Anyone trying their utmost to succeed in business and life will already know there’s no shortage of self-help business and personal growth gurus, books and methods to make you rich, happy and forever switched on to the next opportunity to increase all of that, and more.
Tiring isn’t it?
And, equally, how many of the latest (or even the more established) “get-rich-quick and buy a boat” approaches that worked for one multi-millionaire have worked for you?
This is not to say that the pursuit of wealth and happiness is inherently wrong or misguided. However, maybe our attempts to exert total control over that process is.
LA-based writer, Jamie Varon, takes an interesting position on this dilemma in her Huffington Post article, To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind in Life: she says: “You don’t need more motivation. You don’t need to be inspired to action. You don’t need to read any more lists and posts about how you’re not doing enough.”
She goes on to say: “Honestly, here’s the thing that nobody really talks about when it comes to success and motivation and willpower and goals and productivity and all those little buzzwords that have come into popularity: you are as you are until you’re not. You change when you want to change. You put your ideas into action in the timing that is best. That’s just how it happens.”
And if you can handle a little swearing in the interests of greater self-knowledge, Varon emphasises her point: “And what I think we all need more than anything is this: permission to be wherever the fuck we are when we’re there.”
To some, that might seem defeatist and not in their script of grand life goals and business brilliance. For others, that idea might come as a relief: your level of drive for success and happiness – and the rate at which it arrives – is yours and yours alone and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not achieving it at the same velocity as the guy or girl over there.
Blame or train the brain?
Alongside the pressures of chasing and obtaining success, there’s the not-insignificant issue of how the human brain deals with it.
Our brains, according to professional coach, Lori Shook, are not designed for the world we live in. In a recent masterclass at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, she outlined how we are – mostly – at the mercy of one part of our brain, the limbic system: this fast-moving and emotionally-driven part of the brain’s structure is, according to Shook, governed by:
And, it generates dopamine – an organic chemical in the brain – when we experience pleasure. In the context of the working world, that could include:
- Strong alliance with group/team
- Team spirit
- Thrill of winning
- Satisfaction from defeating a rival
- Satisfaction from doing things “My Way”
- Overcoming adversity
While that might sound desirable, there are side-effects of the dopamine rush: an addiction to those things that can inhibit true satisfaction and happiness. At its worst, when the limbic system in the brain is responding to our experience of stress and fear it generates adrenaline and cortisol (a steroid hormone) which can lead to:
- Anger, rage
- Resistance – refusal to engage with people
- Blame, criticism, sarcasm
- Spreading discontent
Taming the brain
However – perhaps in contrast to the ways we might to try to generate more motivation than we have the appetite for – it is possible to tame the effects of the limbic system, according to Lori Shook.
The stresses of the age we live in on our brains are driven by:
- Limbic threats and needs
- The news
- VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity
- Our environment of contagious emotions based on drama and complaints
- Poor brain care
To handle all of that, we need to develop our “PFC” (the brain’s pre-frontal cortex).
Apparently, this much slower moving part of the brain (compared to the limbic system) is the source of more reasoned – and often better – decision making. Shook suggests that 10 minutes of mindfulness every day helps the PFC grow larger, physically, and is proven to manage the limbic system better and enable us to stop reacting so emotionally to the world around us.
For example, if your typical problem solving approach is to find solutions quickly, stop it. Slow down, get diverse input and data and deal with complexity.
A more developed PFC will help give you attain greater awareness of:
- How much are you chasing dopamine and reacting to what’s going on around?
- What is your environment like?
- What is the news you indulge in?
- What are the emotions you’re addicted to?
- When confronted with problems, what’s your reaction?
Building up your PFC power
So, what are the practical things you can do to reduce limbic stress, avoid (as Shook puts it) “drama queens”, stop reacting from fear and avoiding negative input? To increase your PFC, you need to:
- Practise mindfulness
- Cultivate calm responses
- Change your perspective
- Practise gratitude
- Learn to handle VUCA
- Consider the many aspects of a problem before responding
- Learn to collaborate with others.
Jamie Varon asserts that “You don’t get to game the system of your life. You just don’t. You don’t get to control every outcome and aspect as a way to never give in to the uncertainty and unpredictability of something that’s beyond what you understand.”
That may be so. But if Lori Shook is to be believed, neither should we be the willing victims of our own brain power.