Manage Smarter 104 — Dave Kenney: Brain Drives Behaviors — Rewire It with These Workplace Changes

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Dave Kenney, Executive Director and Co-​Founder at Emergo Recovery, has over 30 years of experience in the field of human development and is the pioneer of Actualized Recovery®, an integrative brain-​first approach to lasting recovery. and improving workplace mental health. 

Dave’s proprietary methodology leverages neuro-​balancing technology, nutritional therapy, orthomolecular restoration, positive psychology, SMART Recovery, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, robust fitness, biophilia, and more to restore mind-​body health and inspire the spirit.

Dave is also the host of the EmergoRadio podcast – a place where we help people ‘rise above.'

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Dave discuss improving workplace mental health:

  • The top 3 things you can change in your workplace to improve everyone’s brain health and performance
  • What is Actualized Recovery and how can it be beneficial in business?
  • How to reprogram your brain to eliminate depression, lack of self-​esteem and other issues
  • Why brains operate better in enriched work environments
  • How to improve workplace mental health

"The most overlooked issue leaders make is investing in their employees, specifically fostering greater or enhanced brain function."

- Dave Kenney

Connect with Dave Kenney on workplace mental health:

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Improving Workplace Mental Health

Manage Smarter 104 Length: 00:21:20

This episode of Manage Smarter is presented by SalesFuel coach, our adaptive sales coaching featuring five minute quick coaching, personalized to each sales rep. Learn more about SalesFuel coach at salesfuel​.com. 

Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast with host C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: Welcome everyone to the Manage Smarter Podcast. You know, Lee, brain drives behavior. That's what our guest says today. The key to everything is in the brain.

C. Lee Smith: Absolutely. And it's not only the brain, but it's also in their gut. You know how some people go with their gut? Well, we're going to actually find out how gut health actually then applies this whole thing as well.

Audrey Strong: That's right, Dave Kenney, welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast. How are you, sir? 

Dave Kenney: Audrey, Lee, it's a pleasure to be here and I look forward to sharing some information with you.

Audrey Strong: Well, let me introduce myself. I'm Audrey Strong. I'm the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith. I'm the president CEO and chief gut health officer. 

Audrey Strong: Chief brain guy.

C. Lee Smith: And brain officer. Yeah, brain guy. 

Audrey Strong: There you go. So, if you haven't met Dave Kenney, and I'm so glad we have the pleasure of that, Dave. He is the Co-​founder and Executive Director at Emergo Recovery, a private residential recovery and wellness center focused on a brain first approach, specializing in what's called actualized recovery. We want you to explain what that is, Dave. Dave dedicating his extensive career to helping individuals reclaim their life after struggles with addictions, anxiety, depression, and other debilitating challenges. Brain drives behavior, that's a pretty broad umbrella Dave, for leaders in our audience and managers. Do you want to get more specific?

Dave Kenney: I'd love to. First of all, it's a pleasure to chat and talk and it really is, the intro's been beautiful, brain drives behavior and as leaders and business owners and business leaders and managers, we have people. Well, we all invest in our infrastructure and our technology, but I'm going to share with you throughout this podcast, the number one computer to invest in is something, what I nicknamed as the biocomputer, your employees brain. And yes, it can be rewired. It can be improved, it can be enhanced. And if it can be changed positively neuroplasticity, that means it can be changed negatively. And so business owners and business leaders and managers, man, when you invest in improving workplace mental health and overall brain health, you create an incredible environment and usually far more productive and more rewarding to be at.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah, I read that the 16% of the US population actually, only 16% of them have good self-​esteem or good enough levels of high esteem, where about 84 do not. Why do you think that is? And then what can be done about that?

Dave Kenney: Well, self-​esteem comes from feeling good of one self and again, that's brain drives behavior. And when my brain is in an over functioned or in an under functioning state, I don't care about what really I do throughout the day because that organ, the brain is not working enough function in a real good way. So, I can be really in a fight or flight called the sympathetic nervous system. I can be really in a high stress state and it compromises everything in my life and the convers to that's like the gas pedal being stuck on. So, the convers to that is parasympathetic. It's like the break being stuck on and I'm emotionally frozen. And really, I just want to curl up on a ball. I want to isolate, I want to leave work. I don't want to go to work. And I'm talking in really general terms here but when people are stuck in these patterns and our human brain learns this at a survival and when that happens, we don't feel very well.

C. Lee Smith: So, yeah, if you assess somebody then and you can tell that they have low self-​esteem team but you've hired them. They're on your team. What can you do as a manager then to work with that or improve upon that or can you?

Dave Kenney: Well, sometimes you hire people and they’re gang busters for the first couple years, and they start to struggle and slide. So, you can see people struggling in all sorts of behavioral pattern ways, and you don't need neuro technology to assess this. But I'll share with you that the brain can change. And Marion Diamond was the first person, Dr. Marion Diamond, she was in the sixties, a wonderful neuroscientist. And she discovered that the brain can grow in size and enhance in size and operate better in an enriched environment. But that also meant that the rats that she studied when she put them in impoverished environments, their brain shrank in size. So, if you see somebody struggling, one of the key things is the environment that you're in. And there's other things that will dive into today that will enhance and help people move forward. 

C. Lee Smith: So, in a business sense then, are we talking about culture?

Dave Kenney: Yeah, sure culture. You're talking about the physical space. You're talking about relationships. So, an impoverished environment is when all of these things in a negative capacity happen, you want to talk about the negative water cooler talk that has a toll. And if you want to talk about investing in your team, take them out. We love have to go ax throwing right now, forget about bowling. That's so [inaudible 00:05:26] but you go and do something as a team and as a unit that brings a collaboration and a connection. We know that when humans are connected in a positive way, it has a positive impact on our brain function. 

Audrey Strong: What are some of the warning signs of the more serious addictions that you have talked about? Like you say the brain will drive the behavior to drink heavily or to smoke crack or something. I mean, what are the warning signs of that? How can you tell that somebody is in really serious territory? 

Dave Kenney: I think every good leader and manager and leader and business owner will know that by somebody's performance, they start showing up late, all the telltale signs. But really I want to just quickly dive into this, that addictions is a very difficult thing to have a common definition, but people typically there's two camps. It's a brain disease or it's a brain disorder. So, the one thing that everybody, depending on — you're going to spend a weekend debating disease disorder, but one thing is brain issue. And if the brain is driving it and I'm seeking relief from pain, that's what that's about. Whether that's internet sex or whether that's gambling or whether that's a substance, whether that's my glass of wine or bottle of wine every night, what I'm trying to do is seek relief from a neurological imbalance. And so when you work towards a more balanced brain, I don't need to do things to get relief because I naturally feel happier. 

Audrey Strong: Got it. 

C. Lee Smith: And in all those things are also distractions from your work. So, if you're thinking about what the line on Sunday's football game is, or you can't wait till smoke break, or you can't wait to get the lunch for your two martini lunch or whatever, it's like, well, you're not totally present at work.

Dave Kenney: Not only not present, even when you're there, you're not able to retain information, process information, make sound decisions as aptly as you are when your brain's in an optimal state. And so there are some things, sleep is a big thing for brain and we really do need seven or eight hours of sleep, all of us. Don't think you're that special and you don't get to catch up on sleep on the weekend. That's not how sleep hygiene works. So, there's all sorts of things there and turning technology off. But we have found a neuroscience that meditation does the opposite of what we originally thought. We used to think meditation calms a brain. Meditation actually gives the brain more energy, awakens it, and it's five times more effective than sleep. So, I know that some companies and I really applauded Ariana Huffington at the Huffington Post, just put in sleep pods. And she's written an article about, she hopes that one day they're going to be more common in conference rooms and at places of work. 20 minute nap has shown an increased production and performance in the afternoons. But actually imagine if you had a meditation room.

C. Lee Smith: Zen garden.

Dave Kenney: Yeah. But what you're doing is you're helping the frontal lobe, which is the executive manager process information, retain information. And you're going to have a team that performs better with less effort.

Audrey Strong: You said there are also besides setting up a meditation room, which sounds fabulous, let me just say. There are some other more simple steps that you said managers and leaders can take to enhance employee performance. So, what is a brain first culture? How do I create that? Like give me three easy things I can do.

Dave Kenney: Yeah. First, it's an understanding and commitment and to love our brain, we've got to do it ourselves too. Again, as leaders, you can't just push it downhill. So, it's about understanding to learn to love my brain. And in this case, yes, size matters. It really does. And so when you come from that place, now you're going to pay attention to, let's just talk specifically at work. You're going to pay attention about what's in your lunchroom and you're going to pay attention about, are you stocking it with red bulls and chocolate bars? Or are you going to bring in good food that helps to nourish the brain and the gut, which Lee mentioned at the opening of this. So, there's something that you can work on. There's a company right across the street from us, I smile all the time. I don't know the operating of it in inside, but every afternoon there's got to be a hundred people pile out the door for 15 or 20 minutes and then go back in and they're going for a walk, a brisk walk, weather pending, but create that in your work environment as well. And if you're in an in climate weather, use stairs. But the brain loves oxygen. So, movement is, especially when you hit that wall late morning or late afternoon, don't go for a cup of coffee, go for a walk, do something to increase the oxygen in your system, which actually wakes up the brain. So, those are a couple things that are really no cost. You're going to put food and drink in your lunch room, make it a brain healthy environment which contributes to improving workplace mental health.

C. Lee Smith: I was watching a PBS special over the weekend with Dr. Daniel Wayman, which I understand that you are certified with him. And he was talking about, how we should all eat salmon and eat blueberries and talking about serotonin and coming from the gut that feeds the brain. What are your thoughts on that? 

Dave Kenney: I'm going to keep it simple and say, eat real food. If man has made the food don't touch it, if nature's made the food, eat it. We follow a paleo diet and something that I really encourage people to look at is called the Whole 30 from Melissa Harwick. And the whole 30 is elimination diet for 30 days. It's a very clean diet, by the way, you can do anything for 30 days. We all can, make the commitment and do it for 30 days, and then begin to see how you feel, your skin rashes will go. Your sleep will improve anxiousness, and that worry will leave. So, it's really important to create an environment that supports that. So, clean out your kitchen and follow the Whole 30, it's a great diet or any kind of  — we follow a paleo diet because the meat is really important with the amino acids, clean meat, by the way, not poorly raised meat, because there's a saying you are what you eat. It goes a step further. You are what you eat eats. And so if a cow is eating some bad foods, or if you're getting a raspberry, that's been sprayed with a toxin, you're ingesting that. So, pay attention to what you eat eats. 

C. Lee Smith: How about water and hydration? 

Dave Kenney: Huge. 

Audrey Strong: A good question. 

Dave Kenney: Water's huge. I mean some of the worst things right now, some of the worst products out there right now are the Red Bulls of the world. They're absolutely terrible to the brain and they overstimulate the brain. And they hurt the gut too. So, water is huge for the body. And we drink three or four big size water bottles, 20 ounce water bottles in a day.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. Lee knows this, but starting last May I started doing strict keto, that’s my doctor's orders. So, I actually listened to the guy and my gut health, my gut is completely different. I feel completely different. 

Dave Kenney: Keto is fantastic. 

Audrey Strong: Seven months. It's fantastic. And I've lost 35 pounds. 

Dave Kenney: Way to go Audrey. 

Audrey Strong: But my point is you do feel different. 

C. Lee Smith: You look great.

Audrey Strong: You feel the difference in your gut. And I do feel more alert and I was surprised to feel either of those. 

Dave Kenney: I would really suggest that you eliminate grains, glutens, dairy, refined sugars, legumes, try and try and eliminate that stuff and see how you feel. And keto for some people is great. I lean towards eating a little bit more of the more veg than is in the keto diet. But if it works for you, fantastic. 

C. Lee Smith: My dad's diet advice was if it tastes good, spit it out. 

Audrey Strong: Hey, that's not bad with the processed stuff, it's all like salt and fat and…

C. Lee Smith: And sugar, lot of sugar, I'm addicted to sugar myself. 

Dave Kenney: Well, please get the food industry understands how to addict a brain like tobacco industry. They understand how the combination of sugar, fat and salt, and they manipulate that and manipulate it so that you don't eat three Oreo cookies. You eat a third of the bag. Can you imagine some of the meals [crosstalk 00:14:04]

C. Lee Smith: …I think the girl Scouts? I think the girl Scouts know this too well. 

Dave Kenney: Let’s give them a break. Let's give them a break, but I'll give them money and not take the cookies.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. I would probably do that now, too, because I look at it like, it's just poison. I can't do it. I can't do it, not anymore.

Dave Kenney: Once you reset your body, it's amazing. I get you. I don't crave things that I used to crave. Ice cream and pastas, not only don't crave them. I just say, no, thank when somebody brings the nice bread to the table. No, thanks. And there's a key to say no one time. So, say no, when the bread's arriving at the table versus being polite and letting put it down. Now you have to say no 82 times throughout the meal.

Audrey Strong: That's true. That's true. How else can I change my brain? Get some other tips you wanted to give us.

Dave Kenney: Well, food is huge, we've talked about that. Oxygen and movement is very big. We should be taking a break about every 40 minutes and going for a walk or doing something, a stretch and a movement with that. Those things are great…

Audrey Strong: Duration of those walks? 10 minutes?

Dave Kenney: Yeah. Five, 10 minutes. Yeah. 

C. Lee Smith: Well, for managers, it's like, I can follow the advice of another podcast guest we had from a while back, Tom Peters has said, management by wandering around. So, get up off your desk and go walk around the office and talk to people. 

Dave Kenney: Well, can you imagine go for a walk outside and have a meeting? 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah [crosstalk 00:15:30] and it works.

Dave Kenney: And it works better. The other thing too, Audrey, is don't believe all your thoughts, your thoughts lie to you. And they lie to me. And roughly we have 80,000 thoughts in a day. I swear women have more I believe that. 

Audrey Strong: Come on.

Dave Kenney: We have 80,000 thoughts in a day. And so it just leads one to believe that some of those are going to be real positive. Some of those are going to be very negative and most of them are going to be kind of vanilla, kind of benign. Nah, nothing, but just because we have a thought, doesn't make it true. So, I learned it from Dr. Weyman's teachings in the certification, went through called them ANTs. So, Automatic Negative Thoughts, and that's all it is. But a thought can create a feeling. A feeling can create an action and then we're making some negative choices. So, if you want to change your behavior, change your thought and the way to do that is challenge it. I get a negative thought. I'm not smart enough. No, one's like going to like me. Oh my God, I can't do this. And I want you to challenge that. I'd ask a question, is that true? Explore your past. Oh, wait a minute. People have liked me before, but then here's the key. You have to replace it with gratitude. If you don't, you'll probably get a different automatic negative thought. So, use gratitude in replace of that. First challenge the thought, ask if it's true, be honest and then replace it with some gratitude. And you'll find that it has a great impact in your day. 

C. Lee Smith: One ANT, not that big of a deal, a whole bunch of ants, they can move basketballs and watermelons.

Dave Kenney: And they can grind us into the ground. 

Audrey Strong: Yeah. I'm particularly, I'm a worry wart. Lee knows this. One of the other things that I do though, is sometimes if I'm starting to have that kind of like down the rabbit hole of negativity, I'll just take the bull by the horns and I'll call him up and say, what can I do better? Are we good? And I get like a report card. And then he says he gives me constructive criticism. But at least I know where I am and now I'm not obsessing over it. That's not bad thing, right?

Dave Kenney: You're using an external source of feedback. What I'm going to encourage you to do is when you're getting in that state and you catch yourself and parents, when you catch your kids misbehaving and acting out, please don't give them a timeout. I wish I'd known this. A timeout is the worst thing, because I'm going to just continue to spin and ruminate on that. And if you want to change the brain, tell them to go ride their bike, get on a skateboard with a helmet, do something where they're moving their body. So, Audrey, there you go. There's my opportunity for you in the next 24 hours. If you catch yourself, do something, get out of your house and do something where you have to move. And about 10 minutes later, you're going to find you're in a different state. 

Audrey Strong: Yeah, definitely.

C. Lee Smith: Like Oklahoma, maybe. My last question for you is how much really can the brain be retrained or reprogrammed?

Dave Kenney: Massively, incredibly…

C. Lee Smith: So, we're not talking about just a minimal, single digit amount or anything like that. You're thinking it's a whole lot?

Dave Kenney: It's a massive amount. It's a life changing amount. Certainly everybody gets to define what they call success. We've worked with some autistic people and for the first time in their lives, after leaving us, they've been able to hold a job for a year, year and a half. But in one case, one young lady she's working at a car wash and she loves it, but she couldn't hold a job. She couldn't get a job before, she couldn't keep a job before. So, how do you define success? And regarding sales people and high stress job, brain health is huge. And if you really want to improve your sales force, invest in brain health.

Audrey Strong: So, what are the various ways that you measure that then? And obviously everybody, its emergorecovery​.com E‑ If you want to get Dave on the blower and get some help. But what are the ways that you measure the change?

Dave Kenney: Well, there's all sorts of technology out there. We've talked about the [inaudible 00:19:31] clinics. They use SPECT imaging, which is a photo electron imaging with a contrast dye, and you get a picture of the brain and that's great. Another source is the broken brain series is a great series that's out there. And there's a company in Scottsdale, Arizona called Cereset, C‑E and then reset. So C‑E- R‑E-S-E‑ And Cereset has a noninvasive neuro technology that does a brain echo, and it really helps the brain relax. And they've been tested with the Wake Forest State University hospital, the Navy seals and incredible for sleep and de-​stress and helping people reset.

C. Lee Smith: How about getting yourself a life coach or executive coach?

Dave Kenney: Massive, but you've got to get somebody who understands brain health and is able to lead you that direction too, because to a lot of people, this is all new.

Audrey Strong: So, you've got a podcast as well, EmergoRadio podcast, where all fine podcasts are found. And so, Dave, thanks for being on the show. We appreciate it would love for you to all subscribe right and review this podcast. It really helps us with the reach of the show, tell a friend and a colleague, send it around and Mr. Kenney, it's been a pleasure having you on what an interesting topic.

C. Lee Smith: I love this topic.

Dave Kenney: I love your energy guys. It's been a treat hanging out with you today. Thanks for having me. 

Audrey Strong: Thank you. 

Thanks for listening to this episode on improving workplace mental health. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, overcast, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at salesfuel​.com.

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