February 2016 – McKinsley & Co Podcast Transcript
Featuring Manish Chopra
“Leaders of high-intensity, high-performing organizations are beginning to recognize the important effects of mindfulness, exercise, and sleep on the body—and the brain.
Living in a fast-paced, digitally focused, hyperconnected world often means sacrificing the ability to step back and take a breath. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey Publishing’s Lucia Rahilly taps principal Manish Chopra, specialist Els van der Helm, and author and McKinsey alumna Caroline Webb for their experience and expertise on the mind–body connection and why executives are increasingly taking notice.
Lucia Rahilly: Welcome to the McKinsey Podcast. I’m Lucia Rahilly, McKinsey’s publications director—and I have a confession to make: today I am really overtired. Nonetheless, I plan to have a pretty productive day through some combination of caffeine, maybe a little sugar, hopefully the odd adrenaline rush. So I’m doing what most of us do, which is powering through the fatigue. But is my lack of sleep having more of an effect on my performance than I realize?
We’re going to talk about sleep and other risks to executive well-being posed by today’s relentlessly fast and furious work culture. We’ll also discuss some techniques that high- performing business leaders use to manage those risks successfully. Joining me in New York today are Manish Chopra, a partner in McKinsey’s New York office and author of the book The Equanimous Mind, which chronicles the impact of meditation on his personal and professional life. Welcome, Manish.
Manish Chopra: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Lucia Rahilly: We also have Els van der Helm, a specialist in McKinsey’s Amsterdam office, who advises McKinsey clients and consultants on the importance of sleep in organizations. Welcome, Els.
Els van der Helm: Thank you.
Lucia Rahilly: And Caroline Webb, a former partner in McKinsey’s London office and an external senior adviser to McKinsey on leadership. Caroline is also the CEO of Sevenshift, an advisory firm that uses behavioral science to help clients improve their professional lives, and she is the author of the new book How to Have a Good Day. Welcome, Caroline.
Caroline Webb: Thank you.
Lucia Rahilly: I want to start by asking each of you to give a few words of context on what seems to be a burgeoning interest in wellness, and particularly in wellness in the workplace. People have been griping about the accelerating pace of working life and its effects on attention and well-being for 150 years, basically since industrialization, and probably before. So why now—why this intensifying focus now on how best to cope in the workplace? Els, let’s start with you and what you’ve learned from your research on sleep.
Els van der Helm: Even though people are used to being tired, I do think it’s changed in that with new technology there are fewer moments in the day where we take a break, have some self-reflection, and take it easy.
When I ask people in my workshops where their phone is at night, 80 percent say it’s in their bedroom. Over half of them check their email in bed. I think there is definitely something that has changed compared with, say 20 years ago. We’re also much more aware of what the effect is of a healthy lifestyle so that in general we know we should eat more healthily and spend more time exercising.
I think mindfulness and sleep are the next things to focus on. Companies are starting to realize that they have these highly educated employees who are very capable, but that that’s not enough. You need to make sure that they are engaged, happy, and healthy.
Lucia Rahilly: What about some of the research on brain science? Has that illuminated the effects of well-being on performance in a way that businesses can see? Caroline, do you want to take that one?
Caroline Webb: Oh, enormously so. I would say everything that Els has just said is absolutely right, that the shift in technology has led to our always-on lives. That’s obviously raised awareness of the impact of executive well-being.
But I think it’s also the fact that the evidence is just much sharper and more compelling. There are statistically robust studies that show that when you are sleep deprived it affects your cognitive functioning and your emotional resilience. There are studies, across the board, that show that, effectively, what you’re doing is depriving the part of your brain that is more sophisticated, what I call the Deliberate System—you’re making it very difficult for it to do its job fully. For data-driven, evidence-hungry, senior people who need to know that there’s a real reason for shifting behavior, the scientific evidence really helps.
Lucia Rahilly: Manish, your journey seems to have been more of a personal one. We were talking before this podcast started about the broadening of meditation in the culture. Do you have thoughts on that that you’d like to share?
“An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with them. He managed to get candy from the nearest town and put it all in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree.
Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said “now”, the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself.
So the children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said “now”, all of the children took each other by the hand and ran together towards the tree. They all arrived at the same time divided up the candy, sat down and began to happily munch away.
The anthropologist went over to them and asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves.
The children responded: “Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?”
Ubuntu is a philosophy of some African tribes that can be summed up as “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
In 2008, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave this explanation of “ubuntu” . . . “One of the sayings in our country is “Ubuntu”, the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our inter-connection. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
“The reality is that a minute amount of a vitamin in its whole food form is more effective nutritionally than a large amount of a synthetic one!
An excellent illustration of this is the story involving a medical doctor held captive in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean war (1950-1953). After a period of time on their severely inadequate diet, many of the doctor’s fellow prisoners began showing signs of beriberi, a disease that results from a severe thiamine (B1) deficiency. He notified the Red cross, and they sent him thiamine in a synthetic form, thiamine HCl (a coal tar-based vitamin). The doctor gave this to his patients, but their health continued to deteriorate.
Finally, the doctor’s North Korean guards whispered to him that beriberi could be cured with rice polish, the nutritive outer layers of the rice that are removed when it is refined. He thought the suggestion was absurd, but he had nothing to lose so he started giving his patients a teaspoon or more of rice polish every day. Within a short time, the beriberi epidemic ceased.
There is only about one level teaspoon of thiamine in an entire ton (2,000 pounds) of unrefined, whole rice. The amount of thiamine that the prisoners of war were getting in their rice polish was infinitesimal. What a tribute to unrefined rice and an excellent example of the potency of whole foods!” – pp. 40 from Back to the Basics of Human Health, By Mary Frost.
We have a copy of Mary’s book for you at the office. If you’d like to read it cover to cover, all 82 pages, the next time you are at Synergy, just mention that you are reading the blogs and we’ll give you a copy of the book!
Since the late 1970’s, research has shown that women who eat cruciferous vegetables have an overall reduced risk of breast tissue abnormalities. Vegetables such as kale and Brussels sprouts contain compounds that shift the breakdown of estrogen to ore of the protective “good estrogen,” thus protecting against breast tissue abnormalities.
Research has shown women who supplemented their diet with dehydrated organic Brussels sprouts and kale were able to experience a substantial positive shift in their estrogen metabolism. A new study has shown that a supplement program containing 3.6 grams of dehydrated organic Brussels sprouts and kale was effective in tipping the delicate balance of estrogen in favor of the “good” form. Organically grown, bio-available kale and Brussels sprouts are now available in a supplement.
Talk to our licensed acupuncturist at Synergy, Mimi, today about how whole food supplementation can benefit your estrogen metabolism.
- Muti P, Bradlow HL, Miocheli A, et al. Estrogen metabolism and risk of breast cancer: a prospective study of the 2:16alpha-hydroxyesterone ratio in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. 2000 Nov;11(6):635-40.
- Michnovicz JJ, Adlercreutz H, Bradlow HL. Changes in levels of urinary estrogen metabolites after oral indole-3-carbinol treatment in humans. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997 May 21;89(10):718-23
- Michnovicz JJ. Increased estrogen 2-hydroxylation in obese women using oral indole-3-carbinol. Intl J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998 Mar;22(3):227-9.
- Michnovicz JJ, Bradlow HL. Altered estrogen metabolism and excretion in humans following consumption of indole-3-carbinol. Cancer. 1991;16(1):59-66
- Kall MA, Vang O, Clausen J. Effects of dietary broccoli on human drug metabolizing activity. Cancer Lett. 1997 Mar 19;114(1-2):169-70
- Bradlow HL, Telang NT, Sepkovic DW, Osborne MP. 2-hydroxyesterone: the estrogen. J Endocrinol. 1996 Sep;150SupplS259-65.
- Dalessandri KM, Firestone GL, Fitch MD, Bradlow HL, Bjeldanes LF. Pilot study: effect of 3,3-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(2):161-7.
- Morrison J, Mutell D, Pollock T, Redmond E, Bralley A, Lord R. Efficacy of dried cruciferous powder for raising the 2/16 Hydroxyestrogen ratio.
By Alice G. Walton
Most people are aware of the fact that meditation, in its many forms, can tweak the brain and body in a number of beneficial ways. It’s been shown to increase volume in certain brain regions, to reduce anxiety and depression, and even to improve immunity. Of course, exactly how meditation is doing all these things isn’t totally understood. But a new study, in the journal Translational Psychiatry, helps suss out the molecular mechanisms behind meditation’s effects on the immune system. And it turns out that the effects are more than from just the relaxation element – there seems to be something intrinsic about meditation itself that can shift gene expression and even boost mood over time.
In the new study, the team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, University of California at San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School had 94 women come to the Chopra Center for Well Being in California. Half of the women went in for a six-day vacation retreat, the half for a six-day meditation retreat. Neither of these groups of women had any experience with meditation – but a third group, made up of 30 experienced meditators also visiting the Center, were also studied. The team took blood samples from the participants, so they could analyze what genes were expressed, before the retreat, directly after it, one month, and 10 months later.
And there were some interesting changes in the 20,000 genes studied. All the groups showed shifts in the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing. The experienced meditators had particular shifts in genes related to fighting viral infection. They also had increases in telomerase activity – an enzyme that builds telomeres, the sections at the ends of chromosomes that help keep them from “unraveling.” Telomeres shorten over time naturally, and shorter length is linked a number of chronic illnesses, so increasing telomere length is thought to indicate healthier aging.
Another shift that occurred was in the ratio of two kinds of amyloid-beta proteins, which is known to be linked to dementia and depression. The novice meditator group had shifts toward a better ratio of the proteins. The experienced meditators, interestingly, started out with better levels, and this didn’t change over the course of the study, which suggests that meditation has both short- and long-term effects on levels of this brain compound.
Finally, everyone experienced a subjective change from their retreat — a boost in mood — which, for some, lingered long after the retreat ended. And it was most pronounced in the novice meditators, who reported significant decreases in depressive symptoms, even at the 10-month mark.
By Alice G. Walton
Written by Tasha Eurich – October 13, 2016
I recently spent the weekend with one of my dearest friends. She is brilliant, hilarious, kind and giving, and I just adore her. We have one of those rare and wonderful friendships that comes along just a few times in life (if we’re lucky).
But my friend also holds—quite literally — the opposite political views as I do. And if I’m honest, I’ve often caught myself wondering why someone so utterly wonderful could also be so spectacularly wrong.
For that reason, even though I’d been looking forward to seeing her for months, I was also a bit nervous about what would happen if we talked about politics. I was certain that no amount of discussion was going to change her mind, so I decided that the best strategy was to avoid the topic altogether.
But in the weeks leading up to my visit, this vexing question still haunted me: how could my friend be so wrong?
Then, the day before I got on the plane to see her, a different thought popped into my mind. What if, I wondered, I’m the one who is wrong? It was a question that I had never considered.
Granted, for any hot-button political issue, there is rarely a singular, unequivocal “right answer.” Most of us realize, at least intellectually, that there are many valid ways of seeing the world. But personally, when I feel strongly about something, it’s hard to see past my beliefs and assumptions. As a result, I rarely question them.
If I may be so bold, I’m clearly not the only one who is guilty of this.
Research shows that we typically assume that others share our views (often called the False Consensus Effect) and get upset when they don’t. After all, our beliefs are so rational, so well-thought out and so correct that unless someone was a total moron, they would come to the same conclusion. This logic is deeply flawed, and it makes us cling absurdly tightly to our opinions. (Research suggests that even when they are threatened by pesky things like facts, we tend to overlook those facts or discredit the source.)
Of late, as anyone with a social media account can attest, when we shout our beliefs from the rooftops and label everyone who doesn’t share them ill-informed (or worse), there are real consequences to our self-awareness, our success and our relationships. Case in point: a recent study found that this year, nearly one in 10 people have ended a friendship because of an election-related disagreement.
But this problem and its consequences don’t just show up in our political discussions. Perhaps you think that your spouse’s approach to parenting is ineffective, and it’s landed you into a seemingly endless series of disagreements. Or at work, after shutting down a colleague who suggested a smarter strategy, you were surprised to see your performance suffer. Or you just can’t get behind your friend’s new significant other, even though you haven’t even tried to see this person the way your friend sees them.
Fascinatingly, our reluctance to question our beliefs may be biologically based. As neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran describes, when we encounter a differing viewpoint, the two hemispheres of our brain lock horns in a fierce battle. The left hemisphere, usually associated with rational and logical thought, fights to preserve our existing beliefs while the right hemisphere wants to play devil’s advocate and see things more objectively. But when our right and left hemispheres square off, the left hemisphere usually wins.
Given the biological basis of such behavior, does this mean that we are forever doomed to judge, argue with and “unfriend” the people who don’t agree with us? Thankfully, we can loosen our left hemisphere’s white knuckled grip, but it takes conscious effort. The question I asked myself with my friend — “what if I’m the one who is wrong?” — is a surprisingly effective way to help our right hemisphere get a word in edgewise.
Of course, when I first pondered this question, I was more than a little distraught. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was possible. Even if I wasn’t actually “wrong,” I was pretty sure that adopting this mindset would help me develop a richer, fuller perspective.
When I arrived at my friend’s apartment the next day, I dropped my bags and promptly announced that I wanted to spend the weekend trying to understand her political views. With a wry smile, she agreed.
From the moment we started talking, I found myself listening in a completely new way. I wasn’t getting upset or emotional. I wasn’t trying to compose fact-based retorts. I was just hearing her. This, I realized, is what the late, great Stephen Covey really meant when he advised us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.”
This didn’t meant that the entire weekend was easy. There were a few times that I wanted to storm out of the room, but it was far less than I would have predicted. By the end of the weekend, I had a much, much richer appreciation of my friend’s perspective.
Of course, it’s one thing to commit to understanding the people we love — our spouse, our friends, our family — but let’s extend this idea one step further: can (and should) we apply this concept to people we don’t like or respect?
I recently heard an interview with Amaryllis Fox, a former counter-terrorism clandestine services officer. In it, she provided one of the most profound observations about human behavior I have ever heard. “The one thing I learned in the Agency,” she said, “is that everyone thinks they’re the good guy.”
In Fox’s case, she learned that the only way to fight the bad guys was to try to understand what would make otherwise normal people commit such grievous acts. Anytime we label our enemies as completely bad people — be they religious radicals, the school bully or a particularly sociopathic boss — we can’t even begin to intelligently deal with them. As Abraham Lincoln once declared, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
My “weekend of understanding” with my friend hasn’t changed my position much, but a lot of things are different. I genuinely respect where she’s coming from. I feel smarter and more informed. Most importantly, our relationship is stronger.
This is a somewhat counter-intuitive lesson: the next time you discover that someone you love, respect or work with has a wildly different opinion about something, don’t waste time trying to make them see things your way, or avoid the subject in an attempt to minimize conflict.* Instead, ask yourself “what if I’m wrong?” and really entertain their perspective.
At the end of the day, as British philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell advised, when we don’t feel absolutely certain about anything, that’s when we truly begin to understand who we are and appreciate others for the same thing.
Total Time: 40 Minutes
1/2 cup pecans
6 slices bacon
2 pounds brussels sprouts, halved (stem and ragged outer leaves removed)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Place pecans on the prepared baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on them, as they can burn fast. Transfer the pecans to a cutting board and chop coarsely. Set aside.
Turn the oven heat up to 400 degrees. Lay the bacon strips out flat on the same foil-lined baking sheet, leaving space in between so they don’t overlap. Roast for 12-20 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back midway through, until the bacon is crisp (cooking time will depend on thickness of bacon). Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels; pour rendered bacon fat into a small dish and then discard aluminum foil. When bacon is cool, finely chop.
Turn the oven heat up to 425 degrees, and line the baking sheet with fresh aluminum foil. Using a rubber spatula, toss the brussels sprouts with the rendered bacon fat, olive oil, salt and pepper directly on the baking sheet. Roast, stirring midway through with rubber spatula to promote even browning, until brussels sprouts are tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and maple syrup and toss to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasoning, then transfer to a serving dish. Right before serving, top with chopped pecans and bacon. Serve hot or warm.
“The American Psychological Association conducted a national survey in 2014 focused on stress in adolescents ages 13-17. In this survey teens reported 31% of the time that their stress levels have increased from the previous year. Of greater concern, is that 42% said they were doing very little about it.
Participants in a recently released study in the Journal of Adolescence went to a five day mindfulness retreat aimed not only at teaching relaxation and mindfulness skills, but also coupled that with lessons on gratitude, compassion and…‘loving kindness’. The teens that participated in the study showed both short term and long-term benefits after the retreat.”
You Are What You Think!
In order to alter behaviors, it helps to understand what makes you act the way you do. It’s the internal thoughts in your head that convince you to take your next action; not the food, or drug, cigarette, or item that’s external to you. (More on the specifics of brain chemicals and choices in the next newsletter and How The Brain Works blog.)
Many believe they are stuck in unhealthy or negative cycles forever. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Your thought patterns aren’t hard wired. Your brain has the ability to adapt and change; it’s called neuroplasticity. Learning how your mind works will give you the power and ability to use your brain to control your brain.
Think of the brain as a superhighway with neurotransmitters racing up and down lanes carrying information to different parts of the mind and body. The more the same message travels along a path, the more permanent that pathway becomes. And the brain loves the most used route. For many, if not most people, genetics and these strong neural pathways are the reasons why their brains are keeping them choosing a familiar unhealthy choice rather than a healthy one another part of them wants. A pattern for the undesired choice has literally been formed in the brain.
The good news is…the brain can learn new patterns. There are simple processes that can introduce a desired change or new pattern to the brain, giving the brain the experience of the choice you’ve been longing for or trying so hard to switch to. You can even learn how to teach the brain when it wants to go to the old choice, choose this new one instead. There is a simple exercise for redirecting the brain out of a craving; into a alternative pleasurable healthy experience. Once the brain has experienced the new neural pathway it is simply a matter of practicing the new way of thinking.
Keep checking our newsletters and blogs for more information on neuroplasticity, how your brain works, and making the changes you want. Schedule an NLP or Hypnosis session to experience using your own brain to create the changes you want.
Recipe by: Megan Olson
Grab a bowl and dive into this Turmeric Coconut Ice Cream. It’s made with cashews and pecans!
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
½ of a 14-ounce can coconut cream (or ½ cup coconut milk or coconut yogurt)
1 cup raw cashews (soaked)
3 T raw pecans (and as many other pecans as desired for topping)
¼ cup maple syrup
2 t turmeric
1 t cinnamon
½ t ground ginger
¼ t cardamom
1. Soak cashews in a bowl of water overnight (or until soggy—a minimum of 2 hours).
2. Once the cashews are ready, layer a standard meatloaf pan with parchment paper, allowing the ends to hang over the sides. Place in the freezer while preparing the ice cream.
3. Drain cashews, and add them to a blender or food processor—along with all the other ingredients.
4. Process on high until pecans and cashews are broken down and everything is fully combined.
5. Remove the prepared pan from the freezer, and pour the ice cream mixture into the pan.
6. Place in the freezer overnight to harden. Be sure to place the pan on a flat surface, so it hardens evenly.
7. The next day, remove from the freezer. Top with more pecans, and serve!
If you have an ice cream maker, you can definitely use it for this recipe. It will make the ice cream even creamier and thicker. You can also make this recipe without the cashews and pecans, but it will be less creamy.