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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Mindsight--Mind, Brain, and Relationships

Overview: I believe that the heart of this book is embodied in a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. from the Letter from Birmingham Jail: "We are caught in the inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly."  Professor and psychiatrist Dan Siegel illustrates King’s words in action.  He explains how Mindsight helps us integrate and regulate the flow of energy and information both within ourselves and among others, while at the same time honoring differences and reshaping our own brains. The brain is a social organ and mindsight is about regulating and integrating emotional and social intelligence.  Indeed, knowing ourselves and sensing the inner world of others is uniquely human. Through mindful breathing and reflection, we can learn to “name and tame” our emotions rather than being consumed by and “becoming” those emotions. He proposes a triangle: Well-being = Mind + Brain + Relationships.
2.     About Mindsight: Mindsight focuses on both internal reflection and external relationships, which result in an integrated, social, and resilient mind—one capable of weathering the ups and downs of life. For example, when we reflect and can name an emotion, we get a chance to tame that emotion.  Thus, saying “I’m mad” (identifying with the emotion) is far different than saying “I feel mad” (a transient condition). Well-being results from Siegel’s mindsight triangle of the mind, brain, and relationships. Well-being emerges when we integrate information and energy within self and between others while honoring differences. Such connections with self and others keep us from becoming too rigid (stuck and depressed) or chaotic (angry and explosive). Navigating the mindsight process between self and others ultimately sculpts and changes the shape of the brain.
3.     About the Brain: Neuroplasticity describes how our brain changes and grows throughout our lives, creating new neuronal connections based on our experiences with self and others. Siegel uses complex systems’ interdependence and dynamics to explain how various biological, psychological and physical functions interact and influence the mind. He describes a metaphor for a healthy mind as the flow of a river, naturally integrating energy and information in a complex system between two banks—one of chaos reflected by anxiety and anger and one of rigidity—being depressed or stuck in place. The healthy flow of this “river” can be marked by an integrated system that is Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable (FACES). Thus, the river flows smoothly, neither crashing up against chaos nor against rigidity.
4.     The Mind and Body: We have both a physical and mental state. Often doctors separate the two, treating only the physical, ignoring the mental. Our thoughts shape our brain and that shapes how we feel, relate and act. We can turn off mindsight and view people different than ourselves—without empathy—as truly “other.” For example, the Nazis did that to the Jews; in fact, every act of genocide emerges from this inhumane premise. However, as humans, we are part of an interconnected whole. Moreover, the brain is the social organ of the body, but too much focus on the body itself can warp our insight. Relationship is the lifeblood that makes us human and resilient. When we share information with each other, energy flows and relationships grow. Our neurons transmit our information and energy to others, and our mind regulates the process. We develop our ability to self-regulate through practices like mindful breathing and meditation. This reflection and regulation takes place in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).  
5.     Your PFC: The very front of your brain is called the prefrontal cortex. It connects and integrates everything—especially the upper (rational) and lower (emotional) brain. The nerves in the middle of the PFC can be strengthened and accelerated by reflection, such as mindful meditation. And the more we reflect, the stronger the nerves become that communicate with and control the limbic system. So, reflection leads to self- and other-relationship regulation.  The PFC is where reflection takes place and what helps us develop mindsight that promotes the following 9 domains of mental integration: 1. Bodily regulation (regulates heart, digestion, etc.); 2. Attuned communication with self and others; 3. Emotional internal balance and meaning—not chaos or rigidity; 4. The extinction of fear (self-calming); 5. Flexibility and pause before responding/reacting; 6. Capacity for insight into self; 7. Empathy for others; 8. Morality—awareness of the greater good; 9. Intuition—integrating bodily “felt sense” (the wisdom of the body) with the more logical mind.

6.     Reflection, Relationships, and Resilience: When you reflect and understand your own feelings, you can better navigate relationships with others and become more resilient to the ups and downs of life. The “tripod of reflection” consists of: 1. Openness—being receptive and aware, not judgmental or stuck; 2. Observation—seeing the context while experiencing an event; and, 3. Objectivity—having a thought or feeling but not being swept away by it. Reflection through meditative breathing is the best place to start. Focusing on our breath calms the mind and integrates the body and the mind.  Developing a regular, reflective mindfulness practice strengthens the PFC’s connection to the body and limbic system and puts us in a more integrated state capable of relationships and resilience in our lives. All the research on well-being says that for resilience, social relationships are the #1 determiner of our success. And reflection helps us develop and maintain strong, positive, reinforced relationships.  

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel Siegel, M.D. (Bantam Books, Copyright 2010), reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2016. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

 Overview: To be more productive, Duhigg suggests paying attention to motivation, goal setting, focus, and decision making. 1. Motivation:  Make a simple choice early on that allows you to take the first step, and connect your choice to things you care about. 2. Goal Setting: Set BIG aspirational, stretch goals that kick your ambition into high gear. Then apply specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) goals to break down your BIG stretch goals into more chewable, digestible ones. 3. Focus: Draw a mental map of your day. What will it ideally look like? How will it go? Strategize how you could deal with obstacles that might get in the way. 4. Decision Making: Envision more than one potential future. Consider seeking out different experiences of others; reach out and objectively consider the data. Sit with it for some time and then decide.
2.     Motivation: When we feel like we’re in control, we’re happier. Psychologists have long known that happy people see the locus of control within them—they get to call the shots—and depressed people see the locus of control outside themselves, thus often feeling like victims. Duhigg discovers this first tenet of his book by talking to, of all people, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Corps discovered this motivational insight and used it to reshape boot camp by allowing more choice, asking “why,” and praising freedom of action rather than robot-like rule adherence.  Insights:
a.     Make a simple choice early on that allows you to take the first step: I’m going to check my email only three times a day.
b.      Connect your choice to things you care about: If I limit my email checking, I’ll have more time with my kids.
3.     Goal Setting: We all want to accomplish big things. We might want to get a graduate degree or get in shape, even run a marathon. Duhigg calls these stretch goals because they force us to reach beyond what might feel comfortable. And to get to such stretch goals you need S.M.A.R.T. goals (or objectives) that lead you there. Not new, S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
a.     Stretch Goals: Set BIG aspirational goals that kick your ambition into high gear. I’m going to get in shape and run a 5K.
b.     SMART Goals: Take the BIG stretch goals and break them down into more chewable, digestible ones that don’t scare you, and put real specifics around them.
4.     Focus: As we live our lives and pursue our goals, obstacles get in the way. As they say, life happens when you’re planning something else! We’re bombarded with distractions—the internet, social media, YouTube, email—and if we keep wandering down those rabbit holes, we’re less likely to reach our stretch goals or any goals for that matter. Focus happens when we form mental models of where we want to go—much like having a story or a map in our heads to guide us amidst all the life distractors.
a.     Draw a mental map of your day. What will it ideally look like? How will it go?  Today, I’ll have an awesome meeting with the CEO.
b.     Strategize how you will deal with obstacles that might get in the way.
5.     Decision Making:  You can have all your ducks in a row, like being motivated, having goals big and small, and being focused, but still not be able to make timely or good decisions. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  So how to translate good intentions into good decisions?
a.     Envision more than one potential future. You might want to get a new car. You think about either turning in your car (reducing the hassle of selling it yourself), or you consider all the money you might make by being your own sales person.
b.     Consider seeking out different experiences, reach out and consider the data. Then sit with it for some time before deciding. So, maybe you call up a few friends who have sold their own cars and find out what that takes and mull over that data before making your final decision.
6.     More Stuff: The book also addresses things like managing others and encouraging innovation.
a.     Manage How Teams Operate—People have an equal voice to express ideas, decisions get pushed to the person closest to the problem, people have a sense of control, and the environment is safe.

b.     Encourage Innovation—Combine two old ideas into a new one, watch your own biases, note that stress can create the energy to accomplish things, and be aware that creating something new can make us unwilling to take the next creative step. 

Smarter Better Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Penguin Random House, 2016). Reviewed by Steve Gladis, May 2016.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges

Overview: Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Superman—transforming from everyday folks into
superheroes—those superheroes can serve as basic examples to help us all become our best, or what I call our “super-selves.” Harvard social scientist and professor Amy Cuddy burst onto the scene with her now famed 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are.” She’s expanded her TED Talk into this deep, research-based bestselling book that further proves her central claim: Your body and your thinking can change your personal chemistry, which can move you from feeling powerless to powerful—changing your mindset, behavior, and even your life. Cuddy teaches us about how to be authentic and present to better connect to others. Then she provides a plethora of studies and stories to hammer home her points as she teaches us how to prime ourselves before critical events to boost the power hormone, testosterone, in men and women alike. Thus, by priming ourselves with simple but powerful exercises and showing up as who we are—our authentic selves—we craft a winning strategy to us help nail our next presentation, meeting or job interview.
1.     Presence: What is presence?  It’s “…the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” Being committed to your own values, emotions, and beliefs helps. You must sell the real you to yourself before trying to sell yourself to others. By being true to yourself (authentic), you project power, passion, confidence and enthusiasm, and others catch those feelings from you.  When you’re fully present, your speech, posture, and non-verbals align and get in sync, and people notice. And when you’re not “present” people spot incongruities at an unconscious, but strongly felt, level.
2.     The Authentic Self: Being authentic makes us feel powerful, positive, engaged and filled with purpose. To identify your best self, try this self-affirmation exercise. Write down: 1. Three words that best describe you; 2. What’s unique about you that leads to your best performance; 3. When at work or home do you feel natural; 4. What are your big strengths and when and how can you use them. Speakers and students who do this exercise show less anxiety and perform better in speeches and tests than others. The power of engagement comes from self-affirmation—telling yourself your authentic story, believing it, and projecting it. Presence breeds confidence and the ability to take in contrary information without being defensive.
3.     The Imposter Syndrome: When we feel like we don’t belong or don’t deserve to be where we are despite our accomplishments. In short, we often feel like a fraud with self-doubts, especially prevalent among high-performing men and women. With the imposter syndrome, we feel like life controls us (external control) rather than us controlling life (internal control). Concerned about not living up to our billing or perfection, we spend much of our time on our image and not our authentic selves. Such self-monitoring keeps us from being who we are authentically. We get isolated, and the feeling of isolation actually activates the same part of the brain that pain does!
4.     Powerlessness and Power:  With change comes self-perceived loss of power, then insecurity and anxiety—this is why we hate change.  Power activates our behavioral “approach” system and makes us open to opportunity and optimism—acting as our best, most authentic selves. But powerlessness activates the inhibition or “avoidance” system making us feel anxious and pessimistic—less likely to act as our best, most genuine selves. And when we feel powerless (and anxious), even if we want to show our best selves, we can’t. We’re inhibited from taking in the kind of data we need to make better decisions. Powerlessness makes you not able to focus, more self-absorbed (alienates you from others).  When you feel like the control in your life is external and not internal, you start to feel powerless. That leads to an array of negative things —poor focus, reasoning, memory and being self-absorbed. Anxiety causes self-absorption which alienates us from others and makes us less attractive—negative and depressed—to be around. On the other hand, feeling powerful works the opposite way. For example, people primed to feel powerful before a test or a presentation do far better than others who are not so primed. Moreover, believing that the locus of control is internal, note external (beyond our control) makes us feel powerful, in control, and more open to suggestions to improve.
5.     The Body Shapes the Mind:  When we strike a power pose—become spread out and larger, not smaller and more contained—it affects our brain and the way we show up. Holding an expansive pose for two minutes, especially before a critical event (test, speech, interview), raises your testosterone, lowers cortisol, puts you in a dominant frame of mind, and improves your performance. By contrast, when you are hunched over an iPhone or wrapped up in a cross-armed, self-protected stance and strike a low-power pose, you experience the opposite of power. In sum, power poses make people feel better, more powerful, and more optimistic.

6.     Nudging: Gentle self-nudging can move us toward greater presence.  Nudging yourself to at least slow down and not make snap decisions under pressure can save you from the consequences of poor judgment. Power posing nudges up your set point of power and the more we do it, the more it reinforces our mindset.  Nudge yourself to not set big goals—start small and keep it up. And, rather than telling yourself not to be anxious, tell yourself to use the “excitement” to do your best—experiments support this tactic. Just reframing our emotions pushes us from feelings of powerlessness to being powerful. 

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