Originally posted on LinkedIn Aug ’17.
We are just waking up to the complexities and untapped potential of human consciousness. As much as we like to think about ourselves as individuals, paradoxically, we are constantly influencing and regulating each other’s internal biological states. Interpersonal Biology assumes that our brain is a highly social organ. Without mutually stimulating interactions, people and neurons wither or die.
Relationships are our natural habitat. Therapists, teachers, and parents intuitively grasp this profound reality, yet business leaders responsible for influential people and organizational culture often fail at paying attention to the fact that, human brain is an organ of adaptation which organizes its processes and systems through personal, social, and environmental experiences.
In a traditional 50+ hours per week digital work environment, increasing social seclusion weakens our natural socializing abilities. And to stay healthy and thrive, we need to become more intentional in our personal wellness and socializing habits.
Seven Nurturing Habits to Survive and Thrive at Work
- Regulating Self-Awareness: Those of us who can better predict the intentions and actions of others have an obvious advantage in terms of safety, competition, success, and power play. Yet, very few realize the direct connection between social-awareness and self-awareness. To better predict intentions and actions of others, we need higher capacity of self-awareness. Research over the past two decades broadly supports the claim that mindfulness meditation — practiced widely for the reduction of stress and promotion of health — exerts beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Simply by meditating for 10 minutes every day for 8-weeks, we can experience profound positive changes in our performance at work. In case interested, here’s my blog on how-to.
- Mirroring Empathy: There is a lot of research data on the function of mirror neurons in our brain and developing healthy relationships at work. Mirror neurons are those neurons in the brain’s frontal cortex that when activated, result in imitation or mimicry that many scientists now believe is the foundation of empathy. These cells bridge information and action and influence group behavior. They not only link the network within us, they link us with each other. For instance, when I see you happy, my mirror neuron circuitry for happiness is activated, evoking feelings associated with being happy. At the same time, I perceive the movement/ expressions on your face, which drive the same motor responses on my face. This information is transmitted through the insula in the brain, which acts like a bridge between the limbic brain (the emotional center) and the mirror neurons.
- Communicating Compassionately: Body language, words that reflect content and vocal patterns (volume, tempo, etc.) help us experience healthy relationships. These are the communication “delivery” systems that we use to communicate our intentions consciously, or most likely, unconsciously. At the same time, we interpret the intentions of others because of the mirror neuronal circuits of our brain being activated. These circuits respond to body language, facial expressions, and gestures; in general, any intentional movement occurring in the other person. Higher self-awareness makes it easy to be more compassionate and intentionally allow the body language, words, and vocal patterns to influence positive conversations and develop supportive inter-personal & co-operative relationships.
- Meaningful Storytelling. There is a growing importance of storytelling in digital age. Oral tradition has long been the means of transmitting history and culture among individuals and across diverse cultures. Group participation in the construction of meaningful story embeds memory in a positive social context and assists in linking feelings to actions and self to others. Converting periodical leadership meetings into meaningful storytelling or comforting improv sessions can bring people together feeling socially inter-connected.
- Exhibiting Altruism. Altruism is one aspect of what social psychologists refer to as prosocial behavior. Altruism activates reward centers in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in an altruistic act, the pleasure centers of the brain become active. We might help others to relieve our own distress or because being kind to others upholds our view of ourselves as kind, empathetic people. Most often our everyday life is filled with small acts of altruism, such as a lady who kindly holds building entrance door open as you rush in from the parking lot on a rainy morning, or collectively pitching in to buy a gift for a team member who recently experienced loss. Acting selflessly generates nurturing hormones encouraging self-confidence.
- Collectively Being Present to Each Other. Mindfulness activates the stress-releasing and self-renewing neuro-chemicals in our brain renewing overall mental health and well-being. Many organizations, including Google, Microsoft, Nike, are now using mindfulness as a competence-training module, empowering leaders to be more compassionate during adverse times, also helping digitally-fatigued employees feel relaxed and fully present at work. Surprisingly, even 5-minutes collective micro-practice can recharge group of workers feeling positive and fresh. Here are 5 videos proving mindfulness to be the next best brain cognition and emotion enhancing medicine.
- Humor + Prosocial Mixers. Our social brains rely on other brains to remain healthy, especially under stress. When faced with confusion or failure we turn to each other for comfort, regulation, and stability. Yet many of us don’t know how to do so with our co-workers in a professional manner. Having a dedicated playful team environment at work can turn out to be a supportive environment bridge closeness among those we can relate to.