Even when we feel quite small, insignificant even, in the grand scheme of things we all have the opportunity to shape the future. The choices you make today craft the life you live tomorrow, whether you choose to act, to engage, to hold back, to make an excuse or to do nothing – you have an impact.
How much does your energy, your enthusiasm (or lack of it), your environment, your level of self-belief, your expectation, affect how you show up? Massively, doesn’t it and on those days where you don’t feel great or can’t be bothered – and we all have them – if you don’t do something to manage yourself and your attitude your day is just a slog, right?
I’m big into neuroscience – the stuff behind the woo woo – although the bare feet, flouncy, flowery attire of my youth might suggest the hippy, woo woo traits predated my formal understanding of neuroscience. Attitude, energy, environment, self-believe, enthusiasm and expectation all affect the prism through which we see the world, the ‘evidence’ we look for, and the reality we create for ourselves.
All of these things matter, but I think environment is often overlooked, whether you work at home, in a corporate, a shop, a hospital, a shared office – what it feels like makes a difference. When we were setting up Brave CoWork I did a fair amount of research around space, productivity and wellbeing and found some stuff I expected and a few surprises.
So, what did I find that I expected – natural light, greenery, space and moderate auditory stimulation all improve perceived wellbeing and productivity. Dingy workspace, poorly laid out desks and chairs, lack of natural daylight, lack of fresh air, and other people’s noise all adversely affected perceived wellbeing and productivity. Clutter clouds thinking and tidying office space, particularly for home workers and the self-employed, is a great source of procrastination.
Things I didn’t expect to find: the lack of control people felt they had over their environment – this applied fairly evenly to people working in an employer’s environment and those working from their own office, workshop, shop or home. Most people didn’t change their space from one year to the next, they put up with little things that annoy them – like broken furniture, poor light, lack of storage and clutter. There’s a whole bank of ‘reasons’ for not sorting stuff – from too expensive to no time, from not allowed to can’t be bothered, these were mostly excuses.
People gained energy from being around others. Not a surprise, but proximity is important – too close and it can be draining, too distant and the connectivity benefit is lost. Around 5 meters seems ideal, although cultural variations exist. The Allen Curve, first tested in 1974, suggests that the right proximity increases collaboration creativity and productivity. Working alone is not good for us.
Finally plants, again not a surprise they are good for us, but some of the benefits were a little more surprising. Plants have been proven to decrease eyestrain, lower feelings of anxiety, reduce negativity, and increase productivity. Eye strain has been tested in a number of studies, showing that both the change in focal distance and colour (compared with using a screen of some description) has a relaxing effect, and reduces symptoms associated with eye strain. They also clean the air, bring a little nature into your environment and larger plants help to dampen sound.
Are you paying attention to your environment, or have you become so used to it that you don’t notice little things that cause frustration every day?
I regularly do an environment audit, both in my home office and at the Brave CoWork. We frequently change things, add things and personalise things. Don’t get me wrong I love my workspaces, but they still need to be loved. It doesn’t have to be big stuff or cost money – swapping around a few crystals, a plant or a picture makes a difference; but the bigger difference usually comes from dealing with an irritant, clearing up your clutter and keeping your space clean.
What can you do to make your working environment work better for you?
While I don’t think they are mutually exclusive, most of us lean towards intuition or fact-based decision making. Some of us make decisions rapidly, some of us more slowly and some decide not to decide. After having many heated debates about intuition or gut instinct with people over the years, it is both an emotive and complex area where it is easy to become wedded to your own preference.
To be up front here, I sit firmly on the side of intuition, I trust myself and let my gut, brain and heart guide me – I won’t ignore the facts or hard evidence, but don’t rely on it either. I think how we make decisions is somewhat dependant on our personality, our conditioning and our level of self-esteem.
Intuition is not some airy fairy, mysterious quality some of us have and others don’t, we all have it – it is based on our past experiences, our knowledge gained and even when we don’t always understand our ‘gut instinct’ there is an explanation for it if we bother to look. Intuition is often described as knowing things before you know them, even when you can’t explain how.
In reality our gut does have a fast track to our brain with over a hundred million nerve cells talking directly to our brain (the enteric nervous system) and the vagus nerve literally connecting our brain, heart and gut.
We constantly process sensory stimuli, cross reference them at an unconscious level with similar experiences in our internal database, and draw a conclusion as to our safety, capacity to act and desire. This unconscious processing happens much faster than our conscious thought and decision making.
The key question is can we trust it or not?
Well, we have all done something out of character, only to find out it was the right thing retrospectively – it might be as simple as driving a different way than usual and finding you avoided a long queue after an accident, it might be you call a friend you wouldn’t normally call only to find they really needed someone to talk to – this may have been an urge, you may have had a physical sensation or ‘gut instinct’ that led to act.
There are several theories around why intuition works and is perhaps more tangible than we may think. I find this one helpful in explaining it to my more sceptical friends; intuition is based on continuous unconscious processing of sensory information which happens whether or not our rational mind is occupied on conscious tasks. When something is not quite right in our environment, this could be someone else’s behaviour or the actual environment, like pre thunderstorm, our brain produces small surges of dopamine which in turn create a physical sensation, or weird feeling, that often accompanies ‘gut instinct’.
Often unconscious processing involves other people. Our brains are constantly working to make sense of the world around us, how the presence, behaviour or actions of another affects us, and whether we need to do more to serve – this is called social processing. Matthew Lieberman,(Professor of Neuroscience, UCLA), talks about social superpowers as being social pain and social connection, with social pain activating the brain areas as physical pain on MRI scan, and social connection essential to our survival.
When we start to leverage social connection there is a blur between intuition and mindreading – and this is where perhaps relying on intuition can seem more risky, we take incomplete information and create a story. This story is our perception of reality. We look at people’s micro expressions, body language, emotional state, attitude and try to predict their responses – and this often happens before we can process logical factual information. Instinctively when words and expressions or attitude and body language don’t add up we feel something is not right – or have a ‘gut feel’ about something.
These instincts are as much evolutionary as they are neurological. Reading emotional signals is an ancient trait on which our ancestors relied for survival – is this person friend or foe, am I safe or not – the stakes may not be the same now, but the instincts are. This doesn’t mean our instincts are always correct, they might be designed to keep us safe, but they are frequently clouded by our own life experience, prejudices and beliefs and this can cause us to make biased assumptions. So if we are to trust our intuition we also need to both understand our biases and wherever possible reality check our instinct with rational thinking and facts.
It seems logical that if intuition is served up first there is some evolutionary benefit to us using it. One of my favourite books is Blink by Malcom Gladwell. In there he argues that our ability to make good decisions is not driven by having all the information, logical processing and analysis. Our ability to make good rapid decisions is in fact, driven by our adaptive unconscious, which he refers to as the internal supercomputer of our brain. This leads you to take rapid instinctive action when you need to – like in the face of imminent danger, it also enables you to socially process in an ongoing manner.
There is no doubt intuition can also lead you astray if you are not aware of your own internal biases or rely on it to the exclusion of factual evidence.
For every piece of research supporting trusting your gut there is one telling you not to. The argument against is largely based around unconscious bias, and it’s a valid one. Our brain’s need for patterns for stories to fit means that we invent the bits of missing information to fit patterns we already know how to run. The more complex and incomplete a situation the less reliable instinct might be, however most of the decisions we make are not complex or life altering, many are not even day altering so does more information really make a difference?
At the risk of sounding cynical or conspiratorial, facts, research and reasoning are potentially developed to help us with social functioning, communication and influence. This also leaves us exposed to cognitive bias, potentially reluctant to change our views or beliefs and less flexible when it comes to taking action.
Seriously though balance is the answer – while I lean toward intuition, I recognise that in some circumstances intuition is enough and in others I also need to do due diligence, be aware of the facts, and then make a decision.
If you take one thing from this article learn to trust yourself, whether you need facts or whether you act intuitively, refrain from analysis paralysis bought on by not trusting yourself to do the right thing. The more you act the more evidence you will have that you can trust yourself, whatever the outcome. (Right or wrong decision – you’re still here aren’t you?)
I love this time of year, it’s a great reflection period for me, intuitively tied to the seasons.
I think that it helps that it’s around the time of my birthday so there is a natural closing of one cycle and start of another. This is perhaps less steeped in neuroscience and more in connectedness than some of my work, because I absolutely believe we are impacted by our environment, whether that be nature or the environment we create for ourselves.
Late summer is the period we harvest and see the results of our year’s labour. We also have to be pragmatic about whether it is enough to sustain us, whether there is more than we need and all of this informs how we move into the next cycle. I feel a real affinity to the Druid year which starts at the autumn equinox in September, moves through the year attuned to nature, ending with celebration and reaping of rewards late August before the cycle starts again.
Late summer into autumn is the period we harvest and see the results of our year’s labour. That old saying “you reap what you sow” comes to mind. It’s a time to look, to question whether what you created and harvested was what you wanted, did your dreams, plans and reality match up? It’s a period of reflection, of understanding, of preparing and planning for the next cycle by gathering the knowledge, learnings and wisdom from your reflections and results and cultivating your ‘land’. For me this is about making sure I know what I want to grow (both in myself and my business) and making sure I am ready for that growth.
Then comes the winter – and while this sounds a bit sinister, it is the rotting of the dead, the breaking down of unused things and most critically of letting go – if you don’t let go of what no longer serves you, you have no room for different or new ways. This letting go of the dead or decaying simply makes way for renewal, recycling and rebirth. This winter period is also a time for restoring, for resting and for refilling, for many people it is a time of going home – or going into yourself, or reconnecting and honouring. Of course, in real terms these activities relate to you and to your relationships with others, where do you need to be more connected, and what do you need to let go of in order to prepare for new seeds.
As we move into spring, we sow our seeds and long before we actually see the seeds we’ve sown, the real nurturing starts – this is the feeding and watering, the maintaining environmental balance that allows new seeds to take hold. Think about what happens for you and for your business – whether it is fuelling your inner fire, nurturing relationships, being brave enough to get out there and risk elements. If we want to thrive, this takes some real effort and energy and it rewards us with blossom, with strengthening shoots and strong roots. There is a real need for connectedness in this period, of collaborating forces – whether it be sun and rain, working together on projects or simply having each other’s backs to ensure crops are tended fully; this growth does not happen in isolation.
And summer. A time of growth and maturation, of visibility and shining: think bright sun, flowers blooming, less shadow to lurk in. It is a period that starts off busy and gets less so as the crops are harvested, as we start to relax and enjoy what we have created – traditionally where we holiday and enjoy the long sun filled days – even in the UK! And as the harvest is complete the cycle starts again. As we come towards the end of summer, I always feel like it’s time to celebrate what has been achieved however big or small, and gently focus energy and effort towards the next cycle.
To do this I ask myself the following questions:
1) Am I harvesting what I expected to be?
2) What preparation do I need to be doing for next year’s harvest?
3) Am I clear about what I’m growing, what I expect to yield, and is my environment going to cultivate my crop?
And if you want to craft the next stage of your journey with me, join us at BraveFest on 27th– 29thSeptember, where we will be combining practical business strategies with neuroscience, mindset and personal growth while spending time with nature enjoying some outdoor activities and campfires. The best combo of a luxury venue with countryside surround – camp, glamp or farmhouse B&B to suit your own style. Find out more www.bravefest.co.uk
As humans, we can be intensely complex beings with seemingly conflicting needs and an incredible knack for self-sabotage. Two of those potentially conflicting needs are fulfilment and comfort. The relationship between fulfilment and comfort is an interesting one, when we don’t feel fulfilled we often opt comfort, often at the expense of what we really want from life.
Contribution plays a big part in this, but it is not as straight forward as just contributing, doing something good for others, or making a difference. Our sense of contribution is much more closely interwoven with our sense of fulfilment than it is with the difference we actually make.
Most humans crave significance, for their life to have meaning and I believe that this is the objective truth for most people – we all make a difference to someone or something just by our very existence. Yet it is too often not the perceived internal truth because to feel significant, or like you have contributed, you have to feel fulfilled.
It is quite possible to feel fulfilled while still experiencing stress, pressure, working hard – feeling fulfilled doesn’t mean you have to have the perfect life. It does mean you have to stop and appreciate what you have. It usually means what you are doing has to matter to you, and you have to feel like you are adding value for others in some way. It also means you are probably pushing the edges of your comfort zone most of the time, you are likely to get it wrong sometimes and you won’t always have the impact you hoped you might. When this happens, most people default to one of two behaviours:
1) You do more and more, give more, and hustle to get heard/seen/ noticed.
2) You settle and opt for what you know you can do, what others expect and are plagued by ‘what ifs’.
These two things rob you of your sense of fulfilment. This is why we see outwardly very successful people, people who look like there are making a big difference, feeling like they are not good enough in some way.
This is where the interplay between fulfilment and comfort comes in. If you don’t feel you are making an impact; your actions, or life, don’t have significance; or that you aren’t influencing the things that matter to you, it is unlikely you will feel fulfilled. Most people when unfulfilled seek comfort – and this comfort can take many forms from literal comfort of your sofa, TV & glass of wine to unconscious comfort of playing small, sticking to what you know and not taking any risks. Now both of those things are perfectly ok every now and then. They are not ok when they become a habit or excessive or are associated with destructive self-talk. They will certainly not make you feel more fulfilled in the longer term.
The whole concept of fulfilment being can be traced back to Greek times, with Aristotle articulating the common belief that the purpose of life was not to be happy, but to reach eudaimonia, which he describes as human flourishing, or the achievement of the highest human good – although it has translated into happiness in modern times, its origins are more with fulfilment of purpose, having a worthwhile life.
For me, fulfilment is a state of mind; a way of being and it comes down to what you are focussed on. Your sense of self-worth and internal programming are hugely important, so being aware of your own stories, traps and excuses is critical, as is a strategy for managing or changing any unhelpful dialogue or internal beliefs.
First, get clear about what makes you feel fulfilled – this might be tiny: the small buzz you get when you’ve helped someone out, the laugh of your child, completing a crossword puzzle, beating your own run time. It might already be huge: the impact your workshop had on the lives of people, the pleasure your photo’s of a special family event gave your client, your time sorting and structuring accounting processes for your client. This fulfilment might be transient for you, it might even feel like business as usual, but it is that small buzz, that sense of satisfaction of a job well done, that connection with another human, that difference made that is your significance. It is on these feelings you foster and amplify your sense of fulfilment and subsequent contribution.
So once you get clear about what those things that make you feel fulfilled are – and remember they might be small to start with – follow these three steps to consolidate and grow your state of fulfilment so that it becomes one of your go to emotional states.
Practice gratitude – I know this is much talked about, but what you focus on is generally what you get more of because that is what your brain is looking for, so why wouldn’t you consciously put some effort into the good stuff?
Celebrate your successes, however small. Sometimes we are so busy moving forward we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, or to acknowledge what we have achieved. Invest time in this – not to boast to others, but to raise your own self-worth, to give yourself some credit, and to internally catalogue your achievements.
Keep contributing. Focus on the areas that matter to you, show up and know that even the tiniest of contributions matter – even a kind word can make a massive difference to someone. You don’t need to wait until you can make a massive difference or change the world, you just need to start, little action after little action.
Final word – living a fulfilled live or achieving eudaimonia, is an inside job. That means it is within your control and your power to get there. Focus and you will find it, and if you want to share your journey, join us in the Brave Virtual Coworking group.
If you listen to most marketers, growth consultants and business mentors talking about tribe building there’s not a lot of difference in what they say, and it doesn’t sound that complicated does it?
Yet for many business owners, creatives and people who sell themselves in some way (that’s almost all of us BTW), talking about what you sell and building a connected community around you can be a little daunting and is not something that comes naturally to most people. Why? Because your own stuff gets in the way. When something is really important to you, or something potentially exposes you, or is controversial or counterintuitive it is risky to put it out there for criticism, ridicule even, all your vulnerabilities show up and the excuses come out. The result you don’t build connection.
The truth is it takes effort and time to build your tribe, but most of all it takes courage. If you want to get connected you have to show up – consistently. You also have to follow a few basic rules – even if they feel counterintuitive.
Here are my tribe building rules:
Be clear – understand what you stand for and why you are developing this particular community – if it’s just to sell stuff you may need a rethink!
Don’t try to please everyone – think about who you really want to connect with, who you best serve, (this is usually the people you like working with also – it’s your group you get to choose), and think about how many people you really need to connect with – it’s easy to get sucked into the bigger is better trap, engaged and committed is always better.
Be yourself – nobody likes a fake, they won’t engage if they don’t trust you and will switch off if they don’t believe you. If you have done the first two things, this will be a lot easier. Stick to your values, talk about what matters to you and helps the community you are building – this is not the same as talking about yourself and your stuff by the way. You first have to earn that right, and the continue to use it with respect and boundaries.
Now be the more human version of yourself – it’s easy to get into leader or teacher mode in your community and while it might give you some warped feeling of security or credibility it is very bad for community engagement. So be as personable as you can be, don’t put on the formal, professional, jargony, stuffy or conforming version of yourself, just be yourself – talk the same, act the same, use the same humour, be vulnerable, just be appropriate for your audience – which if you’ve focused on who you want to connect with this should be natural. My guide be you for them.
Create emotional contention – most of your connection investment goes in here, time, energy and vulnerability – so make sure you are building around things that matter to you, that you are committed to and happy to talk about. These things should cross over both content and the experience members get from the community. Remember that people are making and emotional investment in working with you, usually long before they make a financial one!
Provide valuable and entertaining content – there is so much content available that your stuff has to entertain and /or add value if you want people to consume it.
Be consistent and available – just to be clear I am not suggesting you are on social 24/7 – you set the rules of engagement, or how to interact, it’s your community, but remember if you want people to spend time in your tribe, you have to as well.
Humans love to belong, to feel connected and part of that is adding value, not just being given (or told) stuff, this is why interaction and engagement are so key to building successful tribes.
It might be your tribe, but you are only one of many moving parts. You might hold the space – whether it is a business, social or family group, people in that space might recognise you as the leader, they might consume your wisdom, they connect with other members and only truly connect with you when you talk about stuff that matters to them – they don’t necessarily care what matters to you.
You are only ever one player in the connection game, People are not connecting with you they are connecting with each other.
Once you get this you are on the way to building a community.
It’s a deliberately provocative question, and no, I don’t think we have it wrong, but I do think we are putting the emphasis in the wrong places when it comes to building your tribe.
It feels a bit like the world has gone ‘why’ mad at the moment – as a result some people are becoming rather self-indulgent about their purpose, sometimes at the expense of connection with the people they want to work with. This is perhaps because we are getting too contrived about why statements, about wanting to have a dramatic story about why we do what we do, or a really compelling reason for being in the business we are in. Sure, a compelling why story helps you to sell in the moment – but it only helps you to genuinely connect and build a community if it is true, if people trust you and if it something that matters to them too.
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, says “Mistaking our work as our why can make us miserable even when, to the eyes of the world, we seem wildly successful.”
I think the whole ‘why’ thing serves two purposes, it helps you to be really clear about what drives you and it helps you to lead others – whether in business, socially or in your family.
For most of us, our why or purpose is much more about who we are as a human being. Mine, for example is to be an enabler, on the face of it not very glamourous – but underneath that are a whole load of values that underpin who I am in the world, the footprint I want to leave behind, and what I am prepared to do or not. These values, this why, transcends my life – I don’t just show up like this at work, I’m like it as a friend, as a mother, as a daughter, in my social life – it’s who I am. Most people who have truly nailed their why would say the same – this is who I am.
I could, and have, wrapped my why up in mission statement for my life. Sometimes I share bits or all of it when speaking, writing and working with clients. Most often it is a guide for myself – when I get tempted to veer off course, as we all do, it is a reminder of why I am here. I still choose whether to take the detour or not, but I have a point of reference.
Often, it’s not complicated – we know who we are, why we are on the planet, even if it sounds a bit too pretentious, or grandiose to say it out loud. The trouble is as soon as you start with the ‘this is too big for me’ thinking, your reason for being here starts to get lost. It gets buried, layered underneath who you think you should be, what you think others expect of you and what you know you can live up to. This is also known as fitting in, settling and playing small! Once this happens you are on a downward spiral in my view, your world shrinks, your confidence drops and you become governed by your excuses. The way you connect with others changes, and not for the better.
Absolutely, you have to be really clear about why you do what you do – for yourself. It keeps you going in tough times, it helps you to do scary stuff or step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you growing into the person you are here to be.
Part of being that person is leading others and in this context, I am talking about through your business, although it could well be in other parts of your life. It is in business that I think the why emphasis has got slightly skewed. Being able to articulate your why is important – but only in so far as it helps others to connect, to trust and to follow you.
But, and it’s a big but, if you start talking about your why, or your purpose, make sure it’s truly who you are, not what you think sounds good, what you think other people want or what you think people will get behind, because if you don’t believe in it it will show. When something is not quite right, someone is not quite what they say, you pick it up from their vibe, their physiology, sometimes even their discomfort – the same is true for the people you want to connect with.
When it comes to creating connection and building your community, having clarity about your why massively helps you to create emotional connection – but, and this is really important, people connect because something matters to them – not because it matters to you!
So yes, you need to be able to articulate your why, you also need to be super helpful around the things that matter to them. This is where the story (or stories) around your why become really important – not drama filled, just real, connecting and serving the greater good. The emphasis here is on helping others to connect with and address the things that matter to them. You won’t do this through contrived and rehearsed why statements, clever and somewhat embroiled stories of adversity, or content that is all about you. This is about being brave enough to connect human to human, to hold space for others to connect and to gently take them on a journey with you.
Park your need to be right, to look good or to be all-knowing; just be yourself, be curious about the other person and they will tell you how (or if) to develop your connection.
One of the things I like best about my business is being able to have a foot in several camps – I am the leader of a small business team and work with small business owners, I also work with large organisations both public and private. This week I have had the privilege of working with the RAF Benevolent Fund, the NHS, holding a strategy day with a small business client, running a couple of online coaching groups, being part of an exciting local learning initiative, all while preparing for our first global #EndPJparalysis Summit on 10th – 12th July (72 hrs of live discussion and presentations about improving patients’ lives from experts around the world – click here if you want to join in) and launching BraveFest 19 next week.
I’m not telling you all this to be big or clever, rather to highlight a couple of things: firstly, I’m so very grateful for the great people I work with every day – without whom all this would not be possible; and secondly, I don’t believe in multitasking. Mostly because neurologically, multitasking is not a ‘thing’, it doesn’t work like that, your brain simply switches rapidly between tasks – usually losing a bit of processing power on the way.
I’m sharing this because, like many of the small business owners, creatives and entrepreneurs I work with, I love the variety and breadth that this kind of work brings. It allows me to contribute in many ways and honestly feeds my sense of worthiness as I’m using most of the skills I’ve collected throughout my own working life. Juggling many priorities is, however, a blessing and a curse, it can be tempting to spin one too many plates and finish up not truly effective at any of them, as well as potentially creating bottlenecks in your own business.
So here are my tips for fellow ‘plate spinners’ –
Focus on one thing at a time – attempting to multitask is bad for your brain, many studies have shown it impacts on your concentration, your memory and your creativity as well as making it more likely you will make mistakes or feel anxious about what you are doing. It’s not easy to focus when you feel you have a million things to do, I know, but it is essential to your wellbeing as well as your productivity. In a 2013 paper on the myths of multitasking, psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson reckoned it had the same effect as losing a night’s sleep.
Know how you get and stay ‘in flow’ – Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as immersion, energised focus, enjoyment and full involvement in an activity – to the extent you may lose perspective of time and space. In other words, you are consumed by what you are doing and all of your attention, neurological processing power and emotion energy are directed at the activity. Think about how you reach that state, what you are doing, how you feel and most importantly how you can replicate it in other areas.
Work with great people – this isn’t just about having team members. This is really about knowing the strengths of those around you – it might be your team, or people in your business network, it might also be your family and friends – understand how they support you being in flow and how they may disrupt your flow and work with them accordingly. Just a note, if you are lucky enough to have a team – whether co located, virtual or outsourced – don’t micro manage! Be clear about what you need and then stay out of the way of the doing. Yes, check in and help keep things on track, but if you work with great people let them do their great stuff.
Prioritise – rather than attempt to do too much and do less than you could, prioritise your most important actions for the day. This is not a carefully crafted multiple page to do list by the way, it is one or two or max three things that have to happen today (the number of ‘have tos’ will depend on the size of the tasks, not your perceived business by the way.) Focus on number one, then the next, then the next – I know this sounds over simplified, but it really does work.
Take regular breaks – When I have weeks like my last one this is the only way I continually get stuff done – if I forget my just brain takes time out if I don’t create it. For example, I rocked up at a meeting Friday morning to do with developing our CoWork space and quite simply couldn’t remember the names of people I wanted involved, when the deadlines were – I felt a right numpty. The real issue was I’d bounced from one thing to another all morning not stopped for a drink or a few minutes not thinking space and my brain needed a short break. Luckily a breather and a cuppa and I’d recovered my focus. Now we are each different in our specific needs, but we all need downtime to process, fuel to work on – hydration and food, as well as sleep.
Know your limits – This is probably my biggest challenge, know when you have enough things on the go and say no or not now when you are at capacity – however exciting something looks. Taking on too much has several negative impacts and no positive ones as far as I can see. If you dilute your presence or focus you will at best do several things badly, more likely you’ll not get several things done at all. Mental wellbeing is a hot topic in most organisations I work with, at the same time the frequent drive for more with less. Being overwhelmed by your to do list, feeling out of control or that you are not doing a good job jeopardises your mental wellbeing super-fast – don’t fall into that trap!
Finally, remember that unless it is your craft – plate spinning is not good for your business – you in your zone, in your flow doing your best work is what your business needs.
If you need some time out to find your flow, re focus on your priorities or just take some time out around great people BraveFest 19 tickets go on sale on 3rd July.
Tales of a Bottleneck Business Owner – Sally’s Story
You are only as good as the excuses you make!
This is not in anyway an encouragement to make better excuses – this is calling you to look at the excuses you regularly make, (also known as the reasons you can’t do stuff and the stories you tell yourself). These are the things that determine the pace at which you move forward, how or if you achieve your goals, dreams and aspirations, or whether you settle for quiet desperation – ok, that might be a bit dramatic, it might just be you settle for what you know you can do and fall short of why you are really here and the impact you want to make with your life.
I can hear some of you screaming out of the Internet – ‘why does this stuff have to be about life, a bigger mission, making an impact’ and the truth is: it doesn’t. You can sleep through your life making excuse after excuse and even convince yourself it is not your fault and there is no other way – that’s absolutely your choice.
But, and it’s a big but, I’d put money on the fact that as you are reading this, means you are a seeker, a difference maker, someone who already knows they are here to make some kind of contribution – even if you are not quite sure what it is. In reality we are all here to make a contribution, we all impact on somebody or something – it’s just that a lot of the difference we make day in day out, we consider to be ‘business as usual’ – it’s just what we do.
As humans, significance – the fact that your life matters – has a lot to do with how you see the contribution you make. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a second everyone has to go out and change the world – but I do believe we all change our bit of the world, both with what we contribute and with what we hold back.
Which brings me back to excuses. How often have you had a great idea or been offered an opportunity which sounds really exciting, while at the same time you find a tsunami of reasons about why it’s not possible, flooding through your mind. Whether you listen to them or not isn’t really the point. The point is your brain, or more specifically your neuro processing, is firstly about keeping you safe – so living and breathing, your physiology autoregulated, your chemistry stable and your brain processing familiar patterns and well-versed stories.
Those stories come from childhood, from your social environment and what you are regularly exposed to. Most of our stories come from regular insidious exposure – like being told how clumsy you are, how you are not clever, not pretty, not popular etc and left unchecked they can become part of the identity you develop for yourself. Some stories come from powerful single experiences, particularly in childhood, where an action or experience leaves you feeling shamed, isolated or at risk, creating a rapid imprint and subsequent neural reaction when the same triggers are experienced.
It is also fair to say that the positive things you say to yourself, or others say about you, form part of your identity too, but your brain prioritises the negative, as that is what potentially makes you unsafe. Think about the last time someone paid you a compliment versus the last time someone criticised you – for most people the criticism has much more impact than the praise.
Part of your limbic brain function is to create reference and give meaning to your experiences, memories and emotions – all geared around keeping you safe. So, if something makes you feel vulnerable, at risk or in some way fearful it is most likely your brain will serve up a whole load of good reasons why you shouldn’t do it. The trouble with this is that accounts for a lot of the things we don’t already regularly do.
Cue your favourite excuse. I can’t because …..
Your excuses create bottlenecks in your life, not just in your business. They stop you being the person you are here to be; they stop you making the impact you truly want to make. Your excuses are also in your control! You created them, you can change them – if you know what they are and if you want to. Now I’m not saying this is easy, your excuses are your default way of showing up, your habits and you’re probably not always aware you are making them.
Managing your excuses takes a bit of mindfulness (also known as paying attention), clarity about how you want to show up and usually a fair amount of upfront effort to consciously change the way you react to situations, opportunities and your own internal dialogue. The good news is, the more you kick the excuses habit, the easier it becomes. Your brain gets used to action and positive dialogue and creates new pathways (or default responses), your comfort zone expands and things that made you feel vulnerable, at risk or in some way fearful, become business as usual.
How do you get there? (your homework)
1. Make a big old list of all the excuses you make – sometimes this takes a few days as you have to catch yourself in the act so to speak – remember a lot of this self-sabotage is unconscious.
2. Look at what’s on your list and decide where to start – usually when I do this exercise with clients excuses fall into a few categories and it’s quite easy to identify the cluster that have the biggest impact, of the excuses that are least congruent with the person we want to be. Start there.
3. Take baby steps and be kind to yourself – it’s probably taken you decades to develop some of your excuses, it may take a while to recode some of your internal programming.
4. Take notice of the things that once phased you and while they might not be totally comfortable, they are not super stressful either – this is how you know you are making fewer excuses and increasing the impact you want to make.
If you are not actually doing anything different (although you want to), check in with your self-talk and make sure you haven’t simply ungraded your excuses.
There is no Sally’s story – she made an excuse and didn’t tell it! Don’t be like Sally
Tales of a Bottleneck Business Owner – Pete’s Story
As many of you know my career background is in Health, or emergency care to be exact. One of the most important things in emergency care was to get to a working diagnosis fast. In the absence of complete information there are usually enough symptoms or clinical indicators to suggest a likely cause.
This is also true of the bottleneck business owner. One of the classic symptoms is ‘everywhere I look something needs doing’. There are a few reasons why this may happen: genuine overwork – although you might like this one, it is not the most common; prioritising the wrong stuff – it’s surprisingly easy to get busy for the sake of being busy; not delegating what others can do for you – they might even be better at it than you are; and finally distraction – and I include in here procrastination, excuses, errands, anything that takes you away from your priority jobs.
This pattern is often followed by overwhelm, this reduces productivity and can create general dissatisfaction with your lot.
Say hi to Pete, he is a trainer, he works with larger organisations looking at teams and communication, he’s been in business a while and worked with the same handful of large organisations for a while, they know him well and love his work. Unsurprisingly, when one of them developed a new internal ‘micro university’ they wanted Pete to be heavily involved.
For Pete, this is where his challenges started. He needed new course material, stuff branded for the micro university, different evaluation and impact systems and nearly double the amount of training hours he had been contributing. Pete quickly ran into trouble – behind on the creation of new material, juggling training dates with his other long-term clients, and his own business admin didn’t get a look in. Two things happened in close succession: one client didn’t renew Pete’s longstanding training programme; and he finished up staying up most of the night to sort paperwork for his VAT return which was due the next day.
Pete was completely overwhelmed, working all the time not really seeing his family, and still everywhere he looked something needed doing. His view – he was overworked, didn’t have enough time, and he was worried he was letting clients down and others might not re book him either. Pete had a VA who worked a few hours a month, a couple of trainers he worked with occasionally, yet he felt most of the work that needed doing only he could do.
Now it’s easy to look at someone else’s business and see what could be done differently – not so much when you are in the middle of it – or the bottleneck. As far as client’s were concerned Pete had two challenges, creating training materials and availability to deliver training.
Creating training materials: Pete was great at writing content, but found it hard making it into training packs, his VA on the other hand, used to create workbooks and PowerPoint for her previous boss before she started her VA business. Pete didn’t know she could do this and was worried about handing it over as it was quite time sensitive.
Delivering training: In Pete’s view people love him, they are buying him and sending another trainer – even one who has worked with him before – will be a disadvantage. The micro university is new work – it might be the same client, but the content and the audience are different – so Pete may not be the only one who can deliver the work.
Pete’s attitude to delegating / outsourcing is actually the bottleneck here, he has the contract and the funds to get support with the work, but he sees delegating as a huge risk – if the training pack’s not right he may not have time to sort it, if the client doesn’t like his associate he might lose the work. However, what he is doing is not sustainable, personally or for the business. If you are in a time for money business – which Pete is, the only way you grow is to free up your time focussing on the things that only you can do. For Pete this is the relationship with his clients (not just the one expanding into the micro university), the actual content creation for the new work (not the design of the assets) and delivery of key training activities for all clients (not all training delivery).
Pete discovered his VA actually made the training materials much more quickly then he would have done himself, he needed to make minimal changes and she has taken responsibility for production and delivery to clients once they are signed off by Pete. He also works with a small team of associate trainers, all trained by him delivering the micro university courses. As soon as he freed up a little capacity Pete went through all of the things he did in the business and decided if he should be the person doing them or not. If not, he then looked at what the possibility of delegating / outsourcing was. This process gave Pete most of his evenings and weekends back, a more sustainable business – less reliant on him for everything.
If you are a bit like Pete – whatever your industry, think about this – the bottleneck you create by controlling or doing everything yourself is hurting your business, your team (or those around you), potentially your clients and probably your bottom line.
I hear three common excuses for not delegating / outsourcing:
I can’t afford it.
It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this.
It’s quicker to do it myself.
Let’s debunk these excuses:
I can’t afford it – think about how much your time is worth. If you are getting to the stage you are juggling client commitments around business activities – whether this be product development, accounts, following up leads, then it is probably financially beneficial to get help – this also applies if you are spending your evenings or weekends ‘catching up’ when you prefer to be spending your time elsewhere. If you don’t have enough client work, then you might still want to spend your time on business development rather than admin – you just have to decide where your cash works hardest for you. Outsourcing some stuff might still be appropriate, but make sure it is a business essential – an all singing all dancing website or swanky office might not be, on a smaller scale neither is another therapeutic trip to the stationary shop!
It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this – get over yourself, there is very little in this world that only you can do. This is your ego, your vulnerability and your fear talking. Other’s might need a period of training, it might take them a while to get into flow, and they might just bring their own creative ways or doing your stuff better. I’m not saying everything can be done by someone else – although this is a very freeing place to be in your business, I’m saying make sure that you are not hanging on to stuff for the wrong reasons.
It’s quicker to do it myself – I love this one and have been guilty of it myself more times than I care to recall. Yes, it may well be quicker to do it yourself in that moment, but when you are still doing it yourself for the tenth time because you’ve never delegated or shown anyone else how to do it, think about how much time you have used and consider your choices.
Finally have a think about where you spend your time and consider doing the following: make a list of all the things you do, categorise them as client work, business admin, business development, then decide if you need to do them or whether they might be better delegated or outsourced. How much of your time are you spending on things that really need you to do them?
I do this exercise regularly – I also find it quite sobering, even with the excellent team I have around me it’s still very easy to fall back into bad ‘control freakish’ habits.
If you’d like to share what you find, we would love to see you in the Brave Virtual CoWork group – or if you are not a Facebook lover join the conversation in comments below.
At the risk of sounding too ‘woo woo’ have you ever had that sense that something massive is just around the corner, or that you are part of something bigger – you just don’t know what it is? I believe this is part of our collective consciousness, the energy we transfer between one another by the way we show up, the way we behave and the stories we tell. You must have felt it – someone comes into the room in a foul mood – everyone is affected, you’re sobbing at the end of a film and you’re not quite sure why.
We are much more connected to our environment, the energy around us, the behaviour and attitudes of others than we might like to believe. The upside, of course, is we also get to influence that environment by what we contribute, positive or negative. I believe we are on the brink of a major societal shift; we are moving into an era where impact is much more significant for people, success is measured in the value created and diversity is recognised and not feared, and sustainability is more important than consumption.
Don’t get me wrong we have a way to go, but it starts with a few brave individuals sharing their vision, ideas and innovations, with other people recognising something as desirable, and gradually a movement builds. Once this happens, change happens. Often this feels like it’s happening really quickly, yet in reality we just don’t see the hard work, the effort and the influencing that the few contributed to building a movement – I don’t recall who first said this, but “it takes about 10 years to become an overnight success”
If you are still reading, have you noticed the similarities to how it goes in business?
Whether you are an ideas person but not a finisher, a dot the Is and cross the Ts person, whether you chuck it out there and see what happens or you prefer to just check it one more time before you share, there are many challenges to actually getting your product or service to a recognisable sustainable position. And guess what? A lot of these challenges are self-made!
Welcome to the life of the bottleneck business owner. In most stages of business growth – including just getting started, there is opportunity for the bottleneck business owner to do their stuff. They usually show up when you are out of your comfort zone, overwhelmed or simply ignorant. I know this sounds harsh, but I’ve helped 1000’s of people over the last 18 years, and in some form or other they are in their own way – the bottleneck between where they are and the success they want to achieve. You can’t get to that place of bigger impact, of doing what you are here to do, of living a fulfilled life if you are stuck in the bottleneck.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing the tales of a bottleneck business owner – and most importantly how you start to address them. Some of these are drawn from personal experience, some from clients and some from studying neurobiology, human behaviour and its consequences.
Whether you intend to start a movement, create local or global change or simply make a decent living for you & your family it is easier when things flow without bottlenecks. The bottleneck reduces flow, it slows things down, and in business terms they can be frustrating, inconvenient and occasionally go unrecognised. Here a few things to think about when assessing where you might be the bottleneck in your business:
Are you the person holding up progress – whether it’s because you need to get a task done, sign something off, or make a decision?
Do you delegate where appropriate, do you trust people or are you a control freak?
How do you behave – are you curious, courageous, informed or a little insular and risk averse?
Does procrastination get in the way of production?
Where do you sit on the perfectionism scale – if it’s not perfect (and it probably won’t be) it’s not happening is your mantra you may have a problem.
Your thinking – fear and what you believe is possible (or not possible) can propel you forward or keep you stuck.
Being aware of the impact you have – whether you work alone or with a team, it’s a great place to start, think about your business, what’s flowing, what’s stagnant and what might be blocked.
Some of us can wax lyrical about our successes, experience and accomplishments, some of us are much more circumspect. Bottom line is, people have to know enough about you to feel safe – to connect, to trust, to spend time with you, to buy from you and so on.
If you have no difficultly talking about your successes, congratulations – you are probably in the minority. Your biggest takeaways from this blog are:
1. Monitor what you are saying to people. Is it relevant? Does it help them on their journey? Does it position you to get the credibility and attention you are looking for?
2. Bigging yourself up to boost your own confidence or make yourself feel more credible rarely works, and can often do you more harm than good, as can irrelevant boasting.
3. Remember that, just because someone else is not shouting about their achievements, doesn’t mean they don’t have any.
If you do have more of a challenge talking about yourself, you are not alone. Neurologically we are programmed to stay safe – this can often involve fitting in, not making yourself a target, and not challenging the status quo. Most often this happens unconsciously, you won’t necessarily know this is what you are doing. Look out for those times you hold back when you don’t agree, you don’t bother to share your successes or experience – even when it’s relevant to the conversation – that’s not just humility – it is quite possibly a neurological habit. It is also quite likely this practice has left you feeling frustrated, overlooked and maybe even cross with yourself or others.
Most of us need to be visible, credible and trusted in order to run our business – whether this is by staff, community or clients. The best way to do this is to comfortably and authentically talk about yourself. Easy to say, but how do you start to change long held habits?
1. Write a big list of all your achievements, successes and experiences – however small, or even insignificant they might feel to you.
2. Next decide which are relevant to your business and will help others either to connect and trust you, or with their own journey. Focus on these.
3. What are you most proud of, what are you happy to talk about and what makes a coherent story.
4. Practice talking about yourself, you will get more comfortable with it and you’ll start to develop new habits.
Why is this important? I absolutely believe we are all special, we all have some unique skills as well as skills in common with others. If you can’t articulate what is special about you or what you do then you are making it harder for others to connect with you and do business with you.
Even more importantly than this, if you consistently underplay your skills and achievements, if you don’t talk about them – or even really acknowledge them to yourself from a neurological level they don’t get embedded into your unconscious, they don’t become part of who you authentically are – and you might feel awkward, embarrassed about, or oblivious to how special you actually are.
Remember that however comfortable or uncomfortable you are talking about yourself, what others might see as your special skills or talent you might take as common sense – because the chances are it comes easy to you.
If you are in the Brave Business group tell us what’s special about you, if you are not yet in the group join here
On last week’s FB live I talked about some of the myths around the benefits of the internet for small businesses. This was inspired buy Seth Godin who said
“The internet is a place great for discovery – but it is not a place where you will get discovered”
Seth Godin (2018)
It is very easy to get into the ‘transmit’ mindset – if you put enough stuff out there some of it will land, people will get to know about you, what you do and then buy your stuff, come to your event, download your freebie etc etc. One of the challenges with this approach is that everyone else is out there doing that too, that means there is a lot of noise and, depending on your craft / industry, potentially a very crowded marketplace.
Online marketing does work of course, with the right strategy and usually a fair amount of hard work over a reasonable period of time. The thing is what worked a couple of years ago doesn’t now, not just because social media algorithms change or email deliverability is tougher; people are becoming tired of the hustle, their defences are up – they are looking for the sell and not engaging with your content. You might well be thinking ‘why is she bothering to write this blog if that’s what she believes?’ and it’s a fair question.
People use the internet for three reasons (my opinion not evidence), for entertainment, to buy stuff and for information however they stay online for a fourth very critical purpose – to feel connected. Whether you are watching events unfold on the news, chatting to friends, sending work stuff or playing games connection, or feeling part of something is a key motivator for being online. This connectedness is one of the most strived for human needs. When you look to show up online, when you want to build your ‘community’, when you are sharing your stuff, connection is where you start.
There easiest way to get connected is to listen, to understand and to meet people where they are, then you can build rapport, a relationship and eventually take them on a journey with you. First – unless we are talking commodity or quick fix most people need to feel they are significant, that they belong in your world. This doesn’t matter what you are selling by the way, there are communities and clubs for all sorts of things and each of those have people who belong.
Look at Booking.com or airbnb for example – you are encouraged to be part of the club, build a profile, talk about your experiences, you can get rated as a customer as well as rating the accommodation – why? It builds connection people become invested in the site.
I was away in a campervan last weekend – and yes, there’s another example of community. Needing to find a campsite late in the evening, out of season, I reached for my phone and the internet. Sure enough, a website exists for the last minute freedom seekers like us; pitchup.com promptly found me a place to park my van for the night about 10 mins from where I was, and to some extent this was the commodity bit ticked I had my immediate problem solved – I was no longer looking at a very windy cliff top or layby. Where the website really won out though, was in its communication. Within a few minutes the campsite owner rang me, asked when we’d be arriving and said she’d look out for us. I felt like we mattered, we arrived got shown to our pitch, had a joke about pop roofs and how windy it was, we felt like we belonged (even though we are complete newbies in the campervan world).
I’ve used the camper van experience because it is a very simple example of how to build your business connection. Although the parts may be complex – lots of campsite owners, undoubtedly differing service standards, but one aim, make finding a place to stay a doodle. People might join the ‘club’ because it solves a problem, they stay in the ‘club’ because it gives them a feeling of being part of something. The first can be delivered solely by the website, the second is on the individual campsite owner and whether they make a connection, this is the bit that validates the website makes people part of the club.
If you are using the internet to deepen your business connection, and you should be, think about how you are using it. Whether it’s social media, blogging or using sales pages you need to connect to engage. Essentially, you need to be able to address one of the reasons people go online in the first place, entertain them, inform them or sell to them. This is the start of their journey with you, and for most of us our first encounter is one of the first two entertain and / or inform, this creates the opportunity for you to do the subsequent, more valuable, community building. Once you start to build connection through interaction, involvement and trust, then you start to form your own ‘club’.
Discovery implies some random lucky act, building a business is not like that – especially if you are building an online presence. Building a business requires you to get connected, possibly hustle less and listen more, and give people a reason to stay part of your business world.
Remember – entertain or inform people, ideally both, and make them feel like they belong in your community.
Belonging is a natural human need. Without it we do not thrive, and yet in a busy and sometimes overwhelming world, true belonging and the peace it brings, can be hard to find. For me, belonging is where you can show up as yourself and feel at home, you are accepted and loved for who you are, physically, emotionally, quirks and all.
A lot of my work with clients is rooted in neurobiology, and there are very good scientific reasons why connection and belonging are important to us. We are all hungry for meaningful connection in our lives – even when we have plenty already. When we feel connected, or like we belong, we function better as individuals and as a society.
While we might play down the need to connect and play up our individualism, self-sufficiency and independence – the brutal reality is that humans don’t function in isolation. We are connected creatures.
Put very simply, your autonomic nervous system, – the heart, brain, gut connection, is around 80% sensory fibres, which means it reacts to information picked up through your reticular activating system, (RAS), from what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. It will seek to reinforce what you believe, look for more of what you are focussed on and most critically seek to keep you safe by prioritising information that suggests you might be in harm’s way.
Here’s where it gets interesting. What you believe to be harm’s way and what I believe could be profoundly different, sure – burning buildings and mad axe men (unless you were at last year’s Brave Fest), are potential harm, but there is also a massive variation in our individual perceptions of danger versus safety and in our tolerance of the perceived risk. It is these perceptions, or how you feel, that creates the chemical reactions on which your body functions. Much of this activity takes place within the limbic system of your brain.
Connection and a feeling of belonging – creates a sense of bonding and empathy, it reduces risk perception for most people. This is in part because we feel safe, can afford to be more vulnerable and let others get closer. This is very different to ‘fitting in’ where we adapt our behaviour, our look, even our opinions in order to fit in with the group we are with. This can have the exact opposite neurological effect to belonging, creating a state of heightened awareness, sometimes an internal clash with your internal values, or loss of identity, even feelings of anxiety. Fitting in is not good for the human condition, even though it is what most of us are taught to do from a very early age, through subtle conformity, at school, in clubs, peer groups, professions, long before we get to culture, religion, sex etc.
Anyway, back to business before I really get on my soapbox. Recent neuroscience research – check out Matthew Lieberman’s work – shows our brain’s default state is social thinking – when it has no tasks to process our brain defaults to social processing or making sense of other people and ourselves. Your brain is busy working to make sense of other people; what they think, feel and desire and how that relates to you. In other words, how and where we belong and when lack of belonging puts us at unacceptable risk. Social isolation creates the same reaction in the brain as physical pain, the distress it causes is very real and has major health ramifications.
It also has ramifications for how you do business. If you can create an environment where those you want to connect with, your business community, (not just your clients), feel connected like they belong, they will hang around and you will have a greater opportunity to influence and serve them.
How do you create a sense of belonging?
First of all, belonging is usually values or belief driven. This means people will buy into your why, your reasons for doing things or believing what you believe, long before they buy you. They will connect through because you inspire them or they are on the same journey, or fighting the same injustices and because they are trusted and can make a contribution. Yes, you read right, to feel like they really belong your clients want to make a contribution. Whether this is as simple as feeling their opinion is valid and heard, or whether they want to feel aligned with what you stand for in some way, they want a common experience – something they can be part of.
I can already feel some of you prickling and saying this is very ‘coachy’, but it is absolutely true of product too. The obvious example is Apple versus the rest of the IT world, but let’s think a bit more laterally – what if you buy toothpaste. Some people will buy the cheapest, some will have a favourite brand and others will make a choice based on sustainable palm oil and deforestation – that is belonging. Evidence also suggests that people will pay a premium to feel like they are part of something doing good. Whatever you sell, to a large extent you are selling the experience.
To create belonging around your business you need to define the experience you give people. Communities people want to belong to have some common characteristics. These include shared experiences and common outlooks; they are a place where members can self-identify as part of that community; members need to feel they are adding value to the community, sharing, learning and contributing, and that their engagement makes a difference.
What can you do to create this around your business? First up, it takes time, most people are quite capable of doing this, they just give up too early. You need to put the effort in, to be authentic and human. The temptation to only share the glory stuff, or to big up what you are doing – success or drama, won’t build you the connection or belonging you need. Here are my five tips for creating belonging.
Be real – share what you believe in, what you stand for, what you won’t allow.
Create desire for association – give your community a reason to belong. This is about experience, what you do for them, what they do for each other, how this exchange takes place, often the simplest things work best – the creation of an online group, meet ups etc.
Showcase members of your community – share their successes, not just your testimonials, show your wider community what your closer circle (often your actual clients), are doing and their experiences.
Create a way for people to exchange knowledge and ideas – as well as sharing your knowledge widely and freely – remember people like to add value, don’t be too precious about controlling ideas and information.
Build rapport – this is critical, depending on the size of your business you may not have personal interaction with every person, but they need to feel they have a personal relationship with you and your team – not your company or website, belonging is personal.
If you take nothing else from this blog take this –
“People remember how you make them feel more than anything else – handle those feelings with care”
Connection and belonging are hugely important to me in life as well as business, it was the main motivator behind Brave CoWork. I know not everyone can join us in Stratford, although you are welcome to drop by if you are in the area and need a place to work, grab a coffee or hang out with some great people (I’m talking about our members here as well as the Brave team).
If you’ve enjoyed this and want some virtual co-working join us in Braver Business (our Facebook community).
Humans love stories! We love stories so much that we unconsciously create story all the time to make sense of, or give context to what we are experiencing. In part 1 of this series I talked about how neurobiology and how story enables our brain to store and sort memories, experiences and emotions. When we don’t have the whole picture, we simply fill in the gaps – fact or truth has little to do with it.
Ever discussed past events with a sibling or old school friend? Then you’ll probably know what I mean. yYou know for a fact you were both at the same thing at the same time, yet you remember different things, or even you remember the same thing very differently. This is because of your individual neurological filters, the way you process and store information you are presented with. Essentially you each exist in the reality you have created through your own stories.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this, if your siblings / friends are anything like mine, a heated debate often ensues about who’s memory is correct – in fact we might feel anything but connected at this point. Here’s the thing though – we might create different story, but we share the same physiological reactions to stimuli we find happy, sad, exciting, scary and this is where story becomes an important part of connection.
Understanding some of the physiological impact of storytelling enhances your ability to engage people, to have influence and truly connect. The fact is our brains respond to story by producing chemicals – hormones, sometimes adrenaline or cortisol, but most often oxytocin – the hormone most responsible for empathy.
“We are all capable of telling great stories – great stories are simple, focused and
Here is an unpalatable fact – people are not interested in your business. They might be interested in you as a person, a fellow human being, they are most likely interested in what your business can do for them. I’m not just talking about sales and services here, I’m talking about relatability, shared beliefs, confidence, trust and a whole load of less tangible markers of whether you are a good fit for them.
Story is your fast track to connection. When we connect with something it happens sequentially – physiologically, emotionally then logically. This might be so rapid a sequence that it’s undetectable – but it is sequential all the same. Story gives people the context they would otherwise make up. It engages them emotionally and enables the limbic brain to explore and connect.
There are a few rules – your job is to tell stories that make people feel things, to evoke emotion and to influence thinking. This means your story needs structure, often referred to as a story arc – a beginning, middle and end. This might be an intro to the situation, then a hero (or key character), a conflict or struggle (the middle), that gets resolved – not necessarily happily, but there is an outcome or ‘end’.
A great example of this comes from neuroscientist, Paul Zak’s research in 2004, he discovered the impact of oxytocin on the brain. During the course of his experiments he told the story of a father of a sick child – a true story, see Ben’s Story.
The gist of the plot is that the father struggles to be with his terminally ill son – it is just too painful. In the first video the father talks to camera while Ben plays in the background, he talks of his pain, how hard it is to be joyful around Ben and ends with the father vowing to be emotionally connected “until he takes his last breath.” In the second video Ben and his father are spending a day at the zoo, it’s clear the boy is unwell, his head bald from chemo, and he is referred to a miracle boy once during the video, it doesn’t talk about cancer or death.
Participants had blood taken prior to watching one of the two videos. The blood tests were repeated after the video. The first video, which demonstrates a classic dramatic story arch – intro key character with a struggle, a solution resulted in a rise in oxytocin and cortisol. The second video which lacked the tension and was more matter of fact than the first video did not create a rise in oxytocin or cortisol and participants did not share the level of empathy with the father that was demonstrated from the first video.
Remember, story is simply the context around your message, the bit that helps people to get it. This will only work if you are both clear and focussed on impact you want that message to have. It also requires you to be honest and authentic. People will quickly see through you if you are trying to be something you are not – and I’m not just talking about the BS lives people portray on social media here. If you are uncomfortable with your story it will show. If your behaviour, body language or tone are not what you are feeling it will show and those listening will feel uncomfortable at best and distrust you at worst. You might bluff your way through for a bit, but you won’t truly connect.
Being able to use story effectively takes the following:
Courage – you have to commit, be all in and vulnerable in your story – this is not the same as baring your soul and dumping all of your problems, woes and failures on the listener, by the way. Vulnerability in this context is about honesty, dropping the mask and being yourself.
Clarity – plan your story, look at the emotion you want to evoke, the message you are sharing and the value to the listener.
Structure – use a story arc, create a set up conflict and resolution.
Credibility – see the last paragraph! Your aim is to create a story that helps your listener along their journey, make sure it is simple enough to be understood and relevant enough to be relatable, and congruent enough to be believed.
Practice – start using story in your every day interactions, get into the habit of using it to illustrate facts, information you share and influence you want to create. Again, I’m not talking about over sharing personal stories, or worse, other’s stories, I’m talking about the stuff that adds value and helps others along their journey. The more you use story the better you will become at being authentic, impactful and compelling.
In the end, story is simply about providing context for people to help them understand their journey and how it might intertwine with you, or your services. If you don’t provide that context, they – or their brains, will make it up.
Finally, remember we were born great story tellers – we may have become rusty over the years, but we know how to use stories to get our point across – just watch any small child, and chances are you were like that once too.
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First up, your brain is a very clever piece of kit – until it’s not. It has a sophisticated neural network as we discussed in part one of this series, the trouble is it doesn’t differentiate between real and imagined. Which basically means whatever you are thinking about, focused on or actually doing has the same amount of power over how you feel, how you show up and what you actually achieve. Great news if you are feeding your brain with empowering, self-affirming stories – the trouble is most of us do just the opposite.
We are wired to stay safe, to repeat patterns and to fear the unknown, therefore most of your unconscious narrative serves exactly that purpose. Unconscious is the key bit here, you repeat the stories, or patterns so frequently they are just part of who you are – you probably don’t even recognise them as stories – they are just part of who you are. Unless you can identify these stories, they will continue to drive your life – and you will probably call it fate. One way of finding them is to look at your favourite excuses or our ‘inner critic’, both of which serve to stop us taking risks that might impact our ‘safety’.
Your identity – or how you see yourself, is totally tied up in the stories you tell yourself!
I’ve talked to 1000s of business owners and leaders over the years and sadly many of the stories I hear, often from outwardly successful people are stories of ‘not enoughness’ in some form or other: not bright enough, not lucky enough, not connected enough, not fit enough & so on… Many of these stories build out to create firmly held self-limiting beliefs, things you can’t do or won’t achieve.
It’s one thing knowing this but understanding why it happens and what to do about, it is where story gets really powerful. Many of these beliefs grew from stories created in moments of emotional processing. Daniel Goleman (1995) calls this Emotional Hijacking – essentially something happens and your limbic system, particularly your Amygdala reacts to the stimulus more quickly than your more logical neocortex can think and plan its response. The limbic system fills in the actual knowledge gaps with story drawn from previous emotional encounters and from this a physiological reaction often reinforcing your values and beliefs. And so the hijacking cycle is created.
Fixing this is not as simple as saying a few affirmations – it’s not what you say out loud that has the impact, but what you truly believe internally. This said story is still a fast and sustainable route to behaviour change.
Step One: Get familiar with your stories,
What do you repeatedly tell yourself? (think inner critic here if you are struggling)
What do you really believe about yourself?
What excuses do you consistently make?
Once you bring these into your consciousness you can start to unpick them. I find Robert Dilts’s Neurological levels model helpful here.
Let’s start from the bottom, Environment represents where and when, Behaviour is what you do, Skills represent how you do it, Values and beliefs why, and identity is who you are (or how you see yourself). Spirit then represents you vision /purpose.
When looking to make a change in your story (or your beliefs), you need to work at a level above where the problem exists – so for the most part this is at identity level – most challenges come from what you believe to be true about yourself (or your internal stories).
Having identified your stories step two is deciding whether or not they are helpful and empowering or whether they limit you.
I suggest you dump down all the stories you tell yourself regularly then ask the following questions:
Is it true?
Does it serve me?
Some stories when you look at this way are clearly not true – your logical brain can see that straight off, these you need to deal with. The best way to deal with them is to consciously focus on the evidence that proves them untrue. For example:
I can’t do public speaking – for the vast majority of us that is untrue. Public speaking may be undesirable, terrifying even, but you could do it. So, what is in the way? It’s not the ability to speak – and you probably have examples of when you have spoken in front of others to prove it, at school, at home socially – even if you weren’t perfect, you did it, draw on these to evidence the fact that you can speak in public then build up your skills and knowledge through practice. If you focus on it enough your brain will start to look for more evidence and gradually replace the ‘I can’t story’ with a new one.
Some beliefs you hold may actually be true but believing them may not serve you. I couldn’t run a half marathon may be true, but if I’m training for a 10K that belief probably doesn’t serve me. It is possible for a human of my age to run a half marathon, because they do all the time – so therefore it is possible with training, so what I need is a plan, a load of practice and a new story – I’m not planning to run a 10k by the way. If that were my belief it would absolutely serve me, I don’t like running.
Finally, the best way to deconstruct stories that are not true, or don’t serve you, is to decide what you need to believe to achieve what you want to achieve or be the person you want to be. The trick here is to make the new story a stretch but believable, if I were to run, however well I trained I’m unlikely to be an Olympian! It is quite possible I could get to half marathon stage with time and effort though.
Once you identify what you need to believe creating the right story to support it becomes easy, for example, if you actually needed to speak publicly focus on your message not the act of speaking. Your message is what drives you, create compelling stories around why you are sharing it, what you have done so far and where you have evidence of speaking previously – then start to take some action, whether it is practice or small presentations – or the dog act, this sends messages to your limbic system that undo the emotional hijacking you may have previously created. A new story forms.
In short, you choose what you believe either consciously, in a focused empowering way, or unconsciously by default based on your past experiences and beliefs – either way story is the answer.
This week is national storytelling week in the UK, do yourself a favour and check out your own stories.
If you need some more help join us in the Brave Business Community www.facebook.com/groups/BraveScene/