The 5 Glitches

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

I was listening to an interview that Krista Tippit (from the podcast and radio show On Being) did with Sylvia Boorstein, who is a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist living in Detroit. She talked about Buddhism’s five “genetic fallback glitches,” which are biological explanations for how we behave when we are challenged. These are:

  1. Fretting or worrying (anxiety)
  2. Anger
  3. Discouragement
  4. Self-blame
  5. Seek out comfort (“where’s the chocolate?”)

Her point, which we’ve seen validated in our work with leaders and in organizations, is that under stress we usually default to a particular set of behaviors that seem to be hardwired into us. She points out that these are not moral flaws, worthy of additional flagellation, but instead to be thought of as basic biological components of our lives, much as one might not have much hair on their head, or have brown eyes.

As I thought about this interview, an article in this week’s Wall Street Journal pointed out that many young workers just starting out are experiencing high levels of anxiety and their bosses are at a loss as to how to help them. The article suggests that the best strategy is to directly address and support these employees through the use of empathy and understanding. Managers can go further by having open discussions about workplace stress and “normalizing” these kinds of reactions (like anxiety or discouragement) so that younger employees can see that these kinds of changes are typical for many employees and that growth and learning can come from them.

In our new book, Retooling Leadership Development, Mike and I talk about how opportunities for leadership growth happen every day and right in front of our eyes. We don’t have to look for occasions to help others in our leadership and these actions actually help us become better people. Those chances happen many times each day. Knowing that we have certain ways that we react to challenges provide us an opportunity to do better the next.

Your Challenge this Week: Identify which of those genetic glitches you favor and notice when they occur this week. If you are a manager or leader, notice these in your team members. Let me know how you “change the tune” once you see how you and others respond to some personal challenges.

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2019


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