You still feel a rift. Your body relies on your stories as your resource. You decide checking in would be a bad idea. Maybe you have seen them react before and don’t want to elicit or deal with that response. You are not sure what to say. You begin to prepare for the trip or project with this felt sense of dis-ease.

You come about your method of resolution honestly. Most people are never taught how to enter and navigate these conversations. Under stress, you revert to your baseline skills.

As we infrequently reflect on our narrative, how we navigate interpersonal conversations and situations, and rarely have a safe place to practice new skills, our skill level and choices remain stagnant. We continue to hope for a change but often reproduce the same results. Or surprisingly, get new results but have no idea how we did it and are unable to recreate the positive results.

At this point, all tied up in your stories about yourself and the other person, you operate at an interpersonal deficit. Then, you add risk.

It is easy to see how you become reactive. Not only are your basic needs to thrive at risk, but the very foundation on which you have built your life is threatened. No wonder we react when interpersonal relationships are difficult!

At this point, you breathe. You re-center in your purpose and commitment. You remember you are reacting. This person is also stuck in their story. You become curious about yourself and the other. You center. You observe how you respond to them. You seek a trusted advisor for counsel. Then you enter the conversation, centered and grounded.

Center religiously during discomfort. Your system will cut off your neocortical capability and revert to your “engrained habits.” When you lose this connection – the neurochemical cycle usually lasts about 90 minutes – your system relies on your habit patterns of action to respond to the situation. When you center, you interrupt your habit patterns. In this space between stimulus and response you have a choice.

Historically, our automatic responses were a survival advantage. In the early millennia of our species, we needed to make snap judgments about safety to stay alive, connection to know who to affiliate with, and the pecking order to appropriately contribute to the survival of our tribe. Our snap judgments are still useful. These help us know when something is off. The way we manage our judgments is outdated.[20]

There is more data both inside and outside of us that illuminates our judgment. When we center, we learn how to access and frame the data. This anchoring of data grounds our judgment. When we center, we calm our neurobiology. This helps others become less reactive. When we center, and question our story, we help create the most optimal result to thrive.

To manage risk somatically, we

  • understand the world we see is generated from sensation and our deep memory, and those drive our thoughts, emotions and action;
  • center and find the space between stimulus and response, and
  • question our story.

The Way Forward

The body doesn’t lie. A new way to manage risk is possible when you utilize the capacity of your body and change your story.

A sensation is a sensation. Your automatic unconscious patterns interpret these sensations, make meaning of them, and then act. If you are unaware of this habit pattern of action, you believe what you experience is true. It is true for you, but it is not the truth.

When you name a sensation as a fact and work to reinterpret the sensation, you rewrite your story and find the truer truth.

This process weaves a neural safety net for your benefit and others. The safety net is woven of your resources and skills, and your new story through your conscious commitment to truth on your path toward your ecological niche.

To manage risk through somatic practices, you start at the beginning – your sensations. These are the baseline for grounded truth.

  • Name the sensation in the body: location, pressure, temperature, and movement.
  • Breathe and center.
  • Feel how your body responds to the sensation.
  • Notice how you interpret what you feel and experience.
  • Anchor in the present: where am I, who am I with, what data do I want to gather, and what is my commitment?

Then, examine your story.

  • What do I believe about this person, situation, or experience?
  • How do I contribute to this output?
  • Make space for your story.
  • Question your assumptions.
  • Take in new data.
  • Connect to a broader story.

Somatically managing risk creates flexibility and choice. It allows all people to fill their needs of safety, connection, and dignity with confidence. A system thrives when all feel safe, a sense of belonging, and an ability to contribute and be valued by the larger whole. Somatically managing risk helps people thrive.

The path is not easy. Reactivity is likely. But the more you practice from center, the more chance you will keep yourself and others calm and connected in risky situations.

Humans are tasked to come together in unprecedented and risky ways. The foundation of connection I suggest is different that the transactional connection we learn. The knowledge lives within, not outside of you. You build your net of safety from the exploration of your ecological niche and your own experience.

There is overwhelming pressure to do good work. Crisis creates pressure and inspires innovative action. The visceral crisis to shift your practices exists in your own body. Use the interpersonal crisis you encounter to trust yourself from the inside out and begin the path toward a generative way to manage risk now and in the future.

 

[1] Fogel, A. (2009). The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907136/

[3]Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2016/sep/05/change-blindness-can-you-spot-the-difference

[5] Vance, E. (2016). The Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and HealWashington, D.C.: National Geographic.

[6] Blake, A. (2018). Your Body is Your Brain. CA: Trokay Press.

[7] Blake, A. Body = Brain course. www.embright.org.

[8] Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

[9] LaChapelle, D. (1988). Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life. CO: Finn Hill Arts. 

[10] Wohlleben, P. (2016). The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel and How they Communicate. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books.

[11] Frankl, V. (1946). Man’s Search for Meaning. Vienna, Austria.

[12] Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagal_tone and see Porges, S..

[16] Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[17] Plotkin, B. (2007). Nature and the Human Soul. New York, NY: New World Library.

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loevinger%27s_stages_of_ego_development

[19] Plotkin, B. (2003). Soulcraft. New York, NY: New World Library.

[20] Brown, A.M. (2017). Emergent Strategies. Chico, CA: AK Press.

What do you love?

What do you love?

Two steps toward leadership mastery.

This morning, as I was driving home from the eye doctor – grateful for their ability to help me have clear vision – I thought, “I love seeing the leaves on the trees.”

During my mental proclamation, my heart opened, and I realized – once again – that love comes in many forms.

Here is a little background. When I was eight, my Mom took me to the eye doctor for the first time because I was having trouble seeing the board at school. Turns out, I needed glasses. When I received the glasses and we stepped outside, I said, “Mommy, there are leaves on the trees!” She felt terrible for all those years that she had not noticed I couldn’t see. I felt amazing because suddenly I could see the world in a whole new way.

It seems for me, the eye doctor is a portal to heart opening. I am grateful everyday I put my glasses on and the world comes into high relief!

If you have never felt your heart open, or don’t know what I am talking about, or it seems like new-age bull$&#! – let me tell you, you are missing out!

Heart opening has the power to help us see the world in a whole new way.

An open heart feels almost painful for me. I feel tension over my chest – as if my heart were expanding and moving forward. Tears come easy when I have an open heart. Sometimes it feels painful to swallow. I can FEEL my chest in a whole new way.

Our ability to feel our heart open is all tied up in our brain, body, and emotions. When we can choose to open our heart, we have a secret power.

The secret power is the connection to our humanity – a deep empathy for all other beings through the ability to remove the armor around our heart.

Heart armoring happens. Our body, brain, and emotions work together to protect us from harm – emotional, physical, or psychological pain. When our heart is armored, it is hard for us to feel love and the humanity of other people.

To a degree, we have all armored our hearts. It is implicitly required to operate in the world. Yet, it is not mandatory.

Sometimes you may have felt your heart open unexpectedly when you see a commercial that is a “tearjerker” or a movie that stirs you or even something more personal.

Heart opening happens. The choice to open your heart is the key here. Do you know how? Once you know, you are no longer missing out.

Here are two steps toward an open heart:

  1. Gratitude. Be grateful. It is an awesome way to open your heart. Offer someone in your life heart-felt gratitude for the gifts they bring to your world. Even if it’s the post person. People impact you. Can you let them in through gratitude? If you can’t, let’s talk.
  2. Awareness. Get clear about what your chest area feels like in this moment. Now, try to soften it. Use your breath. Try taking seven deep breaths using no muscles. Simply inhale – this is a very difficult practice for most. Notice what muscles you use to breathe. The only muscle we need to use to breathe is the diaphragm – a thin, circular muscle that horizontally spans the base of your rib cage from front to back and side to side. Most people use their neck, shoulders, chest, and back muscles. This is part of how you armor. Notice it. Be grateful for the ways these muscles have protected your heart and offer them a break.

When we take time to learn the unique way our heart opens and can choose to open our hearts, we have a secret power. Practice opening your heart. You will be amazed at the results.

Being a great leader comes through choice. Being able to choose to open our heart is leadership mastery.