July 07, 2017

How To Improve Your Performance (Part 4)


As I mentioned in my first "How To Improve Your Performance" article, when it comes to health and well-being, we either ignore it, thinking it is unrelated to business success and performance, or we know it is important but do nothing about it.


It seems easy, but if a key member needs to take time off to recuperate from a serious illness, this can be extremely damaging to the business. The loss is felt in the team, and on the profit and loss account. When people are healthy and happy at work, they do not need to take extensive time off due to illness and are more likely to release discretionary effort that has a profoundly positive impact on results.


Emotion is the fourth and most challenging factor when it comes to improving your performance. There is considerable amount of scientific studies showing that emotion, or the mismanagement of emotion, is the root cause. Mismanaged emotion is the main artery to anguish and disease.


We exercise perhaps up to five times a week, sleep up to nine hours a night, and eat two or three, perhaps up to five meals a day. Emotions affect us every second of every day. They pretty much determine if we can be bothered to exercise, get a good nights sleep, and what, when and how much to eat. As psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychosomatic medicine Dr Franz Alexander said, "Many chronic disturbances are not caused by external, mechanical, chemical factors, or by microorganisms, but by the continual functional stress arising from the everyday life of the organism in its struggle for existence."


Emotion is the elephant in the room. When we understand emotion and create emotional coherence so that we can differentiate between the various emotional tunes our body is playing, then our health, well-being and performance will improve dramatically. Developing emotional coherence will not only make you more productive but just might save your life.


The words ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’ are used interchangeably but they do not mean the same thing. Emotion is the integration of all your various physiological signals. Your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain are all sending signals and contributing to your body's tune. A feeling is the recognition of the tune in your mind, which is coming from your physiological signals. When you become aware of the tune all your bodily systems are playing then you are ‘feeling’ the emotion. Emotion is, therefore, the link between biology and behaviour. As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux proposes, feelings are merely the ‘observation’ of the emotion.


The main contributing risk factors that were written into medical law for heart disease, for example, were height, weight, age, high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and so on. The truth is that over 50 per cent of incidences regarding heart disease cannot be explained by these physical risk factors. Doctors have been puzzled because people are dying of heart disease every day even though they exhibit none of the risk factors. The real reason they develop the disease is mostly because of mismanaged emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, hostility and skepticism brought on by circumstances in one's life. It is what happens to you emotionally as a result of certain events and situations that really make the difference between life and death, success and failure, happiness and misery. Mismanaged emotion will not necessarily kill you, but what they do to your biology can. This is the distinction that is missing in modern medicine.


Many people do not feel satisfied with themselves and go through life in quiet desperation. One of the main feelings people live with is that they are 'not good enough'. What these thoughts do to your physiology is what destroys your health and well-being.


Failing to get the promotion does not make you unhealthy. What is doing the most damage is the self-punishment, depression, anxiety, humiliation, socially isolated, worthlessness you feel. All these traumatic feelings remain with you and eat away at your mind. This stress further suppresses the immune system and the stress hormone cortisol surges even more, leaving your body wide open to diseases such as heart disease and cancer. It is important to comprehend how you feel about what you are doing as that has the major effect on health and happiness than what you are actually doing.


Up until the 1940's, the major killer of both men and women was infectious disease. This is when antibiotics hit the market and diseases of the infectious kind were wiped out practically overnight. This started the 'silver bullet’ approach in the medical world. Health professionals thought if they could discover a pill that could cure all infectious diseases, then they could surely find a silver bullet for the other big killers like heart disease and cancer. Most health researchers turned their attention to find those wonders for heart disease since it advanced from the number two killer to the number one killer. This is currently still the same position heart disease maintains today.





Depression is on the rise and according to a recent global study, if current trends continue, depression will be the second biggest disease by the year 2020 and the first by 2030. According to the World Federation for Mental Health, in 2012 it was estimated that 350 million people were affected by depression.


Mismanaged emotions such as worry, despair, anguish, anxiety and depression are dangerously toxic. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study over 20 years on the effects of worry on 1,750 men. Researchers found that worrying significantly increased the risk of developing coronary heart disease especially in the middle aged.


Negative emotions are not only toxic for our physical health, but have a vast impact on all our positive emotions. Anxiety, worry, despair, frustration, panic and depression are caused primarily by our inability to regulate our own emotions. The cause is not medical. The real problem is we have not been taught about emotion. Back when we were children, we were usually told to calm down and ‘pull yourself together’ when we were upset. If we were bursting with positive emotions we were told to calm down as well. We were not taught how to manage those emotions, take suitable action or change the emotion.


Emotional and stress related disorders significantly impair productivity. Studies reveal depression was identified as the most common mental health condition, responsible for 79 per cent of all time lost at work. This is notably more costly to the employer than physical disease.





Cancer is currently the second biggest killer. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, it is responsible for about a third of all deaths in the developed world. This means that heart disease and cancer collectively account for almost 70 per cent of all untimely deaths. And negative emotion has been proven to affect both.



Solid scientific data exists today that proves the clear link between psychological factors and the development of tumours. There is now zero doubt that the main artery to disease, including cancer, is mismanaged emotions.


A large scale Scandinavian trial was conducted that sought to correlate emotional perspective to cancer by researching subjects in their 50s and 60s, which is the age people tend to get cancer, and cross-referencing their results to their university entrance exams. The researchers studied these people’s university psychometric tests to see if there was anything in their early 20s that would correlate to their tendency to get cancer 30 or 40 years later. They studied over 25,000 people and discovered that there was a direct correlation. Those who were negative when they were 20 and had remained constantly negative throughout their life were the ones that were more likely to develop cancer.


Dr Ellen Langer, a social psychologist and the first female professor to gain tenure in the Psychology Department at Harvard, conducted a famous study in the 1970's about the connection between mortality and control. In Dr Langer's words, "The message is clear – those who do not feel in control of their lives are less successful, and less psychologically and physically healthy, than those who do feel in control."


If someone is negative or feels as though they have limited control over their life, their body creates more of the stress hormone cortisol and cortisol suppresses the immune system. We all, for example, generate cancer cells in our body every day but if you are positive and emotionally coherent most of the time, then your immune system will flush out the potentially problematic cancer cells as part of its normal function. If you are constantly negative or emotionally incoherent this will not happen. Once cortisol levels suffocate the immune system over a long period of time, cancer cells cannot be eliminated by the poorly functioning immune system and instead they flourish and develop into cancer.


Once you learn how to manage your emotions, you alter your physiology and this can protect you from illness and disease. It can also protect you from poor decision making.



Emotional Coherence In Business


For you to develop as a leader you need to improve your understanding of human psychology and your ability to differentiate things that are not traditionally thought of as business related. As a result, this will enable you to build better relationships with customers and colleagues.


In 1776 Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. He talked about how people in an organization should have a specific job and only perform that job. People were rewarded for doing their assigned job and punished if they did not. This gave the false pretense of being effective during the Industrial Revolution. For jobs that require creativity, innovation and trial and error, reward and punishment does not work and can evoke the type of behaviour you are trying to eliminate.


In 1960, Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, proposed his famous X-Y theory in his book "The Human Side Of Enterprise". He was highly influenced by Abraham Maslow and his revolutionary insights into the nature of leadership and management changed the relationship between managers and employees, and implemented by some of today's most successful companies.


McGregor believed that the productivity and performance problems that affect business are caused by a fundamental error in our understanding of human behaviour. He outlined two types of management, Theory X and Theory Y.


Theory X presumes people are lazy and you need to adopt a command and control approach to achieve results. Emotion is dismissed and seen as a sign of weakness.


Theory Y presumes work is as essential as rest and play, and when you bring people together toward a shared vision everyone is emotionally connected to, it produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop. It is a theory of motivation not a theory of how to run a corporation.


McGregor's work helped alter work practices, but as we all can see, Theory X is still the dominant management style today. It seems we are reluctant to embrace the very thing that makes us human.


To transition to Theory Y requires us to break down the barriers and start communicating with each other. It means facing the 'human' and 'emotions' side of us. We find it too hard so we ignore that business is made up of a collection of human beings. As McGregor put it, “The motivation, the potential for development, the capacity for assuming responsibility.... are all present in people. Management does not put them there”.


When you look at new recruits, they are usually bubbling with drive and motivation. Once they are hired they are totally motivated and determined to prove themselves and achieve results. After a few months, we wonder why they have become like everyone else in the organization. We do not realize that management kills their motivation so they just give up trying.


Emotions and psychology need to be understood to advance in leadership and transformation. Dr W. Edwards Deming was one of the top thought leaders of his time who foresaw the value and importance of adding human Psychology to his System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK). His system provides a map of theory to understand the organizations that we work in. As Dr Deming emphasized, "A leader of transformation, and managers involved, need to learn the psychology of individuals, the psychology of a group, the psychology of society, and the psychology of change."


You will significantly improve performance and results if you become more emotionally and socially intelligent. You will find it will:

·     improve the quality of decision making

·     build and sustain positive relationships at work

·     enhance clarity of thought and ability to learn

·     facilitate effective management of change

·     boost leadership presence

·     improve health and well-being

·     increase joy and quality of life

·     spark meaning, significance and purpose

·     improve intrinsic motivation and agility

·     heighten self-fulfillment and sense of self


Thanks to positive psychology we can practice and assimilate positive emotions into our daily lives. This in turn can enhance our immune system and increase our protection and resilience against disease and illness.


The first step is to Breathe. Focus on your chest and concentrate on a rhythmic and smooth breathing pattern for cardiac consistency. The power output of the heart is enabled to escalate, and drive all your other biological systems to synchronize with your heart. It gets you to a neutral emotional position by blocking access to negative emotions.


Many disciplines such as public speaking, swimming, martial arts and meditation all teach the importance of correct breathing. It allows you to manage your self-control in highly charged situations, prevents your brain from shutting down and thinking more clearly. Breathing creates the platform on which health, well-being, cognitive ability, clarity of thought, building relationships and improved performance, is built. This proficiency in physiological coherence facilitates your emotional coherence.


Once breathing has set in, the next step is to practice positive psychology. We all have rituals throughout our day. The main ones are "Getting ready for work", "travelling to work", "having lunch", "travelling back home" and "winding down" rituals. It is important to channel positive psychology in your rituals to have a more positive mindset. Positive psychology can be in the form of memories, music, singing, a musical instrument, photos, videos, a book, your diary, dancing, and whatever else allows your mind to escape to a positive place and saturates you with positive emotions. And remember these moments in highly charged situations to get you back to a positive state. As Eric Idle from Monty Python's Life of Brian sings, "Always look on the bright side of life."


Russell Ackoff, who was a top thought leader and systems thinker, sums up a system very effectively, "A system is a whole that is defined by its function in a larger system of which it is a part. An essential part of the system is that it cannot be divided into independent parts. Its properties derive out of the interaction of its parts and not the action of parts taken separately. Therefore, the system is never the sum of its parts, it is the product of their interactions."


With this in mind, and taking into account all four parts of my article "How To Improve Your Performance", exercising without getting enough sleep, the right fuel, and motivation will damage your overall performance. If you are coping with stress but with minimal exercise, sleep, and nutrients, will cripple your performance.


By optimizing in less than all four areas, you are only sub-optimizing and hurting your performance. It is the same in business. If you are only making improvements in small sections or departments within the organization, you are only sub-optimizing and what may seem an improvement in one area will pop up as a weakness somewhere else. You need to improve the business as a whole, as a system.


If you optimize in all four areas and perform regular exercise, get a fulfilling night sleep every night, eat food in the form nature intended, and achieve emotional coherence, you are then on your way to enhance and improve your performance. And improve your health and well-being for years to come.