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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Are Our Instincts in Dangerous Over-Drive?

Un-Game Principle:  There are definite times your mind should not be trusted.

13-12-18 Are Our Instincts on Dangerous OverThe internet has given us unprecedented and unparalleled means to educate ourselves. So the average American mind knows a lot more about psychology and human behavior than we once did. To witness this, we have simply to see a 1950s film and then fast-forward to a current one.  Most of us bandy terms like “ego,” “bi-polar,” and “fight/flight” around as if we were giving directions to the local Best Buy.

Fight, Flight, and Freeze are instincts that have served humankind the same way they served our predators. When we were ogled as potential lion food, we needed these instincts. Today, there are rarely any real lions except for the fringe occurrences in American life (so far) where the so-called lions had guns and/or knives focused on unsuspecting prey. However, our instincts survive nonetheless, but for the most part they are focused on secondary lions—the stressors most of us encounter in our lives.

By definition, our instincts aren’t under our control. They live in our reptilian brain, a small part of which is the amygdala.  In functional terms, the amygdala is no match for the rational frontal lobes where we think we make most decisions. If we want rational, we don’t go to the reduced mental capacity of the amygdala. Yet the reptilian brain and the amygdala have super-human strength to direct our actions. We ought to get to know them better.

Our reptilian instincts still “think” there are lions out there.  Unfortunately this state of mind may be even worse for us than to be faced with an actual hungry lion. We can see that lion. The challenge we face is one that’s insidious just because it’s maddeningly invisible, dizzyingly speedy, and has many deliciously treacherous forms. It’s the world that none of us over 30 was born into—the world dominated by the technological revolution which our amazingly creative genius has spawned.

It cannot be overstated that our capacity to deal emotionally and rationally with, let’s say the Internet, has only just left the starting blocks while our run-away genius cheerfully waves to us while passing us for the hundredth time.

We ought to get to know our reptilian brain better. As much as most of us wouldn’t dream of exchanging the post Internet era and its incredible technological advances for any other, we are doing as might be expected with unprecedented-in-our-lifetime change. We are anxious (reptilian brain trying to fend off lions), plagued with ADD, depression, obesity, income divides, frightening incarceration rates, plundering of Earth’s treasures, communication breakdowns, increased violence, political gridlock and incivility, and a penetrating loneliness and isolation not lessened by social media.

There is no joy in Mudsville.

Many would-be healers try for answers and solutions.   They see “it” as a problem to be solved. Of course there are a lot of definitions as to what the “it” is.  No matter our view of the “it” (I choose today to call it our instincts in dangerous over-drive.), by looking at “it” as a problem, we immediately call upon the relatively young part of our brain, the frontal lobes, to solve it. Might that be a poor investment of our energy? You can’t problem-solve the distortions and misunderstandings originating in our reptilian brain whose job it is to assure our survival through fight, flight, and freezing (add food and fsex for the five f’s of survival). Our reptilian brain doesn’t give a hoot about its young cousin. If it could talk, I suspect it would harrumph condescendingly, “What do you know about survival?!”

So here’s the task before us. We need to soothe our aroused amygdala. We need to get from the modern version of fight/flight/freeze and its many manifestations back into our right mind (We’re out of our mind when we’re in the reptilian brain). Once back in our right mind, we can use its superior capacity to get to know the manifestations of the reptilian brain in our life. Do we run away from challenges (flight)? Pretend they’ll go away (freeze)? Take them to court (fight)?  While yielding results, some of which are even modestly successful, this serves neither to soothe the over-heated reptilian brain nor to learn its wiles.  What’s needed is to get to know it, even befriend it.  It still has important functions.  But it is a dangerous opponent when inappropriately in over-drive. Our job then is to use what information it gives us and leave the rest.

How can we recognize when our mind is in over-drive? Pay attention to this fire-engine red flag.  Look for heightened emotions, generally but not always negative: anger, frustration, fear, depression, anxiety, resignation. Look for feeling victimized. Are you impulsive? Do you have goals that are dear to you but elude you? Do you use humor to mask your discomfort and to distract someone who wants to talk to you about something of importance to them? Do you believe yourself (in other words, do you think it’s the truth) when you assert “I’ve hit a wall. I just can’t.”  All those are reptilian-brain responses to the secondary lions of our lives.  And any one of those is a sign that your instincts are in dangerous over-drive. Unobserved and unchecked, they’re up to no good!

A certain type of coaching, called mind-set coaching, can help with the task of getting to know, appreciate, and outsmart the reptilian brain (But we get to do it again and again. It’s not a permanent win.  We learn this fact when we get to know our opponent.). Recently I’ve come across a fascinating resource I expect to check out further. It’s too early to endorse it. But here’s the website, if you’d like to review it.  http://www.maxmyperformance.com . The research behind this approach to our over-heated reptilian brain seems solid from what I can tell without further digging. I believe we need all the help we can get. This one promises ease with our opponent in over-drive. Would it be all right with you if life were easier?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Giving Thanks for Being the Underdog? Surely Not!

Un-Game principle:  Creativity is one of the tools available to everyone. Cultivating it is easier than most think.

13-12-03 Giving Thanks for Being the UnderdogIn a world that roots for underdogs but follows only top dogs, being thankful for inhabiting the role of underdog is counter-intuitive. We like winners, and winners don’t come from underdogs. Or do they? There was David and Goliath!? Hmm.

Malcolm Gladwell and I don’t have fame in common. But we share an indomitable curiosity about phenomena that receive little attention but can pack a big wallop.  We’re endlessly fascinated with what Buckminster Fuller called the trim tab. The trim tab enables a pilot during flight to correct an unbalanced condition. In ships, the captain’s little finger can move the trim tab, thus turning the entire behemoth around effortlessly.

Don’t you love ease? And creativity? Be thankful for both. They’re available to you.

Many of us haven’t had the experience of our own trim tab—that which has us handle a tough challenge without struggle.  Sure, we try by following the promise of alluring change.  A more effective team. A more beautiful body.  A more capable mind.  A freer soul. Advertisers mercilessly exploit our vulnerability, and they consistently over-promise and under-deliver.

What if we looked anew at the underdog phenomenon? After all, the underdog under-promises and over-delivers.  Perhaps our trim tab can be found there.

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book shows us why David will win against Goliath. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet I know its premise. As the underdog David knows he can’t possibly beat Goliath with Goliath’s strategies. David knows he has to think creatively if he’s to stand a chance. He first has to consider breaking the so called “rules.”

If you’re a reluctant rule-breaker consider this: Every day, the shrunken global community into which our technology has catapulted us, showcases the urgent need for reframing our current picture of effective action, and by association—effective learning. Rapid change in a faster, flatter, more inter-connected world is the new normal. Have you noticed? More than ever, all of us, not just our top management teams; need new skills of inquiring, collaborating, engaging in courageous conversations, and negotiating conflicts before they are entrenched.  The thinking we’ve inherited, fine for yesterday’s demands, is unable to meet today’s. We need to move from the darkness of our limitations into the light of our own wisdom.

We need to relearn to learn. Why don’t we study David, the rule-breaker underdog?

Is a Harvard education really ten times better than going to a school that costs ten times less? Steve Jobs Mark Zuckerman, and Malcolm Gladwell didn’t think so. They weren’t always Goliaths. What the Davids of the world do is question everything (like should an education be solely for landing a job? Or is it to learn to live? Both?). They don’t give a nod to immutable “truths” or self-limiting chatter like: “I’m not creative. I could never have done what she did.”  Do you notice where your focus is when you say that? It’s on your perceived limitations as well as on her perceived superiority. Does comparison feed or starve your creativity?

Your creativity is there. Dormancy is not forever. Spring follows winter.

The Davids of the world have doubts, concerns, and limitations like the rest of us. They just find something else more interesting for the focus of their energy. Like seeing what they haven’t seen before, the seeing of which would change everything about some challenge that looms large.

Davids are exquisitely aware of the fact that thinking generates action. “What thinking makes Goliath vulnerable? Does he think he can’t lose? Is he resting on past glory?  “Let’s put that thinking to a stress test,” the Davids say.

The beginning of a thinking stress test, when you continue to argue for your own limitations, may be to ask a competent friend, colleague, or coach to help you generate powerful questions. Let those questions be alluring. “What am I not seeing that has me captivated so that I can’t deliver on my desire to meet this challenge? What assumptions am I making that I’m unaware of and which keep this undesirable status quo firmly in place? What do you see about me that would surprise me?” Answers that emerge from such deep inquiry may lead us to surprising places of creativity…and inspired action.

The great advantage the Davids have is that they have nothing to lose. No expectations to meet. No prestige to defend. Nobody pays much attention.  And so what if they did? “What everybody thinks of me is none of my business.”, a David might say. He’s free to roam. And roam he does. They and their female counterparts aren’t afraid to make “strange” connections and comparisons. “How’s a banana like management? Or how’s a BMW Z4 like parenting?” Well?

Davids also know the value of distance vision. Distance vision is challenging when you’re in the midst of daily tasks. The saying “He can’t see the forest for the trees” reflects that people are somewhat aware of this. Yet how many of us act as fire fighters in the trees of our business and our lives? “I can’t get to that until I’ve done this.” And the moment for the “that” never comes. We play defense. We’ve forgotten or never known that the best defense is a good offense.

We need distance vision.

So what’s the perch from which we can see the distant forest?  Malcolm Gladwell and I both lived in other countries before we came to the United States. We were thus on the edge of the forest and thereby at a distance from the fray. We were the underdogs and thankful for it. What a glorious position! We could see so clearly what eluded those in the fray.

Naturally, you don’t have to travel to another country to be able to see the forest upon your return. Ways to see clearly and awaken your creativity are facilitated by asking yourself penetrating, provocative questions (Even better, visualize being with a competent other. What’s his or her name?).  Imagine the person asking. “Where do you have energy that’s tied up?” Imagine giving an example. “I want to say “no” but find myself saying “yes” more often than I want to. I want to delegate and I see I still do everything myself. We want to hire more minority executives, but we’re still staring at white faces on our management team.” Assuming you find some honest answers to your constricted energy flow, continue the inquiry.

Depending on what the first question yields, other questions as in the examples below will emerge naturally.  Here’s a sampling.

  • Could you envision re-channeling this tied-up energy and applying it to delegating effectively? How do you imagine the difference?
  • What would it look like if you could re-channel this potentially tied-up energy and apply it to accelerate the goal of saying “no” when you mean “no?” The goal of creating and maintaining satisfying, productive relationships? Where would you start?
  • What if you could re-channel this tied-up energy and apply it to being better organized?  More creative? Resilient? Flexible? What would that look like to others you care about at work and at home?
  • What are the hidden commitments that despite your best intention to see a more diverse management team, keep this from becoming a reality?
  • If everything good happens out of good relationships, what would be different if you could have new, powerful, mind-expanding, heart-opening conversations that can challenge your thinking, tackle the tough stuff, provoke learning?

Creativity flowers in the freedom from the arbitrary rules you can break once you see their arbitrariness. Underdogs who dare to dream are grateful for this freedom to break with convention and take full advantage of it. They know they need space to reflect and inquire. Perhaps challenging the notion that you don’t have enough time is a great starting point (Careful! If you just heard yourself say “Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling. You don’t know my life!”, call that competent friend, colleague, or coach who won’t collude with you.). Creativity is easier than most of us think, but it’s not free. Its price is reflection, distance, and deep inquiry.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.