For Every Promise, There is Price to Pay.

 

Your clever brain knows when you are going to break a promise long before you are even willing to admit it to yourself. So be careful what you promise people. We make commitments to others and ourselves all the time. We have our personal and our organisations promises to observe. You are not just obliging yourself to keep your promises; other people will hold you to account for them as well. The big question is whether we keep them or break them? There is some new neuroscience research that indicates that there is a pattern, and your brain knows in advance that you will break your promise.

study by Dutch Researcher Manuela Vieth, investigated how the behaviour of other people and one’s own behaviour influences future behaviour. If other people say they trust you, you actually become more trustworthy. If you believe you are trustworthy, you oblige yourself to keep your promises.Just so we are clear, a promise is: a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified; or a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.

When we don’t keep a promise to someone, it communicates to that person that we don’t value him or her. I see it all the time in work and networking situation. They have in fact chosen to place something else ahead of our commitment. Even when we break small promises, others learn that they cannot count on us. This will result (almost always) in an erosion of trust in our relationships (business or personal). More importantly, we are telling ourselves that we don’t value our own word. Researchers in Switzerland discovered that they could predict who would break a promise based on the brain’s reaction during the basic three-stage model of promise making.

  • Stage 1: The Promise

Let’s use a classic example found everyday in the office. You perhaps have told your coworkers that you would absolutely, definitely, help them finish a project. At this initial stage, you haven’t fully decided whether or not you are going to keep or break the promise to your coworkers. Your brain, however, has already registered an emotional conflict because it knows that you don’t really intend on keeping that promise. Because of this, the brain will activate your negative emotional processing centres.

  • Stage 2: Anticipation Phase

Now that you’ve told your coworkers of your promise, you have to wait and see whether or not they will trust you to keep that promise. The anticipation of their response causes you increased stress and cortisol, which of course your brain will register. Your brain is already preparing you for possible negative outcomes and future consequences.

  • Stage 3 Decision Phase

Now you’ve decided to break your promise to your coworkers because you are too busy (or insert any number of excuses). The decision to break a promise promotes a reaction in your brain similar to that of a lie or deception. You will probably feel some guilt and fear over how breaking this promise will affect you. To combat these feelings your brain will remind you of the motivation for breaking the promise by activating your reward-based decision making part of the brain.

It is so easy today with the battleground of social media at our fingertips for someone in the world to rubbish your service or product. Your brand promise can counter any negativity by telling potential clients what your brand stands for and why they should choose you. It is vital you make your personal or business brand consistent, from products and services, strategy and execution, consistency needs to reach all corners of the business. If you are not consistent you will lose credibility, you will look confused and vague to your clients and the impression you will leave them with is that you haven’t been in business very long.

The promises of yesterday are the taxes of today.

-William Lyon MacKenzie

It has never been clearer that we need to embed your brand promise throughout the whole of your organisation. It doesn’t matter whether the promises are personal, or if you are a solopreneur, or an SME: you need to be feel that it is part of everything you deliver and not just a statement that appears on your website.So here is my quick methodology and protocol for what you (or your business) need to do:

1. Make Small Promises You Can Keep: be realistic in your daily commitment. Start small and create a private victory. You can build on this with other small promises and enlarge your victory until you establish healthy habits for your life. Make a promise and keep it.People often dismiss small promises as unimportant, but that is just not true. You don’t call back when you say you will, you don’t repay a loan that’s outstanding, or maybe it just doesn’t seem important to keep a confidence. If you fail to take the minor promises seriously, you destroy trust and damage your reputation. Failing to keep these small promises gives the appearance of being disorganized and irresponsible. You make the other person feel dismissed and unimportant. Conversely, you can build trust by demonstrating that you keep your word even on seemingly inconsequential things.

2. Make it Your Number #1 Priority: don’t let anything get in the way. Following through on a difficult promise not only gives you satisfaction, but also raises the level of respect you receive from others. If you truly want to be successful in life, have better relationships, and advance your career or business, hold promises as sacred agreements, don’t miss deadlines, and make a practice to follow through on your commitments. Don’t make excuses (see Rule 5).

3. Surprise Them and Yourself: make a promise your customers aren’t expecting. Speed and delivery are probably a given for all express transportation companies. Why should your customers work with you rather than someone else? When you are clear about them, wrap your brand promise around these key benefits. Make your brand promises short, simple and direct

4. Write Down Your Promise: keep it somewhere visible at home and at work. Make your promise clear and make them concrete. Make sure that are certain that you will be able to do something before you commit to it. Then be clear on the expectation, action, or result that is agreed to. Then set a firm deadline. Firm promises that are set in stone are more likely to be kept. Never make a promise that you are not sure you can keep.

Every promise fulfilled will help you to associate your name with positivity and trust. Making promises you can keep is instrumental to helping you build and maintain any relationship in life. So, right now make that promise to yourself.

For Every Promise, There is Price to Pay.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Secret World: Your Brain gets Fooled Again

Slide2

Three people check into a hotel. Sounds like the beginning of a joke. Well in a way it is, as they clearly don’t, they use Airbnb and get a really good deal. Unless, like me you try and book a room in Edinburgh in August when nothing is as it seems. All the advertised rates for booking are suddenly ‘unavailable’ when you book (because of demand for the world’s largest Arts Festival) and therefore they are doubled or triple the advertised price. Particularly annoying as I am doing a brilliant 4 week show there this August.

But imagine they did check in to a hotel and they got to pay the standard rack rate of £300 to the manager and go to their room (let assume there was no room tax or VAT and the manager accepted cash). The manager finds out a bit later that the special daily room rate is actually only £250 and gives £50 to the bellboy to return. On the way to the room, the bellboy reasons that £50 would be difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £20 and gives £10 to each person. Now, each person paid £100 and got back £10. So they paid £90 each, totalling £270. The bellboy has £20, totalling £290. Where is the remaining £10 pounds gone Who cares? Well if you do, the answer is at the end.

Your brain is so easily tricked that the retail and hospitality industries use this processing error for good and less ethical reasons. Tricks begin as soon as you walk into a shop or hotel, or are handed the menu… whether we like it or not, they playing brain and neuroscience games with us.

People aren’t rational thinkers because our brains takes short cuts all the time. In truth, research shows that a huge amount of decision-making is actually based on subconscious factors. An example of these subconscious factor comes from smells; they can transport us back to powerful and emotional memories from the past more effectively than sounds. The theory behind this has been around a while. French writer Marcel Proust, who in his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time – yes I have read it) describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit. It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together and there is a brilliant paper on this called ‘Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena’. Let’s call it (for simplicity) the Proust effect. It is used across retail, hotels and restaurants. Companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying something. The true secret of successfully marketing a product is to pair a store or a product with a specific scent. If you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.The first time you notice a new type of scent you will subconsciously connect this scent to an item or a person. After that the scent will trigger the response that you experienced to that person or item and hopefully a happy response.

Lets take a simple example: M&M’s don’t actually smell – try it next time you buy a packet. M&M’s are as I am sure you know, colourful button-shaped candies produced by Mars, Incorporated. M&M’s originated in the United States in 1941, and are now sold in as many as 100 countries. The company’s longest-lasting slogan reflects this encasing and sealed in essence:

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

But the famous M&M World Store in London (35,000 square feet store selling M&Ms products and merchandise is the largest candy store in the world) has a surprisingly strong chocolate scent when you walk in. You would expect that wouldn’t you? You want to feel like you are entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate lab when you go there. But then you look around and realise that all their wares are prepackaged. And you realise that the strong smell of chocolate is being sprayed at you with a vengeance. And your happy chocolate bubble bursts.

The Holiday Inn hotels chain has been using scents combined with the right kind of music to invite you to stay longer in their rooms, lobbies and bars. The company uses a rose scent for weddings and a leather-based scent for business meetings and similar functions. Even the chlorine pool smell comes from a bucket of powder that is added to the air system in the mornings! Should you have something to celebrate, the Holiday Inn will make your party smell fruity! This type of sensory marketing is used by many hotel chains.

This leads to an odd unintended consequence in hotels. Your glasses (on the fridge, mini bar or shelf of most hotels) have a lemony flavour. According to industry expert Jacob Tomsky, it’s Pledge lemon furniture spray. Jacob should know, he has worked on the front lines of hotels for more than a decade, starting as a lowly valet in New Orleans and ultimately landing at a front desk in New York City. He’s also the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality and a man with some hospitality secrets to spill.He says that furniture polish is sprayed on a thick white base, rub it in, and you’ll be face-to-face with a spotless, streak-free mirror. The housekeepers kept this move behind closed doors along with another dirty secret he didn’t discover until he walked in on cleaners with Pledge in one hand and a minibar glass in the other. Keeping those glasses clean-looking was also part of the job. So the next time you put a little tap water into the glass and wonder why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, it’s because you just took a shot of Pledge.

Another neuromarketing experience that you should know (but probably have never thought about) it that you go into a restaurants or hotels knowing exactly what they want to order or how much they want to spend, and we can be influenced by all sorts of things that we’re not aware of. It appears there is a growing industry at the centre of all this is, the humble menu. You might think that the restaurant menu merely tells you what items are available in a certain establishment. Actually, it is a very sophisticated piece of marketing and advertising. In fact, it’s the only piece of advertising that restaurant owners can be certain their customers will read. As a result, restaurants invite in specialised menu consultants (people like me) whose job it is to lay out a menu that will persuade you to spend more money than you’d expected. I know it is all my fault and I apologise.

You may have noticed that increasingly the prices on menus no longer employ the Pound sign (£) (or Dollar $ Sign) or even any evidence of pence. Where once a steak might have cost you £16.00 now its price is stated as ‘16′ no full stop or pence. Have you noticed this happening? well it’s not just happening in the high end restaurants. I have found there are no pound signs at Carluccio’s, Byron, Giraffe or Cafe Rouge either. This is not a coincidence. A study by Cornell University’s Centre For Hospitality Research in America found that when, in a similar move, dollar signs were left off a menu, sales increased by eight per cent. For that same reason, you now never see dots leading the eye from the description of the item to the price.

Why might an item on the menu have a box around it? It’s not because it’s a dish the chef is particularly proud of, it’s because it earns a high profit for the restaurant.Alternatively, the menu might use other methods to draw our attention: an item in a different colour; an accompanying illustration; a different typeface.

Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist at Oxford University, is the co-author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science Of Food And Dining, and alert to the techniques in play. ‘I was in the burger restaurant Byron the other day,’ he says. ‘The menu is all in black and white, except for one item, which is highlighted in bright red. And it’s their most expensive item.’ Professor Spence says that people are also likely to spend more if menus and especially wine lists are heavy to handle. Even the use of hypnotic language words that menus now use (sorry again – my fault) can persuade us to splash out more.

If you want to learn more about the is exciting field, I suggest you take a look at the very brilliant Kate Nightingale’s Style Psychology site. She really is the expert on how you can use the human brain for good in the retail sector.

 

Oh and to put you out of your misery about the missing £10 (or should I say ‘10′ Count how much money each person started with and how much each person ends up with. Each person paid £90, totalling £270. The manager has £250 and the bellboy has £20. The bellboy’s £20 should be added to the manager’s £250 or subtracted from the guests’ £270, not added to the guests £ 270. Simple really.

Now who has a nice place in Edinburgh for me to rent in August at a fair price?

Be Amazing Every Day.

Amazing Brain and Eye Fixation

Amazing Brain and Eye Fixation

But first look into my eyes. Deep into my eyes.

You can’t for very long. Not because I am particularly ugly (I am average apparently) but because your eyes are in fact always moving in a fast tremor, dancing around in little micro saccades. Saccades are quick, simultaneous movements of both eyes in the same direction. Initiated by the frontal eye fields or sub-cortically by the superior colliculus, saccades serve as a mechanism for fixation, rapid eye movement, and the fast phase of optokinetic nystagmus. Sorry back to the fun…

Try this little experiment on someone in the office or home. Tell them to look into your eyes and say they can’t stop looking. Then ask them what they had for lunch three days ago and chances are they won’t be able to answer. It’s very hard to remember something without moving your eyes.

We are as humans are extremely visual creatures. Many of us are guilty of taking some of the most wondrous and spectacular things about how our bodies work for granted. Ben Franklin once remarked how people marvel at beautiful vistas, but forget about the miracle of the human body. For example, how often do you consider the sheer number of individual cells working in unison to sustain life inside your body? It is hard to grasp just how small the atoms that make up your body are until you take a look at the massive number of them.

An adult male (me) is made up of around 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 octillion) atoms. Maybe a few more for me after the skiing and eating last week. The retina in the back of your eyes are made up of at least 120 million cells that are extremely sensitive to light. Of those cells, between 6 and 7 million of them are colour sensitive cones, and details of the world surrounding you in HD. The other more than 110 million cells are called rods, which help you to see better in the dark and distinguish between black and white. So surprisingly, less than a tenth of your visual receptors actually detect colour or indeed see much beyond the latest 4K Ultra High Definition screens.

  • Here is a fact for your (unlimited) hard drive memory to encode ( i.e. remember then recall): on average, you blink around 17 times per minute, 28,800 times per day, and 5.2 million times per year. The old saying, in a blink of an eyecame about because the muscle which allows you to blink is the fastest muscle in the body. A blink typically lasts 100-150 milliseconds, and this action plays a vital role in keeping your eyes moist and debris-free.

Now this is truly amazing: your eyes are unbelievably sensitive, able to detect just a few photons of light. A photon is the smallest elementary particle, the smallest quantum of light and indeed of all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is the force carrier for the electromagnetic force, even when static via virtual photons.

To demonstrate this amazing fact, if you take a look on a very clear night at the constellation of Andromeda, a little fuzzy patch of light is just visible with the naked eye. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Located north of the celestial equator, it is named for Andromeda, daughter of Cassiopeia, who was chained to a rock to be eaten by the sea monster Cetus. Nice. Now if your eyes are good enough and you can make out that tiny blob, you are seeing as far as is humanly possible without technology.

Andromeda is the nearest large galaxy to our own Milky Way. But near is a relative term in intergalactic space, the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. When the photons of light that hit your eye began their journey, there were no human beings on earth and we were yet to evolve. You are seeing an almost inconceivable distance and looking back in time through 2.5 million years. Tell your friends how good your eyes (well rods) are and spread that fact around from me!

The picture of the world we see (or think we see) as I have already mentioned in previous articles, is in fact an artificial construct. Our brains don’t produce an image the way a GO-Pro camera works. Instead, the brain constructs a model of the world from the information provided by modules that measure light and shade, edges, curvature and so on. This makes it simple for the brain to paint out the blind spot, the area of your retina where the optic nerve joins, which has no sensors. It also compensates for the rapid jerky movements of our eyes called saccades, giving a false picture of steady vision.

But the downside of this process is that it makes our eyes easy to fool. TV, films and optical illusions work by misleading the brain about what the eye is seeing. This is also why the moon appears much larger than it is and seems to vary in size. To look at something seems a simple act; just hold your eyes steadily on the target.This is called fixation.Although we spend about 80 % of our time in fixation, less is known about this important skill than different types of eye movements. You are about to fixate on a problem. However, fixation presents a real paradox.

If you look at something without ever moving your eyes and retina, the target fades away. You can see this with Troxler’s effect. Make sure the circle above is 4 inches (you can’t do this on a phone very well I have tried) or more in diameter. Then, stare steadily at the centre dot and, with time, the peripheral grey circle should fade away, then return, only to fade again. Your visual system, indeed our sensory systems in general, do not like sameness; they get bored (sort of). They respond only when something changes, so, as you stare at the central dot without intentionally moving your eyes, the large circle fails to keep activating your low resolution peripheral visual system. The circle disappears, but you see it again when you make a subtle eye movement, thus changing the visual stimuli that move across your retinal cells.

You eyes are always moving.

My favourite op art pieces, like Enigma (above) by Isia Leviant or The Fall by Bridget Riley (below) may have their bizarre effects in large part because of these subtle fixational eye movements. When you look at Enigma for several seconds to a minute, you may start to see a streaming movement in the coloured circles. Your eyes are flicking around and these movements are very subtle, small jerks (microsaccades) that cover less than 2 degrees of visual space, slow drifts, and high frequency tremor. Microsaccades brought the grey circle back after it disappeared in Troxler’s illusion.

A relatively recent study has shown that this effect is a result of your own micro saccades. Fixational eye movements may also be involved in the undulations and shimmering you see in The Fall. The repeating nature of these lines in the painting may create, via subtle eye movements, illusions of motion. These illusions excite the motion sensitive areas of your brain which may, in turn, stimulate even more eye movements so that the illusions build over time. People who experience eyestrain when reading experience more of these illusions than people who read comfortably. Which mY explain the head aches if you stare at a flickering screen for too long.

So my gift to you today was,

  • Art, Science, Cosmology, Space, Troxler, Ben Franklin, The Fall, Constellations, Greek Mythology, Ptolemy, Physiology, Anatomy, Physics, History, Movement, The Matrix, Hypnosis, Photons, Evolution, Neuroscience, 3 New Facts, 2 Strange Illusions, some Chemistry and a little Humour, all in one blink of a blog.

Oh and one more brain secret for you: by whispering something to someone almost guarantees that they’ll whisper back. Try whispering Be Amazing Every Day and ‘this was the best blog you have read’ and see what happens. If you enjoyed it, click like and share it with the world. I thank you in advance and be amazing and kind on those eyes.

Transform Your Brain

Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners. – Shakespeare’s Othello, I.iii.

Ninety-eight percent of everything scientists know about the brain has been discovered since 1996. So even though I have 5 degrees in neurobiology, teaching, physiology and management, I had to do some extensive research to be able to give you the latest findings that will help you reach your goals. There are so many books, blogs and so-called experts / gurus / consultants out there who think they have a quick solution to being successful in business. I am here to tell you they are short changing you.

You can Be Amazing Every Day, but it takes time, discipline, energy and lots of motivation. I love showing people how this works for them as individuals, as teams and as a business. Once you understand exactly how the brain works, you will be able to condition it to focus on reaching your dreams.

The latest findings show that by regularly writing your goals down, visualising your intended result, and passionately saying affirmations you actually physically change your brain’s neurons and hard-wire your subconscious mind to focus like a guided missile on reaching your dreams and goals.

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurones. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.
Michio Kaku

I love the fact that modern science has finally proven what successful athletes and entrepreneurs have known all along. That there are ways we can change ourselves to become the type of person capable of achieving our dreams, This means that no matter how bleak you past has been, you can make a choice to have an unbelievably successful future because if we can change the wiring in our brain, the past does not have to equal the future. Beliefs are developed in the subconscious mind. If you don’t believe you can succeed, you need to change those beliefs by programming your subconscious mind.

In the last 10 years, a new field of neuroscience has mapped the mental zone that can literally change the brain to quiet an overly active stress response system and simultaneously pave the way for higher brain networks to perform at optimum. The more we function from this mental zone, the less we stress, and the more our brain lights up with the mix of intelligence that predicts a successful life.The newest brain research shows that passionately repeating the same statements over and over forms new neural pathways that can eventually fire as belief, and when this belief fires, it triggers you to take the actions that will help you reach your dreams. This is why your self talk and who you associate with are so crucial to your success. What you say to yourself and who you hang around with will determine what kind of neural pathways you are developing.

At the base of the brain, where it connects with the spinal cord is a region called the Reticular Activation System (RAS). The RAS acts like a filter that decides which thoughts to focus on at any one time. We need this filter system because every second, there are about 8 million bits of information (subconsciously) flowing through our brain.The RAS decides which messages will arrive at the brain. Once a message gets past the RAS filter and enters the cerebrum, it can turn into conscious thoughts, emotions, or both. Even though the cerebrum is the centre of thought, it will not respond to a message unless the RAS allows it.

The RAS is like Google – there are millions of websites out there, but you filter out the ones you are not interested in simply by typing a keyword.You can think of the RAS as the brain’s gatekeeper to conscious thought. It’s critical to your future that you learn how to get messages past the gatekeeper. So what causes some of the messages to get through the RAS and others to get blocked out? Whatever is important to you at the time and whatever you are currently focusing on gets through.

From the growth of the Internet through to the mapping of the human genome and our understanding of the human brain, the more we understand, the more there seems to be for us to exploreMartin Rees

If your focus is on breaking a personal best, your RAS will automatically filter in thoughts that will help you get to that plsce– people who might help you, opportunities to make it happen, or resources that you might need. What that means is that the more you keep your goals top of mind, the more your subconscious mind will work to reach them. That’s why writing your goals down every day, visualising your intended outcome, and regularly saying affirmations is so important! Because doing those things help you focus your subconscious mind on what’s important to you.

When these higher networks wire and fire together, at the brain speed of a hundred million computer instructions per second, we not only succeed, we excel at every level of life: from career to family, from physical and emotional well-being to fully actualising our talent and ability. It’s a brain generating the fluid and creative intelligence to achieve goals, along with the emotional and social intelligence to instil joy in our work, peace in our life, and harmony in our relationships. It’s also a brain generating the homeostasis that promotes health and longevity. The key to all of these positive outcomes is building the mindset that transcends stress. The solution lies in the power of our mental state to rewire our brains. Change your mindset in specific ways and you can literally change brain structure to extinguish stress reactions and amplify higher brain function. The technical term for this change is neuroplasticity. Here’s a list of 10 positive changes neuroplasticity can produce:

  1. The usual networks that generate the brain’s executive functions grow larger and become more fully integrated with other neural networks.
  2. This means you increased your skillfulness at planning, decision making, error correction, and troubleshooting.
  3. You build strong cognitive abilities and can think abstractly.
  4. Gamma wave activity is far better organised and coordinated, signaling the higher mental activity and heightened awareness found in peak performers.
  5. The right brain and the prefrontal cortex work together to elevate intuition and creative insight into practical innovation.
  6. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the seat of positive emotion, swamps activity in the right prefrontal cortex, the seat of negative emotion.
  7. This condition enables you to achieve a high level of emotional intelligence.
  8. There is greater activity in the centre of the brain, especially the caudate and right insula, generating the social intelligence that sustains interpersonal resonance.
  9. Your physiology functions at optimum, securing a high level of health and energy.
  • Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a change like that?
  • Who in corporate leadership wouldn’t want a work force operating at that level of brain function?

The point is, if an individual or company is not actualising the mindset that transcends stress to empower higher brain function, they are not maximising their full extent of fluid, creative, emotional, and social intelligence.

The human brain had a vast memory storage. It made us curious and very creative. Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage – curiosity, creativity and memory. And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called ‘the future.’ David Suzuki

Achieving the shift in mindset is easier than you might imagine, adding little to your to-do list. It’s essentially about practicing a to-be list. Even better is the fact that change in brain structure happens quickly, within four to eight weeks.

More and more, CEOs and HR executives are contracting with experts on neuroplasticity to heighten the brain power in their company. Neuroplasticity will soon become the new competitive edge.

Use the genius of others to stand on the shoulders of giants. Never stop learning and be willing to teach others. Be Amazing Every Day

Failure: Don’t look back in anger

It took me 10 years to become an overnight success. Successful businesses can take years and years. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes and I have made more than most. Failure is the most important step to my reaching success, but it can still feel like it’s crushing my soul. Having talked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I have learned something very important: failure is absolutely the norm and essential. Accepting this failure as a lesson is one of the most important things I have ever learned. Consider my new quotation poster on my wall:

My first comedy gig 10 years ago was a disaster. There were 2 people present, one went to the toilet and the other left. I kept going. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage the first time he tried comedy. Soichiro Honda was rejected by an HR manager at Toyota Motor Corporation when he applied for an engineering job, leaving him jobless until he began making scooters in his garage and eventually founded Honda Motor Company.

So I start a revolution from my bed / ‘Cos you said the brains I had went to my head. -Oasis

Most of us know that failure is a reality of life, and at some level, we understand that it actually helps us grow. Intellectually, we even acknowledge that the greatest achievers (past and present) also routinely experienced colossal failures.I believe and teach that failure can be taken one of two ways

  • Either as a catalyst and stimulant for learning and doing better next time, or
  • as the ultimate defeat you never let yourself recover from. This is true in your professional and personal life

Yet still, we hate to fail. If you surveyed 100 successful entrepreneurs and asked them if they were successful on their first product I would bet you that 99 percent would say absolutely not. Noting of course that 86.3 percent of all statistics are made up. We fear failure, we dread it, and when it does happen, we hold onto it. We give it power over our emotions, and sometimes we allow it to dictate our way forward (or backward). Some of us go to great lengths to avoid failure because of all the pain and shame associated with it. To make failure your friend and not your enemy, you must overcome it. Here are my strategies for moving on after a tough break.

. Don’t look back in anger (I heard you say)

Each time you fail, your fear of failure becomes smaller, which allows you to take on even bigger challenges. Making mistakes is not a big deal as long as you learn from them and avoid repeating them. Completely ignoring what happened isn’t helpful, so set aside a specific amount of time to wallow as much as you want. Take some time to be angry, upset, and frustrated so you can get it all out. If it’s something small, all you may need is an hour to pace around or cry in a pillow. For something larger, give yourself a full 24 hours to let it all out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. If you need more than a day, that’s okay, but make sure it’s an amount of time set by you and that you stick to it. You get that time to be as mopey as you want, but when it’s over, move on.

2. Slip inside the eye of your mind: accept and process it

Failure is an integral part on the way to success and self realisation. Michael Jordan said it best, I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Maybe you think you’ve mostly gotten over a bad business experience, but you find you still obsess about how you should have acted differently. There’s a big difference between lingering on a failure and taking the time to accept it, process it and glean lessons from it. Understand right away that some things are not in your control. It is a marathon, not a sprint. The quicker you stop getting upset, the quicker you can use this as a lesson to move on.

3. Try a little tenderness and talk about it

You know she’s waiting / Just anticipating / For things that she’ll never, never, never, never possess, yeah yeah /But while she’s there waiting, without them / Try a little tenderness (that’s all you gotta do) – Otis Reading

Successful people will never laugh at you or judge you when you fail, because they have already been there and they know about the valuable lessons you can learn from failure. Talk to somebody you know about how you’re feeling. It’s well known that just talking about something can make you feel better. Take a load off and express yourself. Chances are whoever you talk to will try to make you feel better, but even if they don’t, saying how you feel out loud puts that information out somewhere besides your brain.

3. Keep on keeping on and make it happen

No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up. Does it feel like you made such a stupid blunder that nobody else could have possibly done so before? That’s very unlikely. There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes mistakes and perceived failures. No matter how much you believe in what you are doing, something is not working. Take a step back or go for a walk (BDNF time). Breathe (Slow rhythmic and even). Take some time off from the project. Visit your family and friends and love what is most important. You live one time, and this is just a passing phase. You will get through this, but you have to clear your head if you are going to win. Again, push forward.

4. Challenge Yourself to Do It Again – hit me baby one more time.

Whenever you step outside the comfort zone and whenever you try something new, failure becomes inevitableGet back on the horse and ride again, even if the horse threw you off the last time. Prepare for battle: This is not for the faint of heart. You have to separate your feelings from this game. It’s a business: it’s cut throat; it’s bloody; it’s a war. You must get back on the horse and do it again. You were working on the wrong project… so what? You are passionate, you are driven and applying those qualities to the right project you will be successful.

5. Focus on the Positive

Each failure makes you stronger, bigger and better. Don’t brush mistakes under the rug, but also don’t stop yourself from looking at all the positives you’ve managed to create. There’s always a balance in business. Maybe you didn’t snag that one big client, but what about all the others you’ve secured? You’ve likely already proven you can be successful on this path, so don’t let one fall determine who you are or colour your impression of an already positive overall effort.

Don’t you know you might find / A better place to play / You said that you’d never been / But all the things that you’ve seen /Will slowly fade away

6Don’t make it personal.

Failure is a great teacher and it allows you to learn some of the most valuable life lessonsSeparate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean you are a failure. These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them. Personalizing failure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and confidence.

7. Try a new point of view.

Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation and that there are better approaches. One of the best things you can do is to shift your perspective and belief system away from the negative (“If I fail, it means I am stupid, weak, incapable, and am destined to fall short”) and embrace more positive associations (“If I fail, I am one step closer to succeeding; I am smarter and more savvy because the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience”). Every mistake is a learning opportunity, and after you’ve moved past your emotions, it’s important to revisit your mistakes with a new perspective. Look at what you did that went wrong, but also look at what you did that was right, and what you can do better next time. Failure is rarely so black and white.

Accept failure and rejoice. Failure is awesome. Failing fast gets you that much closer to success.

Don’t look back in anger, I heard Tim say.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Smile or Frown: WOW! Customer Service

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It takes 50 muscles to make a frown — but only 13 to produce a smile. No it doesn’t, not really. Like much of the advice about excellent ‘customer service’ there is a lot of misinformation out there. Customer service (let alone excellent) is a very diverse and broad term that covers a multitude of industries and businesses. Most of the collected wisdom is questionable, non-scientific or generic. I like to compare it to myth you have probably heard about smiling and frown. You may have heard this version of the tale,

Scientists have told us that it takes 41 muscles to frown and 17 to smile this leads to two conclusions:

  1. Scientists have WAY too much free time on their hands!
  2. Frowning uses more muscles, and therefore burns more calories.

The numbers of muscles may vary ( I have seen 13, 17, 36, 41, 47, 50 and 60) yet the story has been around for years. Actually most Professors of Anatomy I have talked too say we use approximately the same number of muscles to do both and probably (depending on the effort put into to both) the same amount of energy. But, it is very difficult to actually tell as there is no real definition of what is a smile and what is a frown. The maxim has been handed from generation to generation because of its enduring value as implied advice rather than its being an authoritative tally of a parts list. More simply, the story persists because of what it says about people, not their anatomy, so to get lost in the metrics would be at the expense of losing sight of its far more important component.

Well if that was a partial myth, we surely know that customer service is a highly important part of every small business? Right? Well it amazes me how many companies get it wrong day after day. Companies that are unable or unwilling to properly service their customers stand to lose the customers’ business.However, several key variables or characteristics set excellent customer service apart from mediocre customer service. A company that best demonstrates these excellent customer service characteristics will have a distinct advantage over its competition.

In survey after survey the British public, and even staff in these organisations, tell us too often that service in this country is still poor, attitudes are wrong, complaints are not handled well and the service provided is not keeping up with increasing customer demands. Regardless of the type of contact that you have with customers, whether it is over the phone, face-to-face, in a restaurant or shop, in an office or financial institution, in the entertainment or tourist industries, good customer service skills help everybody.

There are certain customer service skills that every employee has to master if they are forward-facing with customers. A happy, satisfied customer is likely to return and/or tell others about the good experiences (think social media x 1000) that they had when dealing with your company – word of mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues are very valuable.

Luckily, there are a few universal skills that every member of staff can master that willdrastically improve their interactions with customers. You can start reading or listening to the Pursuit of WOW ( fantastic book (although ageing gracefully) by that Master of Service, Tom Peters). So when your staff (or you) interact with the customers on a daily basis they can become heroes of service.

We could steal time, just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say? – David Bowie

So here are my top 6 tips for Excellent Customer Service and creating your WOW!


1. The Good Old Fashioned Genuine Smile

  • This is the most simple and often the most powerful tip for customer service and most other interpersonal interactions.
  • Smiles are contagious – usually when you smile at somebody they’ll smile back at you. Whether the myth of it being physically less exhausting to smile than to glower, it is certainly beneficial, and thus there is something to this ancient exhortation to put aside negative emotions long enough to turn a frown upside down.
  • In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, [Goleman, Daniel. “A Feel-Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood.”The New York Times. 18 July 1989 (p. C1).] researchers confirmed what our grandmothers already knew: that people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. Test subjects were shown photos of faces — some smiling and some frowning — and required to respond with their own smiles, frowns, and non-expressions as directed by those conducting the experiment. Researchers noted that while people had an easy time frowning at what appeared to be frowning at them and smiling in reply to the photographed smiles, those being tested encountered difficulties when prompted to respond in an opposite manner to the expressions displayed in the images — they instinctively wanted to reflect what they’d been exposed to, answering smile for smile and frown for frown, and could not easily overcome this urge even when they were quite consciously trying to.
  • Because we humans are wired to instinctively respond like for like, facial expressions are contagious. When taken, the homily’s implied advice to put on a happy face does work to benefit society in that smiling people cause those around them to smile.
  • Do not pretend to smile, or produce a false smile since these are easy to spot and send the wrong messages. Instead relax, gain eye-contact and smile naturally. This will help the customer or client to feel at ease and welcomed, and you’ll come across as friendly and approachable, setting the scene for a more positive interaction.
  • If you are talking to somebody on the telephone then you can still smile – your voice sounds different when you smile and are happy. Clients and customers are more likely to want to talk to a cheerful person with an enthusiastic personality and by smiling while you talk you can help to project this.
  • Smiling makes us feel happier. It is not a cure-all for every situation, that is, don’t look to it to remedy overwhelming grief, but in terms of getting us past a small dose of the blues, it can help to lift the sense of sadness being experienced. It makes a differences to customers and to staff.


2. Have Patience but Don’t Make Your Customers Wait

  • Patience is a virtue, but don’t depend on it when interacting with customers. In one survey conducted, 69% of those interviewed defined good customer service as receiving a quick resolution to a reported problem.
  • 72% of respondents blamed their frustrations on having to address an issue to multiple employees at different times. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, then you know how aggravating it can be to call back or be transferred only to re-explain your problem over again (and again), while seemingly never actually getting any closer to a solution.
  • Customer service representatives who have neither the authority nor the ability to resolve problems on their own, and are thus forced to take those problems to higher levels, run the risk of alienating customers. Unfortunately, this is a common problem. In fact, 26% of consumers have experienced being transferred from agent to agent without any resolution.
  • This makes me sad (see also my article on Customer Service) so I have on my wall Tom Peter’s 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence:

3. Build Trust and They Will Come Back (Time after Time)

  • Only ever offer a customer or client something that you are sure you can give them – delivery of small things matter.
  • It is better not to mention a delivery date and then deliver tomorrow than it is to say you’ll deliver tomorrow and then don’t.
  • It is better to tell your hotel guests that the fire alarm system is being tested in the morning than let them find out for themselves.
  • Stick to deadlines, make sure you turn up promptly for any appointments and never make promises you cannot keep. If situations change then let the customer know as soon as possible.
  • If your company is answering a phone by the first ring, is straight forward with all pertinent buying information, and is giving customers a personalized experience when they need it, then congratulations, you are building much-needed trust.
  • Your product or service will attract them initially, maybe even bring them back a second time, but what consistently entices customers to return is trust that they’re going to have a good, barrier-less customer experience.
  • If you can provide the customers what they’re looking for, when they need and expect it, then that trust built between your company and the customer will evolve into invaluable customer loyalty.


4. The Emotional Signature: Be Memorable For the Right Reasons

  • We tend to remember positive and negative experiences more vividly than average day-to-day ones. Try to make every customer’s experience a positive one that they’ll remember and talk to others about.
  • Be helpful, be courteous and polite – give a little extra if possible, even if it is just some advice or extra information about the product or service they are buying or interested in buying.
  • If appropriate, and you need to be careful here, try telling a joke or introducing an element of humour; if successful you will add to the positive experience of the customer.

5. Clear Communication Skills Require Excellent Listening

  • You are unlikely to be able to help all your customers effectively if you don’t listen to their needsExcellent customer service requires effective listening and communication skills.
  • A company’s customer service representatives should listen carefully to what the customer needs. The answer or solution to the problem or question should accurately address the nature of the call or question. excellent communication skills are crucial.
  • A customer should be able to easily understand what the customer service representative is saying.
  • The representative must speak distinctly, and use common terminology that everyone understands, not highly technical language.
  • Excellent customer service means acknowledging a customer’s question in a timely manner.
  • Excellent customer service means having more experienced people or supervisors available to answer more difficult or technical questions
  • For customers not listening can become very frustrating and may lose a sale or repeat visit.
  • Listen to the customer’s needs, empathise and find the best.solutions.
  • Work on the ability to use Positive Language.

6. Learn Your Business – Know Your Product – Be The Expert

  • One of the most important elements for achieving excellent customer service is training. Customer service employees must be trained on product features, prices, warranties and even the various technical aspects of products.
  • If you are selling cars then learn the features and specifications of the models you have (and those of your competitors).
  • If you work in a hotel learn about the business, how many rooms there are, the history of the building, when breakfast is served.
  • If you work in a bank then learn the advantages and disadvantages of the various products you sell and which product suits which type of customer the best.
  • Make sure that you know more about your business than the customer does, be able to answer questions about your business or organisation even if they are not related to your normal field of work.

The obvious truth is that the so called secret of service excellence is actually very simple. It requires clear and consistent leadership from the top, the right culture, great people, and customer-focused systems, processes and tools. If your company can achieve a positive and efficient service experience wherever your customers happen to be, and can scale it, then you’re on your way to defining what good customer service means to your company.

Excellence, always. Smile.

With massive acknowledge and thanks to the wonderful insightful Tom Peters.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Remarkable Leadership requires Coup d’oeil

Remarkable Leadership requires Coup d’oeil

 

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Remarkable leaders appear to share a rare high level skill called coup d’oeil.This strange and relatively obscure French expression, which means literally ‘stroke of the eye’, might be better translated as at-a-glance leadership. Truly exceptional leaders have the ability to take in the whole of a complicated situation, do a fast / rapid analysis and then can express it in simpler, clearer terms and develop the appropriate action to take. They seem to be able to distill complex scenarios faster and get better results and achieve long term success.

There are some fantastic examples given by Jim Collins in Great by Choice, listed as 10X companies, although the author doesn’t suggest the process I shall outline here. It is a sequel to his best-selling Good to Great (2001), which identified seven characteristics that enabled companies to become truly great over an extended period of time. Never mind that one of the 11 featured companies is now bankrupt (Circuit City) and another is in government receivership (Fannie Mae). Collins has a knack for analysis that business readers find compelling.

You would probably agree that the business environment (landscape) has changed dramatically in the last few years and is still rapidly evolving. It is more complex, more volatile, and more unpredictable than any so-called thought leaders predicted. The disruptive nature of technologies has yet to be addressed by leadership training processes.

The skills needed for good leadership have also changed. They are more complex and require adaptive, flexible and rapid thinking. Yet the methods being used to develop leaders have not changed much (if at all) over the last 20 years. My personal view of the current leadership training situation (and where it might go) is given in the table below. It is based on my personal experience over many years, lots of research and many hours of discussion and analysis. I don’t claim it is perfect (far from it) and there are of course many examples of excellence out there; we most seek to learn from their content, structure and delivery.

The best explanation I have found of the term coup d’oeil(and it is virtually overlooked in modern leadership literature) comes from an 1827 classic of military strategy, On War by Carl von Clausewitz. The word strategy in fact entered the English language in 1810, when Napoleon’s success as a battlefield general made him Emperor of Europe. His enemies started studying how he did it so they could learn it too and defeat him. Indeed Clausewitz is credited with coming up with the term fog of war (amongst other gems).Clausewitz’s account of Napoleon’s strategy matches amazingly well what modern neuroscience tells us about flashes of insight. Clausewitz cleverly used a four step process, which I have adapted slightly to reflex some cutting edge neuroscience:

  1. The process starts with the ingestion and absorption of research. Accumulating and taking examples, stories and patterns from history, throughout your life and putting them away careful (filed and labelled) in your limitless filing system of your remarkable brain. Studying memory systems and knowing about modern neuroscience can help in the process. Keep stacking and uploading these examples into your hard drive / Hippocampus. Some might call this process ‘conscious encoding’ and it is the long, tedious part of inspiration.
  2. The next stage is to develop a particular presence of mind, where you free your brain of all pre-conceptions about what problem you’re solving and what solution might work. By learning transformational breathing or other physiological breath work (the very simple discipline of 3 minutes (eyes closed) of slow, rhythmic and even breaths) certainly helps. This can create and facilitate (via the powerful hormone DHEA) a sense of being in the flow, or the zone and helps with the brain chemicals like BDNF which stimulate dendrite growth and new neural pathways. The process of going for a long walk, doing some exercise and even juggling can induce this state.
  3. The third crucial stage is developing the space and conditions for the flash of insight itself to occur. Clausewitz himself called it the coup d’oeil. In this flash and moment of extreme clarity, new combinations of the multiple superimposed examples from history, that were encoded over your life time, are recalled and your super brain re-connects them and joins up the dots. The solution is there to be accessed, innovation resolved and better strategies enabled.
  4. The remarkable leader has then to have resolution, courage and determination to make it happen. This is when the great leader says Ah, I see!, but also, I’ll do it! and Now!

I love the thought of using a 1827 book to inspire leadership training. A good example perhaps ofstanding on the shoulders of giants. Modern technology using fMRI has not given us any definitive brain scans that show differences in the way leaders’ grey matter works. Although the ‘flash of inspiration’ or Coup d’oeil is yet to be recorded by fMRI, there is some consensus that leaders have some commonalities in how they think about the world.

Let’s dissect a standard question used in interviews to ‘find’ leaders: What great leader in history do you aspire to be? This question is intended to examine the types of leaders you naturally gravitate towards and whether or not they are in alignment with your values and what you stand for? Some of the most common answers include: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Michael Jordan,Teddy Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Peters, Margaret Thatcher and John F. Kennedy.

Consider then the first quotation from American football coach legend Vince Lombardi,

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.

Kari H. Keating, Ph.D., a teaching associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who studies leadership, published a study in October 2014 which supported existing research that leaders are made, not born. Expanding on work by leadership researcher Bruce J. Avolio which found that leadership ability is roughly 30% genetic and 70% learned, Keating and her colleagues found that the first step to becoming a more effective leader is to believe that you can be a leader in the first place. That is an intriguing finding as it fits with the Coup d’oeil model of rapid analysis. It also implies that the Clausewitz’ 4 step Coup d’oeil process can be taught, practiced and used. To understand whether you are going in the right direction with your own leadership, ask the following questions to be remarkable:

  • What must you keep doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you stop doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you start doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you think of doing to be remarkable?
  • Where is your unique angle on Coup d’oeil?

The majority of managers are currently developed via on-the-job experiences, training, and coaching/ mentoring; while these are all still important, leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment. In the emerging future views of leadership, leaders do not have influence simply because they are ‘bosses’ or ‘commanders’. Rather, leaders are people who are committed to creating a world / organisation / team to which people want to belong. It of course involves brilliant communicating, powerful interacting and managing relationships within an organisation, network or social system to move toward one’s highest aspirations.

As we try to take command of our own destiny and guide the destinies of our families, communities, organisations and our planet, the necessity of effective leadership ability has become increasingly obvious. Effective leadership might just need the 4 stage Clausewitz process for Coup d’oeil as one of the keys to our future success and future survival.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Leadership Excellence: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Leadership Excellence: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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Don’t look back in anger. Leaders (and potential leaders) will do well to remember their past and quote it correctly. While not being limited by dogma, they might be wise to acknowledge the body of work that has proceeded them.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

While this quotation can be traced to at least the 12th century and is often attributed to Bernard of Chartres (in Latin, nanos gigantum humeris insidentes), its most familiar expression is by Sir Isaac Newton. It is found in his 1676 in a letter to Robert Hooke. Sir Isaac Newton used this expression with respect to his own accomplishments and he accepted that his scientific breakthroughs owned much to those who had gone before him. Despite centuries of scientific progress, Newton’s discoveries and theories continue to influence today’s generation of scientists. Indeed Stephen Hawking’s compilation of works by the greatest minds Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein is entitled On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, (Running Press 2002).

There is a common misconception among some leaders that you have to do everything all by yourself: you are the leader, you are responsible and it’s all you. This is, in my humble opinion, misleading, dangerous and wrong. Business leaders operating within the new economy are often quick to dismiss the received wisdom and practices of an analogue age. Every generation likes to challenge the views, conventions and behaviour of the previous one, but we appear to be experiencing a particularly profound generational shift within the world of business.

Leaders have to understand that they have a very talented team around them and it’s only the collective whole of the team that can result in a win, not any one individual effort. The smart business leader also knows when to borrow from the past and to recognise that despite the almost limitless possibilities of a digital age, the core business principles and practices, developed and codified by earlier generations of business leaders and theorists, are just as relevant as they have ever been. Google Scholar has adopted the motto, Stand on the shoulders of giants.

In the great book What’s Next, Gen X, Tamara Erickson describes how,

Today’s businesses are facing new, unpredictable challenges. What we’ve thought of as leadership skills – setting direction, having the answers, controlling performance, running a tight ship – are less relevant in an environment of constant change. Increasingly, leadership is about creating a context for innovation and inclusion in the face of ambiguity and the unexpected.

Not only should this resonant for leaders and potential leaders, it asks some fundmental questions. Warren Bennis is an American scholar, organisational consultant and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership. Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at USC. My favourite two quotations are:

1. Three words leaders have trouble dealing with:‘I don’t know.’

Good leadership will often start with questions whose answer is: I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.

2. None of us is as smart as all of us.

I think that both these quotations have the quality of If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac’s wisdom is in challenging us to remember and use the nuggets of those who came before us; Professor Bennis’ words invites us to use the people around you. The smart business leader also knows when to borrow from the past. They recognise that despite the almost limitless possibilities of a digital age, the core business principles and practices, developed and codified by earlier generations of business leaders and theorists, are just as relevant as they have ever been. Indeed if too much ego or too little discipline prevents us from showing we care about those with whom we work, we are taking up room where giants are needed.

If you ever forget the importance of this nugget (and you live in the UK), the £2 coin bears the inscription STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS on its edge. The challenge for all of is to find those shoulders to lift others up to see more, and to be all they can be. If we don’t invest time in knowing the needs, values, and passions of those we lead, we by omission invalidate their real worth. Great Leaders in my opinion need to:

  • Develop new leaders, not followers.
  • Will invest in management training and development.
  • Learn from best practice and develop new strategies.
  • Be humble enough to stand on the shoulders of business giants.

Using Newton’s principle of standing upon those broad shoulders, perhaps we should look to Aristotle. He was the first genuine scientist in history and every scientist is in his debt. Aristotle writings cover many subjects including: physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Aristotle is often quoted as saying:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

The sentiment certainly sounds great, but the trouble is that he did not say it. These words were actually written by Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers. After quoting a phrase from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions), Durant sums it up this way…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit. This is an example of the way that provocative words tend to gravitate toward famous mouths. As the great quote-sleuth Ralph Keyes says, clever lines … routinely travel from obscure mouths to prominent ones.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Change Your Brain by Changing Your Mind

Change Your Brain by Changing Your Mind

Think different. Or as my old University (UEA) asserts in it’s motto, Do Different. Consider the possibility (and joy) of overcoming your fears of change or your worries and doubts about life, by using your powerful mind. When you change your mind, you can change your brain. You might well agree that the things you learned earlier in life, are the ones that are hardest to change. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is a saying for a reason. Have a read of my own design for flow diagram of quotations, which I sometimes use with clients to understand the change process:

I love these quotations and they all reflect an attitudinal shift needed for change. The longer I live, the more I realise the impact of attitude on life. Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. Attitude is everything.The mysteries of our attitudes, how the mind and brain understands them, are many and very complex. Neuroscience is just beginning to unravel some of these challenges and is beginning to suggest what we can do different.

Apparently worry (about change and everything) is an evolutionary strategy expressed as an emotion, when we feel threatened. In a recent New York Times article, David Ropeik makes the case that most of us don’t know how to worry. Although we often underestimate how risky something really is, we are even more likely to overestimate the dangers of taking actions that would actually help us. In other words, when it comes to evaluating the risk / benefit ratio of our actions, we do a pretty poor job. Ropeik argues that our brains are wired to worry first and think second. This quote from the work of NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux sums it up in a nutshell: connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.

In fact your brain is wired to produce change, a constant in the brain, as it is in life. We know change involves learning, and all learning generates change in the brain. When you seek to replace a behaviour, your actions produce neurochemicals, cytokines and molecular changes in neurones. As messengers, neurones communicate by transmitting electrical signals along their axons and dendrites, and these signals are activated by the neurotransmitters in the synapses. Your brain and body is a sophisticated communication network. Your subconscious mind, the mind of your body, manages all of the systemic processes that you do not have to think about, as well as all of your personal requests, wants or commands, both conscious and subconscious.

I think that everyone experiences painful change (trauma) at some point in their lives. From death, breakups, marriage, divorce, job changes, launching a business, redundancy, money, dishonesty, tax, moving house or retirement, change has the capacity to scare us even when it is not real. Whether it’s kicking a bad habit, shifting a business focus, changing behaviours, changing company culture, or trying to change the world, change can be very challenging. Perhaps it’s time to improve our ability to defeat the traditional challenges of handling change. We can learn to override our default setting through the understanding of neuroplasticity.Neuroplasticity is the mind’s ability to change the brain. It reverses scientific dogma which held that mental experiences result only from physical goings-on in the brain and we can’t do much about it. But extensive studies by neuroscientists confirm that our mental machinations do alter the physical structure of our brain matter.

An excellent view of how we can unlock our brains through neuroplasticity is given byJeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. He is an American psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroplasticity and its application to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) which is an extreme form of worrying. Brainlock is a term coined by Schwartz to describe obsessive-compulsive behaviour and to describe a treatment plan he published in his 1997 book Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour.In the book he claims he doesn’t use drugs to treat patients. He teaches them to rewire their brain by changing how they think. He created a successful four-step approach for OCD which can adapted for fear of change:

  1. Relabel. Relabel the obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges as obsessions and compulsions, not as real thoughts. An unwanted thought could be relabeled “false message” or “brain glitch.” You step back and say, “This is just my brain sending me a false message.” This sounds easy, but it is very tricky to master. Focusing on something completely different when your brain is sending long-embedded directions with overwhelming force, is incredibly difficult.
  2. Reattribute. Reattribute the obsessive thoughts to a brain malfunction called OCD. This second step answers the question, “Why do these thoughts coming back?” The answer is that the brain is misfiring, stuck in gear, creating mental noise, and sending false messages. In other words, if you understand why you’re getting those old thoughts, eventually you’ll be able to say, “Oh, that’s just a brain glitch.” That raises the natural next question: What can you do about it?
  3. Refocus. Refocus on a wholesome, productive activity for at least fifteen minutes. The third step is where the toughest work is, because it’s the actual changing of behaviour. You have to do another behaviour instead of the old one. Having recognised the problem for what it is and why it’s occurring, you now have to replace the old behaviour with new things to do. This is where the change in brain chemistry occurs, because you are creating new patterns, new mindsets. By refusing to be misled by the old messages, by understanding they aren’t what they tell you they are, your mind is now the one in charge of your brain.
  4. Revalue. Revalue the entire obsession and compulsion group as having no useful meaning in your life. It all comes together in this fourth step, which is the natural outcome of the first three. With a consistent way to replace the old behaviour with the new, you begin to see old patterns as simple distractions. You devalue them as being completely worthless. Eventually the old thoughts begin to fade in intensity, the brain works better, and the automatic process in the brain begins to start working properly.

Some may argue that we are hard wired to worry, as an evolutionarily strategy for survival and we can’t change. However, what makes us distinctly human is precisely our ability to use our cortex to override the emotional storms that brew in our subcortical brain regions. This storm causes us to dwell so much on our past that we forget to live our present. Holding onto something, whether it is a person, feelings or expectations, only creates a barrier in our life that stops us from moving forward.

By controlling your worries, you’ll not only make better decisions, but feel better because you do. Maybe we can retrain our brain by invoking the Apple tagline: Think different. Then do different.

Act now, don’t stop. Change the world.

Be Amazing Every Day.

How Much Do You Earn? The Easterlin Paradox

Are you happy? How much do you earn? Look, I can’t force you to give me a break here, but it would benefit us both if you did.

The quality of mercy is not strained*

Faced with the following choice, would you rather…

a. Receive £5,000 and a friend gets £3,000, or

b. Receive £10,000 and a friend gets £15,000?

The answer (or an attempt at an explanation) a bit later. Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly. Most of us have had feelings of jealousy or envy in our lives, but nowhere may it be more difficult to deal with than in the workplace. How much do you earn? The so-called salary taboo does seem to be much less of a problem in stereotypically forthright America than in stereotypically stiff-upper-lip restrained Britain. According to the research, 67% of UK workers are uncomfortable talking about what they get paid in contrast to 17% of Americans. Even that American % is much higher than it was a few years ago, suggesting that widespread unemployment, resulting from the state of the economy, may provoke survivor guilt among those still comfortably off. No one really likes to admit they’re jealous or envious of a co-worker. The problem is the difficult economy has made our stress and insecurity more pronounced, which can often exacerbate the jealousy we feel on the job. We become more emotionally sensitive, and find ourselves battling the green-eyed monster in the office. See also Mudita.

Here is what happens (probably) when you ask someone to tell you how much they earn:

  • They hesitate.
  • They try to change the subject.
  • They go red.
  • They won’t tell you.
  • They make something up.

It appears we fear being judged about our salaries, either undeserving or boastful about large ones, or morally inferior for earning less, and friendships thrive on equality, or at least the illusion of it. Yet this whole moral dimension to wages collapses when we consider the paradox given at the beginning: option a or option b?

The answer is complex and lies within the Easterlin Paradox. It is named after the economist and USC Professor Richard Easterlin, who discussed the factors contributing to happiness in a 1974 paper [Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence. In Paul A. David and Melvin W. Reder, eds., Nations and Households in Economic Growth, New York: Academic Press, Inc.pdf]. The paradox refers to the fact that while, in any given country, richer people tend to report more happiness than poorer ones, very rich countries don’t have happier populations, on average, than only modestly well-off ones. Recent research (2014) has utilised several measures of happiness, including biological measures showing similar patterns of results.

One possible implication for government policy is said to be that, once basic needs are met, policy should focus not on economic growth or GDP, but rather on increasing life satisfaction or Gross National Happiness (GNH). It was originally designed in an attempt to define an indicator and concept that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of gross domestic product (GDP).

At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP. —Paul Hawken

GNH has only been officially used in one country (Bhutan), where a Gross National Happiness Commission is charged with reviewing policy decisions and allocation of resources. Sounds a cool job.GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures,

  • Economic Wellness. Metrics via direct survey and statistical measurement of the economic situation, such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution.
  • Environmental Wellness. Seen via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic.
  • Physical Wellness. Indicators include statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses.
  • Mental Wellness. Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of therapy / depression numbers.
  • Workplace Wellness. Seen through direct survey and statistical measurement of HR metrics, e.g. jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints, grievances and lawsuits.
  • Social Wellness. Taken from direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits and crime rates.
  • Political Wellness. Trickier to measure, can be via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom (rights) and foreign conflicts.

There is a big debate about whether we can actually get accurate and reasonably objective measures of our own well-being. Clearly income (if we are honest and answer the question of course) is just one of many factors that influences how satisfied we are with our lives. Psychologists do say we often feel jealous when we sense someone has taken something away from us that we were attached to emotionally. That might include the fear that other people earn more than you (whether rational or not). Maybe the other measures of well being (listed above for GNH) might help give you a better perspective.

So how much do you earn? It depends…and option b please.

Don’t think of cost. Think of value. Be Amazing Every Day

*Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I , William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616. The quality of mercy is not strained. Portia is importuning Shylock to show mercy, but recognising that she cannot demand it. [Very roughly meaning, Look, I can’t force you to give me a break here, but it would benefit us both if you did]. Shylock declines, of course, and this proves his undoing…now Portia uses his ‘letter of the law’ attitude against him.