What I Learned about Forming New Neural Pathways from My Morning Smoothie

What I Learned about Forming New Neural Pathways from My Morning Smoothie

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #6

If you’re a morning smoothie fan like I am, you likely own some kind of blender like a Nutribullet or Ninja. They’re small, but heavy duty and they mean business. You can stuff 16 ounces (400+ ml) of frozen produce in there and top it off with some kind of liquid (creamy oat milk is my current go to) and blend away.

If you’re like me and watch the smoothifying process somewhat obsessively, you’ll notice an interesting pattern beyond the whirring. While the motor starts out strong with the blades whacking through the frozen stuff with abandon, it looks and feels like hard work. Frankly, you’re not sure it’s ever going to come together. But then, all of a sudden, in one simple, clarifying moment, the banana chunks stuck at the top of the cup finally get sucked in and, whew …it’s smooth sailing from there.

What’s this got to do with neural pathways?

Our brains’ most prominent patterns (kind of like software code that govern our outlook and behavior) are the product of years and years of living, coping and surviving in a world that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety, on top of centuries of inherited programing for the survival of our species. This means the primary focus of our brains is to simply remain alive at the end of the day, one day at a time.

According to the NeuroLeadership Institute: “Our brains have evolved to really like certainty, which stems from our basic drive to survive. We have evolved to predict and control our circumstances because doing so optimizes our ability to live.”

(It’s interesting to note that Merriam-Webster provides the following antonyms for the word “survive”: fail, fizzle, give out, peter (out), run out.  So we can see how our perilous it would be for humanity if we let the ball drop on the survival idea.)

But don’t we get to do more than simply survive?

If you’re motivated to do anything more than simply survive, like thrive maybe, then you’ll need to adopt a workout regimen of sorts for your brain to develop some new neural pathways. You know it can be done, because I’m sure you know at least a few people who arise each day not just experiencing joy and contentment, but actually expecting to do so. Every day.

That’s not just personality at work. Nor does it have anything to do with wealth, health or privilege. It’s the product of a set of decisions (whether made consciously or not) to focus on living, not just surviving. And in the beginning, it took work.

Getting back to the smoothie…

Once we are fully formed adults, changing our mindset – the way we think, expect and behave – requires intention, commitment and discipline. It requires forming new neural pathways that allow us to go beyond focusing on minute-to-minute survival in order to experience, express and create more.

It’s not a simple thing. In the beginning, it feels a lot like stuffing a bunch of frozen produce (our intentions) into a blender cup, adding some liquid (commitment) and pulsing the hell out of it (discipline). Like with the blender motor, it looks and feels like hard work in the early days – awkward even. But keep the pressure on long enough, and all of a sudden, all the efforting dissolves into ease. And, lo and behold, you have formed a new neural pathway or two, and likely, an expanded mindset and experience.

This conscious and intentional evolving of our mindset is a prerequisite to developing ChangeAgility – the skills and practices that make change suck less and enable us (and our colleagues, families and communities) to thrive.

Check out earlier episodes in our Make Change Suck Less series:

  • Episode #1: What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck
  • Episode #2: Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!
  • Episode #3: What If?
  • Episode #4: What Does It Take to Dig a New Groove?
  • Episode #5: Reasons to Like Contraction AND Expansion

Expand your ability to respond to change in ways that will positively alter your life with our program “The 3 Essential Practices to Make Change Suck Less: Mindset, Resilience, Identity (MRI)”. And check out YOU LEAD, our peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders, or catapult your capability and impact with one-on-one executive coaching.

Reasons to Like Contraction AND Expansion

Reasons to Like Contraction AND Expansion

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #5

In episode #4, we introduced three sets of questions that have a remarkable ability to change the way we think. That was before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

It turns out that stopping the world as we know it has provided an incredible opportunity for many of us to practice these questions, letting go of what is outside of our control and seizing that which remains.

With my deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones to this horrific disease, those who struggled and overcame it, and immense gratitude to those who have stepped up in ways none of us could imagine just months ago, I aim to share how this experience has added insights and tools to my personal arsenal for making change suck less. I hope these will help you as well.

Insight #1: Contraction and expansion are both necessary and natural occurrences in our universe

How this is playing out for many of us: At this time of economic instability (to say the least), most of us are working to find every possible opportunity to shave the cost of living. At the same time, I am acutely aware that what we focus on is what we manifest.

So how do we square this focus on minimizing our costs with desires and intentions to amass financial abundance? I believe it is by understanding – and embracing – the rhythms of contraction and expansion in nature …and keeping the larger vision front and center. (Remember the adage “go slow in order to go fast?”)

The truth is that the vast majority of us will survive the contraction and make it to the expansion that awaits on the other side. The question becomes, how can we weather this journey and raise the odds of making it to what is next — while minimizing the pain?

Aside from the obvious can’ts, don’ts and musts that we are all experiencing — where in this contraction can we let down our guard and find the spaces and opportunities to cherish, relish and simply enjoy? Where we can drop the fierce resistance and stalwart strength we have been relying on to carry us through from moment to moment? The small, precious moments in which we can experience the magnificence of expansion in the moment? Where we are simultaneously shrinking and creating / building? 

For me, it looks like this.

Contraction:

  • Refinancing my mortgage to enhance cash flow
  • Eliminating those pesky little automatic monthly charges we sign up for in the dead of night and promptly forget about
  • Getting creative – and activating my passion for environmental sustainability – by pulling various stray items in my pantry and figuring out how to make meals out of them (for more on that, you simply MUST check in with @thescrappychefny on IG).

Expansion:

  • Investing in professional development to learn new skills and upgrade my certification in my chosen field
  • Enriching my personal life by connecting with family and friends through individual and group Zoom calls
  • Practicing my active and open listening skills by debating current topics with my “grown and flown and now back home” young adult children whose political views are very different from my own!

Insight #2: Embracing the contraction defangs our fear

There is no more obvious example of contraction and expansion at work than in childbirth – literal or figurative.

Sheila Hay, author of Ecstatic Birth, explains that when we hit a rough patch on the road to our desires, that’s a contractive moment. Our natural tendency is to numb them, to avoid them at all cost. But, she points out, contractions are an important part of labor – with each one, our body opens a little more to lead to birth. The more we resist these contractions, the more painful they are and the more fear we kick up. It can become a downward spiral. Rather, she coaches, surrender to the contraction in favor of what we know is on the other side.

Here’s what that looks like for me:

  • As I got into retooling my finances, looking for places to cut back, it started to feel like a game. With each item I eliminated or reduced, I got a hit of immediate satisfaction, prompting me to look for more. It’s kind of like weeding. I dare you to limit yourself to only the first five weeds you spot!
  • Same for the culinary adventures: The more I figured out how to use stuff that had been lying around in the pantry, the more creative and virtuous I felt. As if the universe were giving me a pat on the back.

When we focus our attention on those moments of joy and expansion in the midst of the rest of it, even for a few moments every day, we disempower the struggle and give strength to the beauty and growth instead. It really is about being in the moment …not fighting it.

Check out earlier episodes in our Make Change Suck Less series:

  • Episode #1: What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck
  • Episode #2: Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!
  • Episode #3: What If?
  • Episode #4: What Does It Take to Dig a New Groove?

Stay tuned to learn more about our new program: The 3 Essential Practices to Make Change Suck Less: Mindset, Resilience, Identity (MRI). And check out our peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.

 

What Does It Take to Dig a New Groove?

What Does It Take to Dig a New Groove?

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #4

In episode #3, we acknowledged the creative power of asking “what if” instead of hunkering down in fight or flight every time change appears on the horizon. In this episode, we’ll develop a practice around questioning in order to create space for new possibilities.

It turns out our brains are far more elastic than we traditionally believed. Neuroscience researchers liken our gray matter to a fresh field of mud that gets worn down into a series of grooves, according to our habitual ways of thinking and acting. (Actually, I’ve never heard a neuroscientist say that our brains are like mud – I was visualizing the most recent Kentucky Derby mess when I wrote that!)

The point is: We can change the grooves if we want.

Consider the way train engineers use switches to move a train from one track to another. What if you could switch your thoughts over from the old, auto-pilot, how-am-I-going-to-pay-the-bills groove to a completely new and different circuit – one that’s far more liberating and empowering?

Creating these track “switches” could allow you to bypass the frenzy and / or paralysis of the survival instinct (fight or flight), which if you are seriously facing loss of life is handy, but otherwise is not that constructive. Instead, these “switches” can take you down a different path altogether –one that opens the way to possibilities you might never have imagined before.

Neuroscientists at Synaptic Potential call this our “change readiness neural quotient” – our neural capability to change. And the amazing thing is that like most capabilities, it can indeed be developed (or expanded).

To aid in building this new neural change muscle, I’d like to offer a practice that centers on asking yourself three sets of questions whenever you see change headed your way. These progressive questions are designed to unlock your natural resistance and unleash your personal power to respond and create in ways that serve your highest good.

Question Set #1:

  • Do I understand why this change is happening (after objectively considering all factors)?
  • Given more data points than I likely have, might I have arrived at the same (or similar) decision if I were in charge?
  • Regardless of my emotional response, will this change take place anyway?

At this point, you have ideally answered yes to all. And even if you don’t like what’s heading down the pike, your rational brain can accept the scenario as a foregone conclusion. If so, you are ready to move on.

Question set #2:

  • With this (rational) context in place, how do I feel in my gut about this change?
  • In addition to fears, concerns, trepidation… is there even a glimmer of curiosity? Relief? Excitement?
  • Can I feel a sense of possibility opening up… or even see a sliver of light filtering into the crack?

If you answered yes to the last two questions, you are like the train engineer, ready to literally flip the switch.

Question set #3:

  • In what ways might this new situation allow me to grow?
  • What latent skills or interests might I express or develop given this new scenario?
  • What have I always dreamed of doing (or doing differently) and how might this shift enable me to explore this?

If you’re able to contemplate these last questions, you are firmly in the creative “what might be” space, where etching new grooves is eminently possible.

In retrospect, I realize now that I’ve been following this process for years. And like everyone, I do sometimes get stuck in Question Set #1 (which is all about accepting that which we cannot control). It’s why I have carefully curated a short list of incredibly smart, diverse and provocative advisers I consult with from time to time – my truth tellers. They ask me tough questions and point out ways that I have dug in my heels in order to help me loosen myself from old grooves that were once constructive but no longer serve me well. 

As I have become more adept at activating change in my own life, I find that Question Sets #2 and #3 come to me quite naturally. Have you ever cleared a room that was once full of a lot of clutter, only to feel so deeply the energy, spaciousness and clarity you didn’t know you craved?

This practice is a lot like that.

At On the Same Page, we would really like to hear how you actively bring change on board in your own life. Please do share your insights and experiences with us so we can all expand our ability to… well, expand!

From the Synaptic Potential white paper: “Change Readiness NQ: Strengthening Your Organisation’s / Employees’ Ability to Manage Change and Cultivate Opportunity”

Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.

What If?

What If?

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #3

In episode #2, we explored unexpected benefits resulting from changes in our lives that were outside of our control. In this episode, let’s dig deeper to see just how change can truly enrich our experience – in the rear-view mirror.

How many different people have you been in this lifetime? I’ve been at least five – and that’s only counting my professional lives. 

In case you’re interested, there was the entertainment writer / local TV producer (ask me about my interview with Jerry Seinfeld), the year and a half I was a licensed life and disability insurance salesperson (for real), then came the very serious business journalist interviewing true titans of industry. At some point, I veered into the corporate world as a… wait for it… change agent. Let’s hop, skip and jump a few years to today: I think I’m morphing once again from a somewhat stable business owner to something slightly more creative (but you’ll have to ask my colleagues about that… or just ask me). 

The point? What if I never what-iffed? I would have missed the big move from the Midwest to the Big Apple. I wouldn’t have interviewed a CEO who later became our nation’s Treasury Secretary. I would have missed out on getting to know so many amazing and inspiring clients. I’d have a whole lot fewer friends. And I definitely wouldn’t have learned to practice Reiki. (Yup. Certified Level 2.)

None of these zigs or zags were planned. Not a one. They just came… and, gazing in the rear-view, it seems I said “what if” quite often, in the sense of why not?

So, I got to thinking: Could you turn my personal “what if” habit into a deliberate practice? Let’s try it. 

What if….

  • You could switch on a different internal circuit before responding to change coming at you from an external source?
  • What if your prevailing thoughts and reactions weren’t focused on your survival – your ability to earn a living, pay for food and shelter, clothe and educate your kids?
  • What if, like in mindfulness meditation, you could tame the “monkey mind” by acknowledging that the concerns (fears) you have are real, and then gently and respectfully put them aside to see what other more productive possibility may be hiding there?
  • What if instead, you could switch your thoughts over to a completely different, far more liberating and empowering circuit? (Consider the train track that branches off to a new destination.) 

That last what if (and heads up… it’s a big one!) could take the form of some reflective thinking guided by a whole new set of questions. The questions I’m talking about redirect our brains from the constricting fight or flight response to a far more expansive mindset of abundance and opportunity. 

What if you could train yourself to think like that the next time your company announces big changes coming your way? And every time after that?

I’ll explore what those questions could look like in the next episode… I hope you’ll join me.

Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.

Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!

Resist Wisely… It Requires an Incalculable Amount of Energy!

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #2

In episode #1, we established that going with the flow has its merits… and that doing so sometimes even produces beneficial outcomes. But what if it gets even better than that?

We spend SO much energy resisting change. I wish there was a way to calculate this in concrete terms, like number of brain cells suffocated by anxiety, or dollars draining from our personal asset base, or… something other than gray hair. 

Here’s an alternative way to look at it from my personal arsenal of recent experiences.

Four people I care a great deal about – and who have been within arms reach on a near constant basis for years – have LEFT ME within a few weeks. This includes my two kids and two of my very best friends. (Okay… so they haven’t left me, per se. But none of them live anywhere near me anymore, so you get what I mean.)

You would think I would be feeling pretty blue. But I gotta say… I’m kinda reveling in the new and unexpected space. 

Let’s start with my newest luxuries of home and hearth:

  • I haven’t tripped over a twisted pile of boxers on the floor in months
  • Cupboard doors are – miraculously – closed, hiding whatever is meant to be hidden
  • There isn’t a dirty dish in the sink… unless I put it there
  • Not one Goldfish has crunched under my ass when I relax on the couch
  • My cat knows just which lap to climb into (… finally! The one who feeds him!)

Moving on from the mundane to the more meaningful:

  • The new rhythm of my days, nights and weeks are suddenly shaped by MY interests, MY priorities and MY intentions
  • There are friends I get to see that I haven’t seen since sitting on the sidelines of T-ball “games,” and new ones presenting themselves in my path
  • Events I’ve always wondered about in a distant way are finding a committed spot on my calendar – activity partner or no
  • And also, unexpected bouts of loneliness that are both deep and challenging; inviting me to get real about how I want connection to thread its way into and through my life

So now I’m thinking: What if we could drop our natural resistance to change when it happens “to us” at work and open to the world of what-ifs? What if we could somehow flip that switch from “Danger Danger” to an “Oh, that’s interesting… tell me more” position the next time the winds of change blow our way, bypassing the whole fear, anxiety and resistance cycle completely? What kinds of possibilities might cross our path when we learn to dim the fight or flight response so that our vision is made a bit clearer? 

And that – what if – is the topic of my next post. Stay tuned.

Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.

What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck

What I Learned About Change From a Very Weird Plant on My Deck

Make Change Suck Less – Episode #1

I’m a beginner with plants. Having spent 2+ decades raising kids (and a business), I’ve decided to start slowly with the green stuff. 

That’s why my best friend and I picked out this plant early last summer for my back deck. 

They’re succulents, she told me. Therefore they won’t need much attention. Perfect, I thought. Bought and paid for!

For the first two months, all went smoothly with the succulents. Then a few weeks later, this happened: 

Those tall protrusions that look like they desperately want to become flowers never really did. They only made the whole pot oddly asymmetrical and prone to blowing over in the wind.

But one thing they did produce: something that my beloved hummingbirds loved to feed on! Almost as much as the homemade nectar I keep stocked in the nearby feeders all summer long. (I like birds better than plants… and almost as much as my kids.)

And what does this have to do with change, you ask? I’ve concluded these 3 things from my summer with the succulents:

  • We simply don’t know what we don’t know. So why not stay open to possibilities?
  • You never really know what’s coming until it does. And even when it isn’t all that attractive, it can – and often does – pave the way for something new, exciting and better than was there before. (More weird succulent protrusions = fewer trips to buy sugar for the homemade nectar. Oh, and… will the little seeds from those un-flowers become next summer’s succulents? I believe they might.)
  • Relinquish control, especially regarding outcomes. The control thing was probably an illusion anyway. And oh, how much energy we waste on just the attempt to control. 

That last point – the energy required to resist change? Stay tuned… it’s the topic of our next post. 

What new door opened for you when you least expected it?

Check out our new peer coaching program for new and emerging leaders called YOU LEAD. We’ll be digging into all kinds of ways to make change suck less by activating your voice, your impact.

 
Will You Change the World? Top 5 Characteristics of a “Change Maker”

Will You Change the World? Top 5 Characteristics of a “Change Maker”

Are You a Change Maker?One person can change the world. Just look at inventors, politicians, political activists, religious figures, business leaders… History is full of people that have made a difference – for better or worse. What do these people have in common? Is there a formula for their success?

While many people may have wonderful ideas that could change the world, there is a core set of characteristics that define successful change makers. They are:

Curious and Creative Problem Solvers: Change makers become passionate about solving a problem (or problems). Inherently, they ask questions and look for creative ways to find solutions.

Risk Takers with Confidence and Courage: Instinct and intuition as their guide, change makers trust in themselves and preserver into new frontiers or against popular opinion.

Open-minded with a Positive Perspective: In order to succeed, change makers are optimistic about their results and success, and are open to different and new perspectives. This positivity and openness is what helps them see the solutions that lead to great change.

Engaging communicators: By the nature of a change maker’s passion for the change they seek, they must be able to inspire and motivate audiences for support. Change makers are storytellers that inspire action.

Doers with Ambition and Drive: Because of their passion for results, successful change makers will roll up their sleeves and dig into the work. They set up lofty goals and are willing to put in the hours until they reach them, very committed to success.

Who is your favorite change maker and what should we learn from him or her?