Professional Paradigms New and Old (Part 6): Traumatic Transformation, and What do You do When Your Paradigm is Done Shifting?

Professional paradigm shifts require transformation not just for the profession’s culture, but for the individuals in it.

wired to createIn their book Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire identify several ways individual paradigm-shifting transformation gets started. One is inspiration, which they say comes in three stages:

The first stage is that unsolicited moment when we feel inspired, “by a role model, teacher, experience, or subject matter.”

“Next comes transcendent awakening — a moment of clarity and an awareness of new possibilities.

“Which leads to  the third hallmark feature of inspiration:  a striving to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea, insight, or vision.” (Emphasis in original.)

Individual paradigm shifts are also prompted by traumatic life events, resulting in what psychologists call “posttraumatic growth.” Again from Wired to Create:

“After a traumatic event, such as a serious illness or loss of a loved one, individuals intensely process the event–they’re constantly thinking about what happened, and usually with strong emotional reactions.

“[T]his kind of repetitive thinking is a critical step toward thriving in the wake of a challenge… we’re working hard to make sense of it and to find a place for it in our lives that still allows us to have a strong sense of meaning and purpose.”

I have personal experience with both inspiration and trauma. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, “I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column.” Learning, writing, and conducting workshops about the psychological and neurological dynamics of transformation has been has been my way of being proactive about something I’ve come to call “traumatic transformation.”

Apocalypse 2 33%In fact, I just finished a new book that completes my decade-long intensive on personal transformation. As always, I’ve learned a lot writing it, but the most startling discovery is that paradigm shifts don’t go on forever:  a time actually comes when the new fully replaces the old. Now that I’ve finished it, I can see that writing the book was in part a way for me to bring closure to my years of personal paradigm shifting.

That being the case, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to set aside my transformation journey and let its lessons play out for awhile. Which is why, after today’s post, I’m going to take an indefinite vacation from writing this column. At this point, I have no fresh thoughts to add to what I’ve been writing about for the past several years. Instead of repeating myself, I want to take a break and see if anything new comes up. If so, I’ll come back and share it.

In the meantime, my endless thanks to the Colorado Bar Association (where these blog posts first began) and to my fabulous editor Susan Hoyt for getting me started out developing my research and theories and personal revelations in this forum. And equally many thanks to those of you who’ve read and thought about and sometimes even taken some of these ideas to heart and put them into practice.

On the wall above the desk where I write, I have a dry-mounted copy of the very last Sunday Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, which I cut out of the newspaper the morning it ran. (Speaking of paradigm shifts, remember newspapers?) There’s a fresh snow, and our two heroes hop on their sled and go bouncing down a hill as Calvin exults, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”

I suspect Calvin and Hobbes are still out there, exploring. I plan to join them.

You?

Apocalypse:  Life On The Other Side Of Over was just published yesterday. It’s a free download from the publisher, like my other books. Or click on this link or the book cover for details.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (5): Why change if we don’t have to?

Why change if we don’t have to?

Good question. I Googled it. The most hits were about the hazards of not changing your car’s oil, plus a few along the same lines about furnace filters or the water filter on the fridge. There was one about changing your underwear, and a few about lifestyle changes related to health issues. All of those are maintenance issues — mechanical, hygiene, health — which we would generally consider have to’s.

What about changing to keep up with the competitive pressures of the marketplace? There’s a lot of keep up with the Joneses thinking out there, but in my observation, making yourself afraid of what the competition might do rarely results in anything other than drama. No have to in that.

Recently, at a CLE workshop in South Carolina, a participant  asked, “Aren’t there some things we don’t need to change?” The question brought me up short, reminded me why we were investing a whole day talking about change:  we were there to enhance professionalism, help us do our work better, keep us ethical, and maybe even help us to be happy practicing law — or find the courage to get out. That’s why we needed to talk about things like law school inflicted brain damage, lawyer substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide, and the value of personal happiness in supporting ethical behavior. Some things are broken and need to be fixed, and some things we do to keep our edge — both are necessary maintenance, part of our professional have to’s.

But there was a second part to my answer. Beyond those maintenance issues, I agree:  let’s not change if we don’t want to. I’m not sure it’s even possible. I do know that grudging change never seems to work.

I say that even though I think and write a lot about change — particularly the psychological and neurological dynamics of personal transformation. (You may have noticed.) If I were still in law practice, I would no doubt be incorporating the not-so-futuristic practice developments into my firm, and otherwise actively engaging with the huge paradigm shift happening in our profession.

But that’s not everybody’s choice, and I get that. They’re content to let those developments play out by the process of cultural evolution. If a day comes that threatens obsolescence beyond mere fear-mongering, it will become a shared maintenance issue, and we’ll take care of it together… but probably not before.

All that went into my answer to the question in South Carolina. Which made me ask myself once again what’s behind my own commitment to change. Bottom line is, I have a personal, real-time, vested interest in change because I’ve been on a steep personal transformation learning curve for nearly a decade — for all sorts of reasons I’ve written about in my books, my personal blog, and sometimes in this column. Thinking and writing about it is my way of being proactive about my own best interests.

More next time on why that’s relevant to this blog.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 3): The Dark Side of Motivation

All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation: more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

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We’ve been trying to find a sustainable approach to getting motivated and staying motivated. No luck thus far. To go further in our search, it’s time to face…

The Dark Side Of Motivation

Vader_yelloweyes

Let’s sample some more scientific research:

Motivation, Stress, Anxiety, And Cortisol Responses In Elite Paragliders The title pretty much tells you what you need to know:  it uses motivation, stress, and anxiety together. Hold that thought.

Salivary Cortisol Changes In Humans After Winning Or Losing A Dominance Contest Depend On Implicit Power Motivation I think that means rah-rah works for some people, but shuts others down.

What do these articles have in common besides their long scholarly titles? They both talk about cortisol, known as “the stress hormone.” Back to WikiUniversity for a primer:

“Stress is a physiological and psychological stimulus and response that presents itself in many different ways throughout the body. Stress or a stressor can be thought of as any stimulus that upsets the bodies [sic] natural balance or hoemeostasis [sic].

“Stress is defined as any situation that upsets homeostasis within the body and threatens ones [sic] emotional or physical wellbeing.

“The dominant modern perspective is that emotions recruit biological and psychological supporters to enable adaptive behaviours i.e. fighting, running or empathetic situations. The two hormones of Adrenaline (Epinepherine) and cortisol support the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress reactive system.”

Obviously this Wiki contributor was having a bad spellcheck and grammar day, but we get the point:  stress knocks us out of whack, from the inside out. We’re not just skipping down the happy motivation road anymore, we’re on the way to….

Cortisol, adrenaline, hormones, anxiety, fight or flight… oh my!

Lions and tigers and bears

Here’s the problem:  you need motivation to stay motivated.

That’s the bottom line of the Feed The Beast motivation strategy we looked at last time. All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation:  more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

Not only is that lousy leadership and management, it’s lousy self-care, too. We’re not meant to live that way, and it certainly won’t empower us to perform at our best. The fight or flight response is supposed to be a quick fix — over and out when the threat has past. Chronic stress keeps the threat ever-present, which messes with mind and body, puts health at risk. Which is why…

All This Motivation Is Killing You

We’ll let the Mayo Clinic weigh in on this issue:

“Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean that life is free of stress.

“On the contrary, you undoubtedly face multiple demands each day, such as shouldering a huge workload, making ends meet and taking care of your family. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as threats. As a result you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault. But you can fight back. You don’t have to let stress control your life.

“When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

“Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

“Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

“The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

“But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment.”

Comparable medical research abounds. If you want more, here’s a short article on how chronic stress hurts us. And here’s another.

More next time

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 2):  Feeding the Beast

Employee-Motivation resized

We ended last week’s post by asking, Can’t we just get positive? Won’t that keep us motivated?

Sure, it will help. Check out this  Time article on How to Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science. Step One is “Get Positive.”

Most of us can match Norman Vincent Peale and his self-help classic The Power of Positive Thinking from two columns, although most of us haven’t read the book, and nobody we know practices it. For a more recent take on the subject, we might try Positive Psychology evangelist Shawn Achor and his book The Happiness Advantage. (Google it — it’s all over the place. Here’s his TEDx talk, which is well worth a look.)

The Happiness Advantage is full of good news and great advice, not to mention lots of quotes you can add to the conference room wall or to a PowerPoint. Here’s a sample:

“If you observe people around you, you’ll find most individuals follow a formula that has been subtly or not so subtly taught to them by their schools, their company, their parents, or society. That is:  If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief explains what most often motivates us in life.

“The only problem is that this formula is broken.

“[N]ew research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around. We become more successful when we are happier.

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

“The Happiness Advantage… is about learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviors that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment. It is a work ethic.

“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the realization that we can.

“When we are happy – when our  mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.

“Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance. The list of benefits of happiness in the workplace goes on and on.”

Yes, Positive Psychology’s insights about happiness will make a difference, and they’re good science to boot. (For more on the science of positive thinking, check out this Huffington Post article.) And yet… we can practice all that positive psychology and still our motivation eventually wears out, and we find ourselves reaching for articles like this one that asks “ How do I recharge my depleted motivation?”

The problem is that, positive or not, we keep playing the motivation game the same way we always have, which is basically:

Motivation means get pumped up and stay pumped up.

And to do that, you have to keep feeding the beast.

Lion feasting

That’s our formula for how we practice all that science and scholarship:  feed the beast; feed it to awaken it; keep feeding it to keep it awake. It works, as far as it goes. Trouble is, it doesn’t go very far. Here’s a totally random sample of one, two, three, four articles telling us that motivation will last two, maybe three days at best.

That’s it?! All this trouble and we’re only motivated for two or three days?!

We can do better. How? All this time while we’ve been searching for the psychological and neurological Holy Grail of motivation, we’ve been avoiding another hugely important aspect of motivation science.

We’ll look at it next time.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 1): Why All This Motivation is Killing You

It’s the end of January and the resolutions are long gone. Not for lack of motivation, but because of it.

Employee-Motivation resized

It’s the end of January and the resolutions are long gone. Not for lack of motivation, but because of it.

Google “motivation.” What comes up? Lots of hits about leadership, management, team building, best hiring practices, sales training. Everything you need to get other people to do what you want — your team, employees, salesmen, managers, students, children….

And lots more hits on how to get yourself to do what you want, be a success at work and life.

ziglar quote resizedPlus enough posters and sayings and quotes to paper a conference room. The one at the left has name recognition appeal, and shows up a lot. All these will help us, right?

Nope. Not going to work. Instead, it’s going to hurt you in the long run, not to mention sabotaging your success.

Yes, you read that right. You might get short-term results, but the reality is that…

A lot of what passes for motivation is not just self-defeating,
it’s harmful to your health.

The reason why is ironically evident in in that famous Zig Ziglar quote.

The Science Of Motivation

We Googled motivation, and now we’re… um, motivated… to dig deeper. We tap Wikipedia first, to get a quick look at the lay of the land. We’re greeted with this:

“Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior. It represents the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation can also be defined as one’s direction to behavior, or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior and vice versa. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way, or at least develop an inclination for specific behavior. For example, when someone eats food to satisfy their hunger, or when a student does his/her work in school because he/she wants a good grade. Both show a similar connection between what we do and why we do it. ”

Almost lost us at “theoretical construct,” but food and good grades? Now we’re tracking — at least until we get to the laundry list of Incentive Theories: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, Operant Conditioning, Push and Pull, Self-control, Drives, Incentive Theory, Drive-Reduction Theory, Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Content Theories, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs… Maslow! Finally some familiar ground! We had that in Psych 101!

While we’re greeting Maslow like an old friend, the list goes on, at a low rumble. There’s a lot to Motivation Science, apparently — mostly psychology. How about we try Behavioral Neuroscience instead:

“Concepts of motivation are vital to progress in behavioral neuroscience. Motivational concepts help us to understand what limbic brain systems are chiefly evolved to do, i.e., to mediate psychological processes that guide real behavior. This article evaluates some major motivation concepts that have historic importance or have influenced the interpretation of behavioral neuroscience research. These concepts include homeostasis, setpoints and settling points, intervening variables, hydraulic drives, drive reduction, appetitive and consummatory behavior, opponent processes, hedonic reactions, incentive motivation, drive centers, dedicated drive neurons (and drive neuropeptides and receptors), neural hierarchies, and new concepts from affective neuroscience such as allostasis, cognitive incentives, and reward ‘liking’ versus ‘wanting’.”

Okay then. We had homeostasis in Biology 101, and everybody knows about “setpoints,” but settling points, intervening variables, hydraulic drives (Huh?! In our brains?!), drive neuropeptides… Maybe not so much.

All this psych and neuroscience feels pretty thick. Let’s try something visual… hey, here’s a PowerPoint! Hmmm, a lot of the same stuff. All good science, no doubt, but what about us real folks?

Can’t We Just Get Positive?

Doesn’t having a positive attitude keep us motivated? Can’t we just do that?

We’ll explore that idea next time.