He dare not come into company for fear he should be misused, disgraced, overshoot himself in gestures or speeches, or be sick; he thinks every man observeth him.
Robert Burton,1621, quotes Hippocrates describing a patient.
If you are feeling a little uncertain, uneasy, anxious or worried, you are in good company. We will remember 2020 for fires, Covid-19, floods, hurricanes, moral outrage, and massive job losses. There is little to indicate that we are ‘going back to normal.’
We hear from our clients, colleagues and reputable media that anxiety is the most troubling concern right now. Anxiety is both unpleasant and debilitating. It can range from a very appropriate and necessary recognition of risk to being immobilised in a state of panic.
Depending upon the situation, anxiety can be alife-saving super-poweror alternatively, a psychiatric diagnosis of mental illness.
A clear understanding of how anxiety works and practical steps to counter it will guide you back to calm and curious playfulness.
The five steps are:
A Psychiatric Perspective
Large population surveys show that up to 33.7% of people are affected by ananxiety disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) claims that 18.1% of adults are affected and 25.1% of young people (13 – 18).
An “anxiety disorder” in theDSM-5is diagnosed by excessive anxiety and worry (difficult to control) occurring most days for six months about a number of events or activities. Symptoms include restlessness (on edge), fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.
Psychiatrists apply a wide range of descriptions including anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, andseparation anxiety disorder.
Treatment is counselling, CBT or anxiety medications. The pharmaceutical market is worth about $7 billion (excluding antidepressants ($18 billion) often prescribed for anxiety).
You cannot die from an anxiety disorder or even a panic attack. However, prolonged anxiety has been shown into increase risk of cardiovascular disease and can make inflammatory disorders such as asthma and rashes worse.
A Biological Perspective
Anxiety is linked to the primary emotion of fear. Fear exists from reptiles through to humans. Fear has been retained in evolution because it increases the chance of living long enough to reproduce. In a dangerous world of predators and deprivation, fear saves lives. It is so important, that the flight reaction is a powerful, automatic reaction to threat.
The flight reaction activates before you can think about it. When the senses detect a threat, the amygdala and hypothalamus fire up the sympathetic nervous system. You are flooded with adrenaline. Blood leaves your brain, skin and gut to power up the leg and butt muscles so that you can run.
Just as an impala might dash off with a whiff of a lion, so you might jump away at the sight of a coiled object in your path. Thinking in humans only happens after the event. Your body, gripped by a surge of fear, may just have saved your life.
At the milder end of the anxiety range, is a sense of doubt or unease. A very mild activation of the fear response leaves you feeling uncomfortable (butterflies), tense (neck and back) and wide-eyed. The experience could be triggered by a creak of a door or even an imagined threat. Either way, it wakes you up, you pay attention and prepare for a threat.
There are two dimensions of anxiety: severity and duration as shown here. A quick surge of fear can alert you to threat and help you focus on mastering the situation (1). But we have to tame the fear in order to be calm, focused and connected to the situation. Too much fear will make us rigid and unable to respond with skill (2).
When fear persists and is experienced as chronic anxiety and persistent worry, it is of no adaptive use (3). Chronic anxiety will undermine your life and health (4). It feels awful, thinking is compromised, and you may find yourself avoiding and procrastinating in the face of challenges you need to address.D
Anxiety can be understood from physical, emotional and mental perspectives.
The body is activated by adrenaline, blood flow changes, muscle tension, breathing, and heart rate. We can experience this as a physical experience. The bodily state is felt as a feeling, or emotion, of fear. This fear can express as unease, wariness, terror or even panic. These are emotions we can learn to label accurately. They can be captured on camera and in voice.
Face of fear
Fear focuses our attention on future threats. You may notice yourself thinking: ‘this could be scary’. That is a useful thought that helps you plan and prepare. However, you may find your mind looping around the same thoughts: ‘this is terrible, what if, this is going to hurt, they will hate me.’ This is worry. It is not helpful. Your mental resources are distracted from the present moment.
The five steps from anxiety to playfulness
When you experience anxiety in the body, feel it as emotion, or notice it as worry, name the experience immediately. For example: ‘I feel my heart thumping’, ‘I feel fear’, or ‘I am worrying about x. The goal is to make an object of the experience.
If we don’t name it, we become the subject. We feel lost in a whirl of heart thumping, dread, and swirling worries. You feel like you are the flight reaction. Your reptilian brain is in control.
This step puts you in control as the observer. My body is tense. This is a feeling of fear. My mind is caught in a worry loop. You have just put your pre-frontal cortex in control. The reptilian systems immediately deactivate when you name it. Now you have access to conscious perception, judgement, creativity and can choose the best response.
Once you name the state, feeling or thought, the experience of anxiety and fear is already reducing. There are many tactics to achieve this. Relax your face, breathe out and pause, massage your neck and shoulders, have a cold shower, sing, gargle or reach out for a hug.
Learn how to focus attention on your body or the flow of your breath. Each time the mind charges off to worry, gently bring it back to the rise and fall of your belly.
There is tremendous power in learning to do this well. I believe every student should be taught these skills early in education. It will be life changing. If you know you can reduce your anxiety with practical steps.
Our most popular blog is “Take a Deep Breath is Bad Advice.” Taking a deep breath, especially if it is through the mouth makes anxiety worse. Rapid, shallow and chesty breathing can combine with breath holding and sighing. These are signs of hyperventilation. You may be breathing 18 times per minute. If you hyperventilate deliberately, you will feel anxiety rise.
To start, lie flat, close your eyes, relax face, body and limbs, and exhale fully. Pause a moment and then inhale through your nose. Aim for ten second breath cycles. My preference is 4 seconds in (1, 2, 3, 4) and 6 seconds out (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Keep your chest and belly relaxed. Allow your lower ribs and belly to rise and fall as you breathe.
Two or three minutes of this slow, diaphragmatic breathing through the nose has a huge impact. If you can accumulate this sort of breathing for about 8 minutes a day your vagal tone becomes stronger and your brain becomes more focused and agile.
The next step might be to learn and practice a meditation. Try to do this every day even if for just five minutes.
A reframe is consciously and deliberately choosing a different state. You take your body from tense to relaxed. You nudge your feelings from fear to calm. You test the worry with thoughts of hope and opportunity. The concept comes from CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). You can reframe body, emotion or thought.
The All Blacks use the term ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’. Ceri Evans (see below) uses the aphorism: ‘Red or blue? Decide! Do!’ Approaching a difficult play, notice the fear (red), step back, step up to focus on the goal (blue) and step into deliberate action.
By practicing these disciplines repeatedly, you can learn to reframe in a split second.
Notice that we are not advocating that you deny feeling. The information is an important message. Use it to quickly reframe your body, emotion and mind into a state that can solve the challenge.
When you look at memorable learning moments in your life, they are often found where you confronted big and scary challenges. There is nothing more rewarding than finding a way to engage adversity with curiosity and a sense of play. This is what young animals do in play. In play we engage voluntarily with adversity. We chase, we run, we wrestle, and develop the skills to be able to do it under pressure.
Develop a habit of playful engagement. When adversity presents:
Feel the fear and name it
Breath out and relax your body
Step back and up to look around
Say to yourself: ‘this is interesting, there must be 7 ways to play.’
Make a decision
As you keep practicing this your attitudes to adversity will change from threat to playful opportunity. As your skills improve, you vagus nerve will myelinate and get stronger.Calm, focused connectionbecomes easier. You will learn to trust yourself.
Life and its challenges become a playground for adventure.
Joseph LeDoux, Anxious, 2015 (a sound neurobiologist)
Jean Twenge, i-Gen, 2017 (researcher on young people)
Ceri Evans, Perform under Pressure, 2019 (how All Blacks do it)
Deb Dana, Polyvagal Exercises for Calm and Connection, 2020 (get it)
After a turbulent fortnight, we are confronted with major life adjustments. Nearly one third of the world is in lock-down. Businesses are closed, streets are empty, skies are clear and most of us are hunkered down in our homes. Life as we know it has stopped. Dismal health and economic consequences loom. Read Part 1here.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross named the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial, or a state of numb shock, is dangerous in a crisis. Moving rapidly to acceptance will prepare you for bounce. We have watched world leaders accelerate through these phases – some more skilfully than others.
US Leadership: Watchhere. Swedish Leadership: Readhere. Kubler Ross….
Regular daily challenges have dropped away – traffic, e-mail loads, travel, meetings. Some love the novelty of abundant time with family at home. In New Zealand, more people are outdoors and active. We have the gift of time, reflection and planning.
On the dark side there is health concern – particularly for older loved ones. Millions of jobs are at risk. Small and large businesses will fail. Social networks are disrupted. It is easy to find yourself streaming videos while you refresh your news or infection-rate site.
The goal is rapid bounce.
Before you can bounce, you must engage with clarity and be decisive.
Calm, Control and Connect
Denial, panic, anger, bargaining and depression are your enemies right now. It is essential to establish a regular daily practice of escaping freeze (denial and depression) flight (fear and panic), and fight (anger) reactions. Instructionshere.
Name and tame emotional energy
When we confront acute disruption, emotional energy is high. Even when calm you will notice the physical impact of emotion. Each of us is different. Identify accurately and counter skilfully.
The sadness cluster is related to freeze reactions. Instead of engaging we withdraw. Energy is low and you are probably feeling isolated. Seek energy, activity, people and find some joy.
The fear cluster (flight) ranges from niggling worry, to anxiety, panic and hyperventilation. You’re energised, distracted, and procrastinating. Breathe slowly, focus on one task at a time, and pay attention to the here and now.
The anger cluster (fight) is dangerous and ranges from irritability, to frustration, angry outbursts, rage and violence. Anger compromises your immune system, decision making and other humans you care about. Focus your attention on others and how they may be experiencing the situation. Be generous, grateful and kind. Apologise immediately and sincerely when you blow.
Make calls on what you expect and develop your plan. No-one knows exactly how this will unfold. Read widely from different perspectives. Develop three scenarios – best, likely and worst case. Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Engage your colleagues and family in this dialogue. Make sure you consider five essential ingredients:
Health: covid-19 and other conditions/emergencies as services are compromised
Economic: much of the consumption economy has stopped; job and business loss will follow
Social: some will respect, bond and pull through, others resort to violence and crime
Family resilience: physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, cash flow and love
Supplies: supply chains are already stretched, make sure you have basic resources secured
Every situation is different so we each have to work through what decisions to make and how to evaluate them. For example, if your business cannot operate, do you close it and start again later. Or, fund it though the pandemic and consequent recession/depression. If you need help from the bank, do it now and secure resourcing. Do not wait for funding to dry up.
If you want to upskill or advance your education, now is the time to get started. Online education will flourish.
If you want to start a new business or career, take this time and put your plan into motion. Prepare to meet the needs that will arrive once this has settled. A significant transformation is in play. There will be wonderful opportunities for those who engage, decide and move fast.
95% of the most successful 10% of people scored “I think and communicate with optimism” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’ (in a sample of 21,000).
The human mind is Velcro for the negative. Based on a high threat environment, a negative and threatening explanation might have been advantageous. Today, pessimism disables you.
Only 9% of the least resilient people score optimism with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:How can I explain this adversity in one enabling sentence?
Condition:Notice but reject the easy negative self-talk
Discipline:Think and express yourself with positive language
Caution:Our times are testing. This will take courage.
What you can do right now?
Ask someone close if you are optimistic or pessimistic. Explore an example
Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”
Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently” Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
Be alert for positive news. Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.
In the background:
Fatigue, isolation and distress will reduce optimism
Sleep well, be social, relax and play
Nurture your positive emotions – joy, gratitude, appreciation, hope, kindness
Note: With the current social instability, political malaise and climate risk, the value and importance of optimism will increase. It is well proven that optimism can be learned and has wide ranging personal and economic benefits. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven an effective solution to depression. We use the term situational agility to describe the healthy and adaptive use of the optimism in key situations.
Are women more resilient than men or are women suffering? We see evidence of resilience in longevity, pregnancy, and capacity to change societal outcomes through education. Yet, our data, drawn from organisational life, shows women suffering at work. They are struggling with resilience issues much more than men.
We explore the differences, reflect on causes, and recommend action.
1. The Data Demonstrates
Based on Version 3.0 questions (even sample size), we see:
Male resilience ratios (2.31:1) are higher than female ratios (2.11:1)
Post training ratios improve more in men (0.61) than women (0.49)
Females have high liability scores – more distressed, withdrawn and vulnerable
Pre-training resilient women: correlated with vitality, sleep and nutrition
Pre-training resilient men: correlated with flow, situation agility and nutrition
Post training, female distress and depression scores improve markedly
Post training, female wellbeing and train mind scores improve markedly
Post-training resilient women: correlated with relaxation and focus
Post-training resilient men: correlated with focus, decisiveness and assertiveness
At a factor level, there are marked differences between male and female answers:
The lower resilience scores (and suffering) are driven by distress symptoms (headaches, gut, skin, muscles), self doubt and indecisiveness. Women also score lower on the key factors that underpin resiliency (bounce, fitness, impulse control and tactical calm).
On the positive side women are more engaged and positive, eat better and as expected score better on EQ factors (positivity, connection, empathy, insight).
When looking at age bands, younger and older women secure better ratio improvements (dominating men). Between 31 and 50 women secure less gains relative to men.
2. How Might we Explain this?
Whilst a sensitive subject, a relative deficit in female resilience must be understood and addressed.
Perhaps we can lay the blame squarely on men? First, they have little insight and second, they make the workplace hard for women. This explanation is naïve and unhelpful.
We could explain these differences by saying that women are prone to self doubt. Thus, women experience more anxiety and distress symptoms. Consequently, they fail to express themselves with adequate confidence and impact. Anxiety undermines action.
Yet, the tables above show that women believe they express EQ better, eat better, stay positive and are more engaged (less anhedonia, self absorption, attention loss and boredom). Actions counter anxiety.
We have examples of organisations where women have significantly higher resilience scores than the men. In these cases, the overall resilience ratio is generally higher (>2.25:1). Perhaps some organisational cultures support women better and let them thrive.
3. Our Recommendations
First, please reflect on this data and ask the question: “Are our women suffering?” The key themes above have been consistent since 2011 over 26,099 assessments. If your women need resilience, you have a duty of care to pay attention and take action.
Second, begin the conversation and pleasemeasure the resilienceof your people. If you know what is going on you can act with intelligence and precision. Support bounce, wellbeing and resilience and watch your productivity improve.
Third, consider whether safety, health and resilience training should be gender specific. Knowing the resilience factor scores of your male and female population can inform, direct and target your training.
Finally, resilience in women is strongly correlated with vitality, relaxation, sleep quality, nutrition and focus. We must support our women to secure these factors. However, it appears that women must address the distress and depression categories first. When they do, the improvement is marked. What women need is different to what men need!
Perhaps resilience will shatter that glass ceiling?
Five words define the crucible of civilization and the battle between conflict and progress. This is true in our relationships, communities, businesses and nations.
Whether it is Brexit, the current US election, climate threat, rich getting richer, or data security, we decide based on our judgement of these five factors. British leadership tried with empathy and candour to secure the trust of the nation to vote “Bremain”. Voters suspected deceit and trickery. To everyone’s surprise, Britain is now exiting a process purposed to integrate Europe with empathy, candour and altruism.
The US election is ripping the world’s great democracy into vitriolic deceit, trickery, and self-interest. The consequence is a collapse of trust in government. The window to be good custodians of our planet is closing due to self-interest and a failure of trust.
Voters no longer trust governments, corporates and the rich. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg can wing his way to show empathy for earthquake victims in Italy and the super-wealthy can give away billions, the vast majority of us are hunkered down in survival mode – powerless and suspicious. We feel deceived and tricked.
On the other side, research including Googleand MIT, shows that empathy is the key competence (skill) to liberate performance in teams. The psychological safety (trust) experienced in a team, liberates constructive interaction and work. This trust is not some secret ingredient. It is actively constructed from specific behaviours. First, high performing teams communicate face-to-face (candour). Second, they communicate in concise bursts of straight feedback (candour). Third, they include all participants equally in the dialogue (altruism).
Empathy is the fulcrum of this crucible. Empathy allows us to read others and decide between deceit and candour (see:http://www.paulekman.com/blog/want-president-cant-wont-lie). Empathy with candour triggers altruism and the amazing collaboration witnessed in advanced social groupings. Empathy with deceit leads to a failure of trust, self-interest and further deceit, which we witness in modern politics, wars, gangs and prisons.
This tipping point between collaborative power and deceitful destruction is embedded in evolution and well validated in studies of corvids (crows and jays), dolphins, whales, elephants, and most primates. The evolutionary source of the solution is clearly visible in chimps and bonobos where the role of leadership demands empathy and altruism to secure the survival of the group.
We might be wise to remember that deceit and trickery are equally well developed in the species above. Homo sapiens is only different in the degree to which we exploit and realise the extremes good and evil.
When we choose empathy, candour and altruism we are capable of exponential goodness. When we default to deceit and trickery we light the fuse of massive destruction.
Be a force for good
Be crystal clear on your language
Empathy is the ability, deeply embedded in our species and wide open to learning, to accurately read and understand others. It is a passive competence requiring attention, non verbal cues, analysis and intuition
Candour is the intention to express yourself as honestly as possible. Candour requires self-awareness, courage and skill. It takes time to know yourself well and even longer to express yourself honestly with sensitivity and clarity. Candour is active and effortful.
Altruism is the intention to help others with skill. It is active. Altruism requires the combination of deep empathy (really understanding what action will help others rather than relieve your guilt or anxiety) and skilful means. At first, altruism presents as a cost and therefore risky. However, the practice of altruism leads to multi-party benefit – particularly your own.
Deceit can be an act of omission (hiding something) or commission (fabricating an untrue statement). It is the opposite of candour.
Trickery is exploiting trust. We attempt to appear as x whilst actually doing y. Here lies the failure of trust in many political systems and relationships.
Define clearly your values and purpose
Being clear on what matters to you, builds a platform to tip the axis to good. Short term self interest or self-gratification leads to deceit and trickery. Our own research shows the critical role of developing a clear set of values and meaningful purpose. We must actively choose between self and others, now and later, candour or deceit and altruism versus trickery.
Press for total candour
Accept that expressing candour skilfully takes time and practice. Be intentional about telling the whole truth. Ask yourself if you have left anything out. Give people an opportunity to ask questions. Help others be candid with you.
Practice your empathy skills
Empathy requires practice. We have addressed this in manypapers.
Random acts of kindness
Be good by doing good should guide each day. Even for those on the wrong side of the axis, spending time helping others has an extraordinary benefit to self, others and the system in which you live. Be generous and skilful.
Be gentle and forgiving
Tipping the axis takes time, demands experiment and failure. Reconciliation is built deep into our evolutionary roots. Be patient and kind to yourself and others. It will accelerate the journey to be a true force for good.
The methodology for how to be your best is becoming a systematic science and art. With a number of new and complimentary themes, this article explores what we know and how to apply it. What are the main themes? How do we make this personally meaningful?
Expert performance can involve four distinct sets of players. The first is the individual. The second is the team. The third is teams with computers. The fourth is entire organisations be they military, commercial, sports or humanity.
Here are some key themes and the key references for those want to go deeper:
The Science of Flow
Over the past decades humans have made massive gains in performance. We see this in sport, extreme adventure, science, music, chess, military, and business. The gains come from applying this science of expertise. Csikszentmihalypopularised the Flow concept three decades ago and Steven Kotlerhas taken this to a new level. Now Anders Ericssonhas taken another step with deliberate practice.
At first, Flow simply described the state of optimal performance. Today, we are systematically mapping the experience. We now know exactly what has to occur in our physiology, emotions and mind to enable flow. It is indeed a magical state of super-performance liberated from doubt and fuelled by extraordinary changes in the chemical brain and consciousness. In Flow we can do the seemingly impossible – and it feels fantastic!
McKinsey argues that an executive in flow does five days work in one. The All Blacks and Navy Seals have institutionalised flow as a way of being.
At the core, flow emerges when we tackle a serious but meaningful challenge with a set of finely honed skills (expertise). The experience is so intense, thinking, feeling and bodily processes temporarily cease. This allows maximum resources for rapid, accurate perception, evaluation and decision-making.
The Science of Expertise
The systematic development of the necessary skills to enter flow consistently is new territory. This is where high performance sports coaching, military strategy and Anders Ericsson have lots to teach us. Deliberate practice trumps genes and “natural talent’ every time. Experts agree that Mozart, Einstein, Picasso and others shone not because of some magical talent but because they practiced deliberately over long periods of time.
Expert performances are increasing because we understand the process of skill development. It takes time – in the order of 7,500 hours. It must start early in life. It requires expert coaching and data-driven feedback. Ericsson’s recipe includes deliberate, purposeful practice over long periods of time, specific training objectives, quick feedback with expert coaching, razor focus, practicing outside of one’s comfort zone, and alignment of motivators.
Ericsson and Duhiggboth agree that developing the right mental maps (or representations) is critical. This is worth a moment to process. In the demanding and fluid conditions of expert performance, the pictures of one’s options must present immediately. In other words whether it is chess, concert performance, battle, sport or business, experts have mapped these mental maps into their long-term memory.
There is no time to ponder the question: “what should I do now?” You have to know that exact situation from memory – through deliberate practice – and all of the possible options available. This is the meaning of what we call situation awareness. Because you have practiced the situation so many times, you can feel the right option intuitively. Working memory (thinking) is just too slow and too expensive. Top Gun, the Navy Fighter initiative, did this by drilling pilots in specific dogfight situations followed by detailed debriefs. Again and again they learned how specific situations unfold and how to respond intuitively. This transformed the Navy’s performance in Vietnam and has become the template for US military campaigns.
The applications of this idea are huge from parenting and education through to business and the professions. The more we practice for novel situations and enrich long term memory with different options, the better we will become. These mental maps must include physical, emotional and cognitive elements.
The Science of High Performing Teams
Geoff Colvinand Charles Duhigg converge on a definite shift in research on what drives team performance. The message is crisp. Intelligence, expertise and style are not correlated with team performance. Empathy or social awareness is categorically the best predictor of who will contribute to team performance. Both MIT and Google have contributed to this work showing that it is the teams that interact face-to-face with high emotional sensitivity that deliver the goods.
Further they suggest that short burst communication, evenly distributed around the team characterise a high performing team. Imagine what happens when the deliberate practice of empathy is combined with the tools to work in this way. Then what when we apply team flow to deliberate practice and after-action reviews.
The final frontier is where excellent teams interface with excellent technology. Already teams of chess players collaborate with computers to be the best chess “players” in the world. It is time to ask yourself how you might work with emergent technology to expand and develop your career.
Resilience in Body, Heart and Mind
Expert performance must rest on a foundation of Resilience. The entire range of expert performance is no longer the domain of intellect. The possibility of flow depends upon our will to cultivate resilience in a systematic way. Be fit enough to keep the brain plastic, sleep long enough to activate empathy and social intelligence, and learn how to create meaning and passion on a daily basis.
We know that children who learn to develop their impulse control, empathy and physical wellbeing are far more likely to excel. As Anders Ericsson pleads, we are becoming Homo Exercens – the practicing human. Start early, support everyone and back yourself.