My Interview at Earbud_U: Entrepreneurship, Conflict Management, Storytelling


I had the honor of being interviewed by Jesan Sorrells of Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT) for his Earbud_U podcast series.  We had a great time taking about the brain, entrepreneurship, conflict management and storytelling.

  • Why do our brains like stories?
  • How does learning happen in the brain?
  • How do you turn a start-up idea into reality?
  • How do you choose your business partners?
  • How do you manage a team of creatives from different parts of the globe?
  • How do you tell your story across multiple media platforms?

Click HERE to listen.

Navigate, tease and loop: Three ways to create anticipation when you speak

anticipationWhenever I have a few minutes in the middle of the day to enjoy a cup of coffee, I pull out my stove-top espresso maker.  There is something about the slow process of filling the pot with water and freshly-ground coffee beans, setting it on a low burner and listening to the steam bubbles gurgle away. As the steam pressure pushes the water through the ground coffee into the collecting chamber, the enticing coffee aroma fills up the kitchen. The result is a strong brew, and its power is only enhanced by a few minutes of anticipation.

The brain is all about anticipation and prediction. Rituals make food and drinks taste better by increasing people’s interest and involvement. People get a boost of happiness when they plan their vacations. According to a study, anticipation increased happiness for eight weeks.  Shawn Achor writes in “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work”:  “One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.”

Not all anticipation is pleasant, however.  Negative anticipation appears to play a big role in memory formation and emotional regulation. For example, the mere anticipation of a fearful situation can increase activity in two memory-forming regions of the brain, the amygdala and hippocampus, – even before the event has occurred. The increased brain activity during anticipation of negative events can make the event more memorable unless people are able to detach from their negative anticipatory emotions.  Studies show that resilient brains appear to anticipate negative events by activating their emotional-control centers to control stress and calm down before the event begins.

You can use the power of anticipation as a reward to captivate brains.  Be also mindful of the use of negative images as they can trigger negative anticipatory emotions.  Here are three ways to add anticipation to your speech or presentation and increase your audience’s engagement.

1. Set the GPS to navigate through your talk.  You want to let your audience know where you are leading them and what route you want them to take. What process, recipe, or model do you use to get your audience the results they need? What acronym or theme could you come up with to give your system a captivating and memorable name? Each step in your process will be a hallmark on you journey. Your audience should have a clear sense of where they are and what to anticipate as they navigate to the next point.

2. Tease your audience.  Make an exciting promise so that your audience members are compelled to pay attention and can’t wait to hear more. Make them guess by asking an intriguing question and withholding the answer till later. Highlight the benefit of sticking around to hear your solution to their problems.  Signal that they will be surprised with what they are about to hear:  “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you right now…” or “Just imagine what would happen if…I will tell you what really happened…” Teasers are like juicy bites that make your audience crave more of what you have to offer.

3. Nest a story within a story. The brain always wants to complete a pattern. Once the story is over, it is filed away, and the attention is shifted to the next thing.  To sustain your audience’s attention for a longer time and create anticipation, begin a story and then take a detour through another story.  Close the second story first and then complete the initial story. You will create nested loops to keep your audience craving for a resolution. Think about mystery novels that gradually unfold the unknown. The only caveat is that you don’t want to make it too confusing and impossible to follow. Don’t overwhelm the working memory with facts, engage emotions instead.  Loop but don’t ramble!

By | 2013-08-19T15:40:52+00:00 August 19th, 2013|Brain, Communication, Public Speaking|1 Comment

5 strategies to silence your inner critic and boost creativity and self-expression

yogadanceHave you ever tried yoga dance?  Yoga dance is different from what most people think of when they hear the word “dance,” or “yoga” for that matter.  There are no specific steps to follow or routines to worry about.  Instead, our yoga teacher offers a storyline with elements, such as “welcoming yourself to the space” by dancing your way around the room in different directions, “building a fire” in an exuberant circle moving with the sound of drums, or the “souls and hearts” dance with scarves.  Yoga dance is all about self-expression in a harmonious, non-judgmental way when you bring your body, your sense of rhythm and your emotions into a delicate alignment.  It is also about the power of being open, spontaneous, creative and fluid. It is about the community and trust in your ability to be yourself, no matter how sweaty or goofy you may feel.  In other words, yoga dance offers one of those precious moments when your inner critic becomes quiet, giving in to the power of music and movement.

We should all practice silencing our inner critic more often. Neuroscience research suggest that we become more creative when the the parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive control – in particular, the left prefrontal cortex – become less active.  In one study,  researchers non-invasively manipulated neurons in the participants’ left prefrontal cortices through the method of transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, thus suppressing the activation of these specific areas of the brain.  Participants saw a sequence of 60 objects, one every nine seconds, and were asked to quickly come up with uses for them that were out of the ordinary.  The researchers measure how long it took for the participants to come up with a valid response, or if they were unable to do so before the next picture appears. The participants with the inhibited right prefrontal cortices missed an average of 8 out of 60 objects, compared to 15 objects missed by two other control groups.   They were also able to provide correct responses an average of a second faster than the control groups.

Another study indicates that when musicians are improvising, the part of the brain that plays a role in self-restraint and evaluation is also powered down, while an area associated with self-expression becomes more active, compared to when the musicians play music they have memorized.

How can you silence the inner critic in situations that benefit from a creative flow of unfiltered ideas?  Here are five practices to boost your creativity and self-expression:

1. Role-play your way to different scenarios.  Play boosts creativity, imagination, and social agility not just in children, but in adults as well.  As adults we become overly concerned with opinions of others.  The fear of embarrassment and social rejection inhibits our creative expression.  Play can relax the brain and make us more comfortable to take risks and experiment.  Play helps us prepare for the unexpected and produce a more diverse repertory of behavior. In a role-play, we can put ourselves through different kinds of experiences, learn to better understand other perspectives and cultivate empathy. Are you feeling too shy to play? Try a hand-puppet to get your over the discomfort of assuming a role.

2. Give yourself a permission to be absurd. Brainstorm bad ideas and poke fun at your own assumptions.  It will take the pressure off and allow good ideas to percolate into your conscious mind. Don’t take yourself too seriously.   “Think like a fool,” advises Roger von Oech:

“It’s the fool’s job to extol the trivial, trifle with the exalted, and parody the common perception of a situation. In doing so, the fool makes us conscious of the habits we take for granted and rarely question. A good fool needs to be part actor and part poet, part philosopher and part psychologist.”

3. Let your mind wander. The daydreaming mind continues to work on your problems, increasing the likelihood of an insight. A recent study shows that the times when we are naturally less productive may be optimal for solving insight problems. In those off-peak times when we are more distracted, our brains can tap into a wider range of information, find new connections, and see more possibilities.

4. Ditch your meeting room and head to a coffee-shop.  Experiments showed that a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) enhanced subjects’ performance on the creativity tasks, compared to a relatively quiet environment (50 decibels).  However, if the place is too noisy (85 dB), it will hurt your creative problem-solving. Coffitivity can even “deliver the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop.”  This web application allows you to combine your own music and ambient noises to optimize your creative process.

5. Find a solution in your dreams. Michael Michalko, the creativity expert and author of “Thinkertoys,” once said, “Ideas twinkle in dreams like bicycle lights in a mist.”  A  study conducted by the University of Alberta and the University of Montreal of 470 psychology students revealed that dreams that occurred six to seven days after the remembered event often reflected “interpersonal interactions, problem resolution and positive emotions.”  These findings suggest that people continue to work through personal difficulties in dreams.

Sleep psychologists claim we have about six dreams each night during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep).  We often forget our dreams, but there are things we can do to recall dreams better and capture any creative ideas that emerged in the dream state:

  • If you’ve been working on a problem for a while, bring it back into focus right before you fall asleep.  Think about a question related to your problem that you’d like to get an answer to in your sleep.
  • When you awake, don’t get up immediately.  Instead, lie quietly as you reflect on your dream.  If you have trouble remembering your dreams, try waking up thirty minutes earlier.
  • Have a dream journal next to you bed so that you could promptly record any thoughts that came to you after you woke up.  Don’t censor, just write down anything that comes to mind. Your ideas are often triggered by your dream even if you can’t remember the dream exactly.  After all, the contemporary scientific method was first reveled to René Descartes in his dream, which he promptly recorded in his dream journal.
  • You can later go over your dream journal again to see if any patterns, ideas, or insights emerge from your dream entries.

And you can always check out yoga dance.

How do you silence your inner critic?

By | 2013-03-22T12:41:02+00:00 March 20th, 2013|Brain, Creativity, Peak Performance|0 Comments

Sweet kindness

chocolates“As long as I live
My heart will express a humble kindness
As long as the wind blows
My kindness will gallop freely.
As long as my heart beats,
My spirit will always go
Searching for you
To influence you
To be kind to others.”

~ Steve Dudasch

Kindness can be as sweet as a piece of chocolate. It turns out you may want to use sweet foods to influence others to be kind. Having a sweet tooth may be bad for your diet but good for your disposition according to several studies from North Dakota State, Gettysburg College, and Saint Xavier University.  For example, people were more likely to volunteer to help somebody after eating a piece of sweet chocolate than after eating a sour candy or a bland cracker.  Participants also rated those with a sweet tooth as more agreeable and helpful than others.

Researchers hypothesize that the results may signal a link between metaphors associated with “sweetness” and our perceptions of behavior.  Gettysburg professor Dr. Brian Meier explains:

“Taste is something we experience every day. Our research examined whether metaphors that link taste preferences with pro-social experiences (e.g., “she’s a sweetheart”) can be used to shed light on actual personality traits and behavior.

“It is striking that helpful and friendly people are considered ‘sweet’ because taste would seem to have little in common with personality or behavior. Yet, recent psychological theories of embodied metaphor led us to hypothesize that seemingly innocuous metaphors can be used to derive novel insights about personality and behavior. Importantly, our taste studies controlled for positive mood so the effects we found are not due to the happy or rewarding feeling one may have after eating a sweet food.”

Perhaps, chocolate at the negotiation table, or any table for that matter, may not be a bad idea.

By | 2012-09-09T04:10:59+00:00 September 9th, 2012|Brain, Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments

Six Tips for Peaceful Holidays

Holidays can be joyful, and they can also be stressful.  If you don’t get along with some family members, you may feel anxious about holiday gatherings and dread possible confrontations.  You may end up spinning negative scenarios in your mind long before the meeting, causing more stress and anxiety.  Here are a few tips to make your holidays more enjoyable and peaceful.

1.  Remember that hot buttons and triggers are always present, but reactions are optional. You can’t control what other people say or do. You power lies in the choices you make and the paths you take.  Stop spinning negative scripts in your head.  Whenever you catch yourself thinking negatively, you can mentally adjust  and rehearse your own scripts for difficult conversations.  Doing so will engage two brain-boosting mechanisms:  play and mental rehearsal.  Play silences your inner critic and helps you generate more creative ideas.  Mental rehearsal programs your brain to act in accordance with your set expectations.  Picture yourself responding in a calm and composed manner.

2.  Mind your body language to handle your head.  Notice how you may appear to others.  Check your posture.  Stand tall or sit upright. Studies show posture affects people’s confidence in their own thinking.  Confident body posture makes you feel more self-assured and projects your confidence to others.

3.  There is no safety in withering, but there is a reward in sizzling.  Choose to show up fully in your life and your relationships.  Life is full of contrast.  There is no “hot” without “cold.”  The balance of sweet and sour gives flavor to our food.  We can’t feel joy unless we know sadness. Contrast keeps the current of life flowing, forcing us to change, adapt, move forward.  Embrace all your emotions and trust your inner core to withstand the storms.  Speak and act from the heart, with empathy and respect, but allow others to feel what they need to feel.  When we doubt our ability to cope with feelings, we deny ourselves the richness and fullness of life.  The surprise of a genuine human connection is much more precious than the safety of posturing.

4.  Sugarcoating issues won’t solve them, but it will make them sticky.  If you feel that there is a potential for misunderstanding or conflict, find a good place and time to discuss things in private and clear up any miscommunication. Our brains are quick to ascribe bad intent to others when they do something wrong, although we tend to exculpate ourselves in similar situations.  These quirks of perception can fuel conflict if they go unchecked.

5.  Building up people is much more fun than tearing them down.  There is no point in resisting people for who they are, but there is a benefit to fully accepting who you are. If you want to be accepted and appreciated, practice accepting and appreciating others.  Instead of looking for flaws, find qualities in others to celebrate.  Complement people on what they do well.

6.  Fill your holidays with passion, not perfection. Passions fuel joy, perfection fuels stress. Emotions are contagious.  Fill your heart with excitement, your belly with laughter and your mind with good thoughts, and spread happiness around.  You positive energy can light up the room better than any chandelier.

By | 2011-12-22T15:13:16+00:00 December 22nd, 2011|Brain, Conflict Management|0 Comments