Stress levels among American workers are at an all-time high. Now more than ever, it’s important for leaders to focus on improving their employees’ well-being. Here are some science-backed tools that will literally rewire your team’s brains for increased performance and productivity.
Right now (for obvious reasons) your company needs to be running like the proverbial well-oiled machine. If you’re to make it to the other side of the economic recovery, it’s critical that every member of your team is working at top capacity. Problem is, the same economic pressures that are putting the squeeze on your company’s profits are also heaping stress on your employees’ psyches.
That’s right. Not only do they face normal workplace stressors like conflict with coworkers and tight deadlines, they must also worry about being downsized while working longer hours to compensate for the absence of those who have already been axed. If they don’t know how to manage this overload of stress—and chances are good they don’t—your company is sure to suffer.
Even during the best of times, America is a nation of stressed-out, anxious, and distracted people—and those high stress levels have a major impact not only on individuals’ personal lives, but on the overall performances of their companies.
The good news is that, with the right tools, you can help your employees manage their stress in healthy ways and break out of the automatic, unhealthy patterns that hold them back from peak performance, balance, and happiness.
If you’re dismissing this assertion with the rationale that chronic stress and dissatisfaction are an inescapable part of business—heck, of life itself—you’re wrong. What’s more, your complacency is costlier than you realize. Not only is employee stress recognized as a major drain on corporate productivity and competitiveness, but studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show that job burnout is experienced by 25-77 percent of U.S. workers and that depression (often a symptom of stress) is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the twenty-first century.
In addition to experiencing a loss of productivity, employers actually pick up the tab for workers’ stress-related issues in the form of higher health insurance costs.
Don’t despair, though—the situation is far from hopeless. A big part of the solution is understanding that employees don’t have to be passive victims of stress—or, for that matter, any psychological issue, unconscious reaction, or bad habit that’s locking them into unhealthy (and performance-squelching) patterns.
New scientific breakthroughs have shown that the brain itself is flexible and changeable; indeed, it constantly rewires itself in response to events in our lives. Therefore, our neuronal pathway can be altered—meaning that we can consciously and deliberately change the way we think, feel, and behave and how the body responds to stressful situations. The key? Mind training.
Essentially, the mind is what the brain does. When you exercise the mind, you are literally causing your brain to expand and grow. By using mind-training tools, it is possible to become aware of the mental patterns that keep us trapped in habitual and unproductive attitudes. Mind training helps us focus our attention, quiets a scattered mind, and brings flexibility and clarity that enable us to see other options and achieve a healthy work-life balance.
I know what I’m talking about—I individually coach business leaders on developing healthy brain-minds, and I also teach basic mind training techniques to the employees of major companies so that they enjoy higher productivity, greater innovation, and a more positive, energetic culture.
Are you ready to arm your employees with an arsenal of mind management tools that will enable them to work in a constant state of “flow,” thereby helping your company enjoy higher productivity, greater innovation, and a more positive, energetic culture? Then read on to learn about the benefits of mind training:
Your team will learn to manage stress in healthy, productive ways. There’s no doubt about it—stress can be crippling. And it’s not just caused by “big” things like the threat of being laid off. Having a messy officemate can throw a self-identified neat freak completely out of whack because his familiar and comforting neural flow of orderliness is disrupted! In most instances, the real stressor isn’t what you think it is—in this case, messiness—it’s our social programming and automatic reactions.
With meditative mind training, your employees can begin to identify and remove the unconscious thoughts and reactions that cause their stress. The mental focus that meditation requires activates the brain’s circuitry and literally promotes brain tissue growth. Furthermore, the awareness and self-knowledge that come from regularly meditating enables people to regulate their emotions in a more positive manner and respond to difficulties with greater ease.
Your team will reshape unhelpful habits. Think about it: What holds you back from peak performance? Chances are, rather than a lack of potential, you are limited by inefficient habits, incomplete training, scattered thinking, unhelpful reactions to setbacks, and so forth. The same is true for your employees. For example, Suzy Salesperson isn’t failing over and over again to close the deal because she’s incapable of representing your product well. Rather, she isn’t making sales because she automatically and unconsciously falls into “defensive mode” when potential clients question your product or company instead of defusing those doubts with facts and demonstrations.
Human beings have a lot less free will than they think they do—in fact, many of us are essentially prisoners of the automatic reactions, thoughts, and habits that are encoded into our personalities. Luckily for individuals and for employers, though, it’s quite possible for workers like Suzy to break out of these “negative feedback loops.” It’s all a matter of getting all four brainwaves to work in harmony—a state known as brain synchrony—which produces a heightened sense of peace and awareness and lets you begin to consciously change the way you do things.
Your team will be able to rationally resolve conflicts and work together. Every office has them: those people who make compromise, consensus, and group work difficult because it’s “their way or the highway.” And that isn’t good for productivity or for morale. In point of fact, whether through bullying or passive-aggressive behaviors, we’ve all been guilty of willful inflexibility at some point. In short, we are reluctant to let go of our opinions and stances because we mistakenly believe that we are our personalities and convictions, and that if we’re proven wrong, we’ll somehow be “less.”
The truth is, we don’t see or react to situations as they truly exist because we’re experiencing them through the lens of our constructed personality-egos. We think that by conceding the point, we’ll be betraying ourselves. With practice, though, your team members will become conscious of such personality patterns, and they will be able to rationally investigate negative or combative feelings, embrace them, and then consciously shift their attention away to that place deep inside of themselves that I call “home base.”
Your team will make faster, smarter, better decisions. As a leader, you know better than anyone that deciding what to do and how to proceed is half the battle. Trying to take into account all the variables—all the “what ifs”—can keep people so mentally self-absorbed that t
hey can’t focus on and react to what’s actually happening around them. Their mental dialogues (you know, those conversations and arguments one has with oneself—you have them too!) are so strong that it’s easy for them to fall into distracted or even frantic states. The solution? Learning how to concentrate the mind.
The brain likes direction and purpose. Every person on your team needs to learn to hone their concentration to a fine point. Look at Tiger Woods—he doesn’t talk to or even look at other players as he walks from one shot to the next. He is completely inwardly focused, concentrating on his next shot. And that’s what makes him so effective. Once your team is able to combat the racing thoughts that speed their lives and distort focus, they’ll be able to focus more easily on the tasks in front of them and deal more effectively with challenges.
Your team will dramatically increase their capacities for productivity and creative thinking. “Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.” It’s a timeless proverb, but it’s just not true. Chances are, each member of your team has his or her own “old dog” excuses: “I’m just not young enough to figure out our new computer system,” or maybe, “I’m a scatterbrained person. I’ll never keep all of the details of this project straight!” Surprisingly, though, there exists strong evidence that the brain continues to evolve throughout adult life, long after we’ve put away the schoolbooks. Neuroscientists have termed this ability to continually change and adjust “neuroplasticity.”
When you do something new (like learn a second language) or practice something repetitively (like delivering a convincing sales pitch), your brain’s neural networks fire up, and a tissue region is actually sculpted or increased in response to that activity. In fact, the neuroplasticity of the brain is the leading edge of your own personal evolution. The more you train your mind, the more you change your brain. The more your brain changes, the more your mind evolves. You can see how remolding their brains could open up big possibilities for your employees and your company!
Your team will be able to achieve happier, healthier, and more balanced lives. It’s a simple and undeniable concept: Happy employees are loyal and productive employees! By practicing mind training techniques, your team members will be more fulfilled and will experience healthier work-life balances. In short, they’ll be much more likely to be in “flow” (you know, that fleeting state in which you are “on fire,” mentally focused, engaged, and immersed in what you’re doing). Scientifically, “flow” moves in the direction of the prefrontal lobes, the area of self-awareness that gathers meaning from the external world. It’s a mental state that merges action with acute awareness, and it is usually accompanied by a sense of being alive and joyful. At such a time, brain functions and neural networks are working together optimally.
Unfortunately, a person’s experience of flow can very easily be disrupted. Often, thoughts, emotions, and actions are stuck in automatic patterns that perpetuate stress, as well as its negative effects on your team members’ health. With mental training, though, your employees can begin to identify and remove the automatic thoughts and reactions that cause them stress. They can maximize their abilities to be aware and their potentials to be peaceful. When information is moving through their brains in an optimal manner, your employees will have flexible responses, be rational in their thinking, self-aware and reflective in their thought processes, intentional in their communication, and positive in their attitudes.
At first glance, all of these promises might sound too good to be true. But I stand by my assertions because they’re backed by cutting-edge science and by my own experiences as a consultant and coach.
By exposing your employees to the science of meditative mind training, you can reduce health problems and stress in your workforce, and you’ll also increase your team’s potential and success. It’s a tremendous investment in your company’s present and its future. Essentially, meditative mind training will allow employees to reprogram and evolve their brains to higher states of consciousness and function. It’s one of the most valuable tools available to leaders—if only they would use it!
The Mind Training Hall of Fame: Six Success Stories
Mind training can impact people’s realities in a variety of ways—some dramatic, some more subtle, but no less rewarding. Here are a handful of real-life stories excerpted from my book that show how consciously changing our minds (literally) can shape and transform our lives. Everyone knows the subject of story #1; the rest of the stories center on my mind training clients:
1. Tiger Woods learns to tune out distractions and zoom-focus. He’s currently the world’s number one golf player, he’s a philanthropist, and his name is practically a brand. What most people might not know is that Tiger Woods is also a prime example of how practice can restructure the brain and generate a high degree of skill through neuroplasticity. At age fourteen, Tiger began working with a psychologist who gave him techniques for relaxation, visualization, and focus to enhance his golf skills. His father would even create distractions to teach his son focused attention, such as rattling the change in his pocket when Tiger was in the middle of a backswing. And it worked: Tiger was able to train his mind to stay focused, flexible, and calm under pressure. This has been perhaps the greatest key to his success. For all of his physical abilities, it has been said that Tiger’s greatest advantage is his “golf” brain.
2. Sara soothes her (serious) stress. Sara is the president of a consulting firm. One particularly stressful afternoon, she barely made it to the airport in time for her flight, only to find that she was seated near a former employee who had left the firm under negative circumstances, and with whom the firm was currently in the middle of a bitter lawsuit. Sara’s stress level was now through the roof, so for the duration of the two-hour flight she practiced beta wave mind training exercises to calm herself. At the end of the flight, she was centered enough to be gracious to the other woman as they disembarked from the plane. But more than that, Sara was gracious to herself by dealing with her stress in a positive manner!
3. Brent breaks out of his comfort zone. After being made president of a new company, one of Brent’s new responsibilities was representing the company by speaking regularly in front of the board of directors as well as business groups. In previous jobs, Brent had felt very comfortable speaking to groups about business matters; however, the new board indicated that he should take a personal approach in his dealings with them and the company. This was a problem: Brent had always been reluctant to talk about himself, and on some occasions, had been left literally speechless when faced with similar situations! Through mind training, though, Brent was able to face his fear of getting personal, acknowledge it, and replace it with a feeling of comfort and trust.
4. Lauren quiets her mind and unlocks its creative potential. Lauren, a social worker, loved her job, had great social skills, and a high level of concern for others. However, she became anxious easily, used caffeine and chocolate to keep her going during the day, and had trouble proceeding with tasks until she had exhaustively thought through all possible ramifications or answers. After establishing a strong mind training routine, though, she was able to quiet her mind, become less anxious and attached to her thoughts, and face each task with a more colorful and creative mindset. Eve
ntually, she opened her own counseling practice.
5. Ben frees himself from past pain and rebuilds his life. Ben, age 50, is a division president in a Silicon Valley company. Outwardly, he seemed to have it all: financial success, a very comfortable lifestyle, and colleagues who deeply appreciated him. However, Ben had also gained weight, drank too much alcohol, and was facing the breakup of his marriage. He felt disconnected from his community and dreaded being alone. As it turned out, these things were symptoms of repressed emotional pain and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from Ben’s experiences in the first Iraq war. Using mind training exercises, Ben was able to release these emotions and repattern his brain. Now, for the first time in years, he feels connected to his heart, is content living alone, and is dating.
6. Sandra calms her anger and strengthens family relationships. Mike and Sandra are an executive couple whose marriage was at a critical juncture. Mike, the more frequent business traveler of the two, often left Sandra at home with their three children. As Mike’s travel increased, Sandra began to feel deserted, which manifested itself in anger because she felt that she was raising the boys alone. Using relaxing mind training techniques was a turning point for her. Her anger lessened, and she began to feel stronger bonds with her boys and with Mike. Their issues were resolved in such a way that was satisfying to them and to their family as a whole.
About the Author:
Patt Lind-Kyle is an author, therapist, speaker, trainer, and consultant. She is a former professor at Foothill College, and founder of a learning assessment company that applies neuro-monitoring tools for stress management, health, and peak performance. Her research, writing, and teaching in the mind/brain field center on using an EEG brainwave monitoring system to help individuals maximize their brain-mind potentials. Patt has written a chapter in Audacious Aging: “Building Community from the Inside Out” (Elite Books, 2009). She is also the author of When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up (SwanRaven, 1994). For more information, please visit www.healrewireyourbrain.com.
About the Book:
Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence (Energy Psychology Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-60415-056-8, $26.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and through major online booksellers.
About the CDs:
Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Companion CDs for the Book (2-CD set, $14.95) contains six sessions that guide listeners through the exercises and practices relating to each of the four brainwave frequencies as described in the book. The CDs can be used in conjunction with the book, or as a stand-alone tool. To download a free mp3 of one of the exercises or to purchase the CDs, please visit http://www.healrewireyourbrain.com/cds.