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stress and system overload

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Stress and System Overload

Are you experiencing stress and a system overload?

If you are, you’re not alone. It’s a big club and getting bigger every day as the business world keeps getting more complicated and taxes our ability to do more with less and less.

Today’s special guest, Steven Howard, says we’re often unaware of how stress and multitasking triggers poor thinking, poor decisions and poor outcomes. In our conversation he shares his research and offers tips on how we can flip that script.

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What You’ll Discover About Stress and System Overload (highlights & transcript):

stress and system overload* How stress and system overload hijacks decision-making [01:33]

* The difference reacting vs. responding makes in decision-making [02:05]

* Why stress and system overload contribute to drama in the workplace [03:11]

* How to stop the emotional hijacking that comes with stress and system overload [04:37]

* What to do when your boss creates stress and system overload [08:21]

* What decisions need to be made before you can engage in better thinking [09:38]

* What happens to our brain when experiencing stress and system overload [11:08]

* And MUCH more.


Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00.06] Are you experiencing stress and a system overload? Well, if you are, you’re not alone. It’s a big club and getting bigger every day as the business world keeps getting more complicated and taxes our ability to do more with less and less. Now, my next guest says we’re often unaware of how stress and multitasking triggers poor thinking, poor decisions and poor outcomes. And when we come back, he’ll share his research and how we can flip that script.


Announcer:           [00:00:31.38] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. Helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.


Hanna:                   [00:00:42.76] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Mr. Steven Howard.


Hanna:                   [00:00:50.53] Steven is the award-winning author of 21 Leadership, Business and Motivational Books and the editor of nine professional and personal development books in the Project You series. His book, Better Decisions, Better Thinking, Better Outcomes: How to Go from Mindful to Mindful Leadership, received a Silver Star award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well.”


Hanna:                   [00:01:25.60] It’s an honor and a privilege to have him join us today. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Steven.


Steven Howard:     [00:01:30.94] Thank you, Hanna. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your audience.




Hanna:                   [00:01:33.85] I’d like to just get right to it, Steven, because time is precious. How do stress and a system overload impact the decisions, business decisions that we make?


Steven:                  [00:01:44.41] Well, people tend to make snap decisions as their managers and leaders get paid to make decisions. But unfortunately, they make hasty decisions when they tend to react to situations, to people through events, rather than to respond to them. And when you react to an event, you get emotionally hijacked, and that leads to poor decision making.




Hanna:                   [00:02:05.86] When you say they react instead of respond, what would be responding? Isn’t that a form of reaction?


Steven:                  [00:02:13.48] Well, it is a form of reaction, but it’s a more planned, thoughtful form of reaction.


                              [00:02:18.70] I guess the best way to describe this would be I lived in Asia for 21 years and I learned to scuba dive when I was there. And I got certified up to rescue diver. And the first thing they teach you in rescue diving is when someone yell help, help, help. You just don’t jump off the boat into the water and swim towards them. You have to stop. You analyze or their fishing net that you can be tangled in has a jellyfish. Is there a tide that you are currently not aware of, you know, or anything else like a shark, obviously.


                              [00:02:18.70] So it’s like our first responders, when they come across a car accident, they don’t jump out of their emergency vehicles and run race to the vehicle. They check are there electrical lines down, is there a gas leak in the smoke fire or whatever. And that’s what leaders need to do. They need to stop and analyze the situation, ask good questions, really get to understand what all the facts are. And then they’re in a position to respond rather than react. And they make better decisions when they do that.




Hanna:                   [00:03:11.74] Sounds very reasonable. Now, one of the things that that you write about is that stress and our overloaded brains are two things underlying negative conflict, tension and drama in the workplace. Let’s explore a little bit about that connection.


Steven:                  [00:03:29.99] Okay, well, you know, the way the brain operates in the back part of the brain, where the amygdala is located is the emotional control center and the front part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex is our rational control center.


                              [00:03:29.99] When we get angry and then you get upset with somebody or somebody’s rubbing you the wrong way or you’re tired, you’re stressed, you haven’t got enough sleep, you have too many things to do; the amygdala takes over. And when that does, it rushes what’s called neural hormones in the brain, sort of chemical reaction. And that takes control of your decision-making process.


                              [00:04:04.22] And so now you’re making decisions from an emotional standpoint rather than a rational standpoint. And that usually is not good. And when we talk emotions, Hanna, it’s not just negative emotions, like being angry or upset or something, if you’re too happy, if you’re giddy, you also make bad decisions.


                              [00:04:21.91] This is how Las Vegas got built. People are happy, they’re elated. They’re having some drinks, having a good time. And before they know it, they’ve gambled away all their winnings because they’re making bad decisions, they don’t walk away from the table. So any kind of emotional hijacking is bad for decision people.




Hanna:                   [00:04:37.51] All right. So how do we stop the emotional hijacking from happening?


Steven:                  [00:04:41.62] Well, believe it or not, I used to think this is an old mother’s tale. I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, my mother used to tell me, you know, Steven, you can’t get angry. You can’t hit another child. You can’t throw something across the room, count to 10.


                              [00:04:56.62] Well, scientists now know from the MRI technology that they have access to that it takes roughly eight seconds when you make that conscious decision to be going around and get myself under control. It takes roughly eight seconds for the prefrontal cortex to take over from the amygdala and the emotional hijacking that you’re feeling. Well, that’s roughly counting to 10.


[00:05:17.89] So, you know, all of us, every one of us, you, me, everyone listening to your program said at one time like I was so angry, I couldn’t think straight. And that’s literally true when you get that angry. And the neural hormones are rushing through your brain and all these chemicals are happening to you. You can’t think straight. And so the way to do is to pause, because, as I said earlier, ask good questions, cause count to 10. Look out the window. Look at Mother Nature, do purposeful breathing or anything like that to get yourself physically under control and mentally under control.


Hanna:                   [00:05:51.29] Well, that sounds really good. But let’s say you’re in the workplace and somebody just pushed your buttons and you’re trying to count to 10. But in the meantime, they just pushed another one, a bigger one.


Steven:                  [00:06:07.74] That’s how conflicts start.


Hanna:                   [00:06:10.34] Exactly. Exactly. So when – when a situation is escalating and even when you reflect on it, you know, the next day or after you slept on it, and you say to yourself, how did it get so out of hand so fast? Because you’re saying something that triggers them. They’re triggering you more. And before you know it, a lot of really stupid things get said.


Steven:                  [00:06:34.46] Absolutely. And that’s because and that’s because our brains are not working rationally until we react. So the best thing I give them a real quick little story that happened in Texas in a major multi-national, two very senior people in an organization.


                              [00:06:48.26] We’re talking one we will call your good old boy, your good old Texas boy worked out in the field all his life. Now he’s in the office environment and not college educated and a woman, highly educated, college educated, I think an MBA in business or something. Anyway, they were having a conversation, got heated about the strategy, and he looked at her and as he was talking, he said, whoa, slow down there, little lady.


                              [00:07:15.21] Well, you can imagine now she could have reacted one or two ways. She could have just flipped off and just said no. But what she did, and this is what people need to do is know your triggers. She looked at them, said, you know what, I do not appreciate your tone of voice. I do not appreciate what you just said. I’m going to go down the hall and get a cup of coffee. I’ll be back in five minutes if your attitude is changed. And if your words have changed, we can continue this conversation. Otherwise, this conversation is over.


[00:07:42.74] And that’s exactly what she did. And so she went down and got her coffee, came back, and boy, he realized what a mistake he’d made. He got emotionally hijacked or whatever. You should’ve said that he apologized profusely and. Okay, you know, let’s continue the conversation. And they did.


[00:07:57.63] And that kind of assertiveness in the workplace to say, wait a second, that’s not acceptable. I’m not going to let you talk to me like this. I’m going to walk down the hall. I’ll be back in three minutes, five minutes, whatever it is. We can continue this conversation or we don’t have to continue this conversation. But don’t react to the person. Be assertive, don’t react to aggression with aggression, because that’s how things spiral out of control.




Hanna:                   [00:08:21.29] That’s great advice. But let’s put this scenario in play. The person that’s saying the little lady comment to you is someone in a higher position of authority. Maybe it’s your boss, a supervisor, someone more senior than you. You tell them to take five?


Steven:                  [00:08:38.93] I coach people to take five, although I will tell them, look, you have to make a judgment call. If taking five would be a career, a career disaster. Obviously, you don’t want to kill your career.


[00:08:50.57] Look, we’ve all had toxic bosses in the workplace. I’ve had toxic bosses. And sometimes you just have to put your head down and live with it. But you’re better to walk away than to, like I said, like the toxic boss’ aggression with your own aggression. You cannot kind of just say just be quiet. In that case, if that what you want me to do, that’s what I’ll do. Eventually you’re going to leave that organization or you’re going to leave that boss. And most people leave bosses first and then organization second.


[00:09:18.14] The worst thing to do though is to fight back with aggression, assertiveness yes, aggression no but you don’t want to kill your career. And there are situations like that. There are people who get promoted that you shake your head and think, how the heck did this person get in this position of leadership because they couldn’t lead themselves out of a paper bag. But unfortunately, that happens. That’s life.




Hanna:                   [00:09:38.93] Yep, unfortunately does. Yeah. Yeah, I have to – I have to admit that when I first read the title of your book, Better decisions, better thinking, better outcomes, it struck me as a little backwards that better thinking leads to better decisions and outcomes. Yet you focus on the decision part first. So what’s up with that? How does that work?


Steven:                  [00:10:00.73] Yeah, that’s a great question, Hanna. And I love the way you thought about that. The first thing is the first decision is to say, I’m not going to get emotionally hijacked. And so that’s your first decision. And then if you do that, if you say, Okay, I’m going to get myself in control, I’m in, I’m going to make a rational decision here or I know I’m stressed, I may postpone the decision till tomorrow. That’s the first decision you make.


[00:10:25.76] When you make that decision then you can have better thinking and then you can have better outcomes. A couple of years ago, my girlfriend, we were in the car driving somewhere, and she had a phone call from her mom and her mom wanted her to do one thing. Her son wanted to do another thing. And quite frankly, I wanted to do a third thing. And there was no way she could have pleased all of us. She literally froze and I told her to pull to the side of the road.


[00:10:46.80] You can’t make a decision like that. And then we talked about the process. I said, why don’t you just think about it for half an hour? You’ll get a cup of coffee.


[00:10:5.15] Think of the pros and cons of all these options. You can have any other options that you might think of. And she did. And she ended up making a decision that kind of made everyone happy, but most importantly, made her happy. And so this is what happens when we get overloaded.




[00:11:08.94] When we get overloaded, our brain wants to go into what we call binary decision making, A or B, one or two, yes or no, black or white, this or that. And often when we may have to make important decisions, we need more options available to us. And that was her problem. She knew she had, yes, her mom wants to do A; her son wanted her to do B; quite frankly, I kind of wanted her to do A plus B equals C, and she just couldn’t comprehend that at the time.


[00:11:34.53] But take your time, pause – sometimes a hot beverage is kind of a nice thing to do and go out and try. As I said before, watch the trees go in the wind or whatever. And now look at all your options. And now you’re making a purposeful decision rather than a reactionary decision.




Hanna:                   [00:11:52.35] So the decision you’re talking about in your title isn’t necessarily the decision that you’re – you’re trying to wrestle with. It’s about how to go about the analysis about the process as opposed to reacting to respond.


Steven:                  [00:12:05.91] Absolutely. Absolutely. Great and great – great summation. Yeah. So the first decision you make is I’m going to control my decision-making process now. I can think better. Now I can think better. And then if I think better, I’d likely get better outcomes.


Hanna:                   [00:12:21.66] Well, I understand that you did a lot of research for this book. This isn’t something that’s like a collection of blog posts. You actually dove into this, which I’m you know, I’m very glad because there’s so many things that pass for a book these days. So tell me about that research. What surprised you going into it?


Steven:                  [00:12:41.49] A couple of things. One, I started because I was the primary caregiver for my father in the last few years of his life, and he had some early Alzheimer’s. So I started to try to understand what he was experiencing and how I could be a better caregiver for him. And then after he passed, I thought, well, you know, am I going to get this as well. Is this my future? Did I just watch my future before my eyes?


[00:13:02.47] And so the research I did, yes, there is a DNA component of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but it’s not the key factor. The key factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia is lifestyle factors, much like for heart disease. I just kept getting into this. And now I realize how these things impact the decisions that we make, particularly in the business world. And it just kind of came together from that, I started talking to business leaders about this.


[00:13:27.06] And so I think you realize that, you know, the way you’re making decisions can impact your long-term brain health. And they all said to me, I’ll worry about it when I’m in my 60s. I’ll worry about it when I retire. And then when I start to tell them, no, it’s impacting your bottom line today; they started listening to me.


[00:13:44.52] And so it was putting it in that perspective that our long-term brain health, which starts in our 30s and 40s, not in our 60s and 70s, and stress both impacts our – the way we make decisions and the way we make decisions – not the decisions we make. It’s the way we make decisions impacts our bottom line. Now, I had the attention of business leaders and that’s how the book came together.




Hanna:                   [00:14:07.65] Aha. So you mentioned that our brain health is not something we should be putting off until we retire, but something that we should be nurturing along the way. So how do we do that?


Steven:                  [00:14:19.74] It’s lifestyle. You know, I’ll give you some of the research statistics on men in their 40s who tack on the most abdominal fat, have the highest risk for dementia in their 60s and 70s. Smoking, obviously.


 [00:14:34.08] I mean, the reason for all this is the brain is the biggest user of oxygen and the biggest user of blood in our system. And so obviously, anything that can impact your lungs like smoking is going to reduce the flow of oxygen to your brain. And that’s going to have some long-term negative effects.


[00:14:51.36] Same thing with obesity, with high cholesterol, with blood sugar, high blood sugar, high blood pressure. You know, high blood pressure reduces the flow of blood to the brain. And, you know, that’s not going to be good for your long-term brain health. So it’s really the things we do to our bodies in our 30s and 40s. This is what surprised me the most.


[00:15:11.61] Going back to your previous question is if I had I had known these things in my 30s and 40s, I would have really changed my lifestyle because what we do in our 30s and 40s is coming back…


[00:15:21.30] …in our brain health in our 60s, 70s, even 80s. The other thing, Hanna that surprised me when I was in high school, I was taught that our brain stops growing somewhere in our early 20s. That’s not true.


[00:15:33.57] Scientists now know again through the imaging technology that we continue to grow brain still cells, what’s called neuroplasticity. Well, into our 60s and 70s, probably into our 80s and 90s, there’s just not enough 80-year-old and 90-year-old to test. So that’s the other surprising thing is our brains would continue -continue to generate new brain cells well into our 60s and 70s.


[00:15:57.44] So, again, if you’re not in the 30s and 40s anymore, that’s okay. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. Or the second-best time is the day. I tell people the best time to start your brain health is in your 30s and 40s. The second-best time is today. So start today. It’s never too late to get on the path to better brain health.


Hanna:                   [00:16:18.47] Great advice. Is there a single takeaway that you’d like people to have from your book? Better Decisions, Better Thinking, Better Outcomes?


Steven:                  [00:16:28.01] Yes, there is. I’m a bit evangelistic about it so that thanks for asking then. That’s not the reason I do these interviews and wrote the book also was not just for the business people about making decisions.


[00:16:37.19] It’s really the same. We just talk about that brain health. Before the pandemic, the American Health Association estimated that dementia, Alzheimer’s and stroke would increase in the United States by 67 percent between 2020 and 2030.


[00:16:55.69] Now, this is pre pandemic. As you said, at the top of your show, we’re all under stress, stresses increasing for the last 14 or 15 months. We’re all under prolonged stress. So that number is only going to go up. Their projection was that in the year 2030, there’d be 10 million Americans and 76 million people around the world suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.


[00:17:17.27] And again, pre pandemic estimates, again, those numbers are going to go up. I think the one takeaway is, yes, you don’t want to be part of that 10 million here in the United States. You want to be – you don’t want to be part of that 76 million worldwide, and you can do things to stop it.


[00:17:31.22] Look at these tips in the book about lifestyle changes; exercise, for instance, you don’t need to run a half marathon or a marathon. Walking 20 minutes four or five times a week is one of the best things you do. Get off the couch. Don’t be sedentary. You sit around all day on phone calls. The more you sit and this is research from UCLA in California, if you sit the longer the more you sit throughout the day, your brain actually will shrink and will not grow as large or not grown larger as – as thick as people who are more active.


[00:18:02.74] So don’t, you know, don’t have an inactive lifestyle. Exercise, watch your diet, watch your cholesterol. Basically everything that’s good for your heart is good for your brain. So that’s the one takeaway I hope people – people have is you -you don’t want to be part of the statistics. You don’t have to be.


Hanna:                   [00:18:21.14] No, we want to flip that script to have better decisions and absolutely so. Thank you, Steven. This has really been an eye opener.


[00:18:30.92] And if you’re listening and you’d like to contact Steven and learn more about his research and how to contact him and learn about his book, Better decisions, better thinking, better outcomes, not to mention the other 20 something books that he’s written and edited, come over to


[00:18:49.82] The show notes will have all of those links for you. And if you know someone who could benefit from his – his advice, someone who’s under a tremendous amount of stress that you don’t want to see struggling, someone who needs to be able to make better decisions then by all means, tell them about today’s episode. Share the link to the show.


[00:19:08.33] Leave a positive review so others can benefit from it as well. Do that on your podcast app or come on over to and leave your comments so that people can benefit from it as well.


[00:19:23.75] You’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner.


 [00:19:27.80] Have a great day and an even better tomorrow.

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Guest: Steven Howard

Steven Howard

Steven is the award-winning author of 21 leadership, business, and motivational books and the editor of nine professional and personal development books in the Project You series. His latest book is How Stress and Anxiety Impact Your Decision Making.

His book Better Decisions. Better Thinking. Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. He also wrote Leadership Lessons from the Volkswagen Saga, which won three prestigious publishing industry awards (2017 Independent Press Award, National Indie Excellence Award, and San Francisco Book Festival Award). He is also the author of Great Leadership Words of Wisdom.

Howard is well-known and recognized for his truly international and multicultural perspective, having lived in the USA for over 30 years, in Singapore for 21 years, and in Australia for 12 years. He currently resides in Southern California.

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