People mostly see burnout as an inescapable challenge that plague any workplace culture. But in reality, you can this draining situation just by choosing how you show up.
In this episode, Penny Zenker learns how to do this with keynote speaker, award-winning author, and TV personality Marcy Axelrod.
Marcy explains how to shift from your brain’s left hemisphere, which is responsible for your movements, and into your right hemisphere, where your imagination and emotions lie. She discusses how activating this side of your brain can lift you up from burnout and show up with a better outlook in life.
She also explains how to integrate these brain hemispheres by using certain movements, gaining better attunement with nature, art, music, and all the beautiful things in the world.
Be sure to listen to this insightful episode as Marcy guides you in navigating the natural flow of the mind and achieve balance that will be useful in your battle against burnout.
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Choosing How You Show Up Can Get Rid Of Burnout With Marcy Axelrod
We are going to talk about an important topic, burnout. We are going to talk about it from a different perspective, the antidote of burnout. Most people talk about what it is, and they don’t get to how we get past it or how we avoid it. I’m excited to dive into this conversation. Marcy Axelrod is here with me. She is a dear friend and also a brilliant mind that we are going to pick.
She is a keynote speaker, a two-time TEDx speaker, an award-winning author, and a TV personality. After working on Wall Street, Annette Lehman Brothers, Marcy switched coasts to Silicon Valley investing for many years as a leader in KPMG consulting, high-tech strategy practice, and working with some of the world’s most successful tech leaders. She has been interviewed in Forbes multiple times and as a contributor to Wake Up With Marci Show, Saturday mornings on CBS. Marcy, welcome to the show.
Thank you much, Penny. It is always fabulous to be with you. We have such an animated discussion every time.
Burnout is an important topic for people, and I know you got a new book coming out. Tell us a little bit about the book and why that is potentially a solution and an antidote to burnout.
How We Choose To Show Up is the name of the book. When we bring choice to anything, we are not burned out. When you have a choice, you are exercising freedom and free will. You are living in a world of options. It means that you aren’t stressed, overworked, and hyper-overmanaged by a boss, a partner, or maybe our kids that we feel like we are stuck.
There are people reading who are like, “That is oversimplifying. You are telling me that because I can choose not to be burnt out.” I’m the hat of all the people who are reading. There are people who are saying, “I don’t choose my circumstances at work. I have to do all of this work. We are low on resources. I didn’t choose that. I have to do the work of 2 or 3 people.” What do you say to those people already in that place where they are calling BS here?
Once you are already in the hole, you don’t see options. You feel stuck. That closes the world to us. It closes our sense of what is possible, and it makes us turn our mirrors inward as opposed to outward. I call this being barely there, which is the lowest level of showing up. We start with barely there as we move into our intuitive reactionary self. We are showing up. That is what 80% of us do 80% of the time.
When we get to a stage, we are more grounded in ourselves, more ready for our situations, and more connected or what I call all intelligent with society than we are truly showing up. When we are down there in that small place with our mirror facing us, the only way to step out of that is to sit, try to clear the cobwebs out, and do what you refer to as a recent moment.
A perfect time for a reset moment is when you are down in the hole, and all you see is the hole.
When you are that far, it is hard to ask ourselves, “How am I choosing to show up?” We are in this subconscious state. We are being instinctive and instinctual, which is an old evolutionary part of our brain. It is based on the past. We are now living in the past, and the past is now present to us because of what the left side of our brain is bringing out. The left side of our brain exists to grab and get, to manipulate the world, and to act on it. In doing so, we are creating a model for ourselves. It is the map, not the territory. We can’t see beyond that. It is lifeless, dead, and doesn’t flow.
A lot of people find themselves in a hole, whether they are officially burnt out or they are distracted by everything and anything. They can’t seem to get away from this. From their own doing in terms of they have their notifications on, these are choices we are making. What I’m hearing you say is when we are stuck in the left hemisphere of our brain, and we are in the grab-and-go, that is where we get stuck. We are stuck focusing on that side of things. That could be in a situation where we are in living in a state of distraction.
Yes, I want to be precise here, Penny, because most of us are not stuck on the left side that we can’t volitionally choose to turn our mirrors more outward and let the world present to us with a higher level of specificity. Here is a word I want to get to Penny, a higher level of wonder. The moment that you can notice things and start to attune to the more that is there, your choice is re-gifted. You can find paths out, get more sleep, have better nutrition, and listen to that variation that pulls people more toward you, and they interact with you differently. The world is back closer to your oyster than your prison cell.The moment you notice things and start to attune that there is more to the world, your choice is re-gifted. You can find new paths, get more sleep, and have better nutrition. Click To Tweet
Let’s take us back in that hole. If the mirror is looking down at us and the rest of the whole, if we turn that up and reconnect with the bigger picture, whatever the bigger picture is. Maybe it’s recognizing that things aren’t as bad as we have made them out to be. What are the different options we have that will help us get out of this place? We can leave a job. We can choose to get more sleep, and some things like that might give us some more resourcefulness to reconnect to what the bigger picture is.
When we switch to our right brain system, we are living in the relationality of everything. It is showing up with to and for us, and we are showing up with to and for it. This is how we can be a distinct self without being truly separate from what is there. This is the way the world works. When you think of a magnet, there are two poles. There is North-South, high-low, and positive-negative, but you can’t separate from it. One exists because of the other.
If you chop off half of the magnet to get rid of that positive pull, it doesn’t go away. All you have done is shorten the magnet. The more we work to push back on things because we are burned out, the deeper we get into that hole. The more we let go and recognize that everything is flowing and we are all part of each other and part of a broader system, the more freedom we have and the less sucked into a burned-out state we get.
I heard a good analogy to this balance of polarity about breathing. We have to breathe in and out. It is the relationship. That is the way we function. What I’m hearing you say is it would be holding our breath when we resist. We are not getting that balance because we are holding our breath versus allowing the natural balance of breathing in and breathing out. Is that an analogy? That is something people can relate to since we all breathe in and breathe out.
Physiologically relating to our breath does enable us to switch from our left brain grab and get control system to our system of love, beauty, art, and understanding. What you mean is you move your body and look at me with a certain care and interest. All of that is right-brain stuff. A nervous system set to stress doesn’t allow us to access that. Breathing, dance, music, art, and poetry are the things that enable us to show up the way that we want to with health, kindness, friendship, and care. It is the opposite of burnout. The more we can stay in our right brain system or at least have more of a switch, right or left, the more we will thrive.
How do we do that? Let’s say somebody is in that hole, and they recognize an opportunity for a reset moment. What does a reset moment mean to you? How can we activate that? What are some strategies we can do at that moment to help to shift us into the right hemisphere of our brain?
There are three key things here, Penny. I’m glad you brought this up. There is a cognitive process of asking ourselves, “How am I choosing to show up?” It can be as you walk into a meeting, as you greet your day, or as someone who typically might trigger you walks in. How am I choosing to show up now to this? We can also plan for it. Let’s say there is something going on tomorrow or later. We can plan in advance. How am I choosing to show up to that event or to the fear that I have around a situation that comes up? We can write about it. We can share.
It is like setting an intention type of thing. I can know that I’m going into a difficult circumstance, and I can set an intention of how I want to be right and how I want to show up. Is that what you mean?
This is a cognitive approach of asking the question, “How am I choosing to show up?” There is the behavioral approach of writing something down, stopping to breathe, and listening to a few bars of our favorite tune. Those are behavioral things. There is a physical quick little tip that people have told me is fabulous.
At the end of my TED Talks, I talk about tracing a three for level three truly showing up. I have people raise their hands. With the index finger of their opposite hand, you sit there and trace a three on your palm. You feel it in your palm. Level three truly showing up is going into your system. In doing this, you are switching from a triggered nervous system into a much more of your relaxed sensing system because you are sensing your palm. It brings you back into your body in a similar way that breathing does. This gives us our palm to focus on. We are feeling something physically. People tell me, “Marcy, it is a game changer. It takes three seconds to do it, and it shifts you right there.”
I saw this video that talked about the hemispheres. It talked about how a simple way to integrate our hemispheres is to lift our legs up and move to either side. Is this true? What I’m doing for those of you who are reading is I’m putting my arms out and I’m putting my opposite leg over to touch the knee of my opposite knee. I did this in aerobics. There is a question, would that be something I could do in the day? If I’m experiencing I’m being down or frustrated, could that activate and bring my hemispheres together? Is that total BS, and I’m watching these things and believing anything I see on YouTube?
The answer is yes. Moving, music, art, wonder, time in nature, jumping jacks, all things like this are useful to reset us such that we can move at least a little bit from our left brain, manipulative, controlled, grab and get a system into our more open system of relating to the broader world. We need to allow the rest of the world to be a presence for us. If we do that and we immediately zone back into a stressed state, the wonder of the world recedes, and we don’t suddenly recognize, “The light is hitting that book in a certain way, and now the blue is looking like silver. Isn’t it amazing that blue can become silver under the right circumstances?”
Ideally, what we want to do is create an environment that invites us to stay more in this broad relationality of the way the world works. This is more in our show-up system, not our default state of improv and showing up, which 80% of people tell me they do 80% of the time, according to my many years of research. Showing up is fine some of the time. It is only an issue when we do it so much because we want to be healthy, as successful, or with relationships as truly deep and fulfilling as we want them to be.Just showing up is fine some of the time. It’s only an issue when we do it so much that we are not as happy, nor as healthy, and nor as successful as we want ourselves to be. Click To Tweet
We can recognize the signs and symptoms when we are not getting the results that we want. We can come back to how we are showing up and how we are choosing to show up and recognizing that there is another level going to serve us better.
Another way to get from that left-brain misery if we are burned out, or somewhere near there is to recognize a certain model of how the world works. When we understand this model of how human beings are designed to truly show up, we can catch ourselves and do our reset before we get that deep. I will describe the surface of the model, which is we have always existed in three roles. Even early humans living in Savannah thousands of years ago, we are always selves living within situations and as members of society, be it a tribe, family, or business team. We are in those three roles at all times.
Burnout is a state where we are only in the self, and it is the small version of the self. We are almost extinct to the reality of the situations we are in because we are apathetic. We don’t feel our belongingness within the world and broader society. The way to avoid getting stuck in the self is to recognize that there is a groundedness we need within ourselves and readiness for our situations. There is this deep connectedness or alltelligence in our societal role. When we think about those three selves within situations and members of society, that can help us not to get stuck in one and have a little bit more of a flow.
It gives us the bigger picture and the broader perspective of understanding it is not about ourselves. It is about how we fit into the situation in our society. The whole doesn’t look deep because we are seeing things from a broader perspective.
Zooming out and staying in that bigger picture, you are impacting me. I am impacting you. All the people who may read this, we don’t know who and where they are, but they are showing up with us right here now. All of them throughout time. We are in relation with to and for everything at all times. It is with us. The more that we recognize our brains and all of us, we are designed to exist as societal members as if not more than designed to be individualized selves.
Part of what is making us miserable, lonely, anxious, and sick is we have overweighted the individualized role of self, and we have underweighted our role as a member in something bigger. Nature towns and all the community-focused groups give us a sense of belonging. Those things feel more distant. The moment where it is truly lost is in our lived experience. It is in the situations.
If I think about any of the times that were difficult situations for me, the way I was able to get through them when I talk about my resetting and reset practice is because the reset practice is to step back to get perspective and back away and connect with the broader picture. We can realign for how we want to show up. This is how our work intertwined.
If I think about it, it was always about, “How can I do the right things for my kids? What can I do for my team?” Looking at that broader picture always grounded me to bring my best self even in a difficult situation. How do we get up and dust ourselves off? It is often for a principle, person, or group that we stand for. That helps us to get up to have the courage to do that and continue to take steps even if they are difficult.
What you described, Penny, is these beautiful other rings, turning your mirror outward toward others. What does your son need? How can I show up in a way that relates productively to others? Notice the moment we turn the mirror outward from the small self to the large way in which we all impact each other and everything else that enables us to step out of our left brain-fixed dead abstracted world and get into this more enlivened, flowing, dynamism which describes the systems that are out there that created us. This is why we have two attentional systems. We have the left side and the right side. One gets us the food. It feeds us. The other one, the right side, helps us to stay alive.
It is having that balance between the two.
I have a tenuous relationship because I don’t think anything is truly in balance or out of balance. There is a flow. The newness exists with our right hemispheric attentional system. To hear you say something, I need to be attending to my right-brained system. To quickly make sense of it, I need to reduce, simplify, categorize, and say, “I’m familiar with that on some level.” I have switched to my left brain. Think about it and come back to you with something noble that relates not to the old thing you said but to the true newness of what you said. I’m returning back to my right side. The ideal flow is right, left, right. Don’t think of it as a balance.
It is not a balance. It is a flow. What happens to the person that does left, right, left?
The person who starts in their left brain is only seeing a re-presentation of the past. They are saying, “I got it. That is a laptop, a book, a computer, and a person.” With that comes, “I know what this is. I am in an all-knowing state.” With it, all my beliefs, judgments, and biases come right with me to go, “I have been here before that cliché.” I don’t like that been here, done that type of thing. That person is living in the past. It evokes habitual behavior, reactionary stuff, old stuff, and what we want to get away from. If you are in the past, you are showing up or barely there on the left side of the show-up continuum. That is what you are doing.
Somebody with a left, right, left type of system is barely there or showing up, and eventually, if they are not careful, that will lead to burnout.
Nothing will be new, and it will be as far from wonder as possible, enchantment or all those lovely enlivening things that keep us fascinated.
I never heard it in that way. That is why it is fun to have this conversation. People can look at things in a different way. What is different about the way you approach these hemispheres and the way your work is than traditional positive psychology or something of that nature?
What is different about it is that the research across many years has shown that this is the evolutionary model of how we are designed to show up ourselves within situations as members of something larger. We need to be grounded, ready, and alltelligent. What is different about it is that the right brain hemispheric wonder and true presencing. The health, joy, and inventiveness that come with it are on the right side showing up. We know what the three skills are to get there, grounded in ourselves, ready for our situations, and alltelligent for our societal role.
That is what is different about it. I want to mention something here that goes back to what you said before about the left side. Let me be clear about the differences here. The left side is representing to us what is in front of us as a version of the past because it is immediately reducing and categorizing it out of context. It is largely dead. It is like a financial model of the stock market. It is predictable because it is not changing.
The moment we can see the world with a relaxed nervous system and be in our right hemisphere, we notice what is different about things and the flow of the world. It is an alive, exciting place that shows us what is new. This is where we are created. This is where people feel our care. This is where I can read the language of your body, and you mine. This is where two people belong to and for each other and come alive within the space between. It is also among and within both of us. There is a different way of attending to the world. It is an attentional system that we are born with, but that has been largely taught to us.
I have a question for you. I remember hearing you talk about, not now, but in the past, about the duality of how we are showing up and these different attentions, which means that we are present to how we are being present. Am I saying that right?
The question is, are we present if we are present to how we are being present? Is that not a distraction keeping us from showing up? I’m digging too deep into this.
This is great because we are also moving here from instinct through intuition into insight. Let me park that. We can come back to it. To be in our right brain present within the flow of a situation that is presenting to us with to and for us. The attentional system is this open-flowing fierce receptivity to what is there.
What we also need to do is, have an awareness that we are also in the moment in a certain way. We are showing up a certain way, but we are also aware or attuned to how we are showing up. It is being in the theater subsumed into the movie. It is exciting, but we also have a subtle awareness. We are sitting in a chair in the theater, in a movie. We are going to be appropriate for the situation.
The way that we do that is practice. We can practice this by asking ourselves things like, “How am I choosing to show up at this moment now?” That stays with us for a while. We lose that. It is like returning to the breath and the practice of meditation. You return to the breath. The thought comes in, you lose it, you go off, and you recognize, “How much is going to show up?” Back to the breath, back to my flow of the moment, showing up more the way I want to. Dual awareness is what it is called.
How I feel that we recognize a reset moment is when we have that dual awareness. That is where we are experiencing somebody’s aggression. We are recognizing, “Before I react to this, did I create this? What’s my relationship in this?” We recognize it as a reset moment before we respond. We can decide what is the best response here. We are in service of the relationship or whatever it is we are attending to. How I see those two coming together is practicing the duality and coming back to it from time to time when that signal comes up because antennas are paying attention.
This is the right, left, right type of flow of our brain systems. If it is all right, I want to share a graphic story that I also have in my book. That is an example of this. I’m in the emergency room at Greenwich Hospital. Talk about triggered moments. For all those readers out there who have teens with mental health issues, you are not alone.
There I am, and they had to keep us overnight because the psychiatrist couldn’t get to us by 6:00 PM when they went off their shift. It turns out I didn’t recognize that no one could be in the ER with us. It is just myself and my daughter. No one else can come. My parents show up. They are both physicians. I let them know where I was.
The head of the ER marches right over to me and says, “Get your purse. I’m kicking you out. You can’t have guests. You are using many resources. You’ve got to go.” At that moment, I got a guard on my left hip. The woman is picking up my purse. Let’s talk trigger here. My daughter is in bed. She had been in bed for almost a full day. No one wants to be there. The room is shared. The systems are beeping. She got my purse, and the security guard was expecting me to start walking. I cannot abandon my daughter.
My tears are streaming down, overloaded, and overwhelmed. I felt the wetness of the tears. I looked at the woman and said, “I need ten seconds to breathe. I don’t want my daughter to feel abandoned.” I breathed a few times, and she started to walk out. She doesn’t even give me my seconds. I looked at my daughter and said, “I need to step out. I’m going to be back.” I walked out.
When we got out, I had my twenty seconds on the walkout, and I looked at her. I saw her differently. Instead of this person controlling me, taking me away from my child in a time of desperate need, I saw a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I said to her, “In another time, I bet we could be good friends.” It was the last thing she expected out of my mouth. Her countenance changed and her eyes softened. She said, “A year ago, I was right where you are. My son was having some similar issues.”
After about a three-minute chat, we were both crying and hugging. We both walked back into the ER. She left me there. It had been a contribution for her and me in such a huge way and for my daughter. I want the world to hear this because, in moments like that, when we can see each other as human beings like us, and I know that there is a meditation of like us, which is powerful, we can suddenly be members of a single tribe again. We can suddenly be there to help each other. This is our societal role, and the skill is alltelligence because it is when we harness what I consider to be the intellect that exists within the universe and human nature that we were designed with. Let’s connect with each other as people.
The definition of all intelligence is when people come together to connect and support one another.
Yes, you can describe it that way.
For people who are reading because it is not a term that people are familiar with.
It is the skill of caring for others that is inherent within our societal role or our role as societal members, which is one of the three roles in which we show up.
What a great story to also bring this to a close in the context of seeing how it all plays out. You are not saying we are not going to still have these difficult moments in our lives, and you are free of them because you have this system, and you choose to rise above it. You took a difficult situation that could have taken you down a rabbit hole where you could have lashed out at that woman, she could have kicked you out, and things could have gotten ten times worse.
Instead, you took a reset moment to ground yourself and decide how you want to show up. You could create the best possible outcome for yourself, your daughter, and this woman. That states the power of it. I’m excited to read your book when it comes out. Tell people where they can find more information about you, and we will close down the show.
ChooseToShowUp.com is the website. Marcy Axelrod is my name. There are TED Talks out there. You can find it on TED.com. On the website, contact me, and I will put you on the list for pre-purchase of the book if you are interested.
Thank you so much for being here.
Penny, thank you. I hope we have made a noble contribution to the world out there when it comes to learning how to reset, show up, and avoid burnout.
People are seeing things in a different light. There is more we could discuss on this topic. We will have you come back and talk more about burnout, other conditions and situations we find ourselves in, and how your research has made a difference and can help people to choose better. Thank you all for being here.
I know that you have taken some things away. We went a little deep into the rabbit hole. We talked about a lot of science and terms you may not be familiar with, but that story for me connected it all together. It all makes sense. If there were any open loops, it closed those loops. I hope it did that for you. You are going to have dual attention where you are going to be present to how you are showing up while you are showing up. You are going to recognize those signals when you need to take a reset moment, choose your best next step, how you are showing up, and recognize how you are showing up may have affected the circumstance you are in.
That is a lot. I don’t normally say that much to tie this together, but I know you are going to take away a huge value in how this can enhance your life in many different ways, whether it is in your relationships with others or yourself. It is up to you to choose how you show up. We will see you in the next episode.
About Marcy Axelrod
Marcy Axelrod is a keynote and two-time TEDx speaker, award-winning author and TV personality. After working on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers, Marcy switched coasts to Silicon Valley, investing 20+ years as a leader in KPMG Consulting’s high-tech strategy practice and working with some of the world’s most successful tech leaders. She has been interviewed in Forbes multiple times, and is a contributor on the Wakeup with Marcy show Saturday mornings on CBS.
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