Manage Your Ego Or It’ll Manage You!October 14, 2019
The Neuroscience of MotivationOctober 28, 2019
Secrets. We all have them, and everyone you know is keeping secrets. The question is: What does that do to your brain?
One of our clients recently had to let an executive go for non-performance reasons. The tricky part was the executive was well-loved in the organization. A large number of the employees reported up through his department. Prior to the termination, my client had to keep a secret of it. This meant he had to self-censor, to watch what he said to whom and when. He had to be careful not to reveal the secret when long-term plans were discussed. All the while, he knew that the to-be-terminated executive would not be a part of them.
At times our client felt anxious and a little depressed. He realized he obsessively thought about it, and he felt inauthentic as he waited for the right timing to proceed with the termination.He also felt isolated.
If you’ve had to keep a secret before, you’re likely familiar with those reactions. How did your secret make you feel?
The True Cost of Keeping A Secret—it’s Not What You Think
First, 97% of people have one or more secrets at any given time. But most common is 13 secrets per person…whoa! Secrets included workplace secrets (like pending terminations or promotions), personal life secrets (like surprise parties and dark or controversial family secrets). These secrets have different categories. They include simple preferences (maybe you don’t like your mother-in-law’s casserole, but pretend you do) or full-out breaches of trust (like infidelity or even embezzlement).
So what does keeping a secret do to your brain?
Here are the 2 biggest problems I see (and notice the research backs them too):
- Secrets damages your well-being. Think back to my client above. The energy it took to resist, to self-censoring, the rumination (the repetitive thinking about it) were difficult. The anxiety and depression in anticipating what would happen when the secret would be revealed also took an enormous toll on him. His emotional resilience was reduced significantly. He noticed he was more irritable, and wasn’t sleeping as well, so he was experiencing what we call REM rip-off. This negatively impacted his behavior further.
- Secrets damage your focus and decision-making. When you’re distracted by a secret, you aren’t fully present. Then your cognitive biases will likely take over, and you’ll have less behavioral choice. You may be telling yourself scary stories instead of being able to reframe what’s happening and how you feel. To make matters worse, you’re out of rapport with yourself, too.
Since you’re experiencing the opposite of being mindful, here’s what’s happening in your brain:
- Your amygdala is on overdrive (irritability, quick to drop into fight/flight/freeze).
- The hippocampus is compromised due to the stress of excessive cortisol, which then cause excessive cytokines, so learning, memory, and immune system are compromised.
- Your pre-frontal cortex is likely offline a great deal since you’re in Critter State. This means your ability to communicate, collaborate, innovate–basically be your personal best–is down the tubes.
So what to do?
Reveal Your Secret To A Trusted Source
Find out which of these is trapping your secret. Our client was feeling guilty about having to let the executive go, as he knew he’d disappoint some of the staff. But for all the others, he’d usher in a new world order that would be more empowering and positive. He was feeling some shame for not having dealt with this sooner. And he was also blaming the executive for not fixing the behaviors he had repeatedly asked him to.
My client suffered for 2 weeks, then his wife urged him to call me. When he did, we worked through his painful emotions and ruminations with some potent brain-based processes. He was able to re-establish rapport with himself, and to create a positive outcome for the situation. Once his well-being was considerably restored, we could move on to strategy. We planned who he’d talk with, when they’d talk, and the key messages he would use to keep everyone calm when they heard the termination news.
- Secrets cause isolation and hurt us emotionally
- They also affect our performance, focus, decision-making ability
- Share your challenging secret to get a fresh perspective and stop suffering!
What secrets do you have? What story are you telling yourself that keeps you isolated with them?
Christine Comaford is a leadership and culture coach who helps businesses achieve growth. She’d love to connect with you on her new podcast, Crack the Behavior Code.