The recent rise of what is apparently called ‘quiet quitting’ has sparked the need for organizations to re-examine the modern psychological contract between employer and employee.

‘Quiet quitting’, in terms of working with reduced motivation, has always existed since work first began, and usually resulted in the individual leaving to find a new role that inspired them. However, working less hard while looking for a new role is not the same as consciously setting boundaries around your work in order to have a life – which is what I believe the new ‘phenomenon’ actually represents.

Employers risk falling into the trap of conflating demotivated employees – who are in the process of leaving – with those who love their work but are setting boundaries. And what strikes me the most is that ‘quiet quitting’ is a derogative term which is being used to describe, in many cases, employees doing the job that they were hired to do, for the amount of time they were hired to do it.

It is the younger workers who have been described as igniting this quiet revolution in the workplace, opting to operate broadly within the boundaries of their job and not expanding beyond it if they so choose. If they work certain agreed hours, then they do not expect to be contacted before or after those hours except in exceptional circumstances. If they are given a project beyond their job title, they may choose to politely decline if they do not have the capacity or if they were not contracted to do so.

They value time to live their lives, as well as do their work, and this does not mean they are any less dedicated, talented or that their output is reduced.  No one is ‘quitting’ and they should not be accused of such!

They are rejecting the ‘always on’ culture that they have seen work so badly for their parents and older work colleagues. The additional work hours that once were paid as overtime became gradually seen as a badge of honour for the ‘workaholic’, and an expectation by employers as something you had to do if you wanted to ‘get on’ and reach the senior echelons of an organisation. Now with remote working making it possible to work 24/7, working way in excess of your contracted hours has become an expectation that has generated a tidal wave of stress-related mental health issues.

So, why did young people feel the need to push back against the relentless tide of work coming their way?

For one thing, people are working an increasing number of unpaid hours. A global study by ADP Research found that 1 in 10 people work at least 20 extra hours a week unpaid. To add context, they are often working for global organisations which are making millions in profit to give to the shareholders, yet their workers are ‘donating’ swathes of their time for free. Hours being ‘donated’ to organisations by their workers had also doubled in North America, while in the UK, the number of unpaid hours worked in 2021 was equivalent to £27 billion.

The idea of an unpaid overtime-work-ethic has arisen from a toxic mindset that equates commitment and effectiveness with working very long hours and never saying ‘no’. The younger generation are entering into a corporate world with some leaders who believe that giving your ‘all’ to a job (i.e., prioritising your work above everything else in your life including family, friends, hobbies and health) is a good way of measuring productivity and passion.

I believe it is the responsibility of leaders to manage their people resources such that they have sufficient people to deliver what they expect to deliver, not the ‘do more work with less people’ attitude that seems to prevail. Managers also need to support individuals and role model what it means to set boundaries, as well as being alert to when enough is enough.

Knowledge and awareness of the huge impact of overwork and stress on mental and physical health was scarce for previous generations, but we are now much better informed and amongst Gen Z, the stigma attached to discussing wellbeing has largely decreased. And yet, a generation that are more aware of what it means to have a balanced, brain-healthy lifestyle and want to work in a high quality, output-measured way, are having to operate within an outdated working culture.

And so ‘quiet quitting’ was born. Originally starting as a movement in China, ‘quiet quitting’ is a phrase used to describe workers putting in reasonable boundaries between their work and their home time, and rejecting the idea that work has to take over your life. Chinese companies responded by trying to persuade workers that to ‘struggle’ was to achieve a happy life. Younger workers were not convinced.

This is a wake-up call to companies and leaders everywhere, that individuals are deciding that their job cannot consume their entire life. There is both a strong moral and business case for this message needing to be heard:

Morally, companies should not come to rely on the additional cashflow produced through its workers not being paid for the time they are working. This is a fundamental breaking of the work/payment psychological contract. Good resource management does not mean expecting people to work 12 hours but paying them for 8 hours. This ‘discretionary effort’ ethos has got so out of hand that it is no longer the badge of a hardworking and ambitious person, but rather an expectation of all, which is creating a mental health crisis.

In business terms, tired people create tired ideas. Businesses need to recognise that, with the rise of AI taking on repetitive tasks, the next generation of workers will be hired and valued for the quality of their ideas, their innovations, and their thinking. Therefore, we need to work in a way that fosters the best of this thinking. Businesses need to start placing real value on creating environments of mental wellness and brain health, so that they can optimize the best brains and gain a competitive advantage. This is forward-thinking and makes great business sense.

The first steps towards this can be seen in the UK, as the trial for a 4-day working week commenced amongst participating organizations. This was in response to a successful trial in Japan, which found a 40% boost in productivity due to improved wellbeing. A shorter working week acknowledges that a person’s happiness is just as important as their job – having an extra day to indulge in one’s personal life can make all the difference to one’s mental health.

However, there is a fine line to this. As pointed out in the above citation, attempting to cram five days’ worth of work into four can lead to increased feelings of stress and burnout. If companies are shortening the week, they also have a responsibility to decrease the load. It is about playing the long game – productivity will go up despite the loss of a working day because staff will be more rested and motivated. As well as this, their brains will be able to work consistently at an optimal level, creating higher quality output, because they will feel less pressure and have more time to rest.

Henry Ford proved this in 1914 when he upped his workers’ wages and reduced their hours, as well as reducing the work week from 6 to 5 days. Described as a stroke of brilliance, he built a sense of loyalty and pride in his workers and as a result actually boosted productivity.

His son Edsel Ford said, “we believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family”. This seems to have been forgotten in 2022.

The 4-day week suggestion is only one solution. For most businesses currently operating within a five-day working week, it is time to think about shifting the focus from hours being put in, to the work that is being generated. We need to be output-focused whilst being utterly realistic about what any human being can be expected to achieve in the timeframe needed for the desired output.

Neuroscience already informs us what we need to do in order to create optimal brain function. Why do businesses not draw on this wealth of knowledge and create working practices that support this?

Humans are not computers, we cannot operate for hours on end without a marked drop off in our cognitive abilities, as well as a huge decline in our thinking, decision-making and creativity. In the end, overwork and stress can deeply damage mental and physical health, so it is no wonder that younger workers are rejecting this.

As a leader you have the responsibility to hire well, train well and trust your people to do their jobs. Focus on output and quality, whilst being realistic about what a human being can achieve, and resource effectively whilst supporting them to find the best pattern of working to suit their cognitive needs.  A study by Harvard Business Review found that managers who were rated the highest at balancing results with relationships saw 62% of employees willing to give extra effort, while only 3% were ‘quiet quitting’.

Leaders who are implementing policies that promote mental wellness and brain health will need to realise that this means re-evaluating the psychological contract that they have with their employees.

For their mental and physical health, and to reverse this epidemic of stress related illness, people need to be able to switch off from work and embrace a personal life. If this is being encouraged by their employers, then these workers will reward their employers with fresh, inspired, and innovative thinking instead of bad decision making and ‘tired ideas’.

If you would like to discuss implementing mental wellness practices in your workplace and developing brain health programs, get in touch with me at pamela@orgshakers.com

Diversity brings a range of experience, differences in mindset, background, upbringing, world view, etc. and, as a result, diversity of thinking.

When we talk about the business benefits of diversity and inclusion we are thinking of the removal of inequitable barriers and widening of the talent pool, the richness of culture that a diverse workforce can bring and, from a business perspective, the wide range of viewpoints and ideas which create an engine for innovation and increased profitability.

Harnessing other people’s brains is a key leadership skill, as is also being able to understand others’ needs and appealing to their hearts through defining and articulating a motivating shared purpose.

The yin and yang of leadership – ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ – should, I believe, be updated to ‘Sharing Hearts and Pooling Minds’.

The drive for diversity and inclusion in organisations is, thankfully, moving forward at pace and will hopefully lead to more diverse humans around the leadership table and thus diverse thinking in the most senior of leadership teams.

In my experience of working with senior leadership teams, there is often a vague understanding of the need and benefits of diversity. They know it’s a ‘good thing’ morally but often cannot articulate why from a business perspective and, even if they get the diverse thinking argument, they fail to fully leverage the benefits.

Many appear ill-equipped to know what to do with ideas different to their own when these appear around the senior leadership table. At its worst, they are confused that the new person that they have invited to share the table isn’t thinking like they are, isn’t towing the party line or ‘fitting in’.

Some leaders seem particularly focused on creating and ensuring team harmony, seeing the strongly held differences of opinion as conflict and to be avoided. They see a team as functioning ‘well’ when there is not dissent. But, as with many things, it is ‘how’ we challenge, not the challenge itself, that is the key. We don’t want harmony at all costs – and we don’t need outright conflict.

What we do need is ‘respectful challenge’. Ensuring that there is plenty of emotionally intelligent and respectful challenge of each other, is in my opinion, a business culture change that we need to make happen and soon.

Respectful challenge sits alongside co-creation but acknowledges that we need to draw differences of opinion out, in order to benefit from them and truly co-create, not bury the differences or paper them over in the name of being collaborative.

I am suggesting that we need to bring differences of thinking out into the open around the leadership table in a productive manner; to make it the norm to challenge openly, honestly but respectfully; to know that we don’t have the only answer, the one and only route; to really listen to and question each other with curiosity; and to find the nuggets in each of our ideas that when combined really are pure gold.

Our aim for leveraging diversity of thinking surely is not to agree quickly and move on, or shout down ideas that don’t make sense to us, our aim is to shine the light on different ideas and opinions, examine and find the optimum ideas for our organisations and then agree how to proceed.

Making the time to listen to multiple ideas drawn from many people may seem to be the antithesis of our fast moving, quickly decisive ways of working currently (and I’m not saying that we don’t have to make quick decisions in times of urgency), but we seem to have a business trend which pushes Pace over Quality – and I believe we are the poorer for it.

I have seen the following range of issues in leadership teams (sometimes several in the same team):-

  1. ‘Group think’ – where there is a lack of diverse thinking at all, such that the members are so aligned in their view of the world (same backgrounds, experiences etc) that “there cannot possibly be any other way to do things or think about things” – can there?
  2. Intimidating leader – will brook no dissent, closes down debate, already thinks they personally have all the answers and that their job is to get everyone else to see the merit of their idea and agree with it.
  3. Learned helplessness – often as a result of the intimidating leader, people give up airing views especially those they believe are not aligned with the leader’s viewpoint. They tend to leave the ideas and strategy to the alpha leader. This is dangerous for so many reasons – how good are the ideas from the leader? Harnessing other ideas is likely to create better end results and get buy-in. People are demotivated when they don’t have a voice – even senior leaders – and may leave.
  4. Silent dissent – the team seem to agree with a course of action, or do not surface objections around the table, but mutter dissent outside of the meetings in small groups of allies. As a result, issues return to the table time after time or proceed slowly as people do not agree with the course of action and drag their feet.
  5. Open aggression – the team all sit in their silos only thinking about their own business function and argue their position without listening to each other or focusing on what is best for the whole organisation.

None of the above are particularly healthy or lead to optimum functioning of a leadership team.

So, what are the solutions? Here are a few:

  1. Hire diverse talent and recognise that what you will hopefully get is lots of difference in opinion, thinking and ideas. As a leader YOU need to learn how to best harness the differences and not try to bend diversity to fit into the existing ‘group think’ or shut down dissent. (I coach leaders to manage their concern over dissent and control their tendencies to take over and drive only their point of view).
  2. Really understand that there are individual differences in thinking, not that someone just doesn’t get what you are saying or isn’t as smart as you! Remember that our goal is to understand each of our team’s unique viewpoints on topics precisely because each person truly does not think the same as the next and may have some great ideas and insights that may not occur to us. (I run neuroscience training to help individuals understand this key point.)
  3. Develop the habits of active listening and questioning with curiosity, create team norms around these behaviours. I do this work with individuals and teams.
  4. Encourage and make time for challenge – not conflict – and make respectful challenge a stated behaviour of your leadership team, reminding each other every meeting and interaction.
  5. To respectfully challenge, team members need to feel that the environment is psychologically safe for them to step up and share a different perspective. So, develop your emotional intelligence, EQ – the ‘how’ we interact and communicate with each other – and hire talent with strong EQ or develop the EQ of the whole team. (I run individual EQ assessments and coaching and EQ awareness sessions).
  6. Ensure that whoever is leading the meeting draws out the thinking of all in the group that wish to contribute and allows for different methods of contribution. For example, some people prefer to reflect and then suggest ideas – so send details of the key issues out ahead of the meeting or allow them time after the meeting to come back with thoughts.

Now, the cry I often hear when discussing respectful challenge and co-creation is “it takes so much longer to hear others’ views”.  My response to that is yes, it can take time, but the outcomes will be of higher quality, you will innovate more frequently, you will have more buy-in and less instances of having to ‘do-over’ as potential objections and new ideas will have been addressed.

Of course, there will be instances when, in a time critical situation, a more rapid response may be needed – and often this will need to lean on the expertise of one or two people in the group advising the others.  That said, in my experience once respectful challenge becomes the norm within a team it becomes quicker to achieve results that truly work as opposed to the delays that arise from the huddles of dissent outside of the meetings.

In summary, in order to really leverage the benefits of diversity we need to develop habits and behaviours which allow us to harness everyone’s unique brains. It’s not enough just to invite diverse thinking to the table and then think ‘job done’, we have to really be prepared to open up our minds to differences of opinion and build a culture of speak up and listen.

We need to build the emotional intelligence skills to actively listen, question with curiosity, build the skill of respectful challenge in all members of our leadership teams, and be humble enough to know that we don’t have all the answers and our job as leaders isn’t to provide all the answers ourselves.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important to your business, isn’t it just ‘being nice’, or ‘a nice to have’? We would argue that it is a business imperative!

In 2019 Harvard Business Review published a paper ‘The EI Advantage’ which demonstrated that Emotional intelligence (abbreviated as EI or EQ) is increasingly and urgently recognized as a competitive advantage for leaders and companies that want to cultivate a purpose-driven, empowered, and innovative workforce for the future.

  • Emotionally intelligent employees are a critical force driving innovation, collaboration and enhanced customer experiences that come from a strong culture of empowerment;
  • Employees are becoming more discerning about who they choose to work for and what the work environment is like. The combination of self-awareness, self-control, empathy and social skills, the bedrock of EQ, allows us to create cultures and environments where people feel comfortable to innovate and solve problems together;
  • There is an Innovation Premium associated with developing EQ – Harvard researchers found that Organisations where leaders and their teams have developed their EQ, are more likely than others to have cultural ingredients that spur innovation—high degrees of empowerment, clear decision rights, the right incentives, and tolerance for risk;
  • Finally, working in a high EQ environment helps create a culture of psychological safety which drives experimentation without blame or fear of mistakes.

EQ is not just something you have or don’t have. It is also not just one thing but is made up of a multitude of facets, some of which you may be more adept at than others.  EQ is also measurable, using 360 feedback or high quality EQ assessment tools, and is developable particularly when supported through effective EQ coaching.

40 years of Neuroscience research on brain plasticity confirms our lifelong capacity to develop new ways of thinking and behaving. Our minds are not fixed. The traits that constitute EQ are developable with deliberate practice and coaching.

With many leaders that we coach we use an EQi assessment to help them identify areas of their Emotional Intelligence that they would like to develop and then build a coaching plan which supports this development.

Talk to us to discuss how we can help you and your employees to assess and develop EQ and to gain huge personal and business benefits.

I can be contacted at pamela@orgshakers.com

Do you recognise the emotion you are feeling? Can you manage your feelings without allowing them to swamp you? Can you motivate yourself to get tasks completed? Do you sense the emotions of others and respond effectively?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it is likely that you have developed some of the skills that form the basis of emotional intelligence.

The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (often written as EI or EQ) was first used by psychologists Mayer and Salovey (1990) and refers to a person’s capacity to perceive, process and regulate emotional information accurately and effectively, both within themself and in others, and to use this information to guide their own thinking and actions and to influence those of others.

As the workplace evolves, so too does the body of research supporting that individuals with higher EQ are better equipped to thrive and succeed, deliver results with and through others, deal with change more effectively, and manage stress.

Daniel Goleman (1995) recognised five distinct categories of skills which form the key characteristics of EQ and proposed that, unlike IQ (intelligence quotient) these skills can be learned where underdeveloped and improved upon.

There are several models of EQ based around key areas, some with slightly different labels.

Models include such elements as: -

  • Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and their impact on others. Self-awareness is the first step toward introspective self-evaluation and enables one to identify behavioural and emotional aspects of our psychological makeup which we can then target for change. Emotional self-awareness is also about recognizing what motivates you and, in turn, what brings you fulfilment.
  • Self-regulation: the ability to manage one’s negative or disruptive emotions, and to adapt to changes in circumstance. Those who are skilled in self-regulation excel in managing conflict, adapt well to change and are more likely to take responsibility.
  • Motivation: the ability to self-motivate, with a focus on achieving internal (intrinsic) motivation as opposed to external praise or reward. Individuals who can motivate themselves in this way tend to be more committed and goal focused.
  • Empathy: the ability to recognise and understand how others are feeling and consider those feelings before responding in social situations. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. It allows an individual to understand the dynamics that influence relationships, both personal and in the workplace.
  • Social skills: the ability to manage the emotions of others through emotional understanding and using this to build rapport and connect with people through skills such as active listening, verbal, and nonverbal communication.

Emotional Intelligence has been described as the ‘delivery system’ for IQ.

EQ facilitates our capacity for resilience, motivation, empathy, reasoning, stress management, communication, and our ability to read and navigate social situations and conflicts. Whilst IQ gets you so far in your career, it’s Emotional Intelligence that keeps you there and going further.

And now is a time more than any other time when we need leaders to use their EQ, to meet people where they are and understand their concerns, to enable them to stay adaptable and focused as our ways of working and the work itself changes.

People who use their Emotional Intelligence can manage their own impulses, communicate better, manage change better and build rapport and confidence. Research shows that clarity in thinking and composure in stressful and complex situations is where top performers shine in the workplace.

In addition to individual success there is an Innovation Premium driven by EQ. Organisations where leaders and their teams have developed their EQ, are much more likely than others to have cultural ingredients that spur innovation—high degrees of empowerment, clear decision rights, the right incentives, and tolerance for risk. They have also likely created the culture of psychological safety which allows for experimentation without blame or fear of mistakes.

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review “7 strategies to build a more resilient team”, four clear characteristics were mentioned for developing resilience.

These were: -

  • Candour: Is your team able to have open, honest dialogue and feedback with each other? They do this respectfully in such a way as not to destroy relationships.
  • Resourcefulness: When faced with challenges or problems, can your team pull together to build creative and effective solutions? They devote their energy to solutions not on blame and remain focused on outcomes regardless of external conditions.
  • Compassion and Empathy: Do your team members care for each other and share both success and failure? Resilience is often expressed in deep commitment to “co-elevating” the team rather than seeking individual recognition or success.
  • Humility: Can your team ask for and accept help from other team members? Resilient teams are willing to admit when a problem has become intractable and ask for help, either from someone else on the team or someone else in the organisation.

What each of these sets of characteristics have in common is their strong link to facets of Emotional Intelligence.

Further support for the Business Case for EQ comes from a paper from Harvard Business Review in 2019 entitled ‘The EI advantage’.

The paper states that Emotional intelligence is increasingly and urgently recognized as a competitive advantage for companies that want to cultivate a purpose-driven workforce for the future. Whether in the C-suite or on the front lines, emotionally intelligent employees are a critical force driving innovation and enhanced customer experiences that come from a strong culture of empowerment.

Emotional intelligence matters for motivation, and motivation matters for success. Whether it is in relation to work, personal goals or health, developing our emotional intelligence enables us to understand the deeper meaning of our aspirations and the self-motivation skills required to achieve them. Goleman (1995) identified four elements that make up motivation: our personal drive to improve, our commitment to the goals we set for ourselves, our readiness to act on opportunities that present themselves to us and our resilience.

While self-motivation is central to achieving our goals, emotionally intelligent leaders within a business can also impact employee motivation. The capacity to recognise the emotions and, in turn, the concerns of others is an invaluable skill to have at your disposal in terms of realising the most effective ways to motivate teams and individuals.

Whilst many companies understand the benefits of having employees with strong EQ, many fail to leverage it in any way. This does not have to be the case.

Over 40 years of Neuroscience research on Brain Plasticity (neuroplasticity) confirms our lifelong capacity to develop new ways of thinking. The traits encompassed by EQ are developable with deliberate practice and coaching.

So how does developing EQ work?

It starts with increasing our self-awareness. While it is commonly accepted that we are often driven by emotions, we do have the capacity for self-management and self-regulation of such emotions; the ability to manage our thinking and to some extent control our responses to situations. We do this work with our coaching clients through increasing their awareness of themselves and helping them to ‘reframe’ the thinking which drives their emotions.

Self-regulation builds on self-awareness and is an integral part of becoming emotionally intelligent (Goleman, 1995). Self-management builds on this further and allows an individual to use knowledge about their emotions to better manage them.

Indeed, leaders with an aptitude for self-regulation are far less likely to be aggressively confrontational and make snap decisions.

This is not to deny or negate negative emotions as their emergence is always a useful indicator of something we need to pay attention to. In instances of negative emotions such as anger, developing your EQ can help identify what you are feeling and determine the cause of the emotion through reflection and self-analysis allowing you to respond in a rational manner.

OrgShakers can support individuals and organisations to develop their EQ.

We use well respected measures such as the EQ-i to assess an individual’s current levels of development for the traits which encompass EQ (we all have strengths and areas for development within EQ), we provide a detailed individual report and build action plans for the development areas. Our experienced Executive Coaches then work with individuals on their development. This is done through working on mindset and behavioural changes as well as action plans to help these changes stick.

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EQ can be developed and refined over time with the condition – just like any skill – that it is given the necessary focus and effort to do so. Many would argue that the ability to connect with and understand others is a more powerful skill to possess than cognitive intellect alone.

Emotional Intelligence is not about being ‘nice’, or a ‘nice to have’ but is a personal; and business imperative.

In the words of American civil rights activist, Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Steve Jobs said " It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do: we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do"

When asked what their greatest business asset is, leaders will often reply ‘our people’. Amongst other things they will be thinking about their employees’ attitudes to their work, their proactivity, customer service, ability to collaborate, the quality of their thinking and ability to innovate. If, as expected, Artificial Intelligence takes over most of our repetitive or repeatable work then, we will be even more focused in the future on hiring people specifically for the quality of their thinking, their creativity, their innovation and their insights.

It is therefore an imperative that we think about how we as businesses help our people to function optimally mentally as well as physically (there is both a moral case and a business case here).

If this is the new reality then we need to be mindful to protect and preserve the brains of our people, our most important assets. In practice, organisations make a significant investment in recruitment fees, and many hours of interviewing, to hire ‘the best brains’ and then once the person is on board the organisation will often work them, or expect them to work, in such a way that their cognitive abilities are not functioning at their peak and may even decline as stress and overwork take hold.

How does it make any business sense that we are (often inadvertently but mostly unthinkingly) actively enabling damage of our finest assets - the brains and thinking abilities of our people?

Would an organisation buy an expensive, top of the range and complex piece of equipment and then taking no care to look after it, indeed actively running it for hours longer than the manufacturer recommends, failing to give it any down time, maintain it or give it other required support? No? Then why do we do this to our people?

In this ‘brave new world’ of human working, where the quality of our thinking will be at a premium, we need to aim for prevention of damage and enhancement of thinking. This instead of having to continue to spend a fortune on mental health recovery trying to fix the results of the lack of understanding of how our thinking works and the stress creating working practices which damage us?

If we want to maintain quality of thinking we need to work smarter, to teach individuals and their leaders how the brain functions, the optimum ways to maintain brain health and thus prevent and reduce incidence of mental ill-health or stress related absence.

Enlightened organisations are trying to improve the conditions for brain health, and thus benefit from high quality thinking, but they are currently tinkering around the edges; they are not providing high quality Brain Health and Mental Wellness programmes which embed good working practices and new norms of working into their organisations.

How can we improve this situation? We need to give individuals and their leaders the opportunity to understand what goes on ‘on the inside’ in brain structure and what working conditions create optimum brain health as well as what damages the quality of thinking.

In order to put this into practice we need to embed the culture of brain health, and its direct link to quality of output, throughout an organisation. For example, introducing Brain Health and Mental Wellness programmes (perhaps accompanied by brain health coaches). We also need to change the culture of our businesses removing the 'always on', presenteeism and 'busyness' elements and replacing with a culture which rewards high quality output and treats its talent like adults.

If you would like to discuss setting up Brain Health and Mental Wellness programmes in your organisation then please contact pamela@orgshakers.com

Overcoming negative self-talk and creating motivation using reframing

by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB

The final part of our three-part series of articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ explores some examples of cognitive distortions, unhelpful frames of thinking which are common to most of us at one time or another.

Many of the negative thought patterns you probably experience involve a cognitive distortion, or your mind putting “spin” on the events that happen to you.

See if you can recognize any of these cognitive distortions within yourself as you go through this section.

“People Never Listen to Me.”

This is an example of “all-or-nothing reasoning”.

Another example would be “I always get things wrong.”

The key characteristic of this cognitive distortion is a word like “always” or “never”. When reframing all-or-nothing reasoning, it can be helpful to think of counterexamples which prove that always and never are just not true.

An example of a reframe: “While it’s unfortunate that this person doesn’t listen to my ideas, many other people do. In fact, just yesterday I had several people agree with my proposal about ___. I wonder how I can explain my ideas differently or understand what is causing x not to hear what I am saying”

“Something Bad Is Going to Happen.”

One of the most common cognitive distortions is fortune telling or predicting the future in a negative way.

These types of thoughts can cause serious anxiety, and it is extremely useful to be able to control them. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that we literally don’t have the power to predict the future. This is not to ignore ‘gut instinct’ but often these negative thoughts go way beyond gut instinct into the bounds of meticulously crafted stories of the future based on not much more than fear.

In such moments we need to remind ourselves that we are crafting the story that we are telling ourselves about the future and that we can subject it to analysis. It can also help to use methods such as mindfulness to keep ourselves grounded in the moment and to realise that we cannot live in the future, only in today.

An example of a reframe: “I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I will find a way to deal with whatever comes along. In the meantime, I can plan those elements that I can control and live in today”

“Anyone Could Do What I Do.”

This is an example of discounting the positive or minimizing the significance of your accomplishments or something else positive in your life.

Sometimes we have being doing something for so long that we forget about all the time, effort and learning that went into us becoming accomplished at it. Other times we can be working from a script that says we must be modest and ‘not boast’ which holds us back from stating what we can do well.

Many of my most accomplished clients have previously run scripts in their minds about ‘not showing off’, ‘everyone else is smarter’, ‘why would they listen to me when I am only….’ all of which comments are often bundled together into Imposter Syndrome.

The danger is that if we say these self-deprecating things some people may believe us and then discount our contribution. Even more importantly, if we say this to ourselves, we do not celebrate our successes and over time begin to believe ourselves and thus reduce our sense of self-confidence.

One way to reframe this is to remind yourself what it took to get to the level of competence where you are now. Also spend at least some time focusing on your strengths as well as areas for development.

“Since _____ Went Wrong, Everything Will Go Wrong.”

Over-generalization is another common cognitive distortion that can wreak havoc on our minds.

Here, we take a negative situation as implying that all sorts of other unrelated negative things will happen because of it.

We start the day falling over the cat, its raining outside, we get into work soaking wet to find the computer won’t work and so on. This creates a spiral of thinking which can pretty much determine that our day won’t go well as we will be on the lookout for more things ‘going wrong’.

To counter an over-generalization, you need to put the event in perspective by recognizing it as an isolated incident.

An example reframe: “Although ____ went wrong, I will now deal with the challenge that it presents. The rest of the day I will handle as it proceeds”

“______ Is All My Fault!”

Sometimes we like to pin the blame for something going wrong squarely on ourselves.

While you should take responsibility for yourself and your actions, you don’t need to accept blame for things that are not your fault. Chances are there were some factors beyond your control.

An example reframe: “I contributed to the problem here, and I accept full responsibility for the part that is my fault. Nevertheless, there were factors beyond my control, so I will not blame myself for everything that went wrong. I’ll learn from what went wrong, try to analyse the situation, and develop solutions and strategies to improve. I am human and we all make mistakes as part of learning.”

“If Only I Had ___, Then I Could ____.”

Your limiting belief is putting conditions on your success. Roadblocks are continuously put up to keep you away from your goal, keeping it just out of reach and decreasing your motivation.

The roadblocks can point to some underlying fear of achieving something or fear of getting started. These need to be examined and explored.

A couple examples of this type of thought would be “Once I lose ten pounds I’ll be happier”, or “I can’t quit my [awful, boring] job and pursue my passion until I have more money saved up”.

A potential reframe: “I have devised some clear goals and have a plan towards achieving them, so I will ask my friend to support me to keep on track, get started and do this one day at a time.”

“I Can’t Handle This.”

This thought pops up usually as a response to a larger than average stressor.

You take the fact that you are experiencing something challenging, and you magnify it to the point of impossibility.

 This is an important personal story to pay attention to, and do something about, as it usually means that you need to stop, really think, and examine the situation that you are in. The phrase itself, if not challenged, can stop you from breaking the issue down into smaller and likely more manageable chunks. As the saying goes ‘you cannot eat the elephant whole’.

I recommend that when you have this type of thought, you pause before you reframe and do something to help reduce the immediate stress. In the moment you could pause, take five slow, deep breaths, and then reframe possibly as follows…

Example of a reframe: “I’ve faced many challenges before. I can break this one down into manageable chunks and get started on this a bit at a time.”

Summary

So, there you have it: in this series of three articles we have focused on the elements you need to know about the incredible technique of reframing your thoughts.

We’ve covered a lot in the past 3 articles, so a quick summary might be useful.

  • Reframing involves changing your personally constructed ‘story’ about a given situation to give it a more positive, helpful, or beneficial meaning to you. This allows you to manage your emotions and your responses more effectively.
  • Reframing can be used to help remove limiting beliefs, to help appreciate positive moments that you might otherwise miss, or for any other negative thought you would like to change.
  • Our assumptions and our personal ‘frame’ helps us provide meaning to events that don’t have any inherent meaning. One person’s frame is likely quite different to another’s hence the need for clear, open communication and to challenge all of our assumptions.
  • Even when our inner voice has something negative to say, there is a positive intention behind it (even if we have to dig hard to find it and even if it is out of dated and not helpful any more).
  • The first step in reframing is to observe your negative thoughts. Keep a thought journal and, if you wish, use the rubber band technique to help you better understand your own internal dialogue.
  • The second step is to replace the negative thoughts with a more positive/helpful/realistic one. It helps here to challenge the implied assumptions behind your thoughts (or work with a coach to help you do this if the assumption stories are deeply rooted).
  • There are a lot of common negative thought patterns. You can watch out for them and arm yourself against them in advance or understand how you might deal with them if they arise.

There is much more information available about reframing than I have been able to outline in our three-part series and I would be happy to discuss in further detail

It is a technique that has tended in the past to be used in clinical psychology settings when someone’s thinking has become extremely negative. This valuable technique can be applied in all settings and to help us keep mentally well rather than only when we are in dire straits. I believe it is a useful skill in all aspects of our lives.

Indeed, the technique is being used much more often now in sports and business coaching. I use reframing extensively in my coaching practice with high achieving executives to develop even better performance and remove thinking ‘roadblocks’. I also use it to ensure they understand the power of the stories that they tell themselves and their teams about what is possible and what they can achieve.

The key is for everyone to understand that they are the storyteller of their life and can change the stories they tell themselves (and others) about themselves, other people or their situations to help them make their lives happier, healthier and more productive.

Should you be interested in discussing this article, how to reframe for yourself, how to introduce the principles of reframing to your teams or across your organisation I can be contacted with any questions at pamela@orgshakers.com

Overcoming negative self-talk and creating motivation using reframing

by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB

In the first part of my three articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ I set out the principles of reframing. In this part two of the series I move on to the all-important ‘How’ to reframe your thinking.

At its simplest, reframing involves just two steps: observing a negative thought, and then replacing it with a positive (or more helpful) one.

Step 1 - Observing Your Negative Thoughts

If you have never tried to pick up on your negative thoughts before, implementing the techniques in this section might shock you. As with most people, negative thoughts likely pop up in your mind multiple times per day, often follow the same few patterns, and usually sneak by unquestioned by you.

These unquestioned patterns of negative thinking are not helpful to you, or to others if you are sharing your negative stories with them or are in a position of leadership influence when your story may become integrated into your team members stories and create a negative shared ‘reality’.

Here are a couple of ways to help you observe your negative thoughts.

(a) Keep a thought journal. Even if you get nothing else from this series of articles, you will increase your self-awareness through keeping a thought journal. If you decide to do this, prepare by keeping a notepad in your pocket or bag so it is always readily available. You can alternatively take notes on your phone or tablet or, do as one of my clients does and send yourself a text or email.

Negative thoughts usually trigger negative emotions. One way to alert yourself to negative thinking, so that you can make a note of it, is to use the negative emotion as an alert and then track back from the emotion to what was the story you told yourself which prompted the negative emotion. Then capture it. For example you may begin to feel frustrated and track it back to stories such as ‘they always get this wrong’ or ‘I can’t trust my team to do anything’ or ‘why am I so stupid’. Recording your negative thoughts might not stop the emotions in the moment (although it can definitely do this with practice over time) but noting them allows you to analyse them later, notice themes and identify the most common problem areas or limiting beliefs so that you can decide what to work on.

(b) The Rubber Band Technique. This method may feel a little silly at first, but I guarantee it is one of the fastest ways to change a behaviour. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. It should be tight enough that it stays on and can make a nice snap when pulled, but loose enough that it is comfortable and won’t break. Any time you have a negative thought, give the rubber band a snap. Like writing it down, this stops a negative thought in its tracks immediately, but it also conditions you to notice them more and begin to alert you to where a reframe might be useful or needed.

It can be tempting to ignore this first step, but it is important. Observing your own thoughts (or getting support from an expert to observe them with you) is fundamental to being able to reframe them successfully.

Step 2 - Replacing Negative Thoughts with Positive (or more helpful) Ones.

This is the key part of reframing…

Before moving on, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the previous section. If you haven’t been observing your negative thoughts, you simply will not be as successful at replacing them.

Here are some valuable tactics to help you replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.

  1. Use milder wording. This one is easy, and you can start doing it immediately. Words do matter, and if your thought is deliberately reframed and worded with a milder negative, you won’t feel as bad. For example, if you were to think “I really hate that person”, you would feel worse than if you thought “I’m not keen on how that person behaves”.
  2. Ask yourself: “What is the best way for me to accomplish this?” When you are facing a challenge or fear, you can ask yourself this question to help you focus on the solution rather than the problem. The phrase “best way” implies that there are multiple ways around the problem and focuses on the positive.
  3. Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this?” Now, instead of having a problem, you have a way to improve yourself. Every challenge is also an opportunity to learn, so take advantage of it.
  4. Challenge your assumptions. Try to work out what the frame behind your thought is. Most often you have a limiting belief that is encouraging you to think negatively about your situation. This limiting belief is based on assumptions you have made that may not be true or as bad as you have stated them to be. Find reasons why they are not true, and you chip away at the beliefs causing the negative thoughts. This is the most powerful long-term reframing technique, and it is far more effective if you’ve been keeping a thought journal.
    This is the work that I do with my clients most often, acting as a sounding board, challenging their assumptions, and suggesting alternate realities. Not because I am right, and they are wrong - but because we see our own realities as absolute a jolt of what else it might be can be really liberating.
  5. Get support. Deeply held negative frames may need a professional to work with you to uncover and change, to help you examine what you are saying to yourself and to help with the creation of the reframe. As a trained Psychologist Coach I have worked with many hundreds of clients on reframes over the years – which is how I know that reframing works! However if an individual is in a more traumatic mental health space (and Psychologist Coaches are trained to be able to identify this) we can point people to the mental health support provided by any Employee Assistance programmes their organisation has in place, or to Licensed Counsellors specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or cognitive reframing.

If you really want to succeed with this, you need to work out what your most common negative thoughts are and develop reframes ready and available whenever you have that thought, and which over time will replace the old frame.

Consistently applied, you will find yourself instinctively thinking in a more helpful way in situations that you had previously limiting thoughts and beliefs about. This is hugely liberating!

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So, in this second part of our two-part series we have discussed how to identify which negative stories you might want to ‘reframe’ and then how you can replace them with more helpful ones.

In part 3 of our three-part series I will be covering some common patterns of thinking that most people have found their thoughts falling into at one time or another. They are called cognitive distortions, and I certainly recognise one or two in myself!

Should you be interested in discussing this article, how to reframe for yourself, how to introduce the principles of reframing to your teams or across your organisation I can be contacted with any questions at pamela@orgshakers.com

Overcoming negative self-talk and creating motivation using reframing

by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

What a great quote. It has been attributed to many people as far back as to Roman times and contains a basic truth. It humorously summarises something about us highly imaginative human beings that is so true, so important, and so often ignored.

As well as the day to day narrative (self-talk) that runs through our minds, we are often subject to negative thoughts about ourselves, our situation, or other people; in some cases visions of horrible things that may happen to us, and reasons not to do the things we want to do. And yet in the end, these horrible things rarely happen, or maybe not to the extent that we tortured ourselves with, and in the process of thinking how bad things ‘might be’ we may stop ourselves from trying something new.

As a business leader you are in a unique position to help your people to ‘reframe’ stories about themselves, their colleagues and the organisational purpose that can be motivating and energising. This does not mean being unrealistic, but it does mean not painting a picture of negativity which will only get in the way of success.

As an individual you can use reframing to literally self-direct any aspect of your life.

We need to understand and be clear that in the main (other than in physical accident situations where our nerves are responding to damage) it’s our thoughts, the stories that we tell ourselves and the scripts that play in the back of our minds, that are what cause our emotional response as opposed to the situation itself.

We fail to realise that we are in charge; that we are the storyteller, and importantly that we have the power to change the story.

As has also been often said, it’s not what happens in life but how you respond to it that counts…..I would add it’s the story you tell yourself about what you think is happening that leads to how you respond.

The worst part is that these thoughts can disturb us for so long and yet we never do anything about them as we think they are inevitable and we do not realise that we have the power to do anything about them!

Well, that’s about to change.

Luckily, we have a powerful technique available to us called “reframing”. Reframing involves identifying our unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more positive or adaptive ones.

When Is Reframing Useful?

You can reframe literally any thought you ever have, but if you did that you would never have a chance to relax and enjoy life!  So, it is a better use of time to focus primarily on reframing your negative thoughts or overcoming mental barriers to doing new things.

If you listen to your thoughts for long enough, you will probably notice that there are a few negative ones. I have found that there are many types of negative thoughts that helpful to reframe and we will cover some of the most common ones in the third part of this three-part series of articles.

One key area where reframing can have dramatic results, and that I see occurring very regularly with my coaching clients, are in challenging Limiting Beliefs. A limiting belief is a thought that prevents you from accepting your full potential. These are the “I’m not good enough” thoughts. The consequences of accepting your limiting beliefs rather than challenging them can be severe; you end up not achieving what you want. When you counter a limiting belief by reframing thoughts based on them, you weaken the belief and reduce the chance of it getting in the way of your goals.

So, reframing is changing the stories that we tell ourselves, the old scripts that replay in our minds; it is also like updating a piece of old “software” that might once have served you well, or intended to keep you safe, but is now holding you back.

Principles of Reframing

There are a few key principles to keep in mind when considering the reframing technique.

  1. The first basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event.
    This can be difficult to accept but is a key principle.Even when something seemingly horrible happens to you, it feels horrible because of the way you personally interpret it. This is absolutely not to make light of tragedy. It is normal to feel a range of emotions when something seemingly bad occurs. Without minimising its impact, even a “bad” event can be given a more “helpful” meaning.
  2. The second principle is that every thought has a hidden “frame” behind it. The frame is your personally constructed set of underlying beliefs and assumptions.For example, when you think “I’ll never get that promotion I want because I’m not a political person’, part of the frame you hold is that ‘only political people get promoted here’. Your ‘frames’ are derived from your own person beliefs, knowledge, experiences etc and no two people have the exact same frame.
  3. The final principle is that there is usually a positive intention behind every negative thought you have even though you may sometimes have to dig hard to find it. This is where clients most often need the support of a coach or psychologist to uncover what their brain was trying to do to protect them.That inner voice of yours that expresses negativity is only doing so because it wants to help you in some way. It may be that you want to avoid stress or fear, it may be that patterns of avoidance were set up very early in your life, it may be that your frame needs updating now you are an adult. That doesn’t make the negative thoughts right or acceptable, but it does mean that your inner voice is not an enemy to be resisted.  By finding the positive intentions behind your thoughts, you can work with your mind to find a positive (or more helpful) reframe. That is far more effective than chastising yourself for having negative thoughts in the first place!

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In this first part of my three-part series of articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ we have just begun to scratch the surface of ‘reframing’, a human ‘superpower’ that in my opinion should be widely taught.

In part two of this series I will help you to understand HOW to reframe.

Should you be interested in discussing this article, how to reframe for yourself, how to introduce the principles of reframing to your teams or across your organisation I can be contacted with any questions at pamela@orgshakers.com

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