What are you tracking these days? What data is driving your leadership and your life? Are you tracking your emails, employee engagements, profits, losses, stock options, steps, calories or social media responses?
The 24/7 access to technology has extended your workday, created a false need for immediacy, perpetuated the myth of multitasking and created unrealistic deadlines. Research shows you tap, swipe, talk, touch and interact with your smartphone approximately 2,617 times a day. Each piece of information and data carries a message, translated into the words you think and words you use. Those words (consciously and unconsciously) either:
• Open or close opportunities in your life and career
• Motivate or discourage your acceptance and ability to embrace change
• Foster or fracture your leadership and relationships
• Build or destroy your health and wellness
Additionally, your past experiences play a critical role in the words you use. Your internal scripts created over your lifetime can amplify and perpetuate the threat level in your brain. Using words like “should” or “always” and “never” create cognitive traps that block your ability to grow and expand your potential. Feelings like guilt and ideals like perfection can also negatively impact your sense of worth and ability to create positive change in your life.
Your wellness is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity in your life; it is your ability to process change and foster your growth physically, mentally and socially. Whether the words you think and use support or undermine your wellness has everything to do with your brain.
Words And Your Brain
Understanding how your brain responds to threats and rewards can assist you in taking conscious control over the mental scripts that close, limit, fracture and destroy you personally and professionally.
Your brain processes perceived threats and rewards through your limbic system. The amygdala, a small almond-sized structure in your limbic system, is your body’s fire alarm. Once activated, hormones flood your body, increasing your heart rate. Breathing becomes shallow and rapid, putting your body in the fight, flight or freeze mode. The amygdala diverts control of your behavior from your prefrontal cortex, and logic and reasoning become impossible. This survival response is essential if your life is in threat, yet not so great when your amygdala has been triggered by your perceptions of data, the words of your boss, an action of your spouse or never-ending levels of stress.
Living in an unceasing state of overwhelm creates chronic stress, which keeps your brain in a state of constant threat. The threat lights up the same brain circuitry as physical pain, releasing hormones that debilitate your thinking, muddle your understanding and elevate your blood pressure. The prolonged threat state increases the amount of cortisol released in your system, killing brain cells and damaging virtually every kind of cognition that exists from memory to immune system responses.
Long-term stress goes beyond negatively impacting your brain. It causes unregulated surges of adrenaline, which creates rough spots in your blood vessels. The rough spots become scars trapping sticky platelets and clogging arteries, causing heart attack and stroke.
On the other hand, positive words trigger our brain’s reward system, opening us to engaging in social interactions, fostering our respect for others and enhancing our abilities for active listening, collaboration and problem solving. Your brain, operating in a positive state, releases hormones that assist in your body’s ability to heal and extend your life span.
Owning Your Words
Your brain is a fantastic energy-saving organ, which is why it likes the familiar and follows the same neuropathways for problem solving and response. It’s why, as you age, you can find yourself sounding like recordings of your parents and falling into repetitive relationships and situations. While your brain does not like to get rid of old pathways, it does like creating new ones, and therein lies your opportunity to own your words and your wellness.
Research has shown that top-performing teams give each other at least five positive comments for every one negative. While negative comments are essential for averting disastrous situations and behavior, catching people doing things right goes even further for promoting positive change.
The same strategy can support you in modifying your negative self-talk, creating opportunities to improve your health and increase your potential. As with any change, it begins with raising your awareness of your habitual thoughts and statements and a commitment to change them. Here are eight additional strategies to guide you along the way:
1. Pay attention to your words and consciously select ones that will benefit your wellness. Instead of “I never” or “I always” statements that limit you, try “I am going to” and “I now am.”
2. Police your self-criticism and name-calling of others. Practice acceptance and seek to understand rather than ridicule.
3. Stop sarcasm. Sarcasm, at its core, is about putting others down to make yourself appear superior.
4. Remove yourself from relationships and situations that thrive on gossip, put-downs, and play on fear and anxiety.
5. Remember, smiles are contagious, and smiling takes less energy than frowning. Your smile releases hormones that fight stress and depression, as well as endorphins — your body’s natural pain relievers.
6. Practice gratitude. Research shows that there is increasing evidence to support it as fundamental to our overall health and well-being.
7. Surround yourself with images, words and quotes that inspire and uplift and motivate you. Your brain only knows what you tell it.
8. Practice kindness. Kindness releases your brain’s feel-good chemicals — oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin — that make you more open and friendlier, as well as reduces pain and lowers your blood pressure.Owning your words and your wellness requires you to pay attention to when you are playing your limiting scripts and using habitual responses that limit yourself and others. Recognition allows you to take action (small actions, one at a time) to rewrite your commentary and choose words that support the growth, potential and well-being of yourself and others.