Our Brain and Leadership: Where Does Neuroplasticity Fit?

Leaders need to always be learning. As I continue to delve into information on leadership, neuroplasticity, and synchronicity I am learning unbelievably interesting material. Of course, I will be sharing at least some of what I read with you.

As leaders, we are influencing others all the time and a good leader is cognizant of their attitudes, actions, and words. Leaders also have a large influence on their work environment. With the influence on the work environment leaders also influence the brain development of employees. Self-directed neuroplasticity, according to Bosch (2021), “is the process of the brain adapting to the work we do and how we do it.” As such, leaders want to endeavour to create a positive workplace recognizing peoples’ needs for such things as “autonomy, relatedness, and fairness” (Bosch, 2021). A few steps Bosch (2021) suggests to create a positive work environment include:

  1. Positive feedback in a timely manner
  2. Learning opportunities
  3. Communication – all forms, by everyone
  4. Participation in ideas  
  5. Limited distractions thus allowing people to focus and develop new neural pathways
  6. Necessary breaks encouraging reflection and new thinking – did you know some studies suggest longer hours make people less effective

Knowing that we can continue to develop neural pathways throughout our life we must consider what those pathways will be and how we will develop them. How we use our brain determines what we develop. Just as you train for physical competition, or for a chess game, or a spot on Jeopardy, we exercise and plan. The same must be done to develop the brain. Practice what you want to learn, expose yourself to new ideas, new people, new experiences. Challenge your brain and your memory. Your neurotransmitters need to be kept in balance.

Our brains play a vital role in emotions and memory. Our brain is also involved in our reaction or response to stressors. As I have written about in the past, the heart is also involved. Stress results in both physiological and biological responses with the fight or flight response: increased heart and breathing rate, increased blood sugar, the release of adrenaline and cortisol, our pupils dilate, and we are not able to digest food as easily as blood is redirected to essential areas for survival. When cortisol (the stress hormone) is released this, in turn, releases stored glucose for energy, and over time our immune system is suppressed.

There are ways to adapt our response to stress. I encourage the use of HeartMath and any other techniques that you find work for you. Bosch (2021) identifies the following as ways to help reduce your stress level:

  1. Make your goals realistic
  2. Learn your triggers and how to decrease your response to them, or avoid those triggers
  3. Take time during the day to refresh yourself through calm moments that could include conscious breathing, HeartMath techniques, meditation, go for a walk or other physical activity
  4. Connect with people – friends or family – did you know loneliness increases your vulnerability to stress
  5. Physical activity also reduces levels of adrenaline and cortisol, so make it a regular part of your daily routine

We can do a myriad of things to improve our well-being and as leaders demonstrate to others healthy habits. Include healthy habits with additional activities to build a safe, positive, desired workplace.

I can guide you to learn specific techniques and systems that relate to you and your situation, personally or professionally. We all deserve to live a beautiful life.

Reference:

Bosch, H. 2021. Why We Do What We Do. EBSCO Information Services – www.ebscohost.com

How Is Your Team Functioning?

I enjoyed and learned a lot from Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you are a leader, a manager, a coach, or at any time have people who look to you for advice, coaching, or leadership I recommend you give it a read.

The Five Dysfunctions that Lencioni identifies are: 1) Absence of Trust 2) Fear of Conflict 3)Lack of Commitment 4) Avoidance of Accountability 5)Inattention to Results.

Absence of Trust: If the team members are open and honest with each other trust will exist. Team members need to be able to share what they might have done wrong, what their concerns are, and any weaknesses they might have. There is a need for vulnerability among the team members.

Fear of Conflict: Many people want to avoid conflict. Conflict can be ok as long as it is respectful and not about a person but about a process or a thing. However, to have open discussions the team members need to trust each other. Passionate debate that is open and respectful can be a great advantage for any team.

Lack of Commitment: How committed would you be to put into action something you thought wasn’t right, but hadn’t had an opportunity to express your thoughts and ideas? If team members haven’t had a chance to freely discuss their concerns or resistance to ideas and to offer other suggestions, they are not likely to have the necessary buy-in and won’t be in a hurry to accept what someone else thinks is right when they disagree.

Avoidance of Accountability: If that buy-in is not present there isn’t commitment, and without commitment, there is no reason to call attention to any errors along the way. If there is no commitment a person won’t be eager to share their own errors let alone someone else’s. Errors need to be out in the open to allow everyone the opportunity to ensure they can be overcome. There might be a need to change a process so the same error is not repeated.

Inattention to Details: Who cares about details if you aren’t in favour of what is going on anyway? Individual needs are put ahead of those identified by the team as their priorities and goals. How many organizations actually do this? The well-being of the employees is essential to having a successful organization. The details of any project will only be attended to by workers who feel valued and cared for.

These Five Dysfunctions build on each other and the first one and all the others start with Trust. How can Trust be built? Before even thinking about building trust everyone on the team will want to examine their personality type and the personality types of the other team members. There are a variety of personality evaluations available for this purpose. I know the DiSC method and am a certified partner, so will refer to it from time to time. Once personality types are identified, and all types are important, then the work of finding out how to get along begins.

Having a functional team takes work from everyone. It is a journey to create the functional team, and the journey will need to be repeated with new team members, and at times with a few new roads.

Has Your Work Increased Over Time?

When you started your job, you probably had a fairly good idea of your job description and what your work would involve. You knew that as you became more competent at the various /tasks you would have more responsibilities added till you were proficient in your role.

You are starting to find this a bit too much for you to manage. You are becoming tired, less enthusiastic about your job, and the stress is starting to get to you. You are asking yourself, “how did I get into this situation”?Have you heard about boiling a frog?

You have become proficient and taken on the additional tasks and projects given to you. You have done well and are proud of yourself. Now the additional jobs and projects are becoming more frequent and many are now expected of you and added to your responsibilities.

Recipe for Boiling a Live Frog

Ingredients

  1. One live frog
  2. One pot large enough to cover the frog with water
  3. Enough water to cover the frog

Fill the pot with water. While waiting for the water to boil, catch your live frog. Once the water is boiling, drop the frog in the water. Boil till done.

Comment:

My frog jumped out of the water; I don’t think your recipe works.

Response:

My goodness, everyone knows you can’t boil the water first. You must put the frog in the pot of room temperature water, then bring the water to a boil.

Why Have I Given You This Information? What Does This Have to do With the Changes to Your Work Responsibilities?

More than once I have ended up in such a situation. One time when I moved on two people were hired to replace me. Has this happened to you? As in the opening description, I took on one more thing, then one more thing, and it continued – after all, how much time can just one more thing take? One little task, no problem.

More tasks are given to you and you are managing them quite well, but you are getting tired. You are no longer sure if this is the job you want. Your family is complaining that you spend too much time working and that you are too tired to do things with them when you get home.

What has happened here? Just like the frog, the heat was slowly turned up, you didn’t even notice until it was too much and you were done – just like the frog.

What can you do about this type of situation?

You might have been in the job for years and you are satisfied. You are working in a field of your choosing. When you first started you were excited to go to work every day. Some of that initial enthusiasm has worn off now as your workload has increased and no longer aligns with your values or the direction of your goals. It is not too late. You can start now to set your boundaries. Of course, it is difficult to backtrack, but it is possible. A carefully thought-out plan is needed, and this plan begins with an open mind, courage, and a clear understanding of your values and goals. What is important to you? What are your priorities? This can be a hefty task and you might want to get a bit of help.

Know your boundaries (ideally from your first day of work, but it is never too late). I suggest you go back to look at your values. Is the job in alignment with your values? As you determine your boundaries are they in alignment with your values and goals?

Guidance at such a time might be valuable. This is where a coach or mentor can come in handy. Give me a shout and let’s figure out what you want to do and how you will go about getting what you want.

drelaine@drelaineleadership.com

Our Heart: Pump, Emotions, Stress, Energy

Our Heart: Pump, Emotions, Stress, Energy

Just like our brain, we all have a heart. We know our heart acts like a pump to circulate blood throughout our body. We know that we can have heart attacks and other cardiac diseases.

Something many do not know is that the heart and brain communicate and that the heart communicates with the brain more than the brain communicates with the heart.

When you are feeling stressed, your heart is involved along with your brain. Our emotions influence our hearts and brains. The heart is an electrical system. This shouldn’t surprise you because the ECG (electrocardiograph) that traces our heart rhythm is tracing the electrical rhythm of our heart. The functioning of the brain can also be examined using an EEG (electroencephalograph), which measures the electrical functioning of the brain. Muscles are also measured electrically. We are made up of electrical energy.

Enough about the electricity for now. Next, a bit of information about how our heart and brain work together when we are experiencing stress.

What is stress and how do you know if you are experiencing stress? Definition of stress:

In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response, a complex reaction of neurological and endocrinologic systems.

Definition of stress:

Stress affects many areas of our body. Remember too, that all areas of the body are connected. We cannot separate our mind and mental health from our body and physical health. Our emotions affect our brain, mind, and mental health which in turn affect our body. Stress can lead to physical illness and physical illness can lead to stress. A bit of a vicious circle.

Researchers have discovered that our emotions are a result of our hearts and brains working together. Neurocardiology (a specialty of how the brain and heart interact) research has determined that the heart is a sensory organ. The heart can learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions that do not involve the cerebral cortex. (2003. McCraty, R. energetic-heart.pdf  Institute of HeartMath.)

Our emotions drain our energy. Think about it, when you have had a disagreement with someone, you will often feel tired and make poor decisions. Afterward, we are apt to say to ourselves (maybe even to others) ‘what was I thinking?

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
— Hans Selye

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health

The HeartMath™ System (programs, techniques) includes methods of mental and emotional self-regulation and energy management techniques that lead to a restructure of neural (nervous system) circuits. The techniques assist in the alignment of our mental, emotional, and physical systems. All the techniques affect several areas of the brain: amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and thalamus and improve the synchronization of the heart-brain, hormonal balance, the autonomic nervous system, and vagal pathways. Breathing is a vital component of the HeartMath™ systems. But HeartMath™ is much more than breathing. Remember, our heart and head are communicating with each other.

One of the goals of drelaineleadership.coach and HeartMath skills is to guide you to increased internal awareness. Everyone deserves to have a beautiful life that includes self-awareness and limited stress. You can be in control of your emotional responses.

Stress often leads to us adopting poor coping behaviours that can increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. Some poor coping behaviours include smoking, alcohol, drugs, overeating, absence of physical activity, unhealthy diet. Being overweight, and not taking your prescribed medications as per your doctor’s instructions are also symptoms of stress.

Stress can show up in your body as a headache, back strain, painfully tight shoulder muscles, and stomach pain. Other things that stress can do to you include zapping your energy, create sleep problems, and adding to crankiness, forgetfulness, and not being as in control of yourself as you would like. A chain reaction begins:

Stress > release of adrenalin and cortisol > increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure

You are prepared to fight or flee even though there is no physical danger, no lions, or tigers, or bears.

There is a large body of information and research about stress and ways to manage our emotions. I will continue to share information about stress, emotions, the heart-brain connection and how to take control of your emotional reactions in future blogs. But just a little bit at a time.

What is Your Mindset?

Our mindset can lift us up, tear us down, gives us a positive attitude or a negative attitude. Much of our mindset has been instilled in us since childhood. The views of our parents, grandparents, teachers, and other important figures in our life influence us, whether we are aware. Our philosophy of life directs our life experiences. Some people, fatalists, believe that no matter what they do the outcome will be the same. What about you? Do you think you have some control over outcomes? Let’s think about that – if you do not study for exams will the outcome be the same as if you do? Does your diet influence your health? These examples seem obvious. Let’s look at some other ways mindset could possibly influence our life. If you are generally a happy person and find an opportunity or something positive in most situations you have a positive mindset. Those with a positive mindset focus on positive results and good outcomes. For many of us, we prefer to be around people with a positive attitude or mindset. A positive mindset also has health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are attributed to a positive mindset: – Increased life span- Decreased rates of depression- Lower distress levels- Increased resistance to the common cold- Better psychological and physical well-being- Better heart health and decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress. Considering these positive connections, I encourage the development of a positive mindset. Among the ways to build a positive mindset are:- Identify negative thoughts – that’s right – identify the negative, you need to be aware of your thoughts, identify your negative self-talk. – Focus on positive thinking and positive self-talk. Even negative thoughts and self-talk can be turned around to positive thoughts and talk. (Give me a shout, I have some tools for this). Laugh, find the humor in situations (laugh at yourself, not others), surround yourself with positive-thinking people, schedule a couple of times during the day to assess how you have been talking to yourself, and if your thoughts are positive or negative. Remember – what isn’t identified can’t be changed. Can you think of some negative thoughts that can be reframed into positive thoughts? Negative Thoughts Positive Thoughts can’t do that; I’ve never done it before. A great opportunity to try something new. That’s too complicated. I will approach that from a different perspective. I don’t have all I need to do that. I will be creative and workaround or substitute where necessary. I’m never going to get any better than I am now. I will take a chance and try some new things, some self-development courses. That won’t work. That is far out, let’s give it go.No one talks to me, so I never know what is going on. I will make an effort to engage others in conversation and show interest in what is happening. You might also consider watching less news, more comedy, or forget about tv and read positive material. Listen to upbeat or relaxing music. Spend some time outside enjoying nature. If you don’t care for nature, try just a few minutes when the weather is your favourite kind (for me sunny and warm). You can also try meditation. Or try taking a few moments to identify the things in your life for which you are grateful – a roof over your head, food to eat, a job, a family, health, life, your pet. Start a list of these things for the times when you can’t think of anything positive, and you can refer to your list. When you first wake up, or when you are brushing your teeth take a minute to take 3 – 5 deep, slow breaths, and then focus on something positive for another few breaths. It can’t hurt anything, and you might just find yourself feel more positive. I have a variety of strategies for you to try if you would like to feel more positive; direct message me and we can talk.