30. People Like Me

Here’s a little quiz for you. What does winning the lottery, dark chocolate, using a Stairmaster and Facebook have in common? Lottery, dark chocolate, Stairmaster and Facebook. Any guesses? The answer is they all give you a dose of dopamine. What’s dopamine? I think you’re going to like this answer.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Dopamine is responsible for the little burst of happiness you feel when you get Facebook likes. Our brains produce the chemical dopamine when we win, eat a delicious meal, or exercise, but most importantly, when we engage in successful interactions. Upon the pleasure sensation we derive from these types of experiences, our brain floods with dopamine, and we are motivated to have the same experience again. Thus, the more likes you get, the happier you feel. When you get a positive response on social media, the brain releases dopamine. Social media stimulates that reward cycle, which is why you want more of it.

Scientists have long believed that dopamine is responsible for pleasure in the brain. Now it seems that rather than creating pleasure, it makes us seek pleasure. This is the reason we keep checking over and over again for Facebook likes. Dopamine gives us the psychological high when we see the likes, making us want more -dopamine and likes.
This isn’t unique to Facebook. I remember getting the same feeling in 1st grade. For Valentine’s Day, my teacher had each student create a mail slot for the valentine day’s cards we would exchange. We were to decorate the mail slot with our name and other designs, which for me meant a lot a scribbling. My mother took me to the store to buy a box of cheap Valentine’s cards and I went home to personalize each. The teacher gave each student a roster of the class, so we didn’t miss anyone. I remember lying on my living room carpet writing the names of the twenty classmates on the envelopes and signing each with a “Love Trent.”

On Valentine’s Day, two students were selected to be mailmen. I wasn’t selected. We handed our cards to the mailmen and they delivered them into each student’s mail slot. The classroom desks were arranged into a big box so we could see everyone as they opened their cards. The classroom got very noisy. At the end of the exchange I counted that I only received 18 cards. Only 18. Who didn’t give me a card? I arranged the cards in the order that the people were sitting around the class. First, I realized that pickle-nosed James didn’t give me a card. Who cares? I didn’t like James and his pickle nose. Then, I realized that Karen didn’t give me a card? I was nice to Karen. I gave a card to Karen. Why didn’t she give me a card?

It was funny. I was more upset about the single card I didn’t receive than the 18 cards I did receive. It bothered me when I got home and I talked about it at the dinner table. I asked, “Why doesn’t Karen like me?” My Dad offered, “If you didn’t pick your nose so much…” My mother promptly slapped him across the chest. But it bothered me. I was fixate on who didn’t like me more than the number of people who did.

Let me ask you a serious question. When you review your posts do you often find yourself wondering why certain people did not respond or click like? Sure you do. Most of us do. How many times has that happened to you? Post something on Facebook and you check in to see how many likes you have? I know…most of us right? How many times do you actually check? I mean what is the number of times you go back to the post to see what new person clicked like on your post? Daily? Hourly? Every few minutes? Do you have your phone set to give you an alert when someone likes your post? We now know the physiological reasons for doing that. We are seeking a release of dopamine into our systems. The dopamine works for me as well. I check how many downloads to this podcast I have. When I first started this podcast a year ago, I use to check every day. Heck, the first two episodes I was checking every hour. Validation that my work meant something to my listeners.

Perhaps there’s another way that we can get great validation.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on validation. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Create Great Content. You heard it. Create Great Content. This theory has been endorsed by none other than Gene Roddenberry.

The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. Gene Roddenberry was the legendary creator of the television show Star Trek. Love it, like it, obsess over it or hate it, I will say that everybody listening to this podcast knows of Star Trek. But did you know that the original Star Trek was cancelled after three seasons? The show only lasted three seasons. Roddenberry commented that he made the mistake of appealing to a comparatively literate group. His point was that he tried to create great, sophisticated content. But, it just hadn’t found its audience yet. Now, though, there have been six spinoffs from the original series. Six! And, there have been thirteen movies made! For a show that didn’t get many likes originally, it became a billion dollar enterprise. Enterprise – sorry I couldn’t help myself.

How do we translate this validation message to developing resilient leaders? First, creating great content will lead to an audience response. I don’t want the marketing folks in the audience to get worked up here. Yes, we need to market our great content. But, great content grows on its own, virally. Second, why are we posting something? Is it for our own benefit or for our audience’s? If you answer this question honestly you will get the heart of validation.

Putting material into the world for our own benefit means, to me, that we are actively seeking acceptance from our connections. In many ways, it doesn’t matter what we produce it only matters how it relates back to us.
Resilient leaders craft great content because they want to be of benefit to their audience. Think of the manager sends a positive message to her team. Think of inventor working on a break through drug. Think of the film maker shaping a tense scene. Each of these isn’t about the creator, but rather the recipient. How will the employee react when they receive the positive message from their boss?

Dopamine serves a wonderful purpose in our bodies, but the effect is fleeting. In many ways it’s like caffeine, you need another dose to maintain the buzz. Validation is more like love. It grows from within and we emit it from our bodies. If you want to feel validation today, send someone a Valentine’s Day card. Heck, if I knew Karen’s address, I would send one to her.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.

If you’ve got a couple of minutes, please check out my new website, trenttheroux.com. And, while you’re thinking of it – subscribe to the podcast. That way you can get developing resilient leader theories hot off the presses. I’m speaking on March 2nd at the US CFO Conference in Boston. There are ticket available and you don’t have to even be a CFO to get in the door. If you would like to discuss your next speaking or training event please send me an email at info@trenttheroux.com.

Thanks for taking the time to listen. See ya.