“Anxiety is unfocused fear.”-Dr. Arthur Brooks

Many report to having anxiety. They report trouble sleeping. Feeling exhausted physically and mentally. The number of people that are on anti-anxiety medication is mind blowing. Anxiety can take over our minds and bodies leaving us depleted and incapacitated.

Yet have we ever tried to identify the real source of our anxiety? When we feel anxiety, it’s often very ambiguous. We know we’re afraid, but it is difficult to identify the real reason. The brain craves certainty above all else. So when the future and the outcome are unknown, the brain goes into panic mode.
“The brain mistakes ambiguity for danger.”- Dr. Bill Anton

When feeling anxious, a powerful tactic is first to “Focus Your Fear”.
-Identify the fear.
-Name the fear.
-What is the real fear that is causing me to feel this way?

Strategic Tip: Put your fears into words through writing or speaking. Specifically writing stimulates a part of the brain that is associated with rational thought.

I feel anxious. Why?
Because cashflow is tight in the business and I don’t know what is going to happen. (source of fear)

If cashflow is tight in the business, what are some real possible scenarios? (and then what?)
Example 1: Our Rational brain: We have some sources of liquidity we can use to get us through this tough time. We could use X, Y,Z… If none of those are good, we could do strategy A, B, C….

Example 2: Our Emotional brain: The bank is going to close on us. We’ll have to layoff all our employees. We’re going to lose our house. My wife and kids will end up homeless. I’ll ruin my kids lives. They’ll hate me. We’ll lose everything. I’ll end up divorced. I will be a big disappointment to my parents and my kids. My life will be one big, wasted failure.

As crazy as Example 2 (emotional brain) sounds, this lives inside all of us. The unknown drives our brains crazy. It turns one unknown situation into an Armageddon that is going to completely destroy our lives RIGHT NOW! Guess what? The entire future is unknown, so the brain will continue to freak out forever, if we let it.

Focusing our fear brings clarity to what is real and unreal. It will quiet our mind. We’ll see that while we cannot know the outcome with certainty, it is very unlikely that the many terrible things in our minds will not come to pass. And if the bad things do happen, it will most likely not be nearly as bad as we imagine.

Practical Takeaway: When you’re feeling anxious, focus your fear. Identify it clearly by putting it into words, verbalizing or writing. This will automatically lead to rational, strategic thought.

Like many things in life, the instrumental perspective is responsible for both individual and business accomplishment and ineffectiveness at the same time. As expressed by David Whyte in his book The Heart Aroused, “work, paradoxically, does not ask enough of us, yet exhausts the narrow parts of us we do bring to its door.”

In their attempts to address the need for innovation in the context of the instrumental paradigm, many courageous companies have learned to disrupt things in a way that allows the expression of new energy. But do not confuse this type of “disruption” with an attempt to change mental models. These companies often hire narrowly focused people and encourage them to engage in uncharacteristic and divergent ways of thinking, restricting their normal pathways of production and enabling them to create something new. Although useful to the company, the creative product born of this process is qualitatively different and distinct from creativity born of wholeness.

This energy is usually not the result of helping workers liberate themselves from self-limiting beliefs. More often it represents a cathartic expression of what has been suppressed but is still contaminated by their developmental histories, fortified by their accommodations and defenses, and designed to preserve the “integrity” of the early mental models that define who they believe themselves to be. The company benefits in the short run, but the energized contributor is likely to be left in a refractory state until he or she is recalibrated to emit another spurt of tense energy.

Business leadership recapitulates the structure and function of early family life, where power is held in the hands of the adults. Because of this, it recreates an “at-home feeling” in those who feel disempowered and at the same time offers them a context that makes change possible. Business leaders who are committed to developing the highest and best potentials in their workers enjoy optimal performance and commitment in return. They can influence the “at home feeling” from disempowered to committed.

What better gift could the business world offer society than to be the vehicle for creating a context that once again enlivens us to create? This is a “win, win, win” situation—how could it remain invisible for so long and be actively avoided in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways? One can only conclude that the freedom to create stimulates the fear of the unknown and taps into a part of us that would rather settle for the known than stimulate the terror created by the part of our brain that interprets ambiguity as danger.

People are more likely to fully invest in what they themselves create. This is because our early experiences result in mental models which organize reality in a particular way. It is possible to value something created by someone else and commit to learning and supporting it. We can even master structures created by others but skin in the creation game is what engages us at the level of mastery, energy and engagement. What we create, we know and what we know influences our ability to create. That is the basis of commitment. There is a parallel process in relationships. Simply put, commitment to a relationship or organization is a function of the possibility of growth. Full engagement is reciprocal.

Because most business organizations are composed of leaders whose early compromises led to an instrumental view of reality, competition among businesses is experienced as a logical consequence and energizes striving.

“Being first” is more important than being excellent and is often achieved at the expense of other people. The alternative model emphasizes striving for the optimal development of all people in the organization as a precondition to interpersonal effectiveness in pursuing business aims. Ironically, a focus on developing people frequently results in “being first” because of greater organizational consciousness, not as a goal in itself, and is likely to be more sustainable.

While an organization can hire workers and mid-level leaders who are more skilled in various domains than existing top leadership, their functional access to their own creative energy is limited by top leadership’s level of personal mastery, which must be gained through self-knowledge.
A leader’s decision to follow a narrow, predictable, instrumental path not only limits access to their own creative energy but also, and more importantly, limits what can be achieved in the organizations they lead. Interpersonal effectiveness is the output and is influenced by the leader’s level of self-awareness.

The more rigid our defenses and mental models, the more our interactions with others constrain their ability to be creative. Rigid mental models tend to constrain the responses of others; when we are rigid, we narrow the responses of others from more differentiated to less differentiated.
Workers’ freedom to be creative in the presence of a leader and fully express who they perceive themselves to be is, in total, a measure of their leader’s psychological health and maturity.

A limiting factor experienced by business is that only a small number of business leaders make the decision to “know themselves as they truly are.” Most of these leaders may have institutional power, but they cannot accomplish what they cannot “see.” They cannot offer others what they do not give themselves, nor can they create a culture that can know and liberate their own creative energy, especially if their relationship with themselves limits their capacity for empathy.

Without a “sea change” in themselves, what motivated their past achievements will determine the extent of their future accomplishments. This sea change is, and has always been, the sine qua non. We need a clearer picture of who we really are before we can reach our greater potential.

Here are a few leadership outcomes that may indicate that your level of self-knowledge is growing:
a. You notice people are seeking you out more and wanting your guidance.

b. You see other people as separate objects, not as narcissistic extensions of yourself.

c. You can offer others who seek your wisdom clarity without depleting your own energy.

d. Assuming you get adequate sleep, you can “be on your game” (i.e., maintain your “flow”) for lengthy periods of time and remain energized and rested throughout the process.

e. You notice that you have replaced “frantic energy” with calm energy and are more effective and efficient than you have ever been in the past.

f. Your emotional sense of well-being leans toward “mildly positive” throughout the day, and your hard-wired brain circuitry no longer has undue influence on your thinking.

One of the ways that we often avoid the call to uncover our greater self is through “busyness.” Busyness is different from accomplishment. Busyness can easily bring about a false feeling of engagement or self-importance.

Accomplishment that exceeds expectations is often the product of calm energy emanating from having greater access to our potential, also known as flow. The calm energy associated with flow is born in the pauses of our life—not in the filled spaces.

Optimal performance generally occurs at intermediate levels of motivation. In this state the brain is receptive to internal and external signals and adaptability and performance are close to optimal. It is important take pauses which are not wasted time but time that is filled with possibility. It is in the pauses of life that great ideas are born.

As I continue to read countless business and leadership books, I am struck by a couple of limiting beliefs that I believe to that remain unchallenged:

a. It is possible and even important to change people who work in organizations without changing their leaders.

b. Information and training alone will change mental models.

c. Once people know what is needed, they will do it.

d. If you treat people with kindness, love, and respect (as defined by the leader), their lives at work and home will automatically improve and you will have given them and the world something of immense value.

While these tactics might work for a subset of people in organizations, their strategic focus fails to take advantage of some of the most powerful variables in neuroscience and psychology.

Psychological literature suggests that information alone does little to create behavioral change. Yet thousands of people read books, go to workshops, and take personal development courses that offer information and exercises that stimulate us for only a moment and generate energy that often wanes quickly. But the experience and information gained cannot be put to long-term use because the receiver (in this case, the leader) is blind to themselves in ways that block or reduce any transformational value the information might otherwise offer. If the leader remains unchanged by the experience, it will have little impact on the heads and hearts of their followers. Only when leader is ready to “see” the emotional connection between their mental models and the experience of their followers (empathy) can the signal they intend to send can be received.

“You’ve got to be it before you can become it.”- Nick Saban

There’s a belief that you magically reach a certain level of achievement or excellence, then the rest of what is necessary will emerge. I will be great then…. “I will have the necessary mentality. I will have the skills. I will have great habits. I will have the work ethic.”

The exact opposite is true.

I heard Alabama Football coach, Nick Saban, say this in an interview, “You’ve got to be it before you can become it.”

This means your mentality, your beliefs, and your habits have to become the standard necessary before you can become great. The focus on the inputs and process are the path to the becoming.

“If two people never disagree that at least one of them is not thinking critically or is not speaking candidly….“There is no conflict between honesty and loyalty. In order to be loyal, we must be honest.””- Adam Grant

In business, relationships, even politics. Disagreement should be welcomed and embraced. It stimulates idea flow. A couple more points on making this healthy and productive:
1. It requires strong emotional fortitude and self knowledge to welcome disagreement. Most disagreement is not a personal attack on your permanent character. It’s usually disagreement how to live out values.

2. It needs to come from a place of caring for the individuals and the collective. Just because we disagree, it’s still “we” not “you vs I”.

3. The greater good must be kept front and center. If we care deeply about our family, our company, or our country we must want those “units” and individuals that make up the unit to be successful because of our discussion.

“It’s important to have the same core values, but it’s healthy to disagree about how to live out those values.”- Adam Grant

Dr. Bill Anton from CEO Effectiveness says that it’s good to have some “Loyal Dissenters” in an organization. People who are not afraid to speak up, offer solutions, and think critically in service of the greater goal and well-being of the group.

Jeff Bezos says “disagree and commit”. It means during the brainstorming process, we should welcome constructive disagreement. But once a decision is made, we all need to move forward committed to doing our very best to make the plan work, even if we disagree with it.

I once asked a basketball player what is the best offensive strategy to play? The answer is the one that everyone commits to. There are many paths to success, but there will surely not be success without great collective commitment.