How rewards from your youth affect your performance today

As children, we quickly learn that our actions will receive either a positive or negative response from our parents. Since the brain is built for reward, we learn to avoid the reprimands from our parents and aim for praise and recognition.

With that in mind, let’s look at some advice that you may have received from your parents that may affect your performance today:

Don’t be selfish . As children we are taught to share our toys and not to be selfish.

As adults however, this advice may play out as caring for everyone in the team, before caring for yourself, so you risk burning out.

You may need to reframe the word ‘selfish’ as ‘self-care’. I advise managers to put their own oxygen masks on first, before helping others in their team. If you don’t care for yourself first, you may not have enough energy to care for your team. The healthier and happier you are, the more you can help others.

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it. We are taught to be kind and nice to our friends and family.

As adults however, we may not be able to give critical feedback to our team members as we don’t want to offend anyone. We want to be nice.

Reframe giving any form of critical feedback as that of giving a gift. Feedback can be given kindly, yet firmly, and quite frankly, without it your team members are unable to grow and learn new ways of working, that will help them develop in the long run.

Respect your elders . As children we are told to respect our parents, grandparents, older siblings and extended family.

As an adult you may respect hierarchy and find yourself silently sitting in the boardroom. You may believe that the other, more senior people in the room need to be respected, leaving you with little or nothing to add. The way you act and react in situations today, is often the result of years of hardwiring and affects your performance.

A client related how powerless she felt to voice her opinion to senior peers, even though she was the project lead and had to offer her advice and guidance. She didn’t want to speak her mind because she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. As a child, her mother had told her she should hold her superiors in high regard.

My client was hardwired ‘not to challenge’ and to ‘act respectfully around her superiors’, albeit that she disagreed with them and knew her advice was sound.

Irrespective whether you are the youngest or least experienced person in the room, you must remember that you have been invited to the meeting for a reason. Withholding good advice can be more harmful than saying nothing at all.

A good place to start understanding why you may act and react in the way that you do is to:

Become aware of where your emotions, thoughts and feelings stem from, and challenge them.

Ask yourself ‘How does this behaviour reward me?’ Remember that there is reward in all of your behaviour, albeit that you may find it less useful today.

Reframe your old ideas into positive actions that reward you today.

When you start to understand where your natural responses stem from, you can begin to change your reactions in the moment and improve your performance.

Taking time to Reflect in 2022

Reflection is one of the most underestimated, yet powerful activities that we can gift ourselves. It’s a brilliant way to become aware of what drives you, what and who triggers you, and what your standard responses and ‘bad habits’ may be. It can help you on your way to self-awareness and eventually self-care.

To learn more about who I am, what informs my coaching, and hear me talk about AURA, please watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tvJELn7NOk.

Today I’m sharing my own approach to Reflection, AURA.

By learning to slow down, and reflecting with the AURA approach, you start to understand where your natural responses take you. Ask yourself ‘what happened in a situation and ‘what you could have done differently? Get in touch with your feelings. How did the situation make you feel? Does a specific person ‘bring out the worst in you?

You will need to apply what you have learned, so the next time you’re in a similar situation, you will have a different response to hand, to try out. Don’t however get frustrated. Change is not easy and your brain will want to take the road most traveled and you may fall into old habits.

Without change, you stay stuck in old patterns and you will get the same result. However, understanding where your ‘programmed responses’ stem from, can help you to take a more emotionally intelligent stance in your next encounter.

What can we learn from past experiences?

The way we act and react in situations today, is often the result of years of hardwiring.

This week, a client related how powerless she felt to voice her opinion to senior peers, even though she was the project lead and had to offer her advice and guidance.

She didn’t want to speak her mind because she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. As a child, her mother told her she should hold her superiors in high regard.

If you have a strong memory of an experience, you may have hardwired a response in your brain.

My client was hardwired ‘not to challenge’ and to ‘act respectfully around her superiors’, albeit that she disagreed with them and knew her advice was sound.

In instances like this, our amygdala is getting in our way. The amygdala is our fight, flight or freeze mechanism. I like to call it our ‘caveman brain’. Anytime the caveman sees danger, it will sound the alarm in your brain, to make sure that you defend yourself; whether that means saying nothing (flight or freeze) or becoming defensive (fight).

The caveman chooses to protect us in situations that seem familiar or that it considers risky. The problem with the amygdala, is that it often bases its reaction on past experiences that are not relevant to our current situation.

My client was confusing hierarchy with the nature of her role and whilst she has no reason to fear her peers, her caveman (the amygdala) was ‘forcing her’ to always react in the same way she always does i.e. acting respectfully and avoiding any form of possible conflict.

Often just acknowledging the ‘caveman’s presence’ is enough. It’s like saying, ‘Hey there caveman. I hear you, but this is not a scary situation. I can handle this!’

Next time, she will remember to breathe and to act in the way that she intended i.e. being respectful whilst challenging her peers, offering sound advice and hammering out the best solution for their mutual client.

Becoming aware of where your emotions, thoughts and feelings stem from and challenging them, is a good start to understanding why you may act and react the way that you do.

Your strengths are not what you think they are!

Throughout your life, you may have been fooled to believe that your strengths are what you are good at and your weaknesses are what you are bad at. 

But, that’s not entirely true!

I’m sure, that if you were to list your strengths right now, that there would be a number of activities on that list that you don’t even enjoy doing. If you’re good at something, that’s performance; it’s not a strength, and as such you are the least qualified to identify your strengths, because you’re not the best judge of your own performance.

So let’s look at this slightly differently. 

Think of yourself as a Superhero. Your strengths are activities that strengthen you, and your weaknesses are activities that weaken you, much like kryptonite. If you define a strength as an activity that strengthens you, then the person most qualified to identify your strengths is you.

Those tasks that you put off and don’t like doing – those are your weaknesses – even if you are GOOD at doing them.

I challenge you to keep a log this coming week. On one side of your log, write LOVED it and the other side write LOATHED it. Each time you look forward to carrying out an activity and it gives you pleasure and energy, log it under LOVED it; these are tasks that strengthen you. Every time you procrastinate about a task, delegate it to someone else or feel exhausted when you’ve done it, log this under LOATHED it; these are tasks that weaken you.

You may find yourself becoming more aware of what your true strengths are, and you can start really enjoying what you do and adding lots more value at work!