Copyright C 2003

Amidst all of the economic fears and threats that trouble businesses, governments, and communities, how can people find hope within themselves and others? I ponder this question not only because it would be nice for people to feel better but also because it's a practical way to greatly improve bottom line results.

Scans of the brain at work show that fear short circuitsour best thinking. In his book, "The Secret Life of theBrain," Richard Restak displays fascinating PET (positron emission tomography) images that show how fear focuses action in the amygdala or lower brain. This area initiates the "flight or flight" response and triggers an immediate release of adrenaline to stimulate action. The PET scan of fear also shows a corresponding reduction in activity in the cerebral cortex, which is the creative, reasoning, and relational area of the brain. So, while a fearful response is a great way to avoid an immediate physical danger-an approaching vehicle or a vicious mugger, it is a disaster for resolving tough issues that take time and thought.

These brain patterns help explain why anxious executivesand embattled public leaders bounce around from idea toidea and swat at problems rather than solve them. Theirfear blocks access to the key mental tools and techniquesthey need. What's worse, protracted fearful behaviorreinforces these patterns. In short, people get stuck in a neural rut.

The scan of a person in a hopeful frame of mind displays a dramatically different picture. This image shows a heightened level of activity in the cerebral cortex and a balanced level of activity in the lower brain. In other words, when a person is hopeful, the brain engages the creative tools and reasoning skills that support productive solutions. Thus, discovering hope amidst adversity is critically important.

So, how can people switch gears from fear to hope? Here are three effective techniques.

** Observe your patterns.

Examine closely how you behave when you are fearful andwhen you are hopeful. Identify the patterns of thought and action associated with each state. These are your cues to understanding what's going on for you and others. Are you in a state of fear? Does the situation pose an immediate physical threat or can you take some time to assess the situation and respond more thoughtfully?

** Recognize that you have a choice.

While you may not be able to change the circumstances confronting you, you can choose how you respond. Bob, the chief financial officer for a California firm struggling through a deep recession, faced a huge budget shortfall. Rather than wallow in despair, he asked the management team and board to define their hopes for the future. They focused their dollars on fulfilling those core objectives. The necessary cuts were painful, but the team preserved the heart of the organization and its future.

** Explore your hopes with others.

Fears amplify in isolation. In contrast, hopes come alivein dialogue with others. The most effective way to breakdown mistrust and barriers between people is to have themask one another about their hopes and why they areimportant. Invariably, even deeply opposed interestsdiscover that they share underlying aspirations. Thisdiscovery dissolves the fearful cycle and enablesparticipants to operate in their more constructive mode.

Understand how your emotions and brain work and choose waysto operate more effectively. You'll enjoy better resultswith others and true peace of mind.

Author's Bio: 

Don Maruska, Master Certified Coach, is the author of the just-released book "How Great Decisions Get Made: 10 Easy Steps for Reaching Agreement on Even the Toughest Issues." Learn how Fortune 500 companies, family-owned businesses, litigants, and communities have solved the toughest issues they face. The process uncovers the deepest hopes people share and builds from that foundation to quickly and effectively gain extraordinary results.

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