The Science of ‘Stuck’ in Leadership with Britt Frank


In this episode, I had the privilege of chatting with Britt Frank, the author of ‘The Science of Stuck’, where we delved into the intricacies of navigating stress, anxiety, and trauma. It’s crucial as leaders to understand exactly how and why members on our teams feel stuck, which most often relates back to trauma in some way, shape or form.

Britt shares the profound circumstances that prompted her to write her book, and the ways in which we as people leaders can understand anxiety better. Getting into the nitty gritty and understanding the root cause is a powerful key in unlocking the potential of those around us.

Britt Frank

Britt Frank, LSCSW, SEP is a licensed neuropsychotherapist and author of The Science of Stuck (Penguin Random House), named by SHRM, Esquire, New York Magazine, and The Next Big Idea Club as a must-read. Britt received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her master’s degree from the University of Kansas, where she later became an award-winning adjunct instructor. Britt is a contributing writer to Psychology Today and her work has been featured in Forbes, NPR, Fast Company, Psych Central, SELF, and Thrive Global.


Britt sheds light on the significance of comprehending trauma, emotional regulation, and neuroscience for enhancing both leadership abilities and personal well-being. We explored various aspects of mental health, including anxiety, stress management, self-leadership, and the intriguing concept of ‘micro yeses’.

Drawing parallels with car analogies, we discussed the gas pedal (sympathetic nervous system), brake pedal (parasympathetic system), and emergency brake (overactive fight-flight response) as tools for understanding and regulating our nervous system.

Britt’s insights into developing shadow intelligence alongside emotional intelligence and intelligence quotient offer valuable strategies for managing unresolved trauma or what she aptly terms ‘brain indigestion’. Dive into this episode to gain profound knowledge on enhancing leadership and personal well-being through the lens of neuroscience and emotional regulation.

We talk about:

  • [0:00] Intro

  • [3:05] Why she wrote this book and how she came up with the title

  • [8:35] How we need to understand anxiety better

  • [13:30] The impact of procrastination

  • [15:30] What does a survival response mean and where do we want to shift

  • [19:20] Regulation and the ‘emergency brake’

  • [24:30] As a leader our goal is reduction of threat, create safety and consistency

  • [27:05] Gas pedal and the brake

  • [31:10] What can we do to make sure we’re caring for ourselves with a bit more intention

  • [38:05] How to become more present and grounded before team meetings

  • [40:40] Neuroscience tips for leaders and the ‘micro yeses’

  • [44:35] Self leadership and shadow intelligence

  • [48:50] What inspires people to take on shadow intelligence

  • [50:00] Why do we need to know about trauma as leaders

  • [53:50] Rapid fire questions

I invite you to immerse yourself in this conversation with Britt, as we tap into the power of knowing how our brain works, and the ways in which it will make us more resilient and impactful leaders. You can find the full transcript of our conversation on my website, along with more information about Britt and her work.

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 Have you ever read a book and as you are getting through just the first chapter, you know that this book has a potential to change lives and just hit you so deep within? Obviously a nonfiction book. Well, that book for me is The Science of Stuck. Britt Frank is the author and I wasn’t through that book for more than two chapters and I Had to have her on the show and so I’m so grateful that Brit agreed to come on Evolve, and that’s who we’re gonna be talking to today.

Carolyn: Brit Frank is the author of The Science of Stuck, and this book has been named by several outlets as a must read. I love this book so much that I hadn’t even finished it, and I ordered a copy for both of my sons and they both loved it as well. And they’re like 19, 20 years old. Now, a little bit about Britt.

Britt received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her master’s degree from the University of Kansas, where she later became an award winning adjunct instructor. Britt is a contributing writer to Psychology Today, and her work has been featured in Forbes, NPR, Fast Company, Psych Central, Self, and Thrive Global.

And I’m excited to say now she’s a part of the evolve community. We’re going to talk today about anxiety. I’ve got all these notes, anxiety, mental health, staying stuck balance. Is that really the goal or not? And self leadership, there’s going to be so much, you might want to grab a pen and paper for this one.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I know I will. We’ll see you soon.

Welcome evolve community. I am so excited to be bringing you our guest today, Brit Frank. Welcome to the show.

Britt: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Carolyn: Now I just, I was sharing in my intro that I read your book in the summer in a day. Couldn’t put it down and I wasn’t even full through the book before I ordered a copy for both my sons One is almost 19.

The other one is 20. And in fact, I was talking to my 20 year old Yesterday I said, you know that book I sent you that you really liked he’s like, yeah I said I get to talk to her tomorrow. Do you have any questions? So he didn’t have any questions So I’m gonna I didn’t take space for all the questions today if that’s all right

Britt: That works for me. That’s fantastic.

Carolyn: So, so Brit I’d love to start off by asking you, like, why did you write this book and how did you come up with this great title?


Britt: So the title came from, so I obviously am a therapist. I work in mental health. I have a private practice, but I also do corporate keynote speaking and a lot of mass. Corporate type audiences haven’t been to therapy, nor would they ever identify as having a mental health challenge, nor would they ever pick up a quote, self help book, or it’s just, you know, their lives are fine.

And work life balance is my dilemma and not to minimize anyone’s life. But it’s just like, therapy is not the thing. So it was important to me because we don’t all experience life the same, but we all have brains and I don’t care how high functioning, how peak performance oriented you are. Everyone gets stuck.

And I know that. Because I talk to people for a living and so I didn’t want it to be the science of trauma or the science of stress or the science because not everyone identifies as having a challenge like that, but we all notice we stuck and so

Carolyn: and that and that was I mean, that was I think the brilliance of it. So I have written a book about trauma informed leadership from the lens of a leader. Right? Like I’m staying in my lane. But for me, when I learned about trauma, when I learned I’ve always had this fascination about neuroscience.

So, I mean, I love that part of your book. as well. And you kept it very simple. But to me, it’s like this, this whole wealth of information that’s available to people and leaders that can help us get unstuck. And like, frankly, who isn’t stuck these days?

Britt: it’s really true. And I was just speaking to a group of leaders and I said, you know, the. the big buzzword now in the work world, leadership world is the future of work is human. I’m like, great. All humans have brains. And if you want to be an effective leader, you need to know how the brain brains because there’s a lot of illogical, emotional and, you know, very, very Disregulated if we’re using neuroscience terms, people who are trying to do the best that they can in a very scary and a very overwhelming work.

And I think the, the business world who had previously been no feelings at work, leave your personal life at the door has now over indexed on empathy and feelings and vulnerability. And that’s just not the neuroscience of how to create a safe container. For productivity and really love as, as a therapist saying, you don’t need to dive into your feelings.

You don’t need to be a therapist to be a manager of a team. You need to know a little bit of neuroscience, like drivers at one Oh one, and really cool things can happen. It does again. It’s both horrifying and encouraging to know the bar is pretty low to make people feel seen, heard, valued, and empowered to show up,

Carolyn: you know, Brit, I haven’t heard many people say that, like, the bar is pretty low and I think that that is inspiring and it’s like, oh my gosh, we can actually do this then. I don’t have to turn into a therapist type thing. So. Let’s, I know there was, I, I’ve got like pages of notes here. And so, at the beginning of your book there was a statement, you had a statement about evolving tension between our drive to self protect and our drive to self transformation.

And when we do that this finest drive for self transformation you wrote, we become a living act of hope.

Britt: I think that was in the forward. So I did. Those are my words. Those in the forward. And

Carolyn: It was in the forward. Okay. I thought it was, it, it, it to me, it just, it really resonated for our times right now. And, and yes, you know, we are talking about humans. This podcast in particular is, is for leaders and trying to lead, let alone live through these times.

Hope can sometimes seem a little bit unachievable. But, but what this is kind of saying is that this drive to self transform and to look within ourselves is actually the way we’re going to find our way out.

Britt: it’s so true. And those are beautiful words. It’s just important to me to attribute credit.

Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely.

Britt: my forward. But the thing with hope is if you look outside at what’s happening in the world, it’s very, very easy to go into powerless, hopeless. What’s the point? There’s nothing that I can do to impact.

And on a global scale, that might be true. But again If you want to transform the way that your people love, live, work, if you want to create a culture of innovation with people that feel empowered to make choices and to belong and to matter, the bar for that is low and you don’t need hope. That’s, I have this big diagram in my office of the central nervous system.

Hello, my, you know, non, this isn’t for childhood. I just am stressed out people. You don’t need to have hope. You need to have science. So this, this isn’t rocket science, it’s neuroscience, and you don’t need advanced training to be able to make changes. It’s again, it’s both aggravated. I was sort of angry when I first learned this.

I’m like, I spent how much money and how many hours and how much of my life just destroying things when this is, this is the path to transformation is in these teeny tiny microscopic yeses that don’t require any time or energy. In fact, it takes more energy. Not to do a micro yes, the little tiny steps, then to do it.

Really? That’s it? Yes, that’s the path. The path of transformation is paved with microscopic yeses.

Carolyn: Wow. 

So before we go, because I definitely want to hear a little bit more in your language about the nervous system and how we can make it simple for leaders. I do, though, want to talk a little bit about anxiety first. So that that was at the beginning of your book, and that’s a word I think all of us can identify with because there’s lots of things that can take us into that mode.

 And that also related to to your point that mental health is not a mental. process. So can you talk a little bit about anxiety and and sort of, how we need to understand it better?

Britt: Yeah, and again, I get nitpicky about language, but it’s not because I’m trying to gatekeep terms or tell people what words to use. That is, that, no, that is not. What I do, but if we’re going to achieve mastery over our physiology and mastery is not even the right word. If we’re going to create a collaborative relationship with our brains and our nervous systems, we need to understand what’s happening.

And the word anxiety. When it’s used as a catch all for every uncomfortable activation feeling, that renders us hopeless and powerless. If anxiety is just this free floating sense of unease, there’s nothing, you can’t nail it to the wall. And so often when people say, I’m anxious, what they mean is, I am afraid.

Okay, what’s the difference? Anxiety is a free floating sense of impending doom with no source, no identifiable origin. I’m anxious about my work presentation. That’s not anxiety, that’s fear. So great, now your feeling is fear, the fear object is the presentation. Now we can identify, great, what are your choices?

for how to make that fear dial down from a 10 to a six. So my goal is to turn anxiety into what it is. Are you anxious about the world? Are you sad about the world? Are you anxious about your family? Are you angry? So if we can name it, we can start working with it.

Carolyn: anxiety then It’s just an easier way to identify with this discomfort in our body. And is it fair to say then, did I understand you right, that it can, it can usually lead to sadness, anger, or fear, or those are sort of the top three that it can usually point to.

Britt: Yeah. And you know, if you think of anxiety, just the physiology, my palms are sweaty. My stomach hurts. My jaws clenched. I can’t relax. If you think of that, not as an attack, anxiety does not attack. Anxiety is the check. engine light on your mind’s dashboard. We need it. And yes, it does often point, most often it’s pointing to fear, to sadness or to anger.

Not always, but most often.

Carolyn: And, and so, You talked about anxiety responses versus anxiety disorders, and this is kind of central to getting unstuck. Isn’t it?

Britt: and it’s a hot take that I do not subscribe to the disordered disease model of wellness. I’m not saying our pain is not real. Like our, I’ve had clinical depression. I take psych meds. I go to therapy. I’m not saying that. It’s all in your head. Just think positive. I am saying what the mental health world trained us to call a disorder is the result often of our brains doing what brains are supposed to do.

Brains aren’t designed for productivity. They’re designed to preserve our life at all costs. Our brain doesn’t care if we’re small and scared and ashamed and not. Optimizing our performance potential. Our brains want us alive. And so anxiety doesn’t attack us. It’s not a disorder. If you’re anxious, it’s a response and we can train your brain to shift, but let’s call it what it is.

It’s not pathological. It’s environmental. Most often again, yes. Genetics. Yes. Environment. Yes. Bodies do weird body things.

Carolyn: right.

Britt: Brains are supposed to go. into panic mode if there’s unsafety or an injury not being tended to. So responses, not disorders.

Carolyn: I mean, that was, I think that was the point where I put down my book and I started ordering it for my sons. Because it really was, it was a big shift to understand that and to just kind you.

Need to be stuck in this in the state in this way of being really

Britt: I love that you use the word state too, because I don’t know if I put this in this book, but it’s, it’s in the next one that what we think of as personality traits. I’m so lazy. I’m just so unmotivated. What’s wrong with me? I’m just not a do it kind of person. Those are not personality traits. They’re biological states.

They’re physiological states that we can shift if you learn how to, I mean, I can’t drive a stick shift on a car. I cannot do it, but I can drive the stick shift of my brain. And when you learn how to do that, life works better.

Carolyn: now, speaking of procrastination. I cheered out loud when I saw this in your book as well. Is that procrastination is not laziness. It is a survival response and I think that’s so important again for us to understand. And I just, I’ll share a little anecdote about myself. I’ve always been somebody who can perform really good when the pressure’s on and it goes all the way back to school.

I wouldn’t study to the last minute to the last minute and then just like hunkered right down and that continued into my working life. Now I always pull it out. I always do amazing. No one knows what goes on underneath. But as I’ve done more of my own work and, you know, started researching and talking with amazing people like you, I’ve really come to understand that this procrastination has been a form of self doubt.

It has been absolutely part of a survival response. It’s been like trying to fit so many things in and not thinking that one, I have enough time or that I need more time to be better.

Britt: Oh, I love that. Yeah, and my disclaimer with procrastination is not laziness because I can see, well not I can see people do say, well, great, Britt said, you know, Britt said, it’s not laziness. It’s my survival response. So I’m just going to lay here and do nothing, especially teenagers. I used to treat kids and when they learn the brain science, they’re like, oh, great.

Sorry, mom can’t go to school. I’m having a survival response. You know, my autonomic nervous system is tricky. It’s like, no, no, no, no. This is not to excuse. It’s to explain for the purpose of transformation. And so procrastination, not being laziness does not mean procrastination is good. And it does not mean that you should co sign on it.

It means it is a self protective, it is not a self sabotage response. It’s a self protective response, and that changes how we intervene on it.

Carolyn: And so how can we then get into this state or shift out of of survival? And what does survive? Maybe we go a little bit to the brain science now. Or the, the nervous system. What does a survival response mean? And where do we want to shift into?

Britt: Yeah. And the, you know, before we jump into the science, if you’re listening and you’re glazing over the science is really short and simple and sweet, but here’s the hack for whatever your thing is before I go science validate that your brain is on your side because nothing will amp up a nervous system faster than why is this happening?

What’s wrong with me? Why? I don’t understand what’s wrong. Like there’s something really wrong. I, and this is bad. It, yeah. My brain is on my side. I feel like crap. I validate that. I am very uncomfortable right now. I don’t really understand what’s happening, but my brain is on my side. If you can start by validating the symptom, you don’t need its origin to be able to validate that your brain’s on your side.

Carolyn: And does that also help you tell your brain that you’re okay? Like when you, when you, when you can kind of be like, oh, okay, I see you or I feel you, I hear you.

Britt: Yes. And that’s again, you don’t need to know why a building caught on fire to know, get out. Like, we don’t want to sit around and, and fill this, you know, go all philosophical. Why’d the building catch on fire? And I wonder how I feel about the fact that this room is on fire. And what’s your childhood narrative about fire?

Get out! We’ll ask why questions later!

Carolyn: Right.

Britt: F*ck when you’re anxious, when you’re stressed, when you’re burnt out, whatever your thing is, don’t start with why we’ll figure out why later. But let’s start with my brain is on my side. What are my choices? Because the science of being stuck ultimately is your brain will go into fight flight freeze without your conscious input.

Your brain will either shift into whoa, too fast. I can’t slow down or I’m. Collapsed on the floor, right? We either have too much gas pedal or too much brake pedal. And that’s your amygdala is the alarm of the brain. There’s a lot going on without your logic and well, it shouldn’t be my amygdala shouldn’t be going off.

Cause logically I’m fine. Cool. But logic isn’t part of the equation. So yeah, start with number one, my brain’s on my side to my brain is braining without logic being part of the equation. And then three, what are my choices? Not to feel better, not to feel happier. It’s to feel safer. Whether you think you should feel unsafe, your brain does.

So that’s the task.

Carolyn: And safety is not about always about an imminent physical threat that we see. Our brain stores these safety signals. Correct. And so it might, you might connect or it might see something or smell something that in the past has triggered a danger. And you might not consciously be aware that there’s something that it remembers.

Britt: And the reality of the world, especially right now, today, as you and I are having this conversation, is there are a lot of. Horrible things happening. And those images of horrible things happening are in our faces 24 7. Now, I’m not suggesting that we hunker down in, you know, positions of privilege and safety and ignore what’s going on in the world.

I am saying in order to be useful to humans at large, we first have to make sure that we’re regulated enough. To be able to show up and, and participate in any meaningful way. And it starts with reckoning with your brain doesn’t differentiate between what it experiences and what it sees. It’ll go into fight flight freeze, even if you’re sitting on your couch.

Carolyn: Right. Right. 

So let’s come back into the science then. Are we, are we good to go into easy science, like not, it’s not, we’re not going to get into lots of big neuro terms, but I’d love to hear your description about the brake pedal and the gas pedal. And also this word regulation, right?

It’s being used a lot. I’m, I’m using it as well. How could you describe all of those things in the most. Simplest and easiest accessible way for us.

Britt: Yeah. And that’s important to me because I had to sit through the really complicated, boring classes and snooze through the big. Neuro textbooks, and it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Your brain is like a car. It has a gas pedal. It has a brake pedal, and it also has an emergency brake. Now, if your emergency brake is pulled, it doesn’t matter how awesome your car is.

You’re not going anywhere. Like an emergency brake is designed to, we’re stopping, just straight stop, no motion, period. The car’s not broken, the emergency brake is engaged. Now, if you’re into polyvagal theory, which is super fascinating, fascinating, excuse me, there’s a phenomenon called, you know, dorsal vagal shutdown.

The, The short way of saying that is your emergency brake is on. We need a brake pedal cause we need to be able to shift between the gas and brake. You need to be able to pump the brakes when you’re approaching a light, but if your emergency brake is on, you’re stuck. And so knowing your brain’s the same can help.

Carolyn: So what would be an example when that emergency, cause it can not emergency break, come on, like in the middle of your foot being on the gas pedal.

Britt: Oh yes.

Carolyn: So what would be an example then that we could all relate to where gas pedals on, like you’re going, doing your thing, you’re trying to be productive. And then, oh my gosh, the, that emergency break comes on and like, holy shit.

I wasn’t expecting this. What would be an example?

Britt: So you’re going about your morning and you’re, you know, not super thrilled to be awake, but you’ve had your coffee and you’re getting your stuff done and then you look at your phone and you see the news feed and you’re watching graphic images and now you’re scrolling and now you’re scrolling and now it’s own.

I have a meeting at 10 and I need to go and get the laundry change. I can’t get off my phone. phone right now. I feel like I’m locked on my phone in this doom scrolling trance. That’s the emergency break coming on.

Carolyn: Wow. What I find so amazing with that break is it’s not this like overt like like life stops life is still moving So that’s that’s that’s an important thing for us to understand is life will still move with this emergency break But I guess what I’m what I’m picking up is is our our shift of attention is what freezes

Britt: It’s really our physio. You know, it’s our physiology, not just our attention. When you’re in a scrolling situation, it feels like you are. Life is moving, but you’re You’re not going anywhere. You’re not you’re not getting off the couch. You’re not getting you’re trying to go to bed and you know, it’s 2 in the morning and you need to get your sleep, but you saw something you clicked on something.

And we all know this is not like conspiracy theory. We know that these. are engineered to keep us on there. But the apps are also engineered to create fear responses because a fear response will result in a freeze, which will result in hours of. Yeah,

Carolyn: Wow. Wow. Okay. So we’ve learned about the emergency break. Is there something in our workplace maybe that doesn’t involve a phone that could cause the emergency break to go on

Britt: I worked for back when I used to work for people, I found I do. I do best, like, not working. I like to collaborate, but working for people or having people work for me, not super my favorite thing in the world. I had a boss who would say, can you come to my office? We need to talk. Because of my attachment and my personal history, I’m getting fired.

And I know I’m not the only one. We need to talk.

Carolyn: I’m the same,

Britt: Like, I finally this boss and I became friends later on and I said, buddy, if you’re gonna, we need to, and he’s not a mean or bad person. He’s just very pragmatic, very practical, wants to get it done. Doesn’t want to spend a lot of time coddling, which I respect as I listen, if you want your team to work harder, faster, you don’t have to.

Coddle, but we need to talk, put any, put a smiley face. We all just need to know we’re not getting fired. That will keep our brains out of the, in what you said, regular regulation doesn’t mean happy and calm and Zen regulation just means we are in our choices. I can choose to stop what I’m doing. I can choose to switch what I’m doing.

I can choose to continue what I’m doing. Regulation just means we’re in our choice power. So dysregulation doesn’t mean. It’s regulation has become synonymous with happiness. I, my goal is emotional regulation. Well, you can be regulated and angry. You can be regulated and sad. It just means you’re still maintaining choices,

Carolyn: Yeah. So this whole notion of agency and, and, and control. Yeah. Oh, there’s so, so much, so much in there. And so helpful. 

So as a leader, our goal is to create safety and consistency so that the people we work with and around feel like they are, they still have agency and that there is, there’s not going to be any sort of impending threat around them.

Britt: which isn’t realistic because there is impending threat all around us. And we do have our jobs, you know, are subject to reduction in force issues and restructuring and people get fired and they get let go. So the goal for leaders is not to create this bubble of ultimate psychological safety. It’s to create relative consistency and predictability so that while they have those jobs, your people can optimize.

their regulation capacity. And that’s easy to do. So instead of just jumping in to have a really hard conversation on Friday afternoon, take a second to find out from your people, Hey, if we have to have a hard conversation, what’s the best time of day for you?

Carolyn: a good time.

Britt: I, and I had a. A leader I worked with and she was like, this takes too much time.

Like we have work to do. We have a job to do. And I said, I get it, but it takes more time not to do it. It takes five seconds to find out when this person needs to be given hard feedback. That’s going to save you hours and hours of circular conversations and walking on like. Just find out when, when’s the best time to have a hard conversation.

Do you prefer a heads up over email? Do you want me to ambush you? Fine. And this is good. Not just leadership. This is just good. Relational, right? How many times have we come home and gotten ambushed when we walked in the door? We need to talk. It’s, it’s not helpful. So. Relational neuroscience is the neuroscience of leadership, which is find out what makes your people tick, which a lot of people don’t know, but create a culture where those questions, when’s a good time for me to have hard conversation?

How do I like to receive feedback? If I mess up, would it be better for me to? Kind of do a post mortem with you myself before you tell me how badly I screwed up and find out how, how these people tick, because then you’ll be able to drive more

Carolyn: Right. And, and, and here’s been my experiences. It can be hard for some leaders to ask those questions and I’ll include myself in there years ago because they don’t know how to answer them themselves. Right. So, yeah, now I, I know you have work that you have and I want to ask you about self leadership, 

but I want to come back to the gas pedal though.

And the and the, the break. So can you, so we’ve talked about the emergency break there. Can you talk about the gas pedal and the brake? And again, why does that, why is that going to help us as leaders to know what they do?

Britt: What it does. So the gas pedal is your sympathetic nervous system. It’s the thing that gives you the get up and go energy. We need it. The brake pedal is your parasympathetic system. That’s the rest and digest your food. That’s, it’s the end of the day and I’m ready to come home and be with my family. A car needs both the gas and the brakes.

And this idea of stress has gotten such a bad rap. We need there are two types of stress there. The two types of stress are you stress and distress. Distress is the type of stress that eats away at our well being. You stress is generative creative stress that empowers us to get up and execute. The goal is not to get rid of the gas pedal.

Or to get rid of the brake pedal, it’s to be able to shift smoothly between the two. So we don’t want to go for happiness or calmness. We don’t want that. We want eustress on the gas pedal and we want just enough brake pedal where we can slow down. We don’t want to be jerking back and forth.

Carolyn: And so how are you finding people are using this brake pedal and gas pedal right now, generally speaking?

Britt: The most helpful. It’s so funny with all these car metaphors because I’m not really a car person. And I, I talk about cars all day now, which is hilarious, but in my keynotes, I always ask who, who knows how to drive a stick shift. And we still have a decent number of people who have, what happens if you try to shift from 90 miles an hour in fifth gear to 20 and first, and everyone in the audience goes, Oh, right.

Cause your car. Just gets destroyed when you do that. But how often do we get to Friday afternoon after grinding 90 miles an hour in fifth gear and then go, well, why can’t I relax? What’s wrong with me? It’s the end of the week and that’s when we grab the wine and that’s when we like go for the chemicals or the bad habits or the overindulging because we don’t know that our car, our brain is a car that does need to shift.

We can’t go from fifth to first. You can’t go from 90 to 20. And so the brake pedal and I guess the clutch, if you’re going super technical, the brake pedal is in, we, we have to, we have to come down slowly. You can’t just go from work to being home and relax. You might need to change your clothes. You might need to take a walk.

You might need to create a ritual because our brains love predictability and consistency. If every time I get home, I change my clothes before I engage in home life stuff, that helps prime my brain to shift down out of work mode. But if When you and I are done with this conversation, if I turn off my computer and just try to relax, which I wouldn’t do because it’s early, I wouldn’t be able to.

I would have to do three or four things first. And that’s how you engage the breaks.

Carolyn: And the, the, I think what I fell into was like, I can override that. And, and that’s, I think where we fall into a big leadership challenge. Is when we try and push and push and push, and we get mad if we can’t slow down exactly when we want to.

Britt: You can yell at a car with no gas all day long, and you can, you can push it, you can ride on fumes, but once the car’s out of gas, it’s not going anywhere until you fill it. And burnout is the same way. You can override all of these mechanisms and some people do it for decades, but it does come with a very real social and biological physiological cost.

So you don’t have to destroy your car. We can. Get the oil change. We can go to the gas station. We can learn how to drive it. When I was in my early twenties, I drove cars into the grounds, but when you maintenance them, they work better. So this is my argument for doing this work as a leader.

Carolyn: So what are some of the things that, that we could do even on a daily, like a daily and a weekly basis, maybe even a monthly basis to make sure that we are caring for ourselves, our car with a little bit more intention.

Britt: And the good news here is it doesn’t require all the self care, like bubble baths and getting yourself gifts and all of that. That’s great. Like I do that too, but the idea of brain maintenance, car maintenance doesn’t require anything big. It can be as simple as change your clothes. It can be as small as listen to a different type of music on your way home.

Anytime you do something a little bit different than what you’re, you know, when we go into autopilot. we’re not shifting anymore. Then our brains kind of get stuck in whatever state they’re in. So if you normally come home from work and you take the same road, switch roads, that’s just going to automatically shake the snow globe of your brain.

And that doesn’t take any extra effort. You know, most of us are short on time and we’re short on energy and we’re short on patients these days. So these very small shifts. Don’t take any, they’re not a big lift, we just need to nuance and sand down the corners and that can make a huge impact in how we live, lead, and love.

Carolyn: Wow. Wow. That’s simple. I had never, I never realized that. I know, I know when I get home, I do love to get into a cozier sort of set of clothing. And I didn’t realize that that was a cue for my brain.

Britt: It’s these sensory inputs, because the way that your central nervous system and your brain, automatic brain stuff, it doesn’t like logic, it does like sensory inputs. So if I’m writing, if I’m working on a writing project, I have a certain perfume that I wear. I’ve done it often enough that my brain now knows when we smell this particular scent, I have to shift into creative part of my brain.

I have other things that I use when I’m with clients and other things that I use when I’m speaking or when I’m home with my dog and my husband. Because using tactical things that you can touch, things that you can smell, they’re around us. They’re everywhere. I use kinetic sand to downshift my car. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit that we don’t know is there, which is why we’re not using it.

I’m not saying life’s so simple, just, you know, but these things help and they make a huge difference.

Carolyn: now. And, and so here’s where I’d love to go next. We get stuck in our heads, so our ability to downshift that clutch of our of our nervous system. The big aha for me was realizing how much I was living in my head and I didn’t even know how to interpret. Sensations were cues from my body. So could you talk a little bit about this integration between our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, sensations, like sort of how can we use all of our car, I guess, for lack of a better analogy, and not just keep trying to drive on like one wheel.

Britt: Yeah, I love that. And you know, for people who have not lived embodied, you know, and I was very much a cerebral, I just want to float 10 feet above me. The idea of trying to align and integrate emotions and feelings and bodies, it’s too much. So don’t do that. Let’s just start with. How’s the temperature on your skin?

I tell this story often and I had a client who was so disconnected from the, your head’s attached to an entire system of cells and organs and tissues. Our therapy started just by going for walks outside in the cold and me saying, where do you feel the wind? What do you notice is cold? If going inside is too much.

Okay, go outside. You know, if you have the ability to see if you know, then look and see what’s around you. If you don’t have vision, then feel what’s around you.

Carolyn: And tell us Brit, like what’s happening? Why is that? Like, cause I could hear somebody being like, Oh, well, you’re on a pay you money to go for a walk. I can do that on my own. Can you explain to us what that is doing?

Britt: Yeah, I love that pushback and I get it often and then I get out my whiteboard. I’m like, here’s what your brain is doing. No. You know, there’s more here. Going for the walk and engaging sensory cues, my arms are cold, that will turn off an overactive amygdala. Great. We don’t just walk and feel the cold.

Now that your brain has turned off the emergency signal, now we can come down into a place where we can get into content. What are you thinking? And what are you feeling? But we can’t do that until we shift down a few gears. And most people come into therapy or into work in these high gear brain states and then wonder why their logic and their, why is there this gap between what I say I want to do and what I actually do?

Why is there this gap between how I’m showing up and who I know I want to be in the world? And it’s because we need to downshift first. So yeah. You don’t need to pay someone to go for a walk, but it’s what happens after

Carolyn: Exactly. Exactly. And, and so the sensei, this was a big learning for me is engaging your five senses. You know, if you, if you, if you have all of them or what you have will help pull you out of. It’ll help you gear down and bring you back into that state of presence.

Britt: Exactly. And again, it’s like, really? It’s that stupid simple? Life is complex, but the tools to come out of dysregulation into autonomy and choice, those tools, assuming you have relative safety, those tools are simple. And again, it doesn’t require meditation. You don’t have to take a deep breath. You don’t have to think positive.

You don’t have to feel your heart. Just notice that you have a body and to whatever degree it can move, nothing will downshift a brain faster than physical movement.

Carolyn: And so, okay. So we’re going to go for a walk or, you know, you, you talked about going for a walk. How does it feel on your body? Like, were you feeling cold? That sort of thing. how else can we tie in our head and our body?

Britt: So I really like. I, and I’m not talking about exercise. People can be very, very fit from a very disembodied, disconnected state. So I’m not talking about doing these things for exercise, but if you, if you’re able, get into a plank and then just notice what your body is doing. Like notice, what does it feel like for your, or like squeeze your hands together and feel your muscles engage, having your muscles engage and feeling things start to fire does help shift your brain.

Back into present day. And again, assuming that you’re in a safe environment, if you can keep your head where your feet are, you’re going to be able to function better. And you’re going to be more productivity’s not really the goal of our human experience, but it is a nice benefit of being regulated as you will be more productive.

Carolyn: And so what are some things if I am a leader or, you know, well, anyone can be a leader at work. It does not depend on a title. What are some things then that we could do, let’s say in meetings or to start off meetings that allow us to come into more of a present moment?

Britt: I love that question because, you know, I’ve run groups long enough to know that most meetings could be emails, but if you have to have a meeting, there’s nothing worse than a meeting where people are checking in and everyone is going on and on and on and on. And it’s that cringy. Oh my God, get me out of here feeling.

And it’s not because people don’t matter, but we need to create containment. for meeting content. So if it’s a happy meeting, that’s gonna require a different setup than a hard meeting. But if it’s a small group, do a one word check in. You want to check in with your people. People need to be seen, heard, validated, but they don’t need an open mic because that’s not helpful.

Having an open mic will create lots of panic responses in everyone else’s brain. So do a one word check in, you know, in three words. How are you feeling right now? And it’s, again, it’s not creating group therapy. It’s creating containment for regulation using skills, like a one word check in or, you know, having the meeting room cold because when things are colder, your brain is.

More down regulated. I don’t like being cold. It’s uncomfortable. But if you’re talking panic and stress and anxiety, you’re going to be more likely to go to that brain state if you’re hot than if you’re cold. So keep meeting rooms cool. Little things that do make a difference.

Carolyn: Yeah. Yeah. Even as you were talking to, I thought, you know, the power of high fiving the person beside you even you know, that’s a, a tactile thing. Just that, how did that feel? Was it hard? Was it soft? Was it, you know, did it sting again? Just brings you into the present moment.

Britt: Exactly. And then again, for leaders, when I worked in the corporate world prior to being a wellness person, nothing enraged and dysregulated me faster than a you know, Hey everybody, isn’t it great style of leadership? It’s like don’t polish the turd if things are bad I don’t, I know zero grownups who like being patronized like children, so you’re not telling anybody something that they don’t already know.

Carolyn: already know.

Britt: So you want to build trust with your team? Start by, you don’t have to overshare or be fear mongery, but don’t polish the turd. If it’s bad, name it.

Carolyn: Right, right. Be real with it. 

Now is there anything else from the science? We talked about the, the break the emergency break, the gas pedal. I mean, I feel like we’ve captured a good sense of, of neuroscience in, in that sort of metaphorical way. Is there anything else, though, that you think would help leaders when it comes to understanding neuroscience?

Britt: I mean, yes is the long answer, but I’ll, I’ll shorten it with if you want to not bypass, but if you want to avoid all of these different types of neuro responses, sort of like the James Bond, like under the lasers kind of situation or mission and whoever that was

Carolyn: Yeah.

Britt: micro yeses are the tool.

And so micro yes is not a baby step. It’s not a small step. It’s like a stupid little, it’s like. A micro yes for working out is not take a walk around the block. It’s put your shoes by the door and then go back to the couch. And so micro yeses from a leader to a team might be give people things that are such easy wins.

that it’s again, that it’ll take more work not to do with them to do it because those tiny little wins build capacity, release dopamine, you know, reduce the flow of cortisol and allow for more productivity. So getting used to asking for stupid little things and then teaching people how to do that for themselves.


Carolyn: What would be an example? What would be an example of that?

Britt: So I think everybody has an email that they need to send or a phone call. They need to make that. They’re procrastinating. I have it too. I finally got it done this morning. So a micro yes is not send the email a micro. Yes. Might be. Open your computer and then the next micro yes might be start a new email and then put a subject line in and then take breaks in between and then after you put the subject line in, write three words and then write another three words.

It’s like, how am I supposed to do anything if I’m taking steps this small? The answer is a lot faster than if you try to do the thing, you don’t do the thing. And now you’re spinning around and all that stress response stuff. So for a leader, it might be something as stupid in a meeting as, Hey, can you pass me a pen?

Doing things that allow for easy wins is a neuroscience hack. And it’s not about manipulating. It’s about knowing, give people things they can say yes to before. Adding a huge load saying yes builds capacity. It’s like building a bridge. So then when you have a five ton Mac truck that you have filled with asks, you’ve built a bridge that can carry it.

Carolyn: You know, like, Oh, there’s so much that’s going through my head with that. You know, earlier you said relational neuroscience, I think, or relation. I mean, what I’m hearing there is what are the small micro yeses between our working relationship? So the pass me a pen, or Yeah, like a highlighter. I’m just looking at it.

It does seem in some ways I could see like, oh, that’s so juvenile. Like, come on, we’re beyond that we’re adults. But again, we’re dealing with something that’s out of our consciousness, which is our, you know, our nervous system.

Britt: I love that. You said we’re all adults because how often have you ever felt like you were in charge of people who are not acting like adults? If we could stay in adult consciousness, we wouldn’t need therapists. Like the entire industry is predicated upon adult people don’t always act like adults because that’s not how brains brain, our brains regress and they get illogical and they get irrational and emotional and these are silly things.

And again, you have to do it without patronizing people. Hey. Can you pass me a pen? Yeah, good. Pat, pat. So nothing will regulate a team faster than a regulated leader. So leadership’s an inside job first, and then, then you can kind of extend it out.

Carolyn: So, self 

leadership,. So I want to ask about self leadership and SQ. So self leadership is required to manage our shadow impulses and to get unstuck. It’s the practice of responding to stressors rather than reacting to triggers. What does self leadership and and SQ, shadow intelligence have to do with each other?

Britt: So that, that one gets a little esoteric. So I dial it all the way back in the book too. Self leadership helps, you know, put the bottle down, power the computer down. The thing that you know, you shouldn’t be doing. If you want to not do it, you need a leader on board. You need somebody in charge. You need a chairman of the board who can make decisions and execute them.

So that’s what self leadership does. SQ is my contribution to this body of emotional intelligence knowledge. So we’ve got IQ and we’ve got EQ. And so I call. Shadow intelligence or sq, how connected are you to your impulses? How aware are you of those places where you might be more inclined to default to a less than optimal way of responding, and your shadow intelligence or your ssq is the measure to which you can lead yourself around those emotional landmines.

Carolyn: So the formula that you wrote in the book for getting unstuck is IQ, which we know intelligence, mind intelligence, EQ, emotional intelligence, and then SQ, the shadow intelligence, this ability to manage your impulses

Britt: The having a high IQ will allow you to innovate and create and get stuff done. That’s cool. Emotional intelligence will allow you to have an understanding of how you’re feeling and that’s great, but how many people achieve success and are connected to their emotions, but they feel terrible. And I know plenty of high achieving people who can very clearly say, I am feeling angry and I am feeling.

Frustrated and I’m sad, but there’s no change. There’s no shift. There’s no point of transformation. And I see that person every day in my office. That’s when we have to dig into the shadow. Now, in nature, all a shadow is, is like, Light’s blocked, a shadow is cast. So shadows, psychologically speaking, are just, you’re not aware.

There’s something out of your conscious awareness. Something is being blocked here. And the more we remove the blocks to you having a full understanding of yourself, the more effective you’ll be able to be. And then you’ll have the freedom to enjoy it. Once you get there.

Carolyn: and nothing doesn’t have a shadow. Basically, everything has a shadow the other way of saying it. Yeah , I’m going to ask you to just hypothesize which part of that equation, I think you’ve kind of answered it. So I’m looking to be a little bit more explicit, which, like, what percentage of leaders out there do you think have really invested in their SQ, their shadow intelligence?

Britt: Right. I mean, what is the state of leadership today? I think the reason there are 5 bajillion books and courses and seminars and conferences and workshops on leadership is because it’s tricky. And there seems to be some missing some gaps in the body of research and literature and knowledge. And I think SQ is one that has largely stayed limited to the therapy world.

And it’s not just for people who struggle with their mental health. Having awareness of your shadows and the ability to self manage, self lead and regulate through them is a very human experience. And so I think the, I don’t have a number, I think not enough. And I think everybody could benefit from being more connected to the internal squad.

Okay. I mean, our minds are not a monolith. There’s not just one part of me. I have parts of me that are good and parts of me that are snarky and parts of me that can get things done and parts of me that don’t want to do any of the things. Our, our system is like a company with different teams and we need somebody in charge to manage them.

Cause then all of your people on your team also have their internal team. It’s a, it’s a, there’s a lot to manage.

Carolyn: Yeah. and so this, experience with SQ Brit, what have you found inspires people to take that piece on?

Britt: Well, I think the barrier to taking on that type of conscious awareness is the fear of shame. Right? Oh my God, if I told people what was happening in my head, they would cast me out. I would be rejected, but we all have weird things in our head. Like, I, again, I sit with people who say the things and I hear them from every place in life, from every level of functionality and, and achievement, we, our heads do weird things.

If it’s in your head, if you’re acting out and causing harm, that’s a whole different story than if you’re having weird thoughts. So if we can de shame and normalize that everyone’s brains do weird things, so let’s work with it. That’s content. Let’s not judge it or fear it or shame it. Let’s just, you know, I tell people, think of your intrusive thoughts, like a really untrained person on a sports team that you can’t trade, like this is your team, so you can’t get rid of them.

So we have to coach them and train them up and give them more skills. And there are ways of doing that.

Carolyn: I mean, I love that. I love that.

 So Brit, I wrote a book called trauma informed leadership. And so this was another part of the book where I was like yelling out loud. you talked in your book, you wrote a few, a few areas, you know, we all have unresolved trauma and I loved how you described it, which was brain indigestion. So can, I’d love to hear your take just as we wrap up here. Why do we need to know about this T word as leaders? why is it going to help us be better leaders in our workplaces?

Britt: And again, everyone seems to have over indexed in the zeitgeist on the word trauma, so now everybody has trauma, and every emotional ding is traumatic, and I’m not minimizing the reality that human ing is hard, and to some degree, everyone is going to experience Some kind of if trauma is defined as I do as brain indigestion, something happens that your brain did not metabolize and it got stuck and it showed up as a symptom like stress or anxiety or reactivity or whatever doesn’t mean everyone experiences trauma the same.

And it doesn’t mean that you had a bad childhood. It just means that trauma is part of the human experience. So if we can. Not minimize people have gotten very angry at me. It’s like you’re minimizing the pain of real trauma survivors my listen I’m a recovering drug addict. I’m a sexual assault survivor and a childhood trauma survivor.

I’m not minimizing it I’m saying doesn’t take away from my experience to recognize that you had yours to whatever degree you had yours So Trauma is a human thing. And I tell people now, don’t worry about calling it trauma. Let’s just worry about what it is. And the impact is anything that’s too much or too fast for your brain can become indigestion.

And so shifting and micro yesing is the same strategy for high level PTSD, as it is for revenge, bedtime procrastination. The brain chemistry is different in its volume, but it’s the same process.

Carolyn: Right. Right. And, and you also say to, and I said this in my book, like, you don’t have to tell your story to heal and to, to work with it and do all of this. 

So, what other suggestions? So you’ve talked about micro yeses. What else would you say that leaders need to know about trauma, if anything, or the concept of trauma?

Britt: Yeah. That they don’t need to be therapists. That understanding trauma doesn’t mean now you have to enable and coddle your people and be in everyone’s feelings. In fact, we want less therapizing and less vulnerability at work, if anything, not more. As a leader, your number one strategy when it comes to trauma or neuroscience or stress or whatever is validation.

Like it’s, again, it’s stupid simple. Validation doesn’t mean agreement. It doesn’t mean cosigning. You’re not giving away your power. You’re just saying, Hey, I see where you’re coming from. And that makes sense. This is what it is. I understand you don’t like that, but like, I, I don’t need any advanced training in neuroscience or therapy to be able to validate that someone’s having an experience.

I don’t have to go there with them. I don’t need to match the intensity. I don’t even need empathy. I’m empathic naturally, and I know you are too, but you can be a stone cold sociopath and still provide validation to someone. Cause you don’t need to be in your feelings to validate, which

Carolyn: And that, and that validate, just take us back to the nervous system again, that validation does what for the person’s nervous system?

Britt: Pumps the brakes

Carolyn: Right? Right. And pumping the brakes helps us to helps us to slow down and be in the moment.

Britt: and to be logical, if you’re thinking of, you pump the brakes, you’re going to, the person you’re talking to is more likely to hear a hard piece of feedback if they’re in the driver’s seat than if they’re locked in the trunk going 90 miles an hour in fifth gear. So validating is always a good first line before doing anything else.

Carolyn: Right. 

Well, Brit I usually end off my podcast with these three questions. So I’d love to go there if we can, about self awareness, self regulation, and co regulation. So the first one and we’ve talked a lot about this. You know, it’s really about self awareness, you Yeah.

A quick insight that you can share with us that really gave you perspective into yourself, a whole level of awareness.

Britt: The last day I ever smoked crystal meth, where I had a very big reckoning of, Oh, I have a problem. This is not a casual social thing. This is not just something I am dabbling in. I have a problem. No one’s coming to save me, which is the bad news and the good news. If no one’s coming to save me, that means I am empowered to change, to transform and to do what needs to be done to switch paths.

Carolyn: Wow. Wow. That’s a big moment. Big moment. Yeah. 

So second one around routines or rituals, something that helps you find that agency and that ability to regulate.

Britt: Yeah. And I tell people rituals are not just, I mean, I love a good woo practice, but rituals are neuroscientifically sound things to help pump your brakes. So I do Julia Cameron who wrote the artist’s way, I do morning pages, three long journal pages. I’ve done that every morning for, I don’t know, 15 years now, and that is a sacred practice that I do, but I have a bajillion rituals.

That’s just one of them.

Carolyn: That’s fantastic. And every morning.

Britt: I mean, I’m and I skip a morning here and there, but. More often than not.

Carolyn: How long does it take to have three pages come out?

Britt: I use a small or a notebook, so it takes about 15 minutes.

Carolyn: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. 

And now the last question is music. I love, I love music, all types. And so, I wanted to ask about a genre of music or song that helps you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.

Britt: I’m so not cool when it comes to music, like I don’t know who the band of the moment is. I was,

Carolyn: not about cool, Britt. It’s not about cool. Whatever works for you.

Britt: That’s my little shadow part going, don’t judge me. I love musical theater, and so I, my car is my stage, and on any given day you’re gonna see me jamming out to some cartoon situation in my

Carolyn: Love it. Love it. Love it. I’ll tell you, Kinky Boots is one of my favorite, like, I, yeah, I put on a whole concert in my car.

Britt: it.

Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, well Brit, thank you so, so much for coming on the podcast. 

I can’t stress enough to anybody listening how amazing your book is. Where can they find more information about you and your book?

Britt: Thank you so much. You can find me on Instagram mostly at Brit Frank and Brit has two T’s. You can buy my book, The Science of Stuck, wherever you buy books and the workbook will be out in June next year. Yay.

Carolyn: Oh, good.

Britt: And come say hi. I don’t have other people doing my social media. It’s just me. And I love meeting everyone and building a sense of connection in this very fragmented world we’re living in.

Carolyn: Love it. It’s one of my favorite social, there’s a lot of saves. There’s a lot of saves from Britt Frank in my, in my post. So, thank you again, Britt, for coming on and thank to all, thanks to all of you listening. If you have any questions on this episode, please let me know. There was just so much richness here, wishing you all listening some I’m going to say luck, but some insight, some luck in, in driving your cars with your brake pedal and your gas pedal and your emergency brake. 

So this car analogy really came to life in this discussion. Pedal down, brake on, or emergency brake. Well, I have always loved to drive pretty fast in my car and now I realize that my nervous system has loved to drive with the pedal down. for a long, long time. So I am learning how to put that brake pedal on.

I have learned about my emergency brake and wow, this is, this is really changing how I’m showing up in the world. And I, I hope that this conversation with Brit has brought some of these nervous systems nervous system terminology to you in an accessible way, in a way that can help you show up in the way that you want to.

It’s hard, you know, our brains weren’t wired to live the way that we’re living right now. But what we heard from Brit today and, and what I know from other great researchers and people doing this type of work is that the more we can learn to partner with our brain, the more that we will be able to be intentional and responsive versus reactive.

We’ll have Brit’s information in the show notes for you. And as always, if you want to get in touch with me, you can find me at carolynswara. com. And Hey, don’t forget, I’ve got a book out there called evolve a path to trauma informed leadership. I hope you might find it interesting. Pick it up. Let me know what you think.

And if you like what you’re listening to on this podcast, it would mean a lot if you could like and subscribe and Hey. Follow and let some friends know. Thanks again for tuning in. 

EVOLVE Podcast Episodes

Lindsay Harle-Kadatz
Karin Hurt

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