Hidden Beliefs in a Leader’s Life: Clues to Discovery

Kevin Cashman wrote an outstanding book on leadership called Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In his book he writes about both conscious beliefs and hidden beliefs he calls shadow beliefs. He defines a shadow belief as a belief we hold deep inside, outside of our conscious awareness. Those beliefs profoundly affect us and our leadership. He provides keen insight about how to discover those beliefs.

He contends that these beliefs often hinder leaders from being their best. For example, one shadow belief might be a subtle voice inside that constantly says, “You must perform better than everybody else for people to like you.” For me, one shadow belief I discovered was this. “Everybody around me needs to be happy for me to be happy. Therefore, I must try to make everybody happy.” In the past that belief often stifled my joy and peace and hindered my leadership.

Cashman says that we must bring those shadow beliefs into the light for us to lead at our best. He suggests seven clues that can bring these shadow beliefs to light.

  1. If other people often give us feedback inconsistent with how we see ourselves, a shadow belief is present.
  2. When we feel stuck or blocked and at a loss about what to do next, a shadow belief is holding us back.
  3. If strengths become counterproductive a shadow belief may be behind it.
  4. When are are not open to new information, new learning, or other people’s views, a shadow belief is limiting us.
  5. If we react to circumstances with emotional responses disproportionate to the situation, it may point to a shadow belief.
  6. When we find ourselves forcefully reacting to the limitations of others in a critical, judgemental way, we are often projecting our shadow belief upon others.
  7. If we often experience pain, trauma, or discomfort in our body, a shadow belief may be trying to rise to the surface.

As I’ve faced my shadow beliefs, I’ve experienced greater peace in my life and become a more productive leader.

How about you? What shadow beliefs might be dogging your leadership?

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5 Brain-Savvy Tips that Improve Team Creativity

Great ministry teams are creative. They generate new ideas to solve current ministry problems. Because our world is changing so rapidly, we must constantly seek to generate new God-prompted ideas. In my fourth book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I write about how to generate creativity and insight. I include a portion of that chapter below with these 5 tips.

  1. Daydreaming: Insight often comes when we daydream and allow our minds to wander (Christoff et al., 2009). Teach your team how daydreaming can help them solve problems. Encourage your team to schedule times to daydream and to allow their minds to wander rather than always actively trying to solve problems. Help them realize that thinking less about a problem may actually bring the solution. In fact, some companies such as Google, Intuit, and Twitter expect their employees to take time for daydreaming about projects other that than those they’re working on (Waytz & Mason, 2013).
  2. Mood: When we are in a positive mood, problem solving often comes more easily (Subramaniam et al., 2008). Yet when we’re anxious, we solve fewer problems because the anxiety uses up brain resources. So if you’re facing a dilemma in your organization, it might help if the team watched a funny movie to stir the creative juices.
  3. Location: Encourage your team to discover the kinds of activities that help put them into an insight state. Two settings have helped me generate insight. Ideas pop into my mind when I read and walk at a reasonable pace on my stationary bike. Insight also comes more readily when our family leaves for vacation while it’s still dark. I’m the driver and I’m usually the only one awake that early in the morning. With little roadside distraction, my brain has generated many good ideas during those three or four hours of solitude.
  4. Application: Although insight gives us a nice dopamine rush (the feel good neurotransmitter), we all know that the feeling eventually wears off. Remind your team to record their insights in an easy-to-remember location so that they won’t forget them. Even if your team member can’t immediately act on an insight, getting him to commit to acting on it at a later time can help translate the insight into action (Rock, 2007, p. 108).
  5. Speed: If you’re working with a team member who is trying to find a solution to a problem, don’t rush the process. Give her time to engage her brain. Allow space in conversations and encourage her to carve out some down time to give her brain a break.

What has helped foster creativity in your team?

If you’d like a free chapter of my book, you can get it here when you sign up for my twice weekly blog postings. And, the book is available now on multiple on-line sites and through your local bookstore.

Related posts:

(re-printed by permission)

Sources:

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719–8724.

Rock, D. (2007) Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Reprint. HarperBusiness.

Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2008) A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21 (3), pp.415–432.

Waytz, A. & Mason, M. (2013) Your Brain at Work [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work/ar/1> [Accessed 26 June 2013].

How Curiosity Can Make you Less Defensive

Defensiveness. We’ve all been guilty. Someone in our family says something that hurts us and we say something back to retaliate. A person at work makes a comment about us and we internally stiffen up. Someone in our church questions a decision we made as a leader and we react and defend our position. It’s easy to let defensiveness drain us and make a situation worse. Recently, however, I learned a helpful new tool that can help dampen defensiveness. It’s called curiosity.

In an interesting doctoral research project at the University of Rochester, NY, 142 students participated in a one day laboratory session. They were led to believe that a peer had rejected them and then they wrote for seven minutes. Each participant wrote under one of three conditions

  • Suppression: they were asked to suppress their feelings and write on neutral events of their day.
  • Expression: they were simply asked to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Interest-taking (curiosity): they were asked to express their feelings and be curious about their feelings as they wrote.

Immediately after they wrote, the researcher measured their emotions, specifically anger, their positive feelings toward others (called prosocial affect), and how they internalized rejection. Next they listened to taped speeches from the peer who rejected them and from a neural person. Finally, they rated their like-ability and intelligence.

As you might expect, all three groups rated the rejecter negatively. And those in the suppression and expression group rated the neutral person negatively as well. However, the research yielded this surprise. Those in the interest-taking group rated the neutral person more positively.

What happened? Those in the first two groups displaced some of their hurt from the rejecter onto the neutral party. Those in the curiosity group did not. And at the end of the research session, the curious group reported less anger and less feelings of rejection and more positive feelings toward others (prosocial affect). Curiosity apparently dampens the fight-flight centers of our brain.

As a practical parallel, think of a guy who has a really bad day at work and, for no fault of their own, yells at his kids when he gets home. He’s displacing his anger onto them.

So what are some lessons we can learn from curiosity and its effects on defensiveness?

  1. When someone says something to us in anger, rejects us, confronts us, etc. and we feel tempted to defensively respond, take a curious posture.
  2. Rather than suppressing your feelings or thoughtlessly expressing them, stay curious.
  3. Ask yourself what might have prompted the person to do or say what he or she did (i.e., Did he have a bad day at work?). The situation might also lend itself to your asking the other person non-judgmental, open ended questions.
  4. Be curious about your own thoughts and emotions.
  5. Remind yourself that that the initial anxiety, fear, or worry that another’s behavior may trigger in you, will pass. Those emotions are not you, but passing mental and emotional events. Remind yourself that you don’t have to act on the feeling.
  6. Keep a curious mindset not only in these difficult situations, but also about the good around you (see Philippians 4.8).

Unfortunately, curiosity may have gotten a bad rap in the past (i.e., curiosity killed the cat). Yet, when we apply it to sticky situations ripe for defensiveness, it can serve us well.

The writer of Proverbs gives us wise counsel in this verse.

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Prov 15.1, The Message)

What has helped you become less defensive?

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Source: Weinstein, N. (2010) Interest-taking and carry-over effects of incidental rejection emotions. Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

Four Ways to Combat Mind Wandering

Let’s face it. Our minds wander, constantly. Research indicates that we mind-wander almost half our waking hours. We all have a bit of ADHD in us. That same research tells us that most mind wandering makes us unhappy. Although healthy mind wandering can enhance creativity, most of the time it doesn’t help. So, how can we minimize mind wandering and stay on task? In this post I suggest four practical ways to keep on task and win the mind wandering battle.

Four Ways to Combat Mind Wandering:

First, it’s important to understand why our minds wander. In short, our brain simply tires, and quite quickly. The fancy word for what causes mind wandering is called the neuroenergetic theory.

  1. Our brain cells (neurons) need energy that comes from two kinds of sugars – glycogen, a form of glucose, and and another sugar called lactate.
  2. Neurons get this energy from the brain’s maintenance cells, called glia cells, and specifically from one type of glia cell called an astrocyte.
  3. After 12 seconds of mental effort, our neurons literally begin to run on empty. So, they need more fuel to fire efficiently and maintain focus and attention. They first look for lactate and if they can’t find it, they look for glycogen.
  4. If they can’t fill up with some sugars, they don’t fire effectively, attention suffers, and we mind wander.

So, the key is to keep our brains fueled and alert. How do we do that?

  1. Get enough sleep at night. Sleep actually helps restore the supply of glycogen to the brain’s maintenance cells, the glia. Regular skimping on sleep will reduce this energy source and thus inhibit your ability to stay focused throughout the day. More here about the brain benefits from sleep.
  2. Take a short napNapping less than 20 minutes in the middle of the day provides many brain benefits. A nap can enhance memory, improve learning by clearing out information in your brain’s storage area making it ready for new learning, and make us more alert.
  3. Wisely use caffeine. Moderate use of caffeine actually keeps the sleep neurotransmitter (adenosine) from making you sleepy because it mimics it, though without the sleepiness. More here about using caffeine.
  4. Take regular work breaks during the day. Long stretches of work with no breaks diminishes our willpower, reasoning ability, performance, and attention. It’s called decision fatigue. Read more about decision fatigue here. Taking breaks does the opposite. Resting your brain will improve creativity, productivity, and focus. I use an app called Time Out to dim my screen every 70 minutes. I then take a short five minute walk and get back to work. It works wonders

So, you can win the mind wandering battle with a few simple choices. Try one of these next week and see what happens.

And, reflect on what this Scripture says about our minds.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Is 26.3)

 

 

 

3 Simple Brain Boosts for a Healthy Brain

Pastors and leaders need healthy brains to lead well. A healthy brain helps us become more resilient, be more present for those we lead, think more clearly, and, well, lead better. Neuroscientists can peer into our brains and are learning what makes them tick and how we can take better care of them. Here are 3 simple brain boosts anybody can practice.

3 Simple Brain Boosts for a Healthy Brain.

  1. Fertilize your brain with your brain’s Miracle-Gro. The brain’s Miracle-Gro chemical, BDNF, short for brain derived neurotrophic factor, literally fertilizes your brain. It promotes growth of brain cells and strengthens their connections. One of the best ways to boost this chemical is by exercising. So, get on your bike or put on your running shoes and walk, jog, or bike three to four times a week. Your brain will love it. More here and here about exercise and the brain.
  2. Improve your memory by getting some extra sleep. We live in a sleep deprived world. The latest figures say indicate that 35% of the population gets 7 hours of sleep or less. And we actually need more like eight. In fact, Dr. Daniel Gartenberg, one of the world’s most renowned sleep expert says that 8.5 hours is now the new 8 hours. A good night’s sleep helps the brain discard unneeded information and solidify those memories we need to store, a process called consolidation. So, start going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Your brain will love that too. Take this quiz to find out if you are sleep deprived.
  3. Calm your emotions with mindful breaks throughout the day. Ancient monks practiced something called statio. It was a mini-pause between one task and the next. It served as a transition to leave what they were doing and mentally and spiritually prepare for the next task. Today it’s called mindfulness, a practice that helps us be fully present in the moment and calm our anxious emotions. My next book comes out in March and it deals with mindfulness from a Christian perspective. More about that in the months ahead. You can learn more about mindfulness here. Again, your brain will love it.

So, pick one of these and try it out next week.