Staying Cool Under Pressure

Welcome just thought we would whet your appetite with an excerpt from a new article Graham co-wrote with Ruth Donde from the Neuroleadership Group for Employment Today .

We wrote it with leaders in mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly resilience is a critical trait for leaders  and secondly leaders are well positioned to support others in fostering their own resilience.

It is entitled “Staying Cool Under Pressure “

Consider the common descriptions of doing business today: massive change, unpredictability, uncertainty, volatile, chaotic, adversity, disasters, disruption, restructure, reorganising. Does ‘business as usual’ exist anymore? In the UK, the estimated annual cost to business of stress-related mental health problems is a staggering $56 billion. In the US, this is estimated at more than US$300 billion per year.

Expose two or three people to a similar situation and it is likely they will ascribe different positive or negative meanings to the
situation. A “motivating challenge” for one might be a “source of anxiety” for another. So a big component of our feelings of stress
and anxiety lie within us, not outside us. It all comes down to the meaning we add to events. These individualised differences in thinking styles have been highlighted as key in influencing our resilience and reactions to pressure.

Key learning for many leaders our brains are different and people create different meanings to their experience. This means we have to check in more with others rather assuming they “get it. “
In his recent book Your Brain at Work, David Rock summarised breakthrough findings emerging from neuroscience about how we
experience the world moment to moment. It turns out that we have two distinct ways of experiencing the world. There is a ‘narrative’
circuitry and a ‘direct experience’ circuitry For most people, the narrative circuit is active far more of the time. This is our default network—when we are not actively doing something our mind wanders to what has happened in the past and what we need to do in the future. We ruminate, daydream and plan.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the narrative circuitry unless it becomes skewed towards the negative. In this case, we can be persistently undermining and disempowering ourselves with negative self-talk leading to
feelings of sensitivity and anxiety. This is the classic example of how our thinking affects our mood, and unfortunately the
impact doesn’t stop there.

When people feel threatened or anxious, then the limbic system of the brain is triggered in an intense way. A strong negative limbic
response is also known as ‘amygdala hijack’, or the fight/flight threat response. In this response, our motor functioning increases. This
means that anything that requires strength or speed (like running or defending ourselves) we can do better under a threat response.
That’s the good news.

The bad news is that when we experience a threat response, the following happens:
• Our field of view reduces;
• Our cognitive capacity drops as resources are pumped away
from the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) and into the motor function;
• We have significantly fewer insights; and
• We err on the side of pessimism and are more likely to treat
other people as threats.
So you can see that a strong negative limbic response is good for  physical tasks and not good for thinking.

Leadership insight: When people are under pressure they find it hard to think straight leaders need to try and influence peoples emotional state in order to have influence with them

So whats the answer I hear you ask?

Check out Employment Today for the full article of course

Alternatively you can find a full link to the article on our resources page.

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