How to fix the exhausted brain | Brady Wilson | TEDxMississauga

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney I am definitely not the hero of this talk,
but if I do my job properly, you will be. You will be the hero
that goes on a journey today and discovers a gift
that could change your world. First let me tell you a story that will give you context for everything
I’m about to share with you. I was nine years old, and I was horror stricken as I watched
my two older brothers, Perry and Mark, in a vicious fight. They were strangling
each other on the floor. My nine-year-old brain actually believed that I was about to lose one
or maybe both of my brothers. When it was all done, they vowed that they would
never speak to each other again. And they didn’t … for several years. So here’s how it went down in my house. The phone would ring,
and Perry would answer it, discover that it was for Mark; he would say to me, “Go tell your brother
Paul wants to talk to him.” I was drawn into the space between … for years. Fast-forward – my brother Mark
got into trouble. My dad kicked him out of the house,
held the hard line, even though my mother’s
heart was breaking. She would secretly bake cinnamon buns,
and come to me and say, “Would you take these to your brother,
and tell him that I love him.” I was drawn into the space between. That was 50 years ago. And I have lived in and have worked in
the space between ever since. And what I want to do today is to help you understand
the power of what can happen when we step into that space. In order to do that, I’m going to share
a true and remarkable story with you about Paula and her manager, Ziad, in which they go on a journey from depleted brains
to very energized brains. So I’d like you to meet Paula. Paula started her job, like most of us do,
wanting to be a high performer. She was highly engaged,
wanted to contribute to the organization, but what happened in her company
was there was a reorg, and leaders took their eye off the ball, leaving Paula without the support,
the guidance, the coaching that she so desperately needed. And although Paula
had started out engaged, she became exhausted. Although she had started out dedicated,
her brain became depleted. And here’s what we are seeing
across North America: massive amounts of employees,
managers and leaders who are engaged but exhausted; they’re dedicated but depleted. So it’s very difficult
to become our best selves when our brain is depleted. But why is that? Let’s take a minute and peek inside
this three-pound blob of tofu that nestles into your cranium
and understand why that is. This brain of ours, it only comprises
two percent of our body weight. But how much energy
does it burn every day? It is metabolically expensive. It burns 20 percent of our
energy reserves every single day, far more than any other organ in our body. Heart, lungs, liver, they’re all important but they can’t come close
to the energy draw that the brain does. So what happens
if you are engaged but exhausted? If you are dedicated but depleted, you will lose access
to one very important thing. And the first thing you lose access to
is your executive function. So all the autonomic
functions of the brain that control your immune system,
your digestive system, your fight-or-flight mechanism,
they keep running, but the first thing you lose access to
is the executive function. Because the body is very judicious
in its use of fuel. So, the executive function – what is it? Well, let’s take a look here. With an energized brain,
you can focus your attention; you can regulate your emotions; you can connect the dots
in surprising ways; you can anticipate
the downstream implications of any decision or behavior; and you can make really smart decisions. But when your brain becomes depleted, and you lose access
to the executive function, you get easily distracted; you can react very impulsively; you lose the thread; you fail to see
the downstream implications; and you make really unwise decisions. This is not a bad person, this is just a person
with a depleted brain. So, this is where Ziad enters the story. In the reorg, he became
Paula’s new manager. And he sat down with her, and after hearing a few things
from other leaders and other managers in which they said:
When she’s on her game, Paula is amazing; she’s bright,
and she can be highly productive, but she’s begun to struggle with stress
and sickness and absenteeism. And in fact, she became absent so often
that leaders had seriously considered “freeing up her future.” Ziad sat down with Paula and said, “I don’t need to know what’s happening
in your personal life, that’s not my business. But I do want you to know
that I’m in your corner, that I’ve got your back. So what can we do
to take some stuff off your plate, to make this work for you?” Does the approach sound okay so far? It’s not okay so far;
it’s actually a train wreck. My biggest work with leaders
is helping them switch and shift from parenting … to partnering. Ziad is taking a classic
parenting approach, assuming that he knows best
and trying to fix Paula’s situation by taking stuff off her plate. And sometimes when people try to fix us, it actually creates more frustration
and more depletion. Every time they had
that type of a conversation, it was deeply unfulfilling
as both of them walked away. It was in this time period that Ziad
happened to come to one of my sessions around energizing people’s brains. And he learned that it’s not magic. In fact, it’s not something
you’re either born with or not, it’s a trainable skill. Anyone can learn how to do it. And it’s all about understanding
what matters most and connecting on what matters most. Ziad learned that in any situation,
there are things that matter most to us. So, for instance, in some situations,
belonging, inclusion, acceptance, feeling part of the tribe,
social relationships, that is the thing that is
deeply energizing for our brains. But there are other situations
where we feel a little bit off balance and security is the thing. So, systems, structures,
consistency, rules and fair play. But in other situations,
it’s all about freedom, it’s all about autonomy and independence, the ability to get
our fingerprints on things, take a risk and make decisions. But in other situations,
it is all about significance, the ability to do quality
and excellent work, make progress, achieve great results, move the needle. And in some situations,
it is all about meaning, purpose, legacy, the greater good, changing the world. And it’s very important
to understand and connect on what matters most to the person
in the specific situation they are in. Ziad came into this and what mattered most to him
in this situation was freedom. He needed to get free
of hand-holding a problem employee. And so he assumed
that freedom must be the thing that mattered most to Paula as well. So his approach was:
How do we take stuff off your plate? How do we free up mind space for you
because I know this is stressful for you? And as I said, what happened was it was deeply unfulfilling
for both of them. What he learned was that for Paula, significance was the deal. And here’s how he learned that. You don’t have to be a mind reader,
you don’t have to be a therapist, you don’t have to be an expert coach to find out what matters
to another person. In fact, the people who are best at it
do one simple thing: they ask. What’s most important
to you in this situation? So Ziad came back
from that training session, had a simple conversation with Paula, and said, “Paula, this has been difficult. I’m wondering if you and I could do
a re-do of some of our conversations because I know they’ve been frustrating. I want to ask you one question: What matters most
to you in this situation?” Her response was instant. She said, “I want to be seen
as a high performer. I want to be seen as somebody
who is highly productive. But every time I meet with you,
you take stuff off my plate, you take challenges away from me, you take learning
opportunities away from me. I want more challenges at work.” And Ziad is thinking:
Who would have thought that somebody who is struggling
with stress and sickness and absenteeism wants more challenge at work? And he didn’t know
if she could really step up and do it, but he thought, let’s give it a go. And he started giving her
challenge after challenge, and coming along side of her,
and helping her out, and what happened was
every time he did, she stepped up
and she hit it out of the park. Well, when you start to understand
what matters most, possibility very fluidly flows from that. And they started to see new ways
of Paula adding value, and stepping in, and being innovative. And when that starts to happen, it’s very natural to move into
partnering together for progress. So what was happening inside the brains
of our two journeyers here? What was happening was there were some powerful, high performance
hormones that were flowing. Thanks to the work of Dr. Loretta Breuning
and the Mammal Institute, we know what happens
inside the minds of mammals when you put them in certain situations. So for instance,
you see the mother and her cub. There is a powerful hormone
that is richly flowing in this situation. Some of you know what it is. It’s oxytocin. Not to be confused with … Oxycontin. When you create connection
between two mammals – and we’re mammals
so we can learn from this – connection releases oxytocin. Well, who cares about oxytocin? Well, oxytocin, when
it’s present in our brain, it produces a sense of trust,
rapport and bonding. Some of you are thinking, yeah, there are people in my world
that I could use more trust with. Is there something you can do
that creates connection and unlocks oxytocin inside the brain?
There absolutely is. What does she see? Anybody, what does she see? You can tell by her body language. What is that? She sees food. She sees lunch. When a mammal senses possibility,
dopamine is released in our brains. And when dopamine is released,
something powerful happens: motivation, creativity, ingenuity,
innovation, goal orientation. If you know somebody who is unmotivated, the first place their therapist
will look is their dopamine levels. Is there something you can do
that’s a benevolent brain hack that will release dopamine
inside another person? Absolutely. Helping them see a glimmer of possibility,
of potential, of opportunity. Mammals love to outdo each other. It guarantees the survival of our species. We feel intensely pleasurable
when we make progress, when we have an achievement,
when people value and respect us. Why do we feel so pleasurable? Because serotonin is flowing in our brain. And when serotonin flows in our brain,
we feel invincible, it unlocks a sense of agency, belief, confidence, self-efficacy. Is there something you can do that can unlock that
inside another person’s brain? There absolutely is. Partnering with them for progress. Now, anybody can connect
on what matters most. Anyone can help someone see possibility. Anyone can partner for progress. Why don’t we do it? The surprising reason we don’t do it – it’s not because
we’re bored in their presence; it’s not because we’re
tethered to our devices; we are – but here’s the big reason:
You put yourself in others’ shoes. And you’re going:
Aren’t we supposed to do that? Let me tell you. When you put yourself
in someone else’s shoes with all of your assumptions,
your judgments, your conclusions, your beliefs, here’s how the narrative goes: “If I were in your shoes … ”
and what comes out next is your autobiographical fix
for their situation. This happened to me
powerfully several years ago. My third child, Tyler, was finishing up
university in the East coast. I was seated in my dining room and I got the phone call
that every parent dreads. Now, the story turns out well,
but it was chilling in the moment. He began to describe the situation: “We’re in the hospital,
we’re going to make it through, but it’s been tough.” And he described the vehicle – and I’ll only keep
this slide on for a moment – but the vehicle had rolled several times. When it landed, it caught on fire. Four of them had been able
to get out of the vehicle, but his best friend Holly
had been stuck in the front seat and the door was jammed. She was able to extricate
herself from the vehicle, they grabbed hold of her, and they got far enough away
that when the vehicle blew up, none of them lost their lives. I sat there with unbelievable
gratitude on that day that my son Tyler and his four friends
had lived through this. We all know it doesn’t
always happen that way. I better move it to the next slide. There’s my son Tyler. The next night, I was out with a friend
who knows Tyler very well. And I simply told him the story
of what happened to Tyler. I said, “You wouldn’t believe
what happened to Tyler.” I told him. No sooner
had I finished, and he said, “Well, you won’t believe what happened
to me in Chicago last weekend!” I was slack-jawed, because I had put something out there
that was so important to me, and it was summarily dismissed. And he told his story. Because I love my friend,
and I want to invest in him, I phoned him up the next day,
and said, “Could we go out for coffee?” We went out for coffee. I said, “Do you remember
I told you the story about Tyler?” He said, “Oh, yeah.” I said, “Do you remember
how you responded?” He said, “Not really.” I said, “Well, here’s what you said.” He said, “Did I actually say that?
I can’t believe that.” When I drilled down
into what he was trying to achieve, what do you think it was? Because it wasn’t one-upmanship. What it was, was: I want
a sense of rapport and connection. I want to show you that I understand
your Tyler story by sharing mine. He put himself in my shoes,
and he heard enough to respond. That was Thanksgiving several years ago. Tyler came home that Christmas
and you can imagine what that was like. After Christmas, I was out
with another friend who knows Tyler well, and I had mentioned
what had happened to Tyler. No sooner had I finished, and he said, “What was it like
the first time you saw him again?” I said, “I was in my basement.
I heard him come through the front door. I came running up,
I grabbed hold of Tyler, and I hugged him, and I hugged him;
I didn’t want to let go because it was the first time I saw him
since the accident.” My friend invested five seconds. “What was it like
the first time you saw him again?” And what happened was another
whole layer of what matters most came out of a father
who almost lost his son. My energy level
after the first conversation was through the floor. My energy level
after the second conversation was through the roof. People rarely leave your presence neutral. They will leave your presence engaged or depleted. (Applause)

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