• Chemical Brain Freeze

How to Lead During Difficulty and Stress – The Value of Gratitude

Last week we talked about what you can do when you feel a Chemical Brain Freeze (CBF) coming on during stressful times.  One of the things I mentioned was gratitude.  This is a very powerful tool for two reasons.
1.    Your mind can’t hold fear and gratitude together at the same time.  Gratitude wins out every time.
2.    With gratitude you release some great chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) that combat cortisol and it’s adverse side affects.

After you have stopped and taken a couple of deep breaths its time to work on gratitude.  If you can quickly recall a story about something that you are truly grateful for, something that has an impact on your life, you can get your mind to release these chemicals to counter the CBF.  Here is my favorite gratitude story:

It is one of those beautiful spring days where the butterflies are testing their wings on the breeze and the grass blades are making their way up through the warm ground. My five-year- old daughter, Lindsey, and I are at the park for some exercise. She is on her girly-girl bike and I am on my roller blades. We get to the end of this long path and stop for a water break.
There is a huge oak tree with big limbs going out in every direction. One big limb goes out over this little creek, and someone has tied a rope around the limb and left it hanging. Lindsey sees the rope and asks, “Dad, can we swing across the creek?”
Of course being the prudent father I say, “No. We don’t know if the rope is strong enough much less the branch. Plus if something happens, we fall into the mud and gunk in the creek.” These all seemed to be good fatherly reasons that little girls understand so well.
Her response was “We never get to do anything fun!”
I’m standing here thinking, “Here we are in the park on a beautiful day riding and skating and she thinks we aren’t doing anything fun!” Then it hits me “So when do you do something fun like this?”
I said, “Ok, let me try it out and see if the rope and branch
will hold us.” I get out of my skates and find a long stick and pulled the rope over. I gave it a good tug or two and then preceded to jump out over the creek, everything holds fast and I swing back and forth a time or two. Lindsey was squealing with delight on the bank.
I tell her, “I’m going to bend down, you put your arms around me and then wrap your legs around my waist and hold
on tight. We’ll go on the count of three. Ready? One, two, thhhhrrrreeeee,”
There is nothing sweeter in the world than a 5 year old giggling hysterically as you swing out over a creek. She is holding me tight around my neck. When we get done she is just grinning from ear to ear. Later that night when I put her to bed she is still talking about the swing. I leave her room and walk down the hall and I hear her calling me. I walk back into her room and ask “What’s up?”
She says, “Daddy, I was still thinking about swinging over that creek with you and I can’t get this smile off my face!”

This is my story that helps me do the chemical battle to rid myself of the toxins from a CBF.
You need to come up with a story you own which will allow you to go deep about being grateful and be able to do some chemical battles against the toxins. In times of stress, the story and gratitude that you conjure up should be so strong that you don’t have to go through the entire story. With the story just shared, I only have to think about Lindsey’s arms being around my neck and I can feel a calmness come over me within moments.  It’s the ability to stay in the game during difficulty and stress that allows leaders to excel and lead on to great things.
Thanks for coming along!

When Leaders Feel Under Attack

 Under attackLast week we talked about what happens to your body when you start to encounter a Chemical Brain Freeze (CBF).  Your brain senses danger and tries to protect you because it feels you are under attack. This week we are going to talk about what leaders can do when they feel under attack and you recognize a CBF is about to occur.  Remember, the key is what to do before a CBF occurs not what you do after it occurs.

We live in a Jeopardy-type, fast paced society. Controlling 
a CBF takes some time, so do not panic! That only makes things worse. Feel comfortable in saying,“Give me a second” so you can pause and take a few moments to control the CBF.

Here are four quick steps you can do to help stop a CBF before it happens. Three of these are pretty easy steps, but I will share with you the most powerful step takes a little work but the efforts are worth working on.  When you feel your heart racing, your breathing getting shallow and you’re getting hot under the collar, perform the following steps:

StopThe key to this step is to just stop what you are doing and do it quickly. If you are in a heated argument, literally just stop. You may say something like, “We both have our perspectives, and I’d like to understand yours a little better, let’s take a quick break and then discuss further.”

Oxygenate By taking a deep breath you stop the CBF activation. It takes away the shallow breathing and helps slow down your heart.

Chemical Combat Your mind can’t hold gratitude and fear at the same time. Gratitude wins out every time. (more next blog on gratitude)

Keep Gathering Information By gathering additional data and information you engage the neo-cortex again. Ask yourself good questions like, “Is this going to matter in 3 hours, 3 days or 3 weeks?”

The better prepared you are for an event the better you will 
be able to handle a CBF. Think about how much training pilots, firefighters, police, surgeons and military personnel go through and how they handle difficult situations and control the onset of a CBF.  Next week we’ll cover the power of gratitude.

Thanks for coming along!

The Science Affecting Exceptional Leadership
Last week we talked about what happens when we get a Chemical Brain Freeze (CBF).  The amazing fact is we can lose up to 75% of our cognitive thoughts in a matter of seconds.  If we don’t do anything about the CBF those thoughts don’t come back for up to 20 minutes or more.  The emotional portion of the brain called the amygdala shuts the down neo-cortex thinking part of the brain when it senses fear, whether real or imaginary.  It will do this if it sees a speeding car jump the curb and come hurtling down the sidewalk at you or if it hears a door open late at night.  The amygdala is your triage center and wants to keep you alive when it encounters potential dangers.  So let’s check out what happens when the amygdala senses danger.
First of all when the amygdala senses danger, adrenaline and other chemicals are dumped immediately into your blood stream.  Your heart starts beating faster getting ready to fight or flee.  It has to get blood to the major muscle groups so you can use your arms and chest muscles to fight or your legs to run.  Your breathing gets shallow because you have to oxygenate all this blood being pumped into various parts of your body.  Your mouth will get dry because of the shallow breathing, which is why it is sometimes difficult to get words out during stressful or difficult times.
Your body temperature increases.  Why you do think this happens?  Right, your muscles have to get warmed up in order to fight or flee.  You’ve heard the expression “Getting hot under the color?”  Your body temperature raises several degrees and you get perspiration on your upper lip, forehead, etc.  The remarkable fact is this all happens within seconds.
Next time you are in a staff meeting watch when a question like this is asked in a menacing tone, “Why is this report late?”  Chances are everyone in the room will respond physically to some degree.  The person responsible will feel their heart rate pick up immediately.  We’ve all experienced these types of conversations that are not productive at all, right?  The amygdala will sense danger with just a simple question like this and respond accordingly.
So how do you stay in the game and have those difficult conversations with others?  Remember it’s not only keeping yourself in the game but keeping others in the game so they can perform at their best also.
Next week we’ll look at some of the tools for staying in the game and being a more effective leader.  Understanding how the brain and body works during difficult times will help in coping and providing exceptional leadership.  But if you aren’t in the game and your team members aren’t in the game during difficult times, exceptional leadership doesn’t happen.
Thanks for coming along.

Leaders Understand How to Stay in the Moment

slurpee freeze
Do you remember those hot summer days as a kid when you would get a Slurpee, a mixture of crushed ice and flavoring, or a snow cone and after a few slurps or bites you would get this incredible searing pain in the middle of your forehead?  Remember how it would render you useless for about 20 seconds and you screamed and danced in place rubbing your forehead?   The physical cold temperature caused that excruciating pain as the Slurpee hit the roof of your mouth.  You managed to survive the ordeal but how effective were you during that 20-second period? Not a whole lot got accomplished did it?  I like to refer to that as a Slurpee Brain Freeze caused by a physical response.
There is another type of brain freeze, which is caused by a chemical reaction the amygdala portion of your brain performs when you are under danger, anxiety or stress.  It is a survival mode that is very primitive and basic but very effective in today’s chaotic world. Have you ever been so angry you couldn’t think straight?  During those types of situations you can say or do things you wind up regretting later.  This is the fight, flight or freeze, syndrome I refer to as a Chemical Brain Freeze® (CBF).  This happens because the thinking part of your brain literally shuts down due to chemicals the amygdala has ordered to be released into your blood stream.  If you don’t do anything about it, you can lose most of your thinking brain for up to 20 minutes.  That’s why after a heated conversation with a customer, employee or spouse its not until 15-20 minutes later we think of all the good things we needed or wanted to say, but the moment is gone.
Other classic examples would be if you got a voice mail message from the IRS? Or your spouse called asking why you didn’t pick up your child at the day care center?  Or when you look for your purse or wallet and it isn’t in its normal place?  How about that difficult conversation you need to have with a customer, employee, vendor or family member?
You want to be at you best during these difficult situations, how do you keep from having a CBF?  Exceptional leaders understand the value of how to stay in the moment and being your best during difficult times.  Next blog, we’ll talk about what actually happens to your body during a CBF and then we’ll explore how to recognize it and what to do about it
Thanks for coming along.

The Brain and Leadership

The amygdala, what a strange word isn’t it?  It’s actually a Greek word for almond.  almondWhen the Greeks were doing anatomy and physiology studies of the human body a several centuries ago, they discovered this part of the brain, which is about the size of an almond.

There are two key parts of the brain, which have a major impact on how we respond to stimuli.  Up until about the last 25yrs, scientists believed the thinking part of the brain, the neo-cortex, responded to stimuli first.  Which makes sense assuming the most complicated part of the brain which contains complex thought such as time, space, technical skills, etc., could handle external stimuli first.  Remember the neo-cortex built our civilization, sent astronauts to the moon, created computers, the Internet, etc.

However, with the research done with MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, scientists discovered the amygdala responded first to stimuli such as an event or actual threat.  This was definitely a shift in paradigms, because the amygdala is responsible for emotional learning and emotional memory. Quick example on how the amygdala works; you see something red, touch it and get burned.  Your amygdala will remind you next time you see something red to check first to see if it is hot before you touch it.

So with the MRI research, they discover the amygdala responds 100 times faster than the neo-cortex.  Now that is fast.  So why would the brain be wired like this?  Say you step outside onto your porch and there is a snake coiled and ready to strike.  If your curious neo-cortex responds to this stimulus first, you stand there asking yourself, “I wonder if that is a poisonous or non-poisonous snake? Is this a cotton mouth snake? Or a rattlesnake? Or a copperhead?”  What are your chances of getting bitten?  Pretty good, right?

Your amygdala sees the snake on the porch and screams to you; “Snake, Jump!” and you jump immediately out of danger.

Now we set the stage for some interesting content because we just went through an example of how emotions respond before cognitive thought.  But how many times have you walked into a business meeting and the chairperson would say, “I know there are some controversial decisions we have to make today, but let’s keep this very business like and keep our emotions out of the discussions.”  Well, we now know that it is next to impossible to do because our emotions respond before our cognitive thought.  We will continue down this avenue of thought and discover how it applies to leadership.

Thanks for coming along.