Listen for It, Listen to It, It’s There to Help

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have witnessed your own behaviors in action?

Here is an example: You are in your car, driving down the highway, it’s twilight, with the sun just about out of sight. But it’s not quite night. Others in their cars, like you, are heading home, perhaps distracted, already thinking about dinner, to dos, tv shows, and home conversations.

You turn your signal in to indicate your intention to move from the left the middle lane. You look to see if anyone from the far-right lane is indicating they are going to turn to the middle lane. All clear.

Then that voice, one you have heard inside your head before, reaches out and tells you not to go into the middle lane, that far-right lane car is going to move into the middle lane.  You stay where you are and sure enough, THAT car moves into the middle lane about which you had signaled your intention. And they moved over without any signal, nothing. But you knew. Good thing you listened to THAT voice. It may have saved you a trip to the hospital.

How do you recognize THAT voice? It’s a protective, sagacious, and valuable voice. Researchers at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, conducted a study where participants repeated a word over and over as they performed a test: push the button when a certain symbol flashes on the screen. As this symbol flashed on the screen frequently, it could set off and did set off impulsive responses. The researchers found that when participants could not listen to their own inner “talk”, they were more likely to act more impulsively.  The researchers said this about the study: “Without being able to verbalize messages to themselves, they were not able to exercise the same amount of self-control as when they could themselves through the process.”

Listen for it, listen to it…your inner voice. It’s there to help.

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Stress Can Wreak Havoc in Your Life

When you face danger, your body’s alarm system stimulates the production of adrenaline and cortisol. This is “stress.” This feeling of stress can be valuable as the adrenaline gets your heart beating faster and the cortisol produces glucose to help you react both mentally and physically. Once the danger is over, the adrenaline and cortisol rushes stop.

Unfortunately, that is not the only time when stress manifests itself. You can also experience stress whenever something bothers you or throws your world out of balance. Whether it’s from money or work issues, relationship or communication tensions, or something else that’s bothering you, when stress lingers, adrenaline and cortisol continue to pump through the body.  This isn’t productive.

If you cannot turn off your body’s alarm system you can find yourself eating more, exercising less, sleeping less, becoming forgetful about where you put things, more argumentative and impatient, more irrational, with increased abdominal fat, blood sugar imbalances and more.  You react to these hormonal releases with a faster beating heart which can result in higher blood pressure and increased cholesterol.

Stress itself is a constant in life and it is necessary: it helps you overcome dangerous/annoying situations. But, prolonged stress is toxic to your body and this is what you should avoid/manage. With the proper tools and systems in place you can protect yourself from its deleterious effects. Exercise, healthy food habits, laughing, and focusing on your strengths and values are key components to maintaining wellbeing.

Live with your core strengths and values at the forefront of your life.  They matter.

Pass the Chocolate, I’m out of Cash: How the Brain Deals with Fairness

I find money and food to be similar in many ways.  It seems to be difficult for many people to gain control over either and it seems that both topics can become emotionally charged, quickly.

Researchers have studied both, finding that the brain can respond similarly to both money and food behaviors. Surprised? Me neither. But I do find it interesting what the neurosciences have discovered. Let me share a little of that with you.

The brain, you should know, responds to fairness. One study asked their participants if they would agree to someone else’s division of money. If they declined, neither party would receive anything. Offers were made, each amounting to receiving $5 but from different totals. Some were offered $5 out of $10 while others were offered $5 from $20+. And here comes the interesting part: the brain’s reward circuitry was activated only for “fair offers.” In this case receiving $5 out f $10 was registered in the brain as being fairer than receiving $5 out of $23.

This part of the brain, one that reacts to “being fairly treated” is the same part of the brain responding to certain cravings, like for chocolate. Why? It seems to that the brain area that is activated in receiving a fair offer is the same area that is activated when we eat craved foods, like chocolate.

For those who are interested, the regions in the brain that respond to fairness are  the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Two Insightful Money Observations

Money is merely a tool, which means that money itself is not THE culprit. If stays where we leave it, it goes where we move it to. With that as a backdrop, let’s look at two scenarios:

  • More earnings mean more wealth       Y             N

Not necessarily as money is easily spent. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the personal savings rate is at about 3.20% of income with lesser income earners saving more than higher income earners. The data continued to show that we exhibit one of the lowest savings rates of developed countries; only Spain, China, and Australia save less than we do, currently.

  • Money Can Buy Happiness                     Y             N            

Yes, up to a point. Think of what that Powerball lottery could do for you! Science has researched this question and found that how we spend money has an influence on our happiness. Research shows that happiness is increased when we spend money on others more than on ourselves. Does this have to do with experiencing satisfaction? I don’t know, I am merely asking. One study, I remember reading from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, indicated that once people earn more than $200,000, their level of happiness did not increase significantly.

 Money is very personal. Being personal, it is important that you understand what money means to you, so it can be the sharpest tool in your tool chest, doing what you want it to do for you!

 

There is Power in that Talking Stick

 

I was watching a movie the other day, Tanna, set in a remote Pacific Island, and acted by the Yakel Tribe members. In an intense scene between warring parties, I was struck by their communication. Even in the heat of opinions and attacks, they had a natural and respectful ability to let each person speak, fully, before another person got up to speak. They did not interrupt. They did not use escalating threats. They listened to the speaker before making their remarks. It was inspiring to watch.

This view into this tribe’s ability to communicate with an opposing tribe, when stakes and tension were high reminded me of an incident that occurred earlier this year. In a U.S. Senator’s office, during the stopgap spending bill talks were held. Senator Susan Collins used her “talking stick” as a tool to let others in the meeting know that the person holding the stick had the authority to speak. Everyone else had to wait until that person was done speaking and the talking stick was released before one of them could have their turn.

In this scenario, the “Talking Stick” has several key purposes. The first is to allow the speaker the platform to speak sans interruption. Second, the stick reminds others that they are to listen as their time to talk has not yet come. Third, the sticks passed from one speaker to the next. But at this meeting, an interruption did occur. Instead of holding on to the stick, the speaker hurled it towards the interrupter and missed, chipping a glass sculpture instead.

Much can be learned from the power in the “Talking Stick”. It has been used for centuries as a tool in negotiations, mediations, family meetings and sensitive facilitated discussions.  It is a powerful reminder to where the room’s attendees’ attention should be centered as well as a reminder that the person with the stick has control of the message until the stick is relinquished.

If you have not used a talking stick in a meeting, give it a shot. It is amazing how it can keep meetings on track, viewpoints respected, and keep tempers from flaring and accusations from hurling.

The Hero’s Story is Significant

 

Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.

I Made a Startling Observation about Leadership

I recently noted something I want to talk about. A little while ago I attended a “town hall” meeting of a group to which I have been a member and one-time leader for well over a decade. At this meeting of about 200 people, I experienced a phenomenon that may have always been there. Let me explain.

There are members who feel comfortable in criticizing the leadership, the direction and other parts of the organization. They are vocal in their criticism, sometimes sparking controversy and sometimes adding fuel to fires already lit. But, often, something changes within them, that they do not see, when they become titled leaders of the overarching organization of the group.

Suddenly, as if a switch has been activated within them, their criticism transforms into a call for peace and understanding, for tolerance and respect. Those who criticized now call for an end to “negativity”, the negativity they had sparked or fueled, themselves, at one time.

Until recently I had not noticed anything askew about this change. But, for some reason, I now focused my attention on a question. I asked myself: “Why, as leaders, do we shut down criticism, when as followers we initiate or support criticism?” As leaders we tend to seek harmony and while as followers we tend to seek a voice. But so often, neither listens to the other. Each merely wants to shut the other down.

I find it interesting that we cannot look at both criticism and the role of “leadership” as being two sides of the same coin. Neither are inherently “better.” Neither are inherently “right.” I believe voices want to convey something even if their expression, or the words themselves, seem divisive. Leaders are not necessarily parents or moral authorities but can think they are, because they have been given implicit responsibilities or titles.

How do you view criticism? Do you try to shut it down? Do you tolerate it? Do you know how to speak to it, so it feels heard, while still maintaining your center? How do you view leadership? Does it have an implicit authority that overrules a “voice?” How do you build a bridge to listening and collaboration when criticism and harmony live together?

 

Finding My Way Back to My Core… I’m Ready

There are unexpected and unwelcomed times when I find that I am “off.” What do I mean by “being off?” It is those times that I feel off balanced, feel like I am reactionary rather than thoughtful and somehow, for some unexplained (to me) reason, cannot get back to my center, my core. I find myself mucking around in emotional states and unable to get out of them.

I try to trick myself by putting myself into another emotional state but that doesn’t bring me back to my center. It merely creates more gunk. It is so weird. Eventually, I remember what I must do. I have to say, when I first discovered this, twenty plus years ago, I was stunned by its power. I return to what is at the center of my being, my values.

Values represent the core of who we are. They represent our essence and when we lose sight of, forget or deny our core, we lose our focus. When we are adrift from our center, we take on different characteristics and find ourselves in the world of emotions with their endless judgments, pushes and pulls a circus-like universe of joy, disappointment, criticism, comparison, etc. None of it forwards the core of who we are.

I have been swimming in my emotions for the past few weeks, and only now, by writing this, am I realizing that I have abandoned the guidance my values provide and the compass they are in my life. Okay, I am ready, wisdom, go ahead, rule!

Share with me how your values lead you in your life, how you recognize when you have deviated from them, and how returning to them brings you back to the center of who you are.

2 Steps to Take When Money Conversations are Difficult to Initiate

 

Step back for a minute, and take inventory. The inventory I would like you to take consists of: the ease at which you enter conversations about money.

First, take note of what the intention of the money conversation you are about to begin is. If your intention is to blame, shame, or guilt someone else’s behaviors or actions, this conversation could very well be difficult to have. Who wants to be part of a conversation where accusations or disappoints are hurled? I do not know anyone who wants to be part of that.

Reframe your intention so it is not about how you want the other person to feel, but instead, determine what it is you want to achieve from the conversation. For example, let’s say you do not like the spending habits of your spouse or partner and want to let them know this…yet again. Instead of wanting to express how inappropriate you think it is for them to spend as much as they do, talk about how important it is for you to save. Then ask for their support on how to add a savings to your money activities.

When you know what true intention to the conversation you want to have, you can initiate that conversation without attaching attributes of shame, blame, or attack to the person with whom you are having the money conversation. Instead, you are collaborating to further your intentions rather than looking to release an arrow laced with contempt towards someone else’s feelings.

Second, look at what outcome you want from your money conversation. Using the last example, your preferred outcome may be to start a savings program. It is important to know what outcome you are aiming for so you can use this outcome as your reference and return to it when you use trigger points leading the conversation down rabbit holes to discord.

When money conversations are difficult to initiate, know your underlying intention for the conversation you want to have. From there, identify the outcome you want so you can communicate that to your partner. Remember to return the conversation to its intended focus when it goes astray.

Quotes about Money to Start the Year

• The habit of saving is itself an education; it fosters every virtue, teaches self-denial, cultivates the sense of order, trains to forethought, and so broadens the mind. -T.T. Munger
Saving is a beneficial life-long exercise.

• You can’t manage what you don’t measure. -Bhaj Townsend
It is important to know what your money is for, so you can determine how to manage it.

• Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. -Epictetus.
This still rings true centuries after this Turkish slave, who grew up to be a formidable Greek philosopher, said it.

• Money without meaning is like candy without a wrapper. It’s too easy to devour without restraint-Bhaj Townsend
Now that rings true!

• If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. –Edmund Burke.
How true this can be.

• This year, money and I will be friends, and not part company as easily and as often as last year. -Bhaj Townsend
An excellent decision to follow through on.

• It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you keep, how hard it works for you, and how many generations you keep it for. Robert Kiyosaki.
Yes, indeed.

• Money is gone, for most families, by the end of the third generation because the system for understanding its purpose wasn’t built, or communicated or sustained. -Bhaj Townsend
This is so sad because it is avoidable.