Learn to dance in the rain

In leadership, unexpected curveballs can strike out of the blue at any time. So what do you do when bad things happen? Neuroscience has some remarkable useful tips. This is the sister blog to the very popular ‘Leaders, use your brain for a change.’

DUCK! Here comes another of life’s curveballs

In leadership, unexpected curveballs can strike out of the blue at any time. Often, we have no control as to what, where, when or why these happen.

But here’s the rub - you are in control of how you choose to deal with them.

I don’t know about you but, when bad things come along, I just want them to go away. That reminded me of this famous quote:

But, what does it mean to dance in the rain?

To dance in the rain is a metaphor. It means: “that a person has learned not to allow circumstances deter them reaching their full potential. They don’t wait for bad things in their life to go away. Instead, they have a positive attitude and take challenges head on and enjoy the journey.” (Christine Smith, Family and Consumer Education at Wayne County, North Carolina 2013).

I believe there are some useful lessons here, to apply to leadership.

Hmm - fate, Or destiny? Choices, choices!

I have observed that often people seem to spend their lives reacting to life’s circumstances. Driven by fear or out of habit, they seem conditioned on going along a path set by fate (events outside their control).

But every once in a while a person just like you comes along and knocks down all the obstacles that fate puts in their way.

These are the people that realise free will is a gift. But, here’s the thing - you won’t know how to use it until you unwrap it.

Therefore, one day you won’t have to follow fate because you put the effort in and tested yourself. You deserved the right to reach for your destiny instead. It isn’t an easy road, but one less travelled!

But, when something rains on your parade, dealing with it still takes courage, character, attitude and conviction. These are essential leadership qualities. What’s more, neuroscience says you can train your brain to develop these. We will explore this next.

Uh oh! - we found this monkey in your brain

Sometimes in our lives, when it rains, it pours. That can trigger one or more limiting beliefs. These are basic survival neuro-pathways that your brain can build. When a limiting belief is in play, it fires off all sorts of negative mind chatter that fills up your head with bad thoughts. For instance:

Typical, why does this always happen to me?

Why am I never worthy (or good, pretty, clever) enough?

I always get things wrong; I’m a failure, why do I never learn?

Professor Loretta Breuning, Ph.D. neuroscience expert, author and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute picks up this theme. She says, ‘when your brain senses threat it releases a spike of cortisol - the stress hormone. Cortisol is nature’s emergency alert system. That spurt arouses your survival and protection reactions to avoid a threat. Cortisol creates a bad feeling and that also sparks your limiting beliefs to get your attention.’

It is the wiring of the downstairs part of your brain that warns you of external signals of danger or anything like what has hurt you before. Loretta goes on to say, ‘if you always treat that cortisol blast as if it’s a real threat, you end up with more being triggered’ – and your negative mind chatter hijacks your brain.

So, a practical way to deal with difficult circumstances is to recognise a bad feeling as it happens. That feeling is an old neural pathway that has set off the flow of cortisol. Loretta believes the trick is that when you sense it, give your body time to dispel the cortisol release. Back to my metaphor, to dance in the rain! It is useful to find a distraction to interrupt any limiting beliefs and exit those old patterns.

You get to decide and choose in every moment. (Loretta Breuning)

Train your brain for a change - happy days

Leaders know that they are at their best when they engage their upstairs (thinking) brain. Not only is your upstairs brain infinitely capable, did you know that it also has access to your happy chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphin?

Loretta says that your upstairs brain looks for facts that make you feel good. When you engage your happy chemicals, they give you a boost. Moreover, they override the feel bad factor of cortisol. Every rain cloud has a silver lining!

Loretta recommends that you can:

Take a step toward a goal, whether a huge goal or tiny goal. This releases dopamine, the reward chemical because your brain anticipates reward instead of anticipating pain.

Stimulate oxytocin – the hug chemical too, with a little faith, take a small risk or a step toward trust (a little bit of real trust is much better than lots of fake trust).

Prompt serotonin by comparing yourself favourably with others instead of wondering what they might say and think about you.

Trigger endorphin with a belly laugh - a real laugh. So, make time for humour and things you find funny. Endorphin is released to counter pain too. So, it gives us a feeling of joy when we work hard to overcome an obstacle.

See all these in action and check out this inspired video clip of a child’s simple, but profound words on a rainy day. At the same time, it teaches us not to sweat the small stuff:

Oi, you! Yes, you. Look in the mirror - that’s who’s in your way

Here’re are ten useful tips for leaders. They help you engage the upstairs part of your brain along with your happy chemicals. They also teach you not to take yourself so seriously at work and in life:

Have a go at taking the occasional risk. Like the mother in the film, challenge your embarrassment. Nobody will care if you get a bit ‘red-faced’ once in a while

Set yourself a goal to take a few chances. For example, take time out to build your team, or present your ideas and passions to wider audiences

Drop the pretense that you are The Big Cheese. Eat a bit of humble pie for a change and start to accept other peoples’ ideas too. You might surprise yourself

To make a mistake is okay. But your fixed mindset will tell you that you aren’t capable if you fail. So tell yourself that to learn from failure leads to better success

It’s okay to lose once in a while - things don’t always work out. The trick is not to make a habit of it

Give yourself a slap on the back whenever you stop yourself being harsh and critical. Learn to feel good about others and yourself instead

The ultimate source of happiness is a positive mindset. So, see the funny side of your oversights and flaws

Be generous, kind and above all forgive others (how are you doing with that one?). Have gratitude too

Nothing is permanent

Smile, if you want a smile back.

So, work on these tips, get out of your own way and every now and again dance in the rain. Let go of the little things and don’t let problems rain on your parade!

Read this and more from Andrew Jenkins.



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