Words Can Infect Our Minds

The words that we use can affect our mind, the evidence is overwhelming. I am not just talking about hurtful words that others use to bully us, nor am I talking about words that we use as labels. I am talking about the words that we use to describe our mind-condition.

It is common today to use words that describe our mental condition such as - stressed, distressed, depressed, and depression. While easy to describe the exact extent of the condition in a single word, are these words making it worse for us? Research indicates, yes.

If I was to tell you that you had cancer for example, what would your immediate thoughts be - "I am going to suffer", "I am going to have to go through terrible treatment", or would you think "I am going to die". Most of us would probably think the worse. However, cancer is being successfully treated these days and we know if caught early enough, recovery is almost guaranteed.

When it comes to our mind-health, the same can also be true. When many people read the word 'stress', they have a negative reaction and a 'stress' hormone is released making the person feel 'stressed'. The word stress, according to most articles, was introduced into mind-health from physics by Hans Selye, other articles say it came from engineering. Regardless of the origin, the word had little to do with mind-health.

What does the word 'depressed' actually mean then? It means to push down. What does the word 'depression' mean, a reduction in activity. Furthermore, we tell ourselves that we suffer from a 'mental' condition. Are we actually 'suffering', or are we 'feeling', or do we simply 'have' a condition? Is it 'mental', or is it to do with our 'mind'.

Now let's imagine putting these words together into a sentence - "I suffer from depression". What does your imagery now tell you?

Over history, our words have changed in the field of psychology, for better or for worse. In earlier times when we were 'stressed, we were actually 'tired', or 'troubled' and needed to rest. When we were 'depressed' we were 'low' or 'down'. 'Depression' was, and still is on occasion, termed 'melancholia' and then a 'mental breakdown'.

For me, I would much rather be melancholic than have the diagnosis of accumulated stress disorder. Don't even start me on the word 'disorder'.

Words do matter, changing the words that we use to describe our condition also matters as it can have a negative impact on our mind-health. Change the words to change your mind. Don't let words hold you back or take you down.

For some, a label is a stigma, a stigma that society repels.Change the words to change your mind, it works.

Let's talk!

Some Baby Boomers Need to Change

There is a growing backlash against the way in which some managers speak to their staff, the same is currently happening in New Zealand sport with the way in which coaches speak to players.

When I go into organisations and talk about generational differences in the way that we communicate, the baby boomers who haven't changed always challenge me. "These are just generalisations that you are talking about aren't they" the person will shout out. 'Got you' I think to myself, you are the one who has not changed with the times and you are the person who is causing the most harm in your workplace.

The sad thing is, they don't know that they are wrong and expect everyone to adhere to their views.

My reply is always the same when challenged in this way - "You are right, these are generalisations, generalisations are based on research and research provides us the answers based on the majority of responses". In other words, you sir, are in the minority. Of course I don't say that last sentence, I say it to myself.

Baby boomers tend to talk in long sentences, tend to give you more information than you need, often don't like talking about personal matters particularly if it involves their family, will tell you in no uncertain terms when they are annoyed about something, and are less direct in their approach to challenging conversations by opening up with "So how are you doing?" Baby Boomers developed the praise sandwich - This what you are doing well, this is what you need to change, this is also where you are doing well - which was designed to make it easier to deliver a negative message.

In short, baby boomers liked to talk, a lot. Some of this talk is now seen as inappropriate - "Have you finished that f'en project yet as it is f'en due in 2 days". "F'off" comes the retort. What was actually said - "Is that nearly ready", "Just about".

Today, some baby boomers will finish their conversation off with a final comment in the way that they used to, especially if they don't think that you have understood their message - "You need to just do what I say", or "It's my way or the highway", or "Just get it done". A very few baby boomers go much further - "You need to step it up", or "Just move on", or the very worst, "Toughen up and get on with it".

That is the way we, yes I am a baby boomer, spoke with each other and it was accepted as the norm. No longer is this appropriate. As generations have evolved, they have learned to be more respectful, more compassionate, more empathic, and more co-operative. Dictatorship, authoritarianism, and commandeering conduct is quite rightly unacceptable.

Frankly, this style of communication is tantamount to bullying. And, we know that bullying causes harm and at the extreme end, causes deaths.

We, baby boomers, made the children who they are today. It is us who taught them how to communicate differently by giving them what they asked for, for modifying the rules to suit their needs, and for introducing them to technology. It is quite right that we did so.

So it us, not all of us, just the minority of baby boomers who are stuck in their past and remain stoic in their stance of "These young people need to change". No, it is you sir who needs to change.

Know also that mothers passed on their personality traits to the their sons and fathers to their daughters. So it is also a very few of the early Generation-Y women who speak the way that their fathers do. It is unacceptable.

Getting the best out of people means working to their skills in a supportive manner, speaking with them not to them, and encouraging them to challenge themselves not to compete against others.

Unfortunately, the few people who need to read this post won't, they are too busy burying their head in the past and believe the world should change for them. It won't change, we need to adapt.

Let's talk!

Is Now A Good Time?

Holding difficult conversations can be a challenge for both staff and for managers, more so for managers if a member of their team is struggling with negative thoughts. As managers, we are duty bound to look after our staff. As people, it is inherent in us to want to be there to help others.

No manager wants to be left wondering whether they should have said something to a team member should the worst happen and that person ends their life, knowing that you might have been able to intervene.

As managers who need to meet with staff, some of the challenges we struggle with are; do you send them an invitation explaining the purpose of the meeting, do you surprise them, do you get straight to the point or ask them how things are going as a way of opening the challenging conversation?

The easy answer is to say, it depends. I have read many posts that say just that, it depends. That's not very helpful. As a crisis negotiator who has spent over 20 years training and coaching around the world developing communication programmes for various situations, here is a suggestion;

  1. Don't alert the person too early as to what it is that you want to talk with them about, other than to say you are concerned for them and would like to have an informal chat to see how you can help. Do this about an hour before you want to meet with them.
  2. Where you meet them is just as important as what you say in the meeting, they will always remember that place and may feel uncomfortable each time they return there. Hold the meeting in a neutral venue where it is unlikely that they will return - a breakout room where others can't see into or a Cafe are the best choices.
  3. Opening the conversation can be difficult, if you ask the person "How are things going", they will most likely tell you that everything is fine and that they are coping. My suggestion is to go straight to the point as soon as possible after a general conversation. It is done in three parts - what have you noticed, what is your concern, what is your question of the person.

"I have noticed lately that you are not your usual self (describe what behaviour has changed), and I/we am/are concerned about you and that you may not be coping, is there something going on that I/we can help you with?"

Once the person opens up, follow their lead by asking a question from what they have just said. For example they might say "There's just so much going on at the moment" so you follow with either "What are all of the things going on at the moment" or "Tell me about all of those things". By following their lead, you will quickly get to the underlying issue.

Once you have found the problem, don't try and fix it straight away. Ask them, "So how does all of this impact on you" or "How are you feeling with all that is going on". Emotions are what drives us and from which most of our actions emanate.

Next, acknowledged that emotion. "These things are hard", or "These things can be tough", or "You do have a lot going on at the moment". An emotion that is acknowledged is disarmed and will open the door to the truth.

On that point of emotions, I was recently asked that talking about emotions is straying into psychology and that should be left to trained people. I agree, asking someone how they feel is psychology, it is not however limited to psychologists to ask, it is in fact the psychology of human behaviour and interaction, of being connected as people. Ask that question, please, I implore you to.

In some organisations where I work, I leave them with a code, a code to indicate that you want to have a challenging conversation with someone who is struggling or when you yourself are struggling. Often we are reluctant to approach someone who is struggling mentally or it is difficult to ask to talk with someone if we are the one who is struggling.

"Is now a good time?" is the code we suggest that you use. Why, because it is seldom said therefore makes the person being asked to stop and think for a moment. We often ask things such as "Have you got a minute to talk", or "Can I meet with you later". Both give the opportunity for the other person to delay the conversation.

"Is now a good time?" You bet it is, now is always a good time to talk.

Let's talk!

What is Positivity?

The majority of us have a negativity bias which means that around 80 per cent of our memory is negative. The reason, storing bad memories helps keep us stay safe so that we don't place ourselves in that 'danger' again. The problem, our thoughts slant towards the danger, towards the negative.

Those who follow my posts will know that there are many simple techniques to break the habit of negative thinking and to quickly reduce the negative bias. Unfortunately, these simple techniques - run to the fire (danger), look forward to good things coming up in the future, concentrate on what is directly in front of you, forcefully blink your eyes while saying 'No' or 'Stop' inside your head, or flicking a rubber band on your wrist - won't work long-term.

These techniques are designed to either help us get over a limited period of negative thinking or to change a destructive habit. They won't permanently change the wiring in your brain, they simply break a pattern of thought. So what does work permanently?

It is said that controlling your thoughts continuously to only look for the good in everything is a great way to think positively, and it is. However, it can be very difficult to truly change years of negative thinking and often involves a lot of fighting inside your head - with yourself.

If you want to change your thought patterns from negativity to positivity long-term, and are finding it difficult to continually think positively, try finding the neutral ground first;

  • Rather than seeing the glass as half full or half empty, see it as still having some water. And, it's a glass so you can go and fill it with more water.
  • Rather than thinking about what might go wrong in a situation "What's the worst that could happen", instead think "How can I limit what could go wrong".
  • After something bad has occurred, rather than say "Lucky I didn't die", say "What did I learn from that".

Find the neutral first rather than forcing yourself to always see the positive, the positive thoughts will follow in due course. Working with your brain rather than fighting against it will be much easier to embed the new pattern and will eventually permanently change the wiring in your brain.

Research shows us that those who have a positive outlook will live, on average, an additional seven years. Now that's a positive thought.

Let's talk!

Staying Focussed, Alert, and Safe.

It is sometimes hard to stay focussed across our day, more so if you work in an open plan office. The distractions are numerous - talking, emails, phone calls, traffic, social media - so many to list. Conversely, if you work in a job that has no distractions, it is highly likely that your mind will wander off to other things. If you have a dangerous job, staying focussed is important.

So which is more dangerous from a health and safety perspective? Psychologically, working in an office. Physically and psychologically, working in a dangerous job with no distractions. Why, because when we let our minds wander off we are not focussing on the work at hand therefore prone to accidents. Moreover, if we let our mind wander it will tend to find negative things to keep itself busy.

Staying focussed in an office is not always easy, these tips might help;

  • Turn off email alerts and check them once every hour.
  • Prioritise the important tasks first while you are still fresh.
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones, with or without music.
  • After each call/email/task, look away from your computer to the furthest point that you can see, just for a few seconds.
  • Have a short break every 50 minutes.
  • Stretch every time that you stand up from your desk.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Staying focussed in a dangerous job where there are no distractions is a little more difficult, try these tips to train your brain to remain focussed;

  • Start you day the way you want it to run - if you are running late for work, you will run late all day. Get up earlier than you think that you need to.
  • Make it a ritual, not a routine - have set patterns that focus your mind in a similar way that pilots do before every flight.
  • Hold a briefing - not just at the beginning of the day or after every break, have a quick discussion every hour.
  • Keep it clean - continually clean your work space and the equipment you use, this will provide you with a short break and mitigate risk.
  • Look around you - situational awareness is about looking for danger before things happen. What is it that could go wrong and what can you do to avoid it?
  • Look after your mates - every so often, look around you to see how your mates are going, are they in any danger?
  • Commit yourself to the task - focus on that one single thing and concentrate fully on it. As your mind wanders, bring it back to what you are doing.
  • Change it up - don't change your job, change the way that you do your job. Bring variety into your day, this will change unconscious competence to conscious competence.
  • Recall your 'why' - why are you doing this task and what is your goal? This will give you a shot of dopamine and help you to focus.
  • Hold a debrief - after each hour and at the end of the day, ask yourself - "What did I do well, what could I have done better?"

Health and safety is important, the most important part is maintaining focus. Safety measures are helpful, however the best safety practice is to stay in the game, head first.

Let's talk!