Let Your Brain Help You Be More Effective At Work

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

The beliefs and biases we form in childhood can manifest in our adult lives, fostering our hopes and fears and helping or hurting the way we approach situations. But there are neuroscience-based practices that we can use to help ourselves do better and achieve more, according to Dr. James Doty, founder of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of Mind Magic: The Neuroscience of Manifestation and How It Changes Everything.

In a recent conversation, Doty says it’s important to understand that “many of the actions we take—even in regard to the jobs we take, the partners we choose—are a response to the baggage that we have carried from our childhoods.” He explains that manifestation is neither a pseudoscience nor a get-ahead scheme but is “the embedding of an intention with a hope or goal that does, in fact, manifest into reality.”

Check Your Childhood Baggage

You may not be aware of it, but you are already manifesting previously held intentions, whether the results are what you currently prefer or not. So it doesn’t make sense to leave your mindset on autopilot to affect your future in some unintended way. “You have immense power within yourself, by mind-training, to change your circumstance,” Doty says.

But change takes time. “If you are fundamentally unhappy about your situation, what happens when you are in that situation is that it affects your physiology in a negative way. You feel tired, you feel exhausted,” he explains. “You may grumble about how unhappy you are, you may not do the best job because you just don’t care—and you emanate this dissatisfaction versus if you have the right mindset.”

Optimism Can Change Your Life

To shift your mindset to do your best on the job and avoid dissatisfaction and burnout, Doty recommends using a technique called “dispositional optimism,”—or believing “that you have unlimited possibilities.” As he explains, “Your goals or intentions or possibilities may not manifest in the timeframe you want, but ultimately they will. And if you hold onto that, it changes how you walk in the world. Instead of grumbling or trying to blame somebody or looking outside yourself, you treat everyone well.”

According to Doty, people who have an optimistic mindset are better able to create an environment in which employees “have that sense of pride that they’re working for something and are involved in actions that are bigger than themselves and that they are contributors.” In contrast to typical command-and-control models or scarcity mindsets, “When you create an environment where you treat people with respect, with dignity, you appreciate them not as widgets but as significant contributors to your success,” he says. “They’re more productive, they’re more creative, they’re more engaged.”

Be Intentionally Present

In contrast, when fear is the driver, Doty says, “it has a huge negative effect on one’s health, both mental and physical. If you reverse that, you see amazing things happen. You see people happy to come to work—the attendance level is increased. And presenteeism markedly goes down as well, because people are happy to be there. They’re happy to engage, they feel appreciated, and they want to come to work.”

Doty recommends being intentionally present for conversations with your people rather than focusing on your computer or phone. “You’re looking them in the eye, you lean forward to them, you reassure them, you make them feel that you have all the time in the world,” he says. “The very nature of doing these actions, which actually cost nothing, has amazing effects.” So, how does this work? “You’re simply being a human being connecting with another human being,” Doty explains, “recognizing them as an equal, recognizing that they are important, removing the barriers to connection.”

Take Care of Yourself

When people who are trying to make a difference in the world—perhaps through the helping professions, or nonprofit management or as leaders anywhere—feel that they’re not good enough, they’ll eventually get burned out by the very nature of sacrificing themselves for the greater good. They may not “recognize that their motivation to be of service or to help others is actually related to their own suffering,” he says. “They don’t understand that you can’t help others unless you care for yourself. You can’t be compassionate or ease the suffering of the world—at least at a sustainable level—if you’re not caring for your own suffering and the pain that you have.”

To change this construct, Doty says it’s necessary to “understand the drivers of what you have already manifested, which is the baggage you carry, so you have to have some insight or self-awareness or take the time to deliver that.” He warns not to “fall into the narrative of negative self-talk because once you start saying, ‘I deserve what was told to me,’ or ‘I’m not worthy,’ or ‘I’m an imposter’ or ‘I don’t deserve to be here’—that becomes truth.”

Instead, he says, if you want to achieve your goals and convince others to work with you, “you need to recognize that you deserve care, whether that’s taking time out to exercise, taking time out to sit in silence, taking time out to refresh. All of these are very important aspects, because again, beating yourself up every day is not sustainable. If you do it, you’re going to be sick, both mentally and physically.”

Try Better Brain Habits To Change Your Outlook

To reframe how you see both the world and yourself, you can use manifestation techniques—like meditation, breathing and attention, visualization and compassion practices—to create positive habits and lay down new neural pathways that can be strengthened through intention and repetition.

Sharing these approaches throughout your organization will benefit both employees and outcomes. “When we do these types of actions, it actually has a profound effect on our physical and mental health,” Doty says. “And when we’re able to work for a company that has that as a deep part of their motivation, that is what will ultimately make a company be its most successful.”

Onward and upward—


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