4 Upsides of Turning off the News.

My husband has a habit of watching the morning news for the first 30 minutes of his morning.  Pretty soon, I had a habit of watching the news as well.  I decided that I was waiting for the weather report (although I could have easily looked up the weather app on my phone) and, perhaps, sports.  Well, something serendipitous happened about a month ago.  Our favorite Raleigh-based TV news station was taken off the lineup of our cable provider.  We were both disappointed and tried for a few weeks to find a substitute.  Nothing seemed to click.  Didn’t like the weather person or that all the news stories were solely about the North Carolina coast–where we haven’t ventured to in several years (I know, I know. Please don’t judge).   So why is this serendipitous?  Well, my husband figured out that he could get our old channel on the computer.  In his office.  Out of my visual field and listening range.  My diet of thirty minutes of news was cut off.  And it’s been surprising bliss.turn off the news

At the same time that we were trying to figure out how to get our news fix, I suddenly started running into articles on the effects of news stories on our brains, attitude and demeanor.  The universe was sending me a sign. I started to intentionally avoid the news.  If I was at the airport, I’d go into a restaurant that didn’t have the news on. I turned off the radio in the car and flipped on some classical music.  I started to figure out that I was less anxious.  My 30 minutes I freed up turned into more meditation and learning time.  So what initially seemed like a big disappointment is now a big win.

 

Here are the 4 upsides of turning off the news:

 

  1. My overall day is better. I am more optimistic.  I’m not dwelling on which Triangle city has the most homicides or crazy new law the legislature is trying to pass or whether or not the schools need to be rezoned again.  There is scientific proof that even as little as 3 minutes of negative news can affect your entire day. 3 MINUTES!  As Shawn Achor wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day…Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”   I’d rather save the time spent consuming news and focus on having a better day.

 

  1. I feel more empowered. There is a sense of helplessness that happens when I watch negative news.  95% of what is on that screen, I can’t do anything about.  I get overwhelmed.  I want it to change but outside of writing a check to the victims of a tragedy and complaining about the state of our society, I can’t move the needle on it.  It’s frustrating.  As Achor wrote, “We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.”  When I turned off the news, I felt more powered up.

 

  1. I have more focused attention. Whether I was scrolling through trending news items on an app or watching the local news with a crawl across the bottom of the screen, I was constantly being distracted.  Attention here, now attention there, attention over there…SQUIRREL! I would actually sit and watch the weather report and have to back it up because I didn’t take note of when the thunderstorms are expected today.  As Noah Shachtman wrote in his article, “The Crawl” Makes You Stupid, “Learning by constantly nibbling at bits and bites from multiple sources at once — what people in the business and computer worlds call “multitasking” — just doesn’t work well. It makes you only more distracted, less effective.” Limiting the distractions from the television screen to my iPhone has helped me focus.

 

  1. I am less stressed. I feel calmer throughout the day.  I admit that when a big news story filters through like terrorist attacks and the like, I start to feel my stomach clench and my shoulders and neck cramp. But when it filters through, I can now catch myself and shut it down.  Because it’s not a daily habit to consume news, I feel calmer and less anxious.  As Martijn Schirp wrote in his article, Why Avoiding The News Makes You Smarter, “When you are reading a new news article, or this article now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel good.” I don’t crave it any more.

 

I know that being informed helps you make better decisions like deciding how you want to vote in this year’s election.  I just think that a daily digestion of what is mostly sensationalized and capsulated information is bad for you.  Choose your news sources wisely and sparingly.

7 Characteristics of Leadership I Learned From Sir Ernest Shackleton.

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success”. Sir Ernest Shackleton

I just read Alfred Lansing’s book, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”  The book is about the voyage of the British ship “Endurance” in 1914 and, it’s leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  It is an amazing account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and how 28 men survived for 21 months after the ship was beset in the ice floes of Antarctica.  How does a man lead 27 men to safety in sub freezing temperatures, no digital equipment (not even a radio) and countless obstacles (including climbing for 36 hours over uncharted mountains without climbing gear); leadership and grit, that’s how. Sir Earnest Shackleton and Leadership

The ship was first beset in the ice floes for 9 months and then, the pressure of the ice pack slowly (but surely) crushed the boat, so the crew of 28 had to take to the ice pack on the Weddell Sea.  The ship sank about 30 days later after the crew had taken most of the provisions and three life boats off the ship.  The rest of the odyssey involves 7 months of camping on ice, rowing on the open seas in lifeboats, breaking the group up and eventually, hiking uncharted mountains without any gore tex or ice picks to an eventual rescue of the entire group (every frostbitten one). 

This is what Shackleton taught me about leadership.

1.  Honest.  Shackleton was brutally honest in the expectations of the expedition (see quote above).   Safe return doubtful.  Only those who are up to the challenge are going to sign up.  All leaders can learn from this.  Don’t sell the job as something it isn’t.  If the work is tedious, say it.  If there is constant travel, be upfront.  Be honest when you are bringing someone on to your team.

2.  Team.  Shackleton built a cohesive multi-national team of 28.  He made an instant gut decision.  He asked Reginald James if he could sing (he could and was chosen).  Two Surgeons, a tried and true Navigator, Photographer, Artist, Seaman, Cook and Carpenter. He fit the team together like a puzzle. Great leaders do.  They don’t look for carbon copies of themselves, they look for complementary pieces.  Have a diverse team of talent and character with traits that don’t resemble you.

3. Decisive.  Shackleton made a decision and stuck to it.  There was no waffling.   When you decide to get off a breaking ice floe, you can’t turn back.  He adjusted the goal several times from one island to another but he never waffled.  The men knew that Shackleton could be counted on.  When you lead, be decisive.  Your folks are counting on you.

4.  Inclusive.  He was constantly seeking opposing viewpoints.  He would listen to other’s viewpoints whether it was which direction to go or how much food to dole out.  In the end, he would make the decision, but everyone would be heard.  When they were on the 7 day sail to Elephant Island, if one person was chilled, he ordered  hot beverages for all.  Inclusive leaders have their finger of the pulse of the group as a whole.

5. Delegate.   Shackleton delegated clearly, definitely and with no regrets.  He left Frank Wild in charge of 22 men on Elephant Island.  Everyone knew Wild was in charge and Shackleton left him there with full confidence that Wild would succeed.  He did.  Delegate projects with full confidence in your team.  Don’t waver or take it back.  Delegate with clarity.

6. Improvise.  Obviously they had to constantly improvise.  Wood from the sinking ship was used for shoe bottoms, blubber from penguins to light the lamps, lashing three men together to slide down a mountain face like a toboggan.  Shackleton and his men made do with what they had.  Don’t wait for the next software upgrade or next year’s budget to move the project forward.  Improvise with what you have now.

7. Faith.  Shackleton had unfailing faith and optimism.  He kept the more pessimistic and ornery folks in his tent, lest they infect the others.  You cannot survive 21 months in the bleakness of the Antarctic with little more than the clothes on your back, a compass and a stove without optimism.  Leadership is all about having undying faith that you can overcome any obstacle.

I have to say that as I read the book, I was stunned, and impressed with the insurmountable obstacles that they did overcome and for Shackleton’s heroic, unfailing, inspiring leadership.

Quit Awfulizing. 5 Steps to Stop Worrying so Much.

Do you want to procrastinate?  Do you like to procrastinate?  Do want to come to a complete stop?  Start worrying?  Worry about the what ifs? Dwell on all the things that could happen?  Might happen? Could happen?  Should happen?  It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month.  Her biggest issue was the not knowing.  How would they communicate?  What is Skype?  Where would he be living? So my question was, “how is all this worrying working for you?”  Well, it’s not.  It’s paralyzing, sleep depriving…a waste.  Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

stop worryingI’m not saying I don’t understand.  I have two teenage children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last two months (one 11 hours south and one 2 hours west).  They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes.  My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome.  But at least I sleep.   This has not always been my M.O. ( modus operandi).  It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry free in 5 not so easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not.  If you really enjoy thinking of endless ways how your child, your parent or your spouse could be in a car accident.  If this is your fuel;  then join the fretters club.  But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment.  This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism. You will need to be optimistic.  This will be difficult for the glass-half-full-people out there.  What if everything is going to be better than expected?  Maybe the plane is getting in early.  Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals.  Maybe the boss’s office  door is shut because they are working on your raise.  Everything is possible including the windfall, the referral and the next project.  Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news that is.  I was just in Atlanta and my husband had the evening news on.  OMG.  Shootings.  Drownings.  Murder.  Car accidents.  My blood pressure went up.  My mind starts wandering down horrible trails.  What if that was my kid, friend, coworker? Nothing good can come from the news.  98% is sensationalized and depressing.  I’ve taken a clue from my daughter.  She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on.  She doesn’t watch the news or the weather.  She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment.  This is the most difficult.  There is always a certain  amount of reflection and planning in life.  We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing.  We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome.  So your friend has cancer.  Worrying for them is not going to help them.  Praying for them can.  Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach.  Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts.  No one else will.  You need to be vigilant.  Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads.  When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out.  It’s going to be fine.  Sometimes I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident.  This was meant to be.  Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts.  You are your own sheriff.  Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring a new project.  It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?

Drink the Optimism Kool-Aid

Having a positive outlook can change everything.  If you think you can succeed, finish the race, or complete the project, you will.  If there are a few hiccups along the way, well, that may be what the universe intended.

You probably think that I am being a Pollyanna (for those under 40 and don’t know who Pollyanna is click here) Which is exactly what I’m suggesting you do—be optimistic.  It makes a difference in how you face life; in how you recover from setbacks; in how you lead. In Srinivasan Pillay‘s book Your Brain and Business, he shows why leaders need to be drinking the optimism Kool-Aid.  Dr. Pillay writes, “When you have hope and optimism, you have an automatic way of replacing fear in the line of emotions asking for attention from the amygdala.” Basically, if you dwell on the fear and negativity of the situation, your amygdala goes nuts and shuts down rational and reasonable thoughts.  So if you don’t want to fire up your amygdala (your lizard brain), look on the bright side.  Don’t worry about the “how” and all the obstacles in your way, just have belief that you can succeed and you can lead everyone else (and their lizard brains) out of the fire. See what I mean?  It’s a game changer. optimistic

At my Rotary club every week we have a 50/50 raffle.  There is one guy who wins it on a regular basis.  He knows he’s lucky.  He’s optimistic.  He wins. There are times when he doesn’t win, but he wins a lot more often than anyone else.  Certainly more than anyone who thinks they are unlucky.  They aren’t even putting a dollar in.  They don’t think they have a chance.

OK.  So here is how you can drink the optimism Kool Aid:

1. Suspend. As in, suspend your negative thoughts.  Don’t go listing all the ways why this won’t work.  That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You will be correct.  There is absolutely no possibility of succeeding if you think you can’t.  You do not pass “Go” and collect $200.  You will be stuck.

2. Pause.  When adversity comes along (and it will), take a breath and disconnect from your present situation.  Unplug and regroup.  Your reaction under pressure is only feeding your lizard brain.  Don’t let the amygdala go nuts and set off all the firecrackers.  Have a Zen moment and disconnect.  The last thing you need to feed when you are under pressure is your lizard brain.  Chill out.

3. Discerning.  Now is the time to pick the thoughts that go reeling through your head.  Something negative comes along like, “This will NEVER work,” or “Here we go again.” Or worst of all, “You dummy…you always fail at this stuff.”  Stay off the merry-go-round of negative thoughts and pick the right time to select your thought.  Is there something good that could possibly happen?  That is the thought you want.  Wait for it.  It’ll show up, especially if you’ve already done #2.

4. Explore.  There must be something good about the current situation.  The sun is out.  It’s finally raining.  It’s finally summer.  It’s finally winter.  There is a bright side to everything.  Just find the right context.  There is a roof over your head.  Your car started this morning.  You finished high school.  You woke up this morning and still have a pulse.  There is good out there—just go do some exploring.

5. Digest.  Dwell and ruminate on those positive thoughts and outcomes.  Make it real and believe in it.  The board will accept the idea.  Your car can be fixed for less than $100.  The next big client is going to call tomorrow.  The sun will come up tomorrow.  Digest the positive and dwell on it.

I’ve said this in other posts but I’m still working on this and many other positive habits. Practice makes perfect.  Start working on your optimist. It doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us and if it does come naturally to you, share the optimism Kool-Aid with others.

How do you stay optimistic?

Stress buster

I had the privilege of hearing Jon Gordon speak at a Capital Associated Industries conference recently.  He is the author of several books but the one quote I took away from the lecture was “Be positive! You can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time.” How true is that!  When was the last time you were stressed while praying or meditating? So when you’re running late for work; be thankful that you have a job and a car that’s working.

be positiveJon Gordon’s recent book is “The Positive Dog”. It talks about how positivity in your relationships and at work will not only make it better for you but for those around you as well.  Haven’t we all been there?  You know who the Debbie Downers of the world are; and you try and stay clear of them.  The guy who is constantly saying that the sky is falling?  Yeah.  Skip lunch with him.  You’ll have a gun to your head if you hang out with him for too long.  Positivity rules.  And it is the ultimate stress buster.

Here are some tips on how to increase your positivity:

1. Stop.  The minute you start catastrophizing some adverse event, you need to STOP.  In Martin Seligman‘s book “Learned Optimism”, he recommends physically hitting the wall and saying “Stop!”  If there isn’t a wall handy, try a rubber band on your wrist and snap it (hard) and say “Stop!”  As Seligman says, this disrupts the thoughts.  So if you are thinking your daughter was in a car accident because she is 10 minutes late, just smack yourself and say “Stop!”

2. Truth.  As Byron Katie says in her book “Loving What Is”, is it the truth?  If you are telling your self that your boss hates you, that your spouse doesn’t love you or that you’ve blown your diet; take a second look.  Stuff a sock in your Inner Dictator, and ask yourself if it’s true.  Dust off the evidence and analyze what you know to be absolutely true.  What evidence do you have other than what your Inner Dictator has said?  The boss is in the middle of an acquisition and is overwhelmed.  Your spouse is working overtime and needs some appreciation.  One brownie and a glass of Zinfandel is not blowing a diet.  Make sure you know the truth.

3. Spill.  Set the timer, grab a pen and spill your guts on paper.  Dump all the worries, self-doubt and demons on some good old college ruled paper.  This is amazingly freeing.   Suddenly the stage of your prefrontal cortex is wide open, now that you have all the villains, bad actors and stage hands safely cleared off.  Getting it all on paper and out of your head is such a relief.  From there, light a match and literally “burn up your worries”. Spill your guts so you can look at the positive.

4. Blessings. Count your blessings.  Inspiring coach Michele Woodward recommends counting three things you are thankful for before you get out of bed in the morning.  Sometimes I cheat and count ten things I’m thankful for.  Being grateful starts your day off with optimism.  It might just be the roof over your head, your hardworking spouse and your dog (who is happy to see you no matter the circumstances…actually I’m usually the one that feeds her and she knows where her bread is buttered).  An attitude of gratitude is an attraction magnet.  Who would you rather hang out with, Sue Ann Nivens or Simon Cowell?  I’m guessing the one who counts their blessings.

5. Discourse.  Martin Seligman also recommends getting a close trusted friend and modeling the self talk in your head through some discourse.  Your role is to take the positive angle and your trusted buddy takes your normal self talk of pessimism. So your buddy starts off with “You messed up that project and everyone is disgusted with you. You are so lazy”.  You respond with, “It’s true I delivered the project late but the project itself was spot on.  I know my boss was upset it was late, but he appreciated the quality of the project.  I’m a hard worker.  I was just a little overwhelmed and that caused me to be late.”  The point is, that if you get good at arguing for you instead of against you (in your self talk), it will become second nature to stand up for yourself against your inner dictator.  Grab a buddy and engage in discourse.

It’s amazing how much stress can be created by our inner dictator.  Embracing optimism and positivity can have a huge impact on your ability to roll with the punches.  The most important thing that Martin Seligman has found in his research is that you can learn to be optimistic.  I hope a few of these techniques will help be a stress buster in your life.