What can you do to enhance your mental capital? 3 key learnings from the My focus Masterclass
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger... this is neuropsychologist Elke Geraerts’ opening quote (borrowed from Nietzsche) to kick off the My focus masterclass. The overarching theme? Mental resilience and how to develop it. Because it's something we all need more than ever for greater productivity, higher energy levels and more overall happiness.
Interested in the webinar My focus? The recap below highlights some steps that will boost your mental capital to a higher level. Or even better, get here your own live webinar, tailored to your company's needs !
Step #1: Develop your awareness
Our subconscious largely determines our feelings and our behaviour. Consider the news you watched today. Were you also looking for more clarity about the confinement? Did you get caught up in the alarming figures about the rising number of infections? If so, then there's a big chance that your behaviour was directed by agitation. This is how you end up filled with anxiety over time.
A natural reaction, of course, but it won't help you cope with the situation any better. Quite the opposite, in fact. Before you know it, your mind will begin to wander. And here's where you risk getting stuck in cycles of repetitive ruminative thoughts that have a negative emotional tone. Our primal brain is to blame. It's the part of our brain that's in charge of the fight or flight response. These days, our primal brain starts kicking into gear in situations that generally aren't (or shouldn't be) that stressful. Like if you are in a long queue at the supermarket, where you might suddenly find yourself thinking the usual: "Why is the queue that I'm in so much slower than the others?". Or the negative feelings you experience when you frantically search the shelves for toilet paper and go home empty-handed. At times like these, your primal brain is running the show. Fortunately, we have the prefrontal cortex to keep it under control. This part of the brain helps us to stay focused and is responsible for problem-solving.
The good news? The prefrontal cortex is trainable, and you can do it yourself! Check in with yourself several times a day and ask: what was I just thinking? You'll soon discover that your thoughts are mostly negative. Once you get into the habit of observing them, you have the power to neutralise them. In the queue at the supermarket, for example, you can have a pleasant chat with the stockboy or cashier. And even if you failed in your mission to buy toilet paper, you still managed to score the last packet of pasta! By redirecting our attention, we can transform our negative thoughts into positive ones… which also helps to put our stress into perspective.
Step #2: Focus on what's important, professionally and personally
Now that you've developed greater awareness, it's crucial for you to focus on the new workplace. The current circumstances have created a lot of "noise" in our heads, which can make it hard for us to focus on work first thing in the morning. This is what the neuropsychologist calls "elephants" and "rabbits". Elephants represent critical concentration-intensive activities such as important administrative tasks. Rabbits are less important, and don't require the same focus. The real problem? Most of us start the day with less important tasks: Reading e-mails, responding to social media messages... that's how the rabbit hutch gets opened, and the rabbits begin to jump out. Each one of these tasks eats up a lot of our time. Afterwards, we no longer have the energy to tackle an essential task that same morning, because chasing rabbits is exhausting. In the afternoon, when post-lunch drowsiness sets in, it's hard to find the motivation to zero in on our work. Meanwhile, the more we put off addressing the bigger items on our to-do list, the more pressure we feel from the neglected elephant.
What can you do to arm yourself against such behaviour? It's the ideal opportunity to understand and optimise your attention span! Figure out when your focus is the sharpest. You can do this by keeping a diary of your energy peaks and troughs for a few days. Based on your findings, you can be smarter about how you go about planning your work for the day. Divide your day into concentration time (to hunt elephants), flex time (to chase rabbits) and free time (to take breaks). Equally important: try to do one activity at a time, with as few distractions and interruptions as possible. Otherwise known as single-tasking. Because most of the time, we are too busy multitasking, which cuts our productivity by up to 40%!
Have you noticed that you eventually lose your ability to concentrate at some point? When this happens, it's probably time for a break. We all need breaks every now and then to recharge our batteries. Take a walk, ride your bike, admire the spring flowers... dare to hit the "off" switch!
Step #3: Find your intrinsic motivation
Chances are that you're worried about changes that may happen when you go back to work or back to the office. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be hard to adjust. Think for a moment: what do you need to stay productive and happy in these uncertain times? At home and at work, although the two are currently interlinked?
You're already clear about your external motivation, which is mainly your salary. But what's your intrinsic motivation? Make use of the (extra) time you have to identify your sources of energy. This will surely prove to be useful in the short and long term.