The bounce-back quality pops up again.

April 29th, 2011

Remember resilience? Your ability to cope successfully in the face of change or adversity and spring back with renewed energy and confidence. The PsyCap quality named when describing highly effective leaders. The “state of mind” I championed on 1/21/11.

Well, further support for resilience as a skill that can be learned and developed appeared this week in a Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Resilience for the Rest of Us.”* Becoming more resilient to life’s minor setbacks and irritating upsets, according to author Daniel Goleman, is a matter of retraining your brain.

Goleman, co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, cites University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson’s findings on the brain circuitry that brings us back from distresses and stress to “full energy and focus.” Davidson you may recall specializes in the study of positivity and how the brain handles emotions.

Whenever we get upset enough to lash out, Goleman says our brain’s amygdala – the region that processes emotion – has hijacked the logical-thinking executive centers in the prefrontal cortex. He tells us the neural key to resilience lies in how quickly we recover from that hijacked state.

Davidson found that when we’re distressed, there’s heightened activity on the right side of the prefrontal area, and when we’re able to respond to a situation without over-reacting, the left side of our prefrontal area is more active. It’s that left/right activity level that predicts our daily mood range.

To develop more left-tilt activity in the workplace, Davidson teamed up with the CEO of a high-pressure biotech startup and Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School to offer employees at the biotech firm instruction in mindfulness, a self-administered, attention-training method that teaches the brain to register anything happening in the present moment with full focus, but without stress.

The instructions are simple:

  1. Find a quiet, private place where you can be undistracted for a few minutes — for instance, close your office door and mute your phone.
  2. Sit comfortably, with your back straight but relaxed.
  3. Focus your awareness on your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation, and start again on the next breath.
  4. Do not judge your breathing or try to change it in any way.
  5. See anything else that comes to mind as a distraction — thoughts, sounds, whatever — let them go and return your attention to your breath.

After practicing mindfulness an average of 30 minutes a day for eight weeks, employees had shifted their prefrontal activity ratio to be tilted to the resilient left side. There were real-time changes in the brain.

Here’s my favorite part of the results: The employees said they remembered what they loved about their work; they got in touch with what had energized them in the first place. In other words, they had tapped into their own potential. Their own impetus, or energy, for success.

Davidson has been a proponent of daily meditation for almost a decade, and his research on brain plasticity maintains we do have the power to control thoughts and emotions at a deeper level than ever realized and develop attributes like confidence and resilience that contribute to our effectiveness in the business world.

I’m encouraged and excited to know the application of neuroscience to management and leadership continues to gain momentum. I’m hopeful Qinomics will be an important contributor to this dynamic and growing field.

*If you’re unable to access the full article, please contact me and I’ll email you a copy of it.


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