Complete Coherence’s CEO Dr. Alan Watkins’ TEDx Talk: Being Brilliant Every Single Day (Part 1) at TEDxPortsmouth Conference (Full Transcript)
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Thank you very much, Lee. So I’m going to talk to you about you, and how you can be brilliant every single day. So, big ask. I spent the last 15 years working with some of the best CEOs and executives around the world and one of my observations is some of them were absolutely fantastic. But the problem is they can’t be fantastic every single day. Which reminds me of the story.
I was sat on the couch at home watching the TV about five years ago. Not that I’m a golfer, but I was watching the British Open, and a very good golfer called Sergio Garcia was playing and he had been brilliant all week, dominating the field, and it came to the last round and he was sort of fantastic. And on a Sunday morning in the front nine he scored 39 shots. And the previous day, on a Saturday, he’d scored 29 shots, on exactly the same holes. So, overnight he’d lost 10 shots on the same hole.
So what happened was Padraig Harrington came past him and won the British Open. And very interestingly, exactly a year later Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia. I think it was in the US Masters. Sergio played brilliantly all week, he got to the Sunday, and something went wrong. He was leading the field by six shots and on the Sunday, again, Padraig Harrington came past him.
So that was sort of really interesting to me and Peter Alliss, the famous golf commentator is watching this and says, “It’s a funny old game, golf.” As though it’s a complete mystery why these things happen, as there was a complete loss of form. So I’m there shouting at the television, it’s no mystery to me. Actually I know why that happened, and I know why Sergio Garcia basically between 2007 and 2008 really didn’t learn that much. Because he made exactly the same mistake in 2008 that he made in 2007.
So I’m going to share with you the secret about that. Some of the things that we’ve been teaching executives, bringing in some neuroscience which is my background and going to reveal some secrets as to how your system works. So we’re going to go through that and then I’m going to break with TED tradition at the end of the talk and we’re going to have a bit of live demonstration of something.
But I want to just give you the sort of model that we work to that starts to explain why Sergio or anybody may lose performance or why you may lose performance and what you need to do to maintain your brilliance every single day.
So if we’re all after the same goal, we’re after improving our performance in some way, or the results in some way. And it doesn’t really matter what kind of results we’re talking about, whether we’re talking about sporting results, whether we’re talking about business results, academic performance, relationship performance, sexual performance — I don’t know why I’m looking at Simon when I say that.
But whatever we’re talking about, what is going to improve our performance — Well first and foremost, in order to change the result you’ve got so focus on people’s behavior. So we’ve got to do things differently in order to get a different result.
So most performance appraisals in industry focus on what you’ve been doing. So you go in and you see your boss. And he said, Oh, I’ve got some 360 data. You’ve been doing these kind of things, that’s really good. These are the things, not so good, so a bit less of that please and more of that. So I want you to do that, and less of that. And sometimes that actually works, and then you get a different result.
But an awful lot of times it doesn’t make much difference or it will only make a difference if the leaders stood over that employee cracking a whip and making sure they do this. So it’s necessary but insufficient, and the reason being is that even when people know what to do, sometimes they just don’t do it. “I know I want to make another 1000 calls to 1000 customers, but, you know what, it’s Friday afternoon, I’m not going to do that.”
So it’s not enough just to focus on what you can see on the surface, on the behaviors. You’ve got to really get to grips with what’s on the inside of individuals. Why do people do what they do? If you really want to change performance permanently, and be brilliant every single day, you’ve got to get to grips with the inside.
So first and foremost what’s actually driving behavior, it’s how people think. So how you think determines on what you do. So when I’m coaching a CEO, if he thinks I’m an idiot, he’s not going to do what I say, why would he? Or if he thinks what I’m saying is rubbish, he won’t do it. So I’ve got to get a grip of what he thinks about. In fact, that requires me to ask him some questions, which is a lot more complicated than just observing the behavior.
But our view is if you don’t get to grips and start to ask some more detailed questions, you won’t get a sustainable change in the results. It won’t last, you’ll get this variance in performance — this form loss. So you’ve got to get to grips with how people think about you, about what you’re saying, about the world. But even if you did, it’s not enough, because it’s something more fundamental driving how people think.
So how you think is really hugely influenced by how you feel. In fact these two things affect each other. Thinking affects feeling and feeling affects thinking. It goes back and forward in a loop. But the dominant factor really is feeling. So for a whole bunch of neuroscientific reasons we haven’t got time to explain. Actually if you want to change what people do, you’ve got to change their thinking. If you want to change their thinking, you actually have to change how they feel. This is a much more significant impact on that than the other way around.
So if you feel anxious, for example, it’s no good me saying to you, “Don’t worry.” You’ll have experienced that doesn’t work. Or I’m doing this exam. “Don’t worry.” “Oh, you know what, I hadn’t thought not to worry. That’s the answer then. Ah I’m not worried. Oh good, how much was that? There’s the check.” It doesn’t work like that. You’ve all experienced that if you feel anxious, you feel anxious and no amount of “don’t worry” is going to help you. In fact, it often makes you worse. “All right, you say ‘don’t worry,’ I’m worried.” So the real active ingredient is you’ve got to change this. Still not enough.
There’s something more fundamental driving how you feel and that is your raw emotion. So you’ve got to change the emotion in order to change the feeling in order to change the thinking. Now you maybe sat there wondering, “Well hang on a minute. Feelings and emotions, that’s the same stuff, isn’t it?” It is not.
So many people don’t realize, and particularly, many of my own friends in science and medicine, don’t realize that feelings and emotions are not the same thing. In fact, many people don’t even realize that feelings and thinking are not the same thing, particularly men.
So you ask many men to tell you how they feel and they tell you how they think because they don’t understand the question. You see most of the women in room nodding, “That’s true, that’s true. That’s been my experience.” And most of the men sat there going, “What? What’s he talking about?” These are not the same phenomena. Thinking and feeling are not the same thing. And feelings and emotions are not the same thing.
So if you want to change the result by changing the behavior, there are multiple levels. And even if you got to grips with the emotion, it’s still enough. There’s something even more fundamental. Down here in the basement of the human system is your physiology.
So the reason you get variance like Sergio did in his performance is there are multiple levels that Sergio Garcia hasn’t got control over. He’s just concentrating on his technical putting performance or the way that he drives the ball. And he hasn’t got a grip of any of this other stuff, even if he’s telling himself and rehearsing mentally, “I’m a good golfer. I’m a good golfer. I’m a good golfer.” It’s not enough because there are still three levels that he hasn’t got a grip of.
So if you want to be brilliant every single day, you’ve got to get a grip of every single level. And that’s how you crank out your A-game every single day. So let’s just work from the back to the top.
So if we start with physiology, what is that? That is just simply streams of data. That’s all physiology is. It’s data streams. So as I’m talking to you right now, most of you are getting streams of data coming into your brain about what’s going on in your body. So some of you had the cupcake at the break, and you’ll be getting a signal from your gut saying, “Oh sugar. We got sugar.”
And it’s coming into your brain telling your brain what’s going on in your gut. Some of you then are getting contractions around that cupcake, so you’ve got pressure waves being created telling your brain about what’s going on in your gut. So these are all just bits of physiology. These are just data streams. As some of you might write or type, you’ve got joint position sense going up the nerve channels into your brain telling your brain about where your fingers are. They’re just bits of physiology. So this is just streams of data, if you will.
So what’s an emotion? Well an emotion, if you take all the streams of data, whether it’s coming from your gut, or your joints, or your heart, or your lungs, if you take the data from all the streams, all the bodily systems, and it comes into your brain as electrical signals, electromagnetic signals, chemical waves, pressure waves. Take all of those signals from all of those systems, that’s what an emotion is. It’s simply energy, E, in motion. That’s all an emotion is.
So we all have that, even us fellows. We’ve all got emotions. Every second of every day there is an energetic state going through us. Because we’re constantly digesting, we’re constantly breathing in and out, our heart’s constantly beating. It’s happening all the time. So we’ve got energy in motion every single second of every single day. But we may not all have feelings. Feelings are the awareness in our mind of that energy. And that’s where the problem is. The energy may be there, but we just don’t feel it.
So for example, if you take a very common experience of most people, if we look at what is the energetic signature, if you will, of something like anxiety? So what goes on physiologically when we’re in a state of anxiety? If we look at the heart rate, it’s fast. The heart’s going, “boom – boom – boom – boom — boom.” What else is happening? What’s happening in the mouth? The mouth is dry. So you’re talking as though you’ve got co– co– wooly can’t get the, that’s happening. What’s happening in the palms of your hand? They’re sweaty. What’s happening in the gut? It’s churning. These are the specific physiological constituents of that thing that you would know as anxiety.
And I’ll ask you, how did you feel? And you say, “All right.” So all that data is there. You’re just not feeling it. And if you’re not feeling it, it’s altering what you’re thinking and how well you’re thinking it, which is changing what you’re doing. But you don’t realize that because you feel all right. You’re not noticing any of that. You’re just thinking what you’re thinking and doing what you’re doing.
So what we’re saying is that the brilliance every day requires on you to tune in to what’s happening down here at the physiological and the emotional level, and not only become aware of that but get control over it. Because most of you do not have the control at that level. In fact, very few people have got control of any of this stuff on the inside. Even when people have been highly trained on regulating their behavior, even they haven’t got that much control over this. So that’s the source of your brilliance.
If you can get control of the whole thing, you can crank out your A-game every single day. So how do you get control? Well first we’re going to start with which bit of the physiology, given that so many different signals, where are we going to start? Well we’re going to start with one specific signal, which is the electrical signal of your heart.
So your heart beats. So when your heart beats, “ping, ping, ping, ping.” If you watch the medical programs before it goes, “beep,” which it always does, doesn’t it? So the ping is — the heart basically contracts and causes a spike of electricity. And you can measure the distance between each heartbeat. And I don’t know whether you know, but the distance between each heartbeat varies over time. So if we look at your heart rate over time, we’ll see that your heart rate will vary up and down like that. And if you go to your doctor, he takes your pulse rate and he says your average is 70. But in taking the average, he’s ignoring all the variance. And it’s the variance that really matters.
Taking the average, you lose all the critical data. That’s like listening to Mozart and saying the average is, “daaaaaa.” Was that Mozart or was it Pearl Jam? Okay, we don’t know. So it’s the variance, or something that’s called heart rate variability, that’s key.
Heart rate variability is key for three reasons. Number one, it predicts your death. So if I measure your variability for 24 hours, I can tell when you’re going to die. So now I have your attention. All right. So we tell this to organizations. Do you know what? They don’t care. So we can’t sell them on that. So the other reason is it predicts — if we measure HRV for 24 hours, it can tell you how much energy you have got. Which is sort of interesting to leaders, because leaders need lots of energy. But the real reason that they buy and they’re interested in this is because HRV alters brain function.
So when I put you under pressure, what basically happens to your HRV is it becomes super chaotic. So basically, your brain receives a signal from your heart up the nerve channels, which when under pressure becomes super chaos. The consequence of the super chaos is it shuts off your frontal lobes and you have a DIY lobotomy. So under pressure, you lobotomize yourself. It’s as though you’ve suddenly taken the stupid pills and you’ve gone like that.
So I thought we’d just show that to you for a live demonstration. To show you how easy it is to create chaos in your biology, whether you want it to happen or not. So we need a willing volunteer for this moment. So just come and sit in the chair, and I’m going to show you how to be brilliant by showing you your physiology. So we need a volunteer just to come up, if you would. And all we’re going to do is just put a little clip on your earlobe. So thank you very much. Give him a round of applause, by way of encouragement. Thank you. What’s your name?
[Neil: Neil Nelson.]
So Neil is very kind. He has no idea what we’re going to be doing to him, so this is really very brave. So first of all, we’re going to make sure Neil is alive. So is his heart beating? So you can see that every time his heart contracts, it squirts blood up into his ears and his ears go red. Between contractions, all the blood drains out and his ears go white. So if you look at the person sitting next to you, you can actually see their ears flashing: red, white, red, white. Actually you can’t see that, because your eyes aren’t sensitive enough.
But what this little clip on Neil’s ear can see, is we can see the change in color. Here’s red, here’s white. Here’s red, here’s white. Here’s red, here’s white. So this is a heartbeat. So it’s good news now. You’re alive, mate. The heart’s beating away. Boom – boom – boom – boom – boom — boom. So the heart’s beating. And so what the software does, it measures the distance between each of those beats. And based on the distance between this beat and this beat, it calculates its heart rate and says it’s 76. And it calculates it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. And you can see that his heart rate bobbling along about 75 beats per minute. So pretty relaxed. Sat in a chair, your heart rate should be doing about 75 beats per minute.
Okay, so what we’re going to do in a moment is we’re going to put him under a little bit of pressure and see how well he copes with that kind of pressure. Are you good under pressure, Neil?
[Neil: I don’t know yet.]
We don’t know. Well we’re just about to find that out, aren’t we? So let’s see how well he does under pressure. So we haven’t started yet, and already his heart rate is creeping up to about 90. So he says, “What are we going to do here?” So we’re going to give you some mathematics. How good are you at mathematics?
[Neil: Quite good.]
Oh he’s quite good. This will be no trouble, right? So he thinks he’s quite good, but his heart rate’s now — I’m good. I’m quite good. He’s gone off the charts and now he’s settling back down. You can see there’s a lot of chaos going through his system right now. So even though, “I’m good at this,” that is a natural physiological response to a challenge. You put somebody under pressure, the physiology, whether he wants it to happen or not. You see, he might look like he’s in control. He is not. In fact, I am the puppet master. I’m pulling his strings, whether he wants me to do that or not. So at the moment, there’s a bit of uncertainty. The physiology is sort of settled around about 80. Slightly higher than it was before because he doesn’t know what’s going to happen.
So let’s see how well his brain actually functions under pressure. So let’s see how good at that math he really was. So what you’re going to do is, you’re going to count out loud backwards subtracting threes. I’m going to start you off at a certain number. I want you to take away three and then give me the answer. Take away three again, give me the answer. Take away another three, give me the answer. And keep going, serial subtractions of threes without making a mistake. And if you make a mistake it’s 50 quid. Okay, so financial penalty for every error.
Okay. So is that all right with you? So no problem at all. We’re going to count out loud backwards subtracting three’s, the mention of 50 quid look the heart rates crept up here to 120. Just the tension in the system, so again, I’m just talking to him, that’s all that’s happening. And actually by me just talking to him, a physiology chaos is kicking in and that’s going to be sending a signal from his heart to his brain. It’s going to be inhibiting his brain function, we’ll see there, as fast as you can without making a mistake say your subtraction of three’s starting off at 300, go, come on 300.
Come on, faster, 286…., 275, 273… Well done. Give him a round of applause everybody. So what you can see is when I started to feed in the wrong answers, 280, what, what…it’s called cortical inhibition, or frontal lobe shutdown. So under pressure the frontal lobe shuts down in the simplest of tasks. Subtract three from that number. Can’t do it, that is happening to all of you when you’re under pressure. Your brain is built this way, so one of the things you need to learn to do is to get control of that physiological level and switch from a chaotic signal to what’s called coherent.
So the thing that underpins brain function is the ability to generate a coherent signal. So there’s variance, but it’s stable variance as opposed to wildly fluctuant variance. And that is the source of your brilliance.
So thank you very much.