Hair on Fire?

Posted February 24, 2019 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change

shutterstock_300493847 Hair on Fire

By Robert C. Thames, Founder of Pathways to Transformation

Were you able to extinguish this over the recent holidays? Or is it still smoldering–just waiting to reignite?  With goal setting and catching your breath throughout January, are some of those old habits reappearing in February?

It seems like the older I get, the more distasteful this experience becomes. How many times must I learn this lesson? It’s certainly still something I am battling. In the heat of the moment, we tend to forget the destructive outcomes of this lack of strategic discipline. While we may instinctually think this practice is beneficial in meeting deadlines, and checking tasks off the ever-expanding to-do list, living this way can actually be harmful.

Stress can cause the hypothalamus region of our brain to signal our adrenal glands to secrete five primary hormones into our bloodstream, and their effects can be beneficial or detrimental.

  1. Adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone, can be beneficial to a point. It can be critical in a survival situation by increasing your heart rate, physical strength, body temperature and breathing.  Blood flow is redirected to your heart, lungs, and muscles.  Energy is increased due to extra glucose in the bloodstream, vision is sharpened, and one is more alert and aware.  However, overreacting to stress can produce high levels of adrenaline that can weaken the immune system, create restlessness and anxiety, poor sleep and insomnia, ulcers, weight gain, andweight gain, and strain on the heart.
  2. Cortisol contributes to the increase of blood sugar and enhances the use of it by our brain, along with other substances that repair tissue damage. It suppresses organs deemed non-essential in a stressful situation, altering immune system responses and the digestive system.  In excess, it has some of the same detrimental effects on the body as adrenaline, as well as impairing memory and concentration. It facilitates inflammation.
  3. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can trigger excitement and feelings of well- being from achievement.  Low levels of dopamine can lead to depression, lack of motivation, and a feeling of helplessness.  Dysfunction of the dopamine system has also been linked to Parkinson’s Disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  4. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a lot to do with regulating our moods and sense of well-being. Low levels of serotonin have similar effects as dopamine, including depression, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder.  Like dopamine, an imbalance of this hormone can have negative effects on your sleep cycle.
  5. Oxytocin is a hormone that facilitates feelings of connection, calmness, love, nurturing, and healing. It can be the antidote to the overabundance and excesses of the hormones above.  It can feed perspectives of abundance and peace vs. scarcity and fear.  Medical research has often focused more on the first four hormones, and deeper understanding of the calm and connection system is needed.

Needless to say, there is a lot going on in your body when you find yourself in a hair- on-fire state!  The collective integration of these five hormones in the actions we take can have major positive and negative effects on our personal health and well-being.  The cumulative effects of too much or too little of these chemical messengers can wreck our health or fill us with sustaining energy.  While they are somewhat difficult to measure, I would submit that you know when they are surging because you can feel the change in your state of being by observing your intensity.

  • Operating with a hair-on-fire mindset tends to alienate anyone within proximity, often those we love most.  In our manic effort to get things done, we can damage and sever relationships with the very people who can help us.
  • Ultimately, this mindset has a tendency to create lower quality outcomes than we intend, as our approach is often a “mile wide and an inch deep”.  Focus is spotty and distracted, as we rush to create more achievement in smaller blocks of time.
  • Fear and self-limiting beliefs can replace confidence and courtesy in the rush to completion.

So…what’s the solution?  In the final analysis, you aren’t likely to get it all done anyway, so why not pause and pick the things that intersect with your passions and joy? Toxic messaging assaults our mindfulness daily. It influences our mindset and the very hormones flowing throughout our bloodstream. Are you weary of the highs and lows?   In an article for, Tara Healey of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, suggests we learn to better separate our responses from our reactions.

A simple technique that I have learned in Vistage training is called STOP:

  • Stop…just stop.
  • Take a breath.
  • Observe…take a moment to sense what is going on in you and around you.
  • Proceed…with compassion and purpose.

This is a new practice for me, as I have been seeing the negative impacts of a hair-on-fire mindset for decades.  It’s time to change!

What about you?  What practices have helped in your experience?




The Hedge Perspective

Posted August 11, 2017 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change

Hedges shutterstock_490685254

As you look at the beautiful greenery above, what strikes you? What is the purpose of these magnificent hedges? Is it to keep you from seeing or accessing what is behind them? Or, is it to keep you safely and securely on the path?

With the rampant division and political unrest in America at the moment, and social media acting as an accelerant, our ability to learn from multiple perspectives and each other are significantly limited. When our very values and assumptions are under continuous assault, automatic responses to challenges are often brutally quick and pointed. Our business culture tends to see things in silo’ed perspectives as well. This automatic response tends to be either/or, profit/loss, scarcity vs. abundance, us vs. them. These singular views produce a pretty toxic environment, and one that is pretty far away from collaborative.

Good leaders will slow the response time down enough to allow evaluation of multiple perspectives, rather than a single point of view that can create a collision of opposite opinions. Buddha’s teachings talked of a “middle way or path” to encourage a neutral, upright, and centered approach. Other religious traditions have also referred to a “middle way”. Stephen R. Covey* relates a story about Gandhi where he developed his nonviolent action approach as a result of humiliation and prejudice when he was in South Africa. He chose a third alternative instead of fight or retreat options. Covey calls this “The Third Alternative”—not my way, or your way, but our way.

Finally, good leaders will not hesitate to make a decision to move ahead with a singular perspective solution after dialogue about multiple approaches has run its course. Evaluating multiple perspectives does not have to result in a watered-down compromise, but can actually promote a synergy through collaborative efforts to blend the best pieces of all perspectives.

How often do you, as a leader, take the time to slow down the process and move toward a third alternative that maximizes synergy and reduces conflict? Do you value the hedges as a metaphor for keeping you upright and centered on the path?

I would welcome your perspective! Email me at:

Bob Thames

*Covey, Stephen R., The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Free Press, div. of Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2004, p. 187.

My Three Words for 2017

Posted December 31, 2016 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change

ESSENTIALISM: After reading the book by the same name (by Greg McKeown), I want to be sure in this next year to focus on the 20% of things that truly matter.

ROUTINE: In order to focus only on the essential things, I must establish routine processes for getting the important things done, and having the discipline to execute on those processes. I will use my gTasks app daily to prioritize and keep a monthly log of the essential tasks and habits I say yes to, and a longer list of tasks and habits that I say no to.

CHOOSE: Establishing a routine to focus on only the essential things requires that I choose carefully among the many options presented to me.

Trust Your Talents

Posted December 21, 2016 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change


The greatest privilege in life is to discover and live as we were created to be.  Pathways to Transformation LLC helps individuals and teams in organizations discover their natural, authentic talents and facilitates a space for them to be accountable for actions to enhance their success. Too many people don’t know who they are; and are working way too hard to be a person someone else told them to be.  It is an incredible gift to feel validated and in synch with oneself.  Imagine a world where everyone understood their gifts and acted in alignment with them!

The genesis of this small business came from decades of trying to perform in various roles where from a strengths perspective, I was marginally qualified.  When I discovered that leveraging my talents produced superior results, I focused there, as opposed to working on weaknesses.  I was able to focus my efforts in those areas that truly matter, and step away from creating mediocre results in many areas.

Discovering our natural strengths and working in alignment with them creates a flow that is effortless and fulfilling.  Coaching and supporting this discovery and execution process is what we do; and we witness clients achieving impactful, changed lives as a result.

LinkedIn ProFinder is an essential tool in showcasing the value we bring to our clients.  Having clients tell their stories about the intentional outcomes they have created in their lives is a powerful testimony to others who may feel stuck in a routine that is unfulfilling and unproductive.  Leveraging our extensive network on LinkedIn helps potential clients find and engage us to intentionally create a better life.

How can we serve you?                                                                                              #ProFinderContest

Mosaic: The New Asymmetric World We Live In (#1)

Posted November 22, 2016 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change



This is the first in a series of three blog posts that may be of particular interest to mid to senior level executives who are frustrated in their efforts to facilitate change and achieve improved employee engagement. The posts cover our new asymmetric world and how we arrived here, the forces of change driving the “mosaic”, and once realized, suggestions on what to do about it.

There was a time when a standard approach to things almost worked. I say ‘almost’ because it was efficient and effective; just in a sub-optimal sort of way. The ‘information age’ swaggered in with the advent of computers, and data began its march to dominance. Once marketers began to collect and use data, they carved out targets for messages in demographic segments and blasted group offerings to them, hoping and praying for a 10% hit or close rate. Perhaps this is just another representation of the “spray and pray” methodology?

Today we are inundated with so much data from robot calling systems to search engine optimizers that we may pray for relief from all the “noise” and virtual privacy invasion. The true meaning of things gets distorted by ‘instant’ messaging, texts, tweets, and opinion pieces that often become perceived facts, even though unvalidated.

Disruptive technology has given the individual a ‘voice’ and public platform to offer their point of view to the masses. The predictions of Marshall McLuhan that the “medium is the message” have come full circle. Whether one likes the result or not, being relevant and addressing the needs of individuals is paramount to succeeding.

How did we get here?

When our ancestors began to move away from hunting and gathering to providing products and services for others, one typically learned a “trade” and spent time learning it from a mentor who was an expert. As the Industrial Age dawned, focus shifted away from apprentices and craftsmen to efficiency and standardization. In order for the economy to grow, goods and services had to be manufactured quickly and distributed to the masses at an affordable price. Frederick Taylor helped hone mass production techniques into producing goods at an economy of scale that made them affordable and available to all for consumption. Quality was still important, but secondary to production cost and speed to market. Time and motion studies, along with scientific management techniques created hierarchical command and control management structures to facilitate efficiency and quality. Workers were trained to be machine-like and work on small, repetitive tasks in order to produce products at the highest quality at the lowest cost. Competition became fierce, and differentiating products became more difficult as they became commodities that competed on the lowest price. This approach devalued the employee and presented significant labor challenges as people felt they were treated as cogs in a wheel. Empowerment and individual initiative took a back seat to production.

Customers were not treated much better. Henry Ford stated in his 1923 autobiography that the Model T was available in any color one wanted, as long as it was black. That was the prevailing attitude toward customers at the time. Whenever demand exceeds production, the customer has little influence.

However, eventually production and availability exceeds demand, and age of the customer arrives as more choices are presented through increased competition. Customers want different product features and colors. Burger King’s slogan of “have it your way” may come to mind. In manufacturing circles, the concept of mass customization emerges, where products are customized to individual lot sizes of one, while retaining the economy of scale and quality attributes. Speed to market comes through enhanced production capabilities, and when a product is customized, specifically to individual customers, slightly longer lead times are more easily tolerated. For example, the Mars Chocolate company will actually personalize M&Ms with specific colors and text with their online configurator, then ship them out to the customer. Witness the way Apple releases its products, and how some customers actually camp out at the store overnight to be one of the first to have the latest cool gadget. Delivery of marketing campaigns and advertising has become very sophisticated, as companies use online tools to capture consumer behavior patterns in efforts to understand customer needs at an individual consumer level.

As distasteful as the topic may be, even fighting wars is changing. Military readiness used to be defined by massive human deployments on a battlefield, prevailing with overwhelming force. Today, military readiness is defined by adaptability and resilience as asymmetric threats are assessed and addressed far from the battlefield with technological tools and weapons connected to satellite imagery. Global terrorism is increasingly difficult to discover and defeat due to massive social media recruiting of disaffected and angry confederations of individuals who want to take their personal brand of hatred to martyrdom. One-size-fits-all approaches to defeat asymmetric threats are likely to fail.

Summary Points:

Trying to engage individuals and rise above the noise in our hyperactive global social media environment is nearly impossible unless you are timely and relevant.
The Industrial model with its standard approach is no longer effective because it isn’t personally relevant.
Standardization morphs into individualization in the new mosaic.
The next post describes the forces of change in the external environment that are driving the mosaic. Let me know how this content resonates with you. I will be pleased to respond to your comments online. Thanks!

Bob Thames is the founder of Pathways to Transformation LLC. He helps teams and individuals discover their natural talents and take actions to lead more fulfilling and authentic lives. He is the principal author of Chasing Change: Building Organizational Capacity in a Turbulent Environment, by John Wiley & Sons. +1 (931) 210-4690



Mosaic: The New Asymmetric World We Live In (#3)

Posted November 22, 2016 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change



This is the third post in a series of three blog posts that should be of particular interest to mid to senior level executives who are frustrated in their efforts to facilitate change and achieve improved employee engagement. The posts cover this new asymmetric world and how we arrived here, the forces of change driving the “mosaic”, and once realized, some suggestions on what to do about it.

Ok. There’s a mosaic! So what does that mean for me?

If you have made it to this point in these blogs, you’re probably wondering what to make of all this: “What, specifically, does this mean to me, and what can I do?” Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Deeply understand who you are. Know how and why you bring value to this world. You were created for a purpose and the sooner you latch onto that, the more fulfilled your life will be. Stop trying to be someone you are not—be authentic. Ask yourself: What does it cost me to be out of alignment with my soul?
  2. Know your place. None of us was created to be everything to everyone. We can only use our authentic talents to help certain people—our “tribe”. Know who they are, where they hang out (both physically and on social media), and meet them there one-to-one.
  3. Stay relevant. It’s so easy to get complacent and want to catch our breath and relax. Some of that may be necessary to recharge and restore, but you certainly don’t want to live there! Be curious, read and learn; build on what you already have. Don’t get stuck in the past, or stretched too far out into the future. Ask yourself two questions: What can I learn from someone else today? What can I teach?
  4. Challenge yourself. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Where possible, experiment with new paradigms and approaches. The worst that can happen in many cases is that you will learn something. (A gentleman I worked with years ago at IBM comes to mind. At the beginning of each month, he switched hands—everything from writing to eating to sports, he made it a point to switch. He said that it kept him in balance.)
  5. Be agile and adaptable. Don’t get caught up in a fixed mindset. Change provides opportunities—if it didn’t, we would stagnate. Celebrate your uniqueness and take it to the world!
  6. Visualize your mosaic. Cultivate more relationships where you can add your specific talents and passions into the mix. Take that relevancy to your tribe and take note of the difference you make in others’ lives, and the difference it makes in yours. Relationships are your currency in a one-on- one world. One of the greatest ‘relators’ in history was Jesus Christ. In the Bible, out of the 40 people he directly helped, he went to 34 of them individually, while only 6 came to him.
  7. Be vigilant. The only way change can catch you by surprise is if you are unaware. Stay focused and remember that things are constantly changing. Use the PESTEL model to ground your thinking as you periodically assess the state of your life and your career. A quarterly assessment of your goals and dreams can pay enormous dividends and give you a sense of control over the things you can change and where to adapt to the things you cannot control.

Let me know how this content resonates with you. I will be pleased to respond to your comments online. Thanks!

Bob Thames is the founder of Pathways to Transformation LLC. He helps teams and individuals discover their natural talents and take actions to lead more fulfilling and authentic lives. He is the principal author of Chasing Change: Building Organizational Capacity in a Turbulent Environment, by John Wiley & Sons.

Mosaic: The New Asymmetric World We Live In (#2)

Posted November 22, 2016 by Pathways To Transformation
Categories: Personal Change


This is the second post in a series of three blog posts that should be of particular interest to mid to senior level executives who are frustrated in their efforts to facilitate change and achieve improved employee engagement. The posts cover this new asymmetric world and how we arrived here, the forces of change driving the “mosaic”, and once realized, some suggestions on what to do about it. (If you missed the first post, find it on this site in a separate blog post.)

Forces of change shaping diversity and individualism

External forces are interdependent and continually at work in our world, whether we are aware of them or not. One helpful lens on viewing these forces of change is the PESTEL model:

Political. These are the changes that emanate from the communities we live in, and impacts are now global in reach. Whether it’s race relations, acceptance of different values and religions, or advancement of our societies, political forces are always present. And much of the division in American society has come from this force, as value systems collide and respect for differing beliefs disintegrates. Disenfranchisement is the latest term for the political and economic exclusion that many people are feeling. This is just fancy word for irrelevant.

Economic. Impacts from this attribute are now felt worldwide. When one country’s economy falters, the ripple is international in scope. Our economic well-being is a fragile global web. When the survival needs of people are tenuous, dysfunction follows.

Social. These attributes are interdependent and influence each other greatly. Each succeeding generation will bring its own talents and desires to bear in their efforts to make our world a better place for us all. Each will attempt to put its own stamp on life as they know it and desire it to be. Social media has provided an empowerment vehicle for humans to express their opinions and promote action, both helpful and destructive.

Technological. This one factor has had an enormous impact on life as we know it. The advancement of tools for global connection with smart phones and the backbone of the internet reinforce individualization and at times, isolation. Like anything else, these gadgets can be used for good or evil. Unmanned drones can deliver packages or missile payloads, depending upon how they are programmed.

Environmental. Depending upon one’s political preferences, various theories abound about how to regulate the care of the one planet we occupy. Regardless, we could all likely agree that we need to be better stewards of the resources entrusted to us, both collectively and individually. Scarce resources will not last forever if we don’t put some thought behind how to take care of our environment.
Legal. Governmental institutions continue to legislate standards designed to protect individual and collective rights, yet an environment of political correctness (perhaps) does more to cause divisiveness than integration, understanding, and acceptance of values.

Again, each of these factors impacts the other. They are all connected, just as we all are in this world.

Let’s look at one example, the rise of home schooling as an alternative to an education system that some believe is not serving our country. The predominant mindset in the schools in America is standardization: teaching core curriculums for the masses, and measuring knowledge retention. Certainly a fundamental foundation of knowledge is an important launching pad for any aspiring student, but education should not stop there. Discovery and application of individual talents and interests are compromised in a one-size-fits-all mindset. Parental guidance in many cases takes a back seat to survival and making a living. When students’ interests are not encouraged and promoted, boredom ensues and national intellectual treasures are diminished. The absence of methods to learn critical thinking skills homogenizes students to the lowest level, as opposed to aspiring to the highest.

Home schooling and special education programs are an attempt to avoid some of the pitfalls described above. It is certainly more of an individualized approach to learning, which can be difficult to achieve in a standardized environment. The proactive involvement of parents in that approach to education provides an emphasis not only on the learning, but core values embraced by a child’s parents. Again, this can be good or bad, depending upon the example set.

According to Dr. Susan Berry, 1 “Newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that between 2003-2012, the number of American children between ages 5 to 17 who are homeschooled has risen 61.8 percent.”

So what’s the point? It’s my opinion that this type of education, coupled by the enablement of technology delivering education on demand, further drives a mindset of individualization away from standardization. It makes me also wonder if these factors have influenced the fundamental differences we see in the Millennial generation as compared to older generations.

A Gallup study 2 in May, 2016 suggests that the roughly 73 million millennials born between 1980 and 1996 want a lot of the same things that previous generations wanted. However, there are some definite differences that point to attitudes and preferences on a more individual level. In addition to steady employment and financial stability, they also want a purposeful life with social and community ties:

Only 29% are engaged in their jobs, and thus are “unattached” in terms of loyalty to a company or brand.

They are highly “connected” to the world around them through technology—71% say the Internet is their main source for news and information.

Millennials are serious about pushing for change in the world and do not accept the status quo as gospel. They are an optimistic and idealistic group of people who want to learn and grow. Personal development is a key criteria for them in a job. They want to know how their purpose and career fits in with jobs, teams, and companies.

So whether you call it a tapestry, symphony, or something else, things have changed. The water ballet of yesterday as a metaphor for change is passé. Whereas teams of people used to come together to execute a pattern and accomplish a task, today the analogy is more like a kaleidoscope or mosaic as differences are valued more than uniformity and groupthink. Sometimes the beauty that lies within the mosaic scape cannot be seen close up—you have to take a step or two back to see the whole picture and how things integrate.

Summary Thoughts:

  1. Millennials approach the workplace with the mentality, “What’s in it for me?” (Gallup Study)
  2. A one-size-fits-all approach is quickly becoming irrelevant, and sub-optimal at best.
  3. True diversity has little to do with race, religion, or political persuasion. It has everything to do with being open to other perspectives; and, as appropriate, learning and adapting to create synergistic alternatives. Get outside your box!

The next post in this series will offer some suggestions of potential actions for you and your organization, given the new reality. Your comments are welcomed!

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Bob Thames is the founder of Pathways to Transformation LLC. He helps teams and individuals discover their natural talents and take actions to lead more fulfilling and authentic lives. He is the principal author of Chasing Change: Building Organizational Capacity in a Turbulent Environment, by John Wiley & Sons.