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Personal Branding – The Opportunity & Risk

Personal Branding – The Opportunity & Risk

Last month marked the 11-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He was 63 and had been battling cancer for a few years. The last few days of his life were a roller coaster for me and my family. When the doctor gave us the news that it would happen soon, my mother, sisters, and I pretty much lived at the hospital. On the evening of July 25, 2002, sitting by his hospital bed, I watched him take his last breath. It was a surreal experience for me. I was a little down, but wasn’t sad. If I was emotional, it was because my mother and sisters were. I just kind of sat there, supporting my family, and soaking it all in. Though it was an unfortunate event, I wasn’t shocked. To be totally honest, I was surprised it didn’t happen sooner than it did. See, my dad died when I was 24, and for the first 21 years of my life, he was a heavy smoker and hard-core alcoholic.  In my mind, this was the logical outcome of his actions and lifestyle, as was my lack of emotion.

He was very active with me when I was little, taught me how to catch a football, and made it to all of my games. But the memories that are burned into my head and the legacy he left with me is the heavy smoker and hard-core alcoholic who treated his wife and family like crap and was hammered every Christmas.

That is my father’s brand.

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What is your brand today?

If you had the opportunity to interview people around you to find out “who you are,” what would they say?  What words would they use to describe you? What kind of person would they say you are?  Everything you say and do builds your brand.

What brand are you building?

You hear a lot about branding in the business world.  Major organizations like Pepsi, Coke, Nike, McDonald’s, Target, and Walmart give a great deal of attention and spend a ton of money building and preserving their brands. They know consistent branding that associates them with positive things is the key to their success.

Guess what?  It’s the key to your success, too!

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What do you want your brand to be?

When helping people articulate and develop their personal brand, I coach them to consider two things:

  • Values (what’s important to you)
  • Passions (what excites you)

You want your brand to be an honest and genuine reflection of you: what’s in your head and what’s in your heart.  If it isn’t an honest and genuine reflection of you, you aren’t being true to yourself and likely setting yourself up for failure.

For example: I wear my emotions and spirit “on my sleeve.” From the time I was 24, I knew I wanted to spend my life coaching, counseling, speaking, teaching, and/or training. It is extremely important to me (values) that I am providing value to those around me and there is nothing more exciting to me (passion) than working with people and helping them reach their goals.  Throughout this journey I’ve tried to do other things, conform to others’ expectations, and show-up a different way, and it doesn’t work.

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Opportunities & Risks

Being more intentional with your personal brand provides great opportunity, but can also be risky.

When you’re living your life in alignment with your values and passions, you naturally become more confident, and people notice. They might not be sure what to think at first, but the more honest, genuine, and consistent you are, the more they will trust you.  The more honest, genuine, and consistent you are, the greater impact you will have on the people and environments around you. Take a look around you. The average person deals with enough uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity.  Your consistency will give them certainty, consistency, and confidence in you.

For all the great opportunities that being more intentional with your personal brand can give, there are also some risks.  There will be some haters.  There will people who are close to you who are used to you being a certain way. They will see you changing and growing, and they won’t like it.  Now, if you are changing, growing, and becoming a more confident person and they don’t like it, that should be a sign of whether or not you want them in your life. Just know “haters gonna hate.”  Another risk is that this takes commitment. If you are not willing to make a real commitment to your personal brand, you might want to slow down. It goes back to the uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity I referenced above. People have enough of that in their lives. There are a lot of big talkers out there. If you try to show up, but don’t live your brand or are inconsistent, you are just going to be another example of uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity in their mind.  Once you are there, that is a tough hole to climb out of.

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Your personal brand really comes down to how you want to show up in the world and the impact you want to have.

What is the first thing you want people to think of when they hear your name?

If you are not living your life in alignment with that answer, it might be time to evaluate your personal brand.

Your values and passions are a great place to start!

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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