Friday, February 27, 2015

Sorry for any multiple posts website coming......

Hi everyone

We are very close to going live with our new website.

We were testing social media links - and you may have received some repeat posts. Oops!

Hope that wasn't a problem - maybe you didn't even notice or even better, enjoyed them second time around!

So watch this space - hope to go live with the new site soon - very excited! Rae Stanton of accurateexpressions is doing a great job.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Do you get so close you can almost feel success and then you stumble at the last hurdle - how could this happen?

Have you got the guts and resilience for pressure situations?

Have you ever been so close to getting something you dearly want? It’s within your grasp, you’re just about there...and then you sabotage it?

It could be during an interview for a job: you suddenly realise that you have it all wrapped up but before you can stop yourself, you’re jabbering away, talking more than you should and in next to no time, the job you thought was yours is lost.

Or it could be selling a proposal at a meeting. Same thing. You’ve just about got them across the line. There’s a silence as people are coming to a decision. Instead of waiting out the silence – our mouths open again, adding unasked for/unwanted information – that triggers more questions that we really didn’t want to answer – end result: proposal turned down!

Or playing sport – you realise you are just about to win. You’re playing tennis - you have 3 match points and only have to win just one more.  Or in football or rugby or hockey or netball, you are ahead and need only to defend your goal line for 60 seconds longer. In cricket, you only have to get two more runs and protect your stumps from the next 6 balls. You get the idea.

But what happens – we blow it, we lose the match, we lose the game, we lose the test. Why?

Surprise surprise - It’s your amygdala calling

Chances are – it was not because of our lack of skill or the superior competence of our opponent – it was because of our own self-sabotage, what is happening in our brain.

In a split second, our amygdala realises how close we are to getting what we want and fills us with fear at the thought we might not achieve it.

Instead of allowing our pre-frontal cortex to continue on the successful path that has led us to this point, to concentrate and hold our course (the logical way to deal with the fear), no – instead our amygdala starts its flight or fight routine, filling us with extra adrenalin, niggling at us, causing us to shake, our heart to race even faster, to lose concentration, worry about the future if we don’t win and suddenly we’ve lost when only moments earlier we were about to be victorious.

No wonder commentators, future employers, our colleagues, team selectors, our bosses, even the stock market in a crisis, ask whether we can ‘hold our nerve’ under pressure.

Nothing to lose

It’s ironic isn’t is that when we start out as a new manager, a budding sports person, a new employee in a role – we come up with great ideas, try out new strategies, new shots, give it our all – simply because we have ’nothing to lose’. Our brain hasn’t yet filed away any potential consequences of not succeeding in its ‘things to be frightened of’ storeroom.

The more we try, the more experience we get - these are the things that should make us more confident, more able, more focused. Yet so often they seem to create more anxiety about losing, more fears that hold us back and more occasions when we lose our composure.

Staying cool under pressure

One of the key distinguishing features of great sports champions, great managers and leaders, great colleagues and great friends is that they can hold it together under pressure. They can be relied on to hold their nerve, hold on and persevere to the end of the race, the challenge, the game.

How do they do it? It seems to me that this involves two key elements:

* Our ability to control our responses to our amygdala


* Resilience

Controlling our responses to those ‘almonds’ – our amygdala 

Here are three tips to help you control your amygdala and prepare for any pressure situation you know is coming up:

1. Learn how to breathe and relax at will.

Don’t wait until you are under pressure to start practising. At any time at all, concentrate on your breathing and lowering your heart rate – you can do this on the bus, on the train, sitting in your car, watching TV, eating a meal, during a conversation.

Breathe deeply. Get oxygen deep into your lungs so it can spread around your body fast. It’s the best antidote to adrenalin.

2. Focus on your heart rate. 

The exercise is simple: tell your heart to slow down. Keep your focus only on doing that.

Test your current ability to do it. Take your pulse before you do the exercise. Time it for 15 seconds then multiply by 4. Do the exercise for one minute. Then take your pulse again.

Repeat this exercise daily or more often if you can until you have mastered the ability to slow your heart rate down at will. Even slowing by a few beats per minute will make a difference.

You do have the time to practice. The exercise doesn’t take much time out of your day – it’s less than 2 minutes in total. i.e. Measure your pulse rate for 15 seconds, then for one minute breathe slowly and focus on your heart rate; then measure again.

3. Imagine the pressure situation you could find yourself in

This builds on the previous exercises. It will take a little more time – allow 10 minutes.

Sit or lie down in a quiet place and really put yourself there, in the pressure situation, in your mind. Visualise the place, the weather, the time of day, the people around you, the smell, the sounds, the voices, the words, how you are feeling physically, the pressure being applied.

When you’ve done this, if your heart rate hasn’t gone up – you’ve either mastered the art of relaxation and focus (well done!) or you haven’t really put yourself in that place. If necessary get someone who understands what you are trying to do to ‘talk you into’ that situation.

Then either, doing it yourself, or with another person’s help – breathe, talk to yourself, tell yourself to focus, walk though what you have to do, acknowledge that you are feeling ‘hyper’, tell your brain to translate all that hyper energy and adrenalin into even greater focus on keeping on doing what you have been doing to get you to the point you are now at.

Depending on your imagination, you might even imagine the adrenalin as a high powered injection of laser like accuracy, vision, and strength – whatever works for you to take back control over your mind rather than letting your amygdala create the very thing it is fearful of.

In other words, you can’t stop your amygdala from doing what it does – we are hardwired to worry about things that might cause us psychological or physical harm.

What we can do is train ourselves to quickly realise that the only thing to fear is fear itself and convert that extra surge of energy into the winning edge.

Building resilience

When you think about it, how do ambulance officers turn up for work every day knowing that they are going to have to attend accident scenes where people are dead, dying or horribly injured?

What do you think their amygdala does? Before training I am sure they experience fear and an impulse to get away, to not attend, to avoid the situation.

But they don’t. They turn up, remain calm, take control and in so doing save lives. If ambulance officers can do it in real life or death situations, I’m confident we can in other situations.

Resilience comes from feeling the fear and doing it anyway. To fight the urge to give up or to stop trying; to not let that ancient part of your brain dominate the contemporary you.

Resilience also comes from familiarity with the challenge. Every time you face it, whatever the outcome, win or lose, your amygdala realises it was not a life or death situation and slowly will becomes less sensitive and reactive to the perceived threat. So when we talk about “practice makes perfect” – it’s as much about the mind as the body.

Resilience not only in pressure situations

Ever wondered why you couldn’t stick to your diet? Resilience is not simply about dealing with pressure situations. It can also be about staying on your new food program, giving up smoking, going for the walk, to the gym, practising the piano, your language lessons, persevering with the new software or system.

Even in these situations, if you allow it to, your amygdala will make the ‘fear’ of the difficulty of the challenge run you off track and you’ll sink back ‘safely’ into your comfort zone. You’ll beat yourself up anyway if you do that so why not persevere with the challenge?

One step at a time

To build resilience, tell yourself it’s one step at a time whether it’s a pressure situation or not. Your amygdala can cause you to leap mountains in emergencies – but it takes an all or nothing approach. Your amygdala ‘sees’ life in extremes. Your pre-frontal cortex sees the spectrum.

So use your cortex to break down the pressure situation into its component parts. Then let your amygdala face it each part at a time not just as one overwhelming feat. Learn to breathe, focus and become resilient – then winning and coping under pressure will never again be ‘so near but so far away.’

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Could a blood test determine your job application?

If your future employer wants you to take on a role that could be demanding and challenging, could a blood test be required to predict your response to anger and fear?

It may be possible in the future. 

A recent study published February 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that individuals with lower DNA methylation show diminished brain response to angry and fearful faces and greater communication between brain regions important for regulating emotion. 

Perhaps discovering multiple types of markers could even result in a kind of emotion-predisposition dashboard, predicting problems and prompting interventions.

To arrive at this result, the University of Virginia study evaluated sample of 98 healthy Caucasians aged 18 to 30 who provided blood samples and underwent functional MRI brain scans while looking at pictures of angry and fearful faces.

Interesting definitely.  But how could such a test be used in the future, that is the big question.  When considering who to marry or live with? Employment screening? 

Monday, February 16, 2015

People can see inside and through your brain - or will do very soon!

Another amazing advance in neuroscience and what the future is looking like.

This month, psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth, a Popular ScienceBrilliant 10 alumnus, is getting the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences. The prize is for his work on two lab techniques that neuroscientists now use widely to study autism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, and other brain disorders.

The technique allows scientists to look through the brain as if it is transparent. At the moment is seems this is only done of organs taken from deceased animals or humans, but in the future?????

Monday, February 09, 2015

Are you hurting someone emotionally?

Someone loses it – a man dies

In the beautiful city of Sydney water restrictions are imposed. An elderly man was watering his garden. It was legal. He was watering his roses in the late afternoon, within the time limits imposed by the restrictions.

A younger man passed by. It seems that the men exchanged words about the watering and an altercation broke out. Moments later, the older man was dead. A grandfather, a father, a husband’s life snuffed out in an instant over a garden hose. The words had become blows leading to the older man’s death.

What could have happened?

The next day, in a road rage incident, a driver hurled a full bottle of water at the car of another driver. Fortunately, no one died in this incident.

On the same day, a manager at an office told a staff member that she had “!@#%ed up”, that she had to stay back late to make up for it or he would dock her pay. Her ‘error’ was a delay in delivering a report to his office caused by a power failure in her building that trapped her in a lift for an hour.

Why do so many people ‘lose it’?

When you look around your world - at work, at home, in the street, on the road, or simply watering your garden – why do we see so many examples of people just ‘losing it’, losing self-control and allowing almost animal type behaviour to take over?

We see it on the sports field – biting incidents, punching, racist remarks – where grown men and women, players and parents, lose self-discipline in the heat of the moment.

Sometimes the crowd urge them on – why? If we urge them on, what do we want to see happen? Physical harm? How much? Death? Sometimes the behaviour is seen for what it is – lack of self-control and unprofessional.

At home, we see domestic violence, verbal abuse and hurtful comments – often resulting in fractured relationships and mental and physical harm to people in the place where they should be most treasured and secure.

A woman and her son were charged with killing the woman’s husband over 10 years ago, cutting up his body and scattering the body parts. One arm and the head have not yet been found. It is suggested that extreme domestic abuse was involved.

Why are we wired with the flight/flight response?

Stop for a moment and think about your levels of self-control. Think about the levels of self control in the real life examples I have given.

In the last example, the woman may have truly feared for her life. Her amygdala may well have caused her to act in order to preserve her own life. If this is true, then it is unlikely that any amount of logic would have prevented her from seeing any other way out of the intolerable situation that she may have been in.

If she did kill her husband in these circumstances then this is flight/flight at its extreme and this is what the brain is hard-wired for – self-defence.

But watering a garden? A disagreement about road rules? A sporting event? An issue at work?

Do you have self-control?

So please consider: have you ‘lost it’ to any degree, anywhere, anytime, with anyone, over the last week?

For example:

* Did you argue with a shop assistant or a call centre operator?

* Did you ‘snap’ at your partner or your kids?

* Did you speak aggressively to a staff member?

* Were you sarcastic or make an unnecessarily snide remark?

* Did you fail to speak up at a meeting when you disagreed with a proposition, or someone clearly was distorting the truth – or worse still, stealing your ideas?

* Did you fail to tell the truth at a performance appraisal meeting?

* Did you just walk away from a discussion you need to have at home because it could be uncomfortable?

What was happening in these situations? Why did you show these aggressive or defensive behaviours? Was it The Almond Effect? ie an inappropriate response by your amygdala because, in fact, you weren’t actually ‘about to die’ even though your amygdala is geared for self-defence.

Your amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real and perceived threat to life. But your “thinking you” can.

The Almond Effect doesn’t have to play out as violently as some of the examples I have given. It happens when your amygdalae (almonds) are engaged and you are feeling fearful, anxious, irritated, defensive, embarrassed and so on. Have you felt like that this week?

Don’t get me wrong. These feelings are a ‘natural’ reaction to events that happen around us if the incident triggers patterns, memories or a history of things that we believe (mostly at a sub-conscious level) could harm us in some way.

It’s what we do about those triggers that determines our maturity and self-control and our leadership abilities.


In previous posts, I have written about being a STAR. using my STAR model to Stop – Think – Act – Rewire.

S:  When you catch yourself being worked up or feel an unhelpful emotion coming on, like fear, anger, frustration, STOP. Stop yourself from immediately reacting. Take a deep breath. Count to 10 or whatever it takes.

T:  Then THINK about what is really going on. What are the consequences/ outcomes you really want to come from this situation?

A:  Then ACT – do whatever you decide is the best thing to do for the outcomes you would want outside the heat of the moment.

R:  Finally reflect and review what went on. Where did the reaction come from? What caused it? How can you learn to manage that reaction in future? In other words, how can you REWIRE your amygdala?

Stop – Think – Act – Rewire

The biggest challenge is to catch yourself experiencing The Almond Effect. Learn to watch for the signals – increased heart rate, perspiring, clenching your fists, your teeth, simply feeling agitated – everyone has a different signal.

If some of the horrible examples of The Almond Effect that I have given don’t motivate you to reflect on when this happens to you – let me be provocative: do you think that you have ever hurt someone emotionally because of your lack of self-control? Are you proud of it? Did it get you the result you wanted – in the short term, in the long term?

Self preservation in the 21st C

The Almond Effect® is a powerful emotional reaction – hard-wired into humans for self-preservation hundreds of thousands of years ago.

But this is the 21st C. If you are reading this it is likely that you live in a society where your elementary and basic needs met, as set out, for example, in Maslow's hierarchy ie you are fed, sheltered, and secure.

Of course, there are external threats that we cannot control – terrorism being a key example where The Almond Effect ® is exploited for appalling outcomes.

I urge you - become really conscious of examples of The Almond Effect around you. When you read the newspapers and watch the news, when you observe people at work, when you look at sport – actively consider: how many examples of The Almond Effect do you notice?

Even this exercise will help you become aware of the conscious and unconscious moments we later regret - when we have allowed The Almond Effect to rule our lives inappropriately instead of us being in control of how we act and our impact on others.

Monday, February 02, 2015

No buy-in to change??

Of course you can teach an old dog new tricks!

I love the last paragraph of this clearly written  Harvard Business Review blog on the role of logic vs emotion in decision-making.

Written in the context of sales, this article applies equally to 'selling' change and getting buy-in.

Read the HBR Blog here

Friday, January 30, 2015

Woman not afraid anything even danger due to rare genetic disorder

This is a fascinating case study about a woman with a genetic condition that causes calcification of parts of the brain including the amygdala. As well as an insight and confirmation of the role of the amygdala, it offers researchers another potential pathway to alleviation of conditions such as anxiety disorder and PTSD.

Woman not afraid anything even danger due to rare genetic disorder