Urgent (Reacting) Vs Important (In control)

The urgent important matrix is an oldie but a goodie and is originally credited to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a pragmatist who was in control of his reactions. It is an excellent tool for each and everyone of us to add to our kit bag of strategies to deal with our world of overload and feeling overwhelmed. As I pointed out in a previous post it is ‘people’s hard wired reaction’ to respond to requests to do something either at work or outside work that causes the feelings of overwhelm, rather than the communication tool or app i.e. email, ‘Slack’, social media or whatever tool people use. This brings me to another oldie but goodie ‘The Serenity Prayer’ which at its essence reminds us that we can only change ourselves, i.e. our attitudes, beliefs and by default our ‘reactions’. If I had a $1 for every time I heard someone say – he/she/it/them/they “did this to me” then I would be extremely wealthy.

Whilst we may intellectually ‘know’ these things and I am sure most people have been introduced to the ‘urgent/important matrix at some point in their development at work and the serenity concept with one of those ‘inspirational’ videos or images that do the rounds, most of us don’t apply them. If we applied the wisdom of the Urgent/Importance Matrix to our daily lives; we would be in in control of the ‘high urgent and high important stuff'; vigilant about not letting the  low importance and high urgent quadrant (other people and outside things) get to us, dump the low urgent and low importance stuff, and be mostly focused on the high important and low urgent stuff, because that is what really matters.

This is not through lack of intent or lack of knowing what we ‘should do’ to be effective, and by default feel good about our efforts. It is simple because of brain overload. Why is brain overload the problem?

Brain overload in its simplest form means that ‘brain energy or brain resources’ are stretched beyond their capacity. This is due to too much stuff to process and too many cognitive (thinking) demands at the same time, which makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed because we naturally ‘want to respond’.  This pushes the brain into a state of  energy depletion and we feel out of control because we know it is impossible to ‘respond to more than one thing at a time’.  A simple analogy is a car with worn or misfiring spark plugs which reduces the amount of energy (fuel) available and therefore the performance of the car deteriorates. The brain is the same, it is a ‘system’ that requires a certain amount of energy to perform at its optimum. Just think about how well you perform when you are tired – not too well, and it is brain energy depletion that drives fatigue for people in sedentary roles rather than ‘body or muscle’ fatigue.

So what happens when the brain is stretched beyond its processing capacity or beyond the ‘available energy? It tries to compensate by taking short cuts, and the first thing it cuts out is the parts of the brain that take the most energy. These bits are the ‘smart bits’ the bits that make good decisions, the planning and organising bits, the memory of how similar things worked out in the past, the urgent important matrix. What does that leave? The basic bits, the reactionary bits, the low hanging fruit, like what we did before or last time we were in this situation – the habits and automatic reactionary behaviours.

How do we ‘stop this reacting so that we can access the wisdom of the urgent / important matrix and ‘knowing’ what we can change in the midst of too much stuff? We have to become aware of our own behaviours and reactions, and it is up to us. The irony is that brain overload has made this incredibly simple concept extremely difficult. Who would imagine that being aware of our own ‘reactions’ would be so hard to control.

What is Core to People Productivity

A snapshot of what each ‘function’ within organisations believe is Core to People Productivity according to more than 500 respondents who contributed to our Research Project conducted in May.

A big thank yoInfographic corrected 080815u to all those who participated. Stay tuned as over the next few weeks we will be drilling down further into each of these ‘functions’ perceptions and beliefs, to find common ground of what each believe is required to optimise people productivity. People productivity improvement success will be maximised once the different functional units within an organisation are aligned and cognizant of each others perceptions and efforts to improve.

 

 

She did that to you? What a……….

Travelling on public transport is a fascinating social exercise, the mood, conversations, body language of travelers is infinitely interesting to observe. It seems of late the conversations of people around me (either on the phone or to a fellow passenger) have been particularly ‘grumpy’ for want of a better word. In the absence of wearing headphones listening to music or something else whilst on public transport, we pick up on conversations around us by default. It actually takes a concerted effort to block the sound of those conversations out. I tend to use the journey as a means to check in on ‘sentiment’ of what is bothering people – because these conversations are generally about what is bothering people.

What has struck me and hence this blog post is that I seem to be hearing a lot of ‘stories’ about ‘what people’ have done, or are ‘doing to’ the the person telling the story, and this is predominantly at work. Some of these people have been quiet upset as gauged by the volume and rate of expletives elicited. There is a common denominator with the conversations that I have noticed, the conviction that someone has done something to them. So lets look at this. The person telling the story is not actually living through the ‘thing that has happened to them’ in the moment whilst in transit on public transport, it occurred in the past – mind you some of the conversations I hear are about ‘what someone is going to do to them. Yet from the conviction of their ‘story’ it is as though the injustice that has occurred is the focal point of their life right now and it is ‘true’ beyond measure.

In effect these transgressions of what ‘someone’ has done to the person telling the story take on a life of their own and become a belief. Once a story becomes a belief it becomes difficult to change. Workplaces are littered with beliefs about people, processes, customers and competition that in many cases have come into existence via a ‘story’ of some ‘injustice or transgression’ that occurred some time in the past. Other beliefs exist of a positive nature, these ones generally don’t create ongoing problems nor endless conversations in the workplace kitchen and the journey home. How many of you have begun a new job and learned very quickly about such beliefs? The stories about what people are like and what they have done and how these things about the person are the ‘truth’. In cases the stories are years old and the original transgression and the victim of the injustice are long gone from the organisation – yet the story, the belief, remains.

How differently would you think about a person whom you have never met if you were to make up your own mind about them via your interactions at work, rather than take on the ‘party line’ belief? I would hazard a guess, very differently. My point is to promote readers to think about the beliefs you have about people at work and the power they have over you. How real are they? Do we really want to become the person having the conversations on public transport, where seemingly their life is being ruled by such beliefs?

Is Uncertainty really the enemy?

I was pondering out on the bike the other day about a statistic that continually comes up as the single biggest concern globally for businesses and people – ‘uncertainty’. I have a keen interest in data and people and regularly seek out such things as, what factors are driving the dominant global thinking – got to love Google. Uncertainty has come up over the past 3-4 years as the one thing that underpins a myriad of other consequent ‘issues’. From my perspective this is a no brainer – because of Busy Brain Syndrome (BBS), the brain discovery I made from my PhD research over a decade ago. Busy Brain Syndrome is at its core, the brain ‘doing what it is supposed to do’. Many of us really have no idea what our brain is supposed to do and does, because these days most of us are locked into endless, mindless internal self-talk or ‘chit-chat’, as I like to call it. “I woulda, coulda, shoulda, what if, but, what does she mean? I think this is right………”

So what is our brain ‘supposed to do, and what is it doing?

Our brain is keeping us safe, because in case anyone has forgotten we are a ‘species’, vulnerable to dangers just like any other ‘species’ on the planet. The interesting thing is that the biggest threat to us is ‘us’. The news is littered daily with hideous things people do to each other. Yesterday a cyclist had a full 1.25 litre bottle hurled at her head from an abusive motorist – why? Who knows. What has this done to the cycling community? Sent a shiver of ‘fear’ through them – a new level of danger to add to the other dangers of riding a bike in Australia.

It never ceases to amaze me that people find the concept that we are a ‘species’ a little ‘out there’. Further evidence that we are disconnected from who and what we really are, which interestingly is another consequence of Busy Brain Syndrome. Getting back to how BBS impacts uncertainty, BBS has come about from the brain ‘adapting’ to a changed environment. That is what the brain does, it continually reads the environment and adapts. A simple illustration of this is weather – we take for granted that everyday we ‘dress appropriately’ for the weather – everyone takes an interest in the weather, albeit largely unconsciously so they are prepared. Taking this concept to a macro level, the environmental changes that have come about due to technological advances and impact all humans living on the planet, have been massive from the perspective of the ‘brain job of keeping us safe’.

Simply put – the brain has to filter incoming ‘stuff’ to make sure that we are OK, just like workers on a production line filtering for defective products. Thinking of the production line, those working on it are on high alert for defects, so is the brain. That was all fine when the speed and amount of ‘stuff’ to process was slow and manageable. Technological advances have changed all of that. Now the speed of stuff is totally beyond the brains ability to process (this part of the brain is not smart or like a computer, it is unconscious and like a production line). Effectively the brain production line has sped up 100’s fold, imagine workers on a production line that is running at 100kmph – ridiculous.

BBS means that the threat filter in the brain is on ‘extreme’ alert all the time and the brain is constantly in ‘uncertainty mode’. This part of the brain is not smart and has no idea that ‘stuff – social media and communications’ is not a ‘threat’ – it just sees this stuff as being a potential ‘treat’, or a potentially defective product referring to the production line analogy. This ‘uncertainty’ is not actually real – it is a consequence of the brain doing what it is supposed to do and adapting to keep us safe. Unfortunately from the perspective of the modern human in a fast paced world just trying to get on with things and live a good life; this is a ‘maladaptation’.

What is the antidote to ‘uncertainty’ and Busy Brain Syndrome – getting back in control – or at least feeling like we are in control. Miraculously feeling in control is synonymous with all those ‘positive emotions’ that make us feel good and do well. Uncertainly or being out of control elicit negative emotions which we all abhor and work to reverse, which is the brain doing what it does – working to get us back to ‘safe’ ground.

HR, KPI’s and the danger of fixed beliefs

Episode Two – Cake-man.

Following on from last weeks post and the story of cake-man, his most vehement complaint was about KPI’s and HR. You know the situation, you are nailed to the walled by a person who is so passionate about their ideas and making you agree (passion does have its downside) – that you end up agreeing just to escape. To be honest I didn’t really understand the leap cake-man was making with HR and KPI’s being the main problem with business today. He was of the view that since the introduction of KPI’s some time ago by HR, managers ceased being responsible because they lost sight of the bigger picture. KPI’s created the tick the box system where managers managed ticking off their KPI’s, rather than focusing on the bigger picture. Cake-man believed that before the introduction of job specific KPI’s, managers managed the whole job because they understood the holistic nature of the job. They could see tasks or the job at hand beyond their own teams specific contribution and took responsibility for ensuring their output (team) complimented the whole job or task.

I think that cake-man has a point and I certainly see a fair bit of evidence of tick the box approaches in our clients businesses and other firms we visit. However the next ‘leap’ was a bit of a stretch, as cake-man believed that HR had created this ‘mess’ of managers working to a KPI tick the box system rather than working to support their team to get the bigger job done. He went on to say that HR had taken away managers drive to be responsible because these managers were measured against the KPI’s and not against getting the ‘bigger’ job done. He also said this has resulted in people only doing ‘their bit’ and other bits of the job are outside my role KPI – so I don’t do it. As I alluded to above I am not sure how HR created this situation as cake-man was so emphatically convinced they had, nor do I think that many people would concur with this view. Aside from a huge stretch of cause and effect cake-mans view is not helpful for a number of reasons.

1. It is a problem focused view of the world – rather than a solution focused view of the world. The problem focused approach asks the question, what can we? This promotes a problem focused discussion, dissecting the problem and most often arrives back at the status quo and nothing changes. A solution focused approach asks the question, how can we? and promotes an entirely different discussion and outcome, where change occurs naturally in response to a need.

2. Last time I checked HR were not the managers of managers within organisations. So logically speaking, if as cake-man asserts, managers were failing to take responsibility for how their (team/unit) contributions fit into the overall business offering – is it not their managers responsibility?

3. Blame culture – interestingly HR have an unenviable reputation as organisation ‘police’ for want of a better description. They are not afforded the same respect and treatment as ‘business or asset risk personnel’ as they are just responsible for people risk. Why don’t they just make these people do what they are supposed to and make this problem go away. So of course cake-man would blame HR, he and countless others must find someone to take responsibility for these problems.

4. Fixed beliefs – this is the real culprit for lack of responsibility which exists within organisations at all levels. It is fixed beliefs behind cake-mans vehemence that our solution for assisting all managers within organisations to become more responsible and in turn develop the self-responsibility of their people ‘will not work’.

Fixed beliefs become our mindsets, the way we see the world and effectively determine everything we do. Perhaps the most insidious impact of the overload created by the digital age and technology is the absolute power of fixed beliefs. The irony is that everyone knows all to well the impact of overload – and most people talk endlessly about how they wish they could get more done, and not have so many things continually on the to do list. Equally most people have tried many times to overcome the impacts of overload, they have learned about ‘time management’ and ‘stress management’ and have tried to apply these strategies. Many of them worked for a while – but then the old habits crept back again, and this has created the mindset or fixed beliefs that ‘solutions don’t work’. Tried that and it didn’t work – this is now the mindset of many and was articulated so well by cake-man.

What happens as a result of ‘tried that and it didn’t work’  occurring is that apathy sets in, which then becomes a mindset and a fixed belief. Perhaps more concerning is that these fixed beliefs exclude creative, innovative solutions being explored within so many organisations. This attitude has also resulted in people not speaking up within organisations when they may think of an idea to solve a problem or work more efficiently. They know the drill – ‘that won’t work,or its too hard to change, or we won’t get budget for that’ – so they don’t bother. Overtime they become believers – believers in “you can’t and that won’t work”.

How can we turn the cake-man experience into a take out for our organisations.

1 – HR are not responsible for managing people – the management hierarchy is – all the way through from CEO to team supervisor. HR’s role is to support managers. Managing is not something you learn to do in a classroom – it is hands on and acquired by trial and error.

2. The most important component of managing people is communication. Knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Managers can learn how to communicate via a good program of effective communication. The what and the when is determined by data – businesses need to really look at how they can revolutionise the effectiveness and efficiency of data to support people management and improvement.

3. KPI’s – include ‘actionable’ strategic business intentions and customer promise “behaviours” as measures – this is not so easy to achieve but once understood transforms the way people view ‘why and what’ they do each day.

4. Make challenging ‘fixed beliefs’ a part of every decisions that a team makes with their planning from the weekly WIP to daily work. This makes sure that every decision is approached from the perspective of ‘How Can We’.

That Won’t Work?

 

I was at a morning tea event the other day – a quasi networking event which I wasn’t  keen to attend as I was busy, however I went along to be polite. I was nailed to the wall by an older man who had run an engineering business for 35 years and was pontificating about the current times, HR, KPI’s, the younger generation and how awful everything was, all the while speaking with his mouth full of chocolate cake. Finally he said ‘what do you do’? I gave him the BBQ statement and he stopped chewing his cake and said ‘ that won’t work’. He then went into another tirade about how HR and KPI’s have made sure managers don’t take responsibility and blah blah blah. Needless to say I escaped and went back to the office.

I was struck by ‘cake man’s’ vehemence in his pontification about the problem – it was like a tsunami of negativity that was barrelling at me. I am not sure about you, but negativity exhausts me, I find it draining and tend to avoid it as much as possible. Negativity is a side effect of modern life due to the brain changes that have occurred as a result of technology grossly speeding up the rate of information transfer which I have referred to often in my posts.

As I surround myself with positive people who are forward thinking and solution focused – when I come across such negativity it feels really unpleasant, and I was a bit stunned to be honest. In fact most of our clients gravitate towards us because they are attempting to ‘work through negativity’ from people within their own businesses who ‘block people productivity progress’ in exactly the same way that ‘cake man’ did – “that won’t work”. They too express exhaustion with the ‘can’t, can’t can’t…..responses to their attempts to progress people productivity in their own organisations.

The good news is that this negativity can be overcome and resolved. The brain discovery I made some time ago is the precursor to this over-abundance of negativity. It is simply the ‘reaction’ from the brain to too much going on (overload), too much to process and too many decisions to make (daily working life for most). Simply put the brain processing area (where everything we do, say, think and feel is filtered) is like a switch – either ON of OFF. This part of the brain is not at all complicated and is like the language of computers (1 or 0) ‘on or off’ and all other processes upstream from the ‘1’ or ‘0’ will have the associated attributes of the ‘1’ or ‘0’.

The attributes of the ‘1’ are associated overload and the brain paying attention to a potential threat, we are hardly going to be jumping for joy with a ‘lion viewing us as lunch’ – so the emotions will be negative and the resulting thinking and actions will be negative as well. The attributes of the ‘0’ on the other hand is where creativity, potential, productivity, contentment, sense of purpose and satisfaction with achievement all reside. This is the state we all desire, crave and spend most of our time ‘trying’ to get to this state.

Whilst this solution to overcoming negativity is simple on the surface – in reality it is extremely difficult – if it wasn’t we would all be contented and ‘cake man’ would be a rarity. Unfortunately ‘cake man’ is not a rarity and people like him seem to have the loudest voices and get the most attention. Once again there are brain based reasons for this. There are two very significant further consequences of brain ‘overload’ due to people trying to process to much ‘stuff’.

The first is that information or brain processing overload due to too much ‘stuff’ has caused the brain to become ‘habituated’ to having to constantly check for incoming threats (too much stuff to process). This is interpreted by the brain as being in “dinner plate for the lion” mode most of the time, particularly at work which means negative emotions. This is an unconscious process and as such we have no idea that our brain is in this state and that we are interpreting things that are in no way ‘a threat’ in a negative way. This habituation has also shut down the reasoning, creative, problem solving part of our brain. Have you ever been in a situation where you have reacted to something and it has not worked out so well – then when you are a relaxed state later looked back and thought ‘that was a bit nuts’? This is because in the relaxed ‘brain state’ you are ‘seeing the situation’ in a completely different light. We don’t like being in this state and the other insidious thing is that we all know that our thinking, behaviours and beliefs are a bit mad and reactionary when ‘under the pump’. We don’t want to acknowledge this and yet ironically, this fuels another phenomenon.

This brings me to the second consequence of brain overload that is driving increased negativity – ‘emotional contagion’. Emotional contagion means people adopting the group emotions, sentiments and beliefs – stock market crashes or herd behaviour by way of example. The main driver for this, particularly with regards to work, is a powerful desire to ‘be right’. No one wants to be an outlier in our politically correct problem focused world, don’t stick your neck out, toe the party line. This is the way things are, we all believe it and so should you. ‘Cake man’ was telling me he was right and that I would fail because I was wrong as our ideas are incongruent or not a match to his and the group.

This phenomena of negative emotional contagion has gone through the roof over the past decade or so. Social media has been a vehicle for this – but it has not been the cause.  The media does not tell people how to think and feel – they do that themselves. However the media ‘tells people what to think about’ and the abundance of negativity means there is more often than not a negative take or lens view. Then social chit-chat and the contagion effect of ‘group mentality’ takes over, and we have what we know as the status quo.

Cake man and his views was a prime example of how the brain has reacted to overload. The interesting thing is that ‘cake man’ acknowledged there were problems and was very verbose and clear about the extent of the problems – yet could not entertain an alternate view on solving the problems. In the words on Einstein – insanity.  I will discuss cake-man’s views on HR and KPI’s next time – that was really interesting. I could dismiss cake man as a nutter – but he isn’t, he is a member of a large cohort who think like he does – they are not nuts – just overloaded.

Email NOT the problem – Human conditioning IS

We hear about email being tarred and feathered continuously as the scourge of modern workplaces, and strategies abound to deal with this awfulness. These discussions and strategies are all very interesting and helpful to a degree. However, as with most of the modern day problems of overload and too much stuff and all the rest of it – these problems are environmental in nature. Technology has radically changed the landscape out there – not too dissimilar to the motor car replacing the horse. Unlike the transition from the horse and cart to the motor car – the demands for ‘decisions to be made’ did not really change.

Looking at the radical change to the human environment due to technology and connectivity, what has changed so radically is the speed at which this ‘stuff’ comes at us. The days of a phone call, office memo, fax or snail mail order being the height of demands seems unfathomable from our current vantage point of literally 10’s to 100’s of emails per day. So email has been demonised as the culprit of this overload and overwhelming demand on our daily lives at work. Well there is, technically speaking, no ‘real difference’ expect for the amount of stuff at any one time that we ‘expect’ to have to deal with.

There in lies the source of the ‘problem of email’. It is not the email or the technology – that is just a modern efficient means to pass information around. Rather it is the way humans (yes that is us) respond to the email. Most email strategies will have among other things, suggestions such as only check your email once or twice a day – yeah right who seriously does that? We have been conditioned forever in workplaces to respond to ‘requests, demands and expectations’ to do things. In the days of snail mail, phone, fax and memo’s we responded to each new request, even if that meant putting the request in the pending tray. The pace of ‘requests’ was such that this was a manageable strategy.

Now with the speed of requests being as it is – such a strategy of ‘responding’ is completely unsustainable and just plain ridiculous. Yet most of us are on this rat-wheel. Can you see that is it our conditioning to respond that is the problem, not the email process? I hope so – because you can never change the email process no one can, however we are all capable of changing our behaviours – when we know how. So what we need to do is ‘re-condition’ or ‘adapt’ the way we ‘respond’ to email requests to do something. The current conditioning is automatic, and I would hazard a guess that there are not too many people out there consciously aware of their ‘own conditioning’ with ‘responding to emails’.

New Year’s Resolutions – Why they so often fai

 

As a Behavioural Neuroscientist I always ask the groups I train in how to succeed with behaviour change, ‘how often do you succeed with your News Year’s Resolutions (NYR’s)?’ Over the years I have been finding that more and more people don’t bother. I always ask why? “Because I know I will fail or give up, so I don’t bother” is the typical response. Invariably the conversations also turns to things such as how many people buy gym equipment on Ebay in April or May because of failed NYR’s.

Let’s unpack this ‘failure’ to stick with NYR’s. Firstly, people are not weak willed or ‘no good’ because they fail to stick with change. Secondly, the root cause of ‘failure’ to stick with behaviour change is brain overload – which effectively sabotages efforts to change. Why? Because change requires significant ‘brain power’ which is simply not available due to brain overload in our fast paced world of too much stuff too fast.

Successful behaviour change is the next frontier for businesses continual ability to keep up with the ever increasing speed of technology driven changes in the marketplace. Behaviour change is a fundamental driver of humans – we are hardwired to change in response to changes in our environment. However, brain overload, a physiological phenomenon resulting from technology grossly increasing the speed at which ‘stuff’ is presented to us for our brain to process, has severely compromised the human brain’s ability to process information.

The fallout is increasingly limited availability of brain power to get things done – which renders things like behaviour change being pushed way down the pecking order in terms of available brain energy. The good news is – we can learn to ‘adapt’ our brain to successfully change and work efficiently in a world of gross information overload. Adaptation is not the same as Neuroplasticity – that will not work. Adaptation means learning to ‘control’ the unconscious or hidden brain, which ironically is where more than 60% of all we do each day occurs.

Dr. Lucia Kelleher is the MD of People Data, systems and processes that collect real-time data, guide business leaders with interpreting and actioning the data to drive sustainable behaviour change, the new frontier for businesses success in the digital age.

Employee well-being = organisational wellbeing

Research indicates that workplace absenteeism costs the Australian economy on average $18 billion per year with workplace stress and overwhelm being a major contributor to it.

Research also indicates that a successful employee well-being program can:

  • Decrease sick leave by 25.3%
  • Decrease workers compensation by 40.7%
  • Decrease disability management costs by 22.3%
  • Save $5.81 for every $1 invested in employee wellbeing
  • Increase organisational performance by 2.5%
  • Increase employee engagement by a factor of 8

Yet even with these impressive statistics, poor employee well-being costs Australian employers $10.9 billion a year and workplace stress claims costs have increased by 45% in just a few short years. Stress from overload is also responsible for businesses losing 3.2 days per worker each year. This means that attention to employee well-being is much more than just ‘the right thing to do’ it is an imperative of good financial management.

We believe that the root cause of this increase in stress in the workplace is brain overload. Essentially the brains inability to process the amount of information we have to deal with on a daily basis. We forget that the amount of stuff we expect our brain to process today, has increased 1000’s of times over compared to pre-tech days. The hard-wired (that means it does not change and is not neuroplastic) ‘input’ part of our brain simply cannot process at the speed the modern tech driven world demands and this has caused the brain to become overloaded.

Companies need to recognise that the overwhelmed, hyper-connected employee is a product of the 21st century global, fast paced marketplace. They are overloaded and overwhelmed and this can lead to stress and anxiety.

Workplace stress in most cases is poor ability to cope with a demanding overloaded world we now live in, which reduces resilience. The level of information and distraction in the workplace is set to increase further and therefore stress will increase, if left unchecked. The answer is for people to understand how brain overload has created overwhelm and constant feelings of being out of control and to provide them with the tools and knowledge to manage overwhelm.

Employers and employees both have legal obligations in relation to the management of health and safety in the workplace. Workplace health and safety legislation requires employers to ensure the workplace is safe and healthy and employees and employers must identify potential hazards. This legislation refers to both mental and physical health.

Most organisations focus their attention on the physical wellbeing of their employees and struggle with how to manage the more intangible mental well-being. Business and HR leaders have an opportunity to ensure their workplace takes a holistic approach to wellbeing that considers all aspects of employee well-being through the OH&S Act consultation process. A well-being survey which includes a psychological hazard assessment will inform your employee well-being plan and identify the key areas of ‘overwhelm, overload and potential stress in the organisation.

Once you have this data you can commence a meaningful well-being change program which will include:

  • A process for engaging leaders and employees
  • Immediate actions to eradicate the risks if relevant
  • An education process on how to control and eradicate the cause of ‘stress’ and teach people how to adapt their brains’ processing ability to cope in a fast paced world

Other tools such as an effective measurement system to ensure the well-being change plan is followed, ensures your organisation complies with legal obligations, and that responsibility for implementing the plan is cascaded through the organisation.

Employee well-being and productivity are unquestionably linked which is a further direct link to the bottom line of an organisation. If employee well-being is not properly managed it can lead to poor productivity, stress, absenteeism, errors, fatigue, low morale, poor concentration, lack of focus on output, lack of strategic alignment and purpose and lack of customer care and accidents.

Uncertainty = fear of the future, the unknown. How did uncertainly become so paralysing?

I have not ‘read newspapers or watched television news for decades, however once a week or so I will flick through a newspaper whilst waiting for my coffee to be made in a cafe. Headlines such as these are daily fare, no wonder uncertainty and ‘fear of the future’ is so prevalent, “would you like doom with your gloom, how about supersizing that”.Most days I mingle with the public on transport, in cafes, shops and just walking about. As a Behavioural Neuroscientist and Researcher I observe people, listen and study non-verbal cues. There is a direct correlation between what I hear and observe whilst ‘people watching’ and the negativity in the media.

The long term effects of this are contributing to crippling people in terms of their ability to make decisions, change behaviours, feel good about their achievements and to be self-responsible both at work and outside work.

Has the media always been this negative, have we always been fed this ‘diet of doom and gloom’? I would argue not this relentlessly. There is actually a reason for this perpetual negative feedback loop, and it has to do with a brain discovery I made over a decade ago. The advent of technology 15 or so years ago created such a radical shift in our external environment that it can be likened to an event such as a meteor hitting the earth.

As humans we first have to ‘survive’ in response to what our environment ‘throws at us’. Our survival brain – which is unconscious – does a pretty good job at adapting to change in terms of keeping us alive. However there are consequences to the way the brain reacts in response to a changed environment.

The radical changes to our environment (outside world) due to technology have largely been unnoticed in terms of the way the brain has responded and reacted. I think we would notice the changed environment from a meteor hitting the earth by way of example, much more. However, from a human adaptation perspective these changes could not be more all-encompassing and absolute.

Technology has increased the amount of ‘stimulus or stuff’ in our environment exponentially. Whilst this stuff is largely ‘silent and invisible’, is it not too our survival brain or processing centre. The result is our brain’s processing centre is continually in ‘melt-down’, stretched beyond breaking point attempting to cope with the onslaught of stuff coming at it continually.

The most profound impact of the brain responding continually to ‘too much stuff’, is that it is in a ‘state of high alert’ constantly which translates directly as negative emotions and negative overthinking. The brain interprets too much stuff as a potential threat – not just too many emails.

This part of the brain is the same as when we were living in the tree’s, so too many emails is interpreted as us being ‘lunch’ for a predator. I am sure no one would be in a joyous, creative, curious or innovative state whilst being stared down by a hungry lion.

The media is essentially reacting to this ‘state’ of perpetual negativity due to brain overload. If you think about it at each moment we view the world through a lens – that lens is determined by how we ‘feel’. The brain reactions from ‘too much stuff’ described above, means most of the time that lens is negative.

Therein lies a big clue as to why ‘stories’ in the media and the way things are portrayed, are so negative. These stories in turn are ‘read’ and consumed by people who are ‘overloaded’ with their ‘brain processing’ in a negative state, and ‘cements’ for them that ‘these stories are true’.

What I observe and hear when I am doing my people watching is the continuation of the negative feedback loop – the ‘doom and gloom’ is constantly being talked about – so therefore it ‘must be true’.

However, interestingly I am finding more and more people I meet with my business are realising that this ‘diet’ of negativity is overbearing, and they are choosing not to fill their minds with this stuff. They are starting to realise that they can begin the process of reversing the ‘brain adaptation’ of continual negativity by not supersizing their day through reading and consuming negative media.

The more ‘astute’ have made the connection that ‘what I read and see is what I think and feel, and therefore what I believe and do’. So they are therefore deliberately exercising ‘I am what I think’ and I think that reading negative media stories is not going to help me make decisions, change behaviours, feel good about my achievements and be self-responsible.

Perhaps the most profound truth of life is ‘you are what you think’. In the words of Sir Lawrence Olivier from the narration of the theme from the rock opera “Time” in the 1960’s – choose your thoughts wisely.