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The ability to work smarter seems such an alluring prospect. After all who wouldn’t trade working our long hours for the prospect of getting home on time more often (or even early – heavens forbid!) with no threat of needing to be contacted by after hours or to be burdened with the expectation of devoting precious hours of home time for work related activities?

The thing is, this is achievable IF you were to make the conscious choice of putting in the necessary boundaries to elevate your thinking capacity and reduce distractions, AND IF if the working environment i.e. the leadership is supportive of this approach.

And that’s the rub because currently many of us fail as individuals and leaders on both counts. Worse still it’s led to the rising scourge dogging so many workplaces resulting in an increase in mistakes, poor judgment, bad decisions and in some instances mindless behaviour.

At low levels this scourge actually helps boost our productivity and performance, but like many things when taken to extremes that’s when our cognitive wheels start falling off.

This is technology stress. Currently cited by over 70% of those surveyed as the major challenge they face on a daily basis at work.

Safe Work Australia has reported that workplace stress costs Australia around 92 million working days each year with direct costs to employers a heady $10 billion pa.

That’s a lot of spare change and time that could be put to far better use.

So, what’s needed you ask?

A bit of stress awareness would be a good place to start so you’ll be thrilled to know that November 5th to 9th is stress awareness week.

Good grief.

Do we really need reminding to be more stress aware?

Because while it’s important to be aware of the impact excess chronic and severe stress has on our health, happiness, mental performance and relationships what matters more is the what can to be done to effectively manage and reduce the risk; to restore balance, enhance clarity and increase our effectiveness in dealing with life’s many curveballs.

In their 2018 Global Emotions Report based on 154,000 interviews with adults in over 145 countries Gallup revealed the world’s emotions took a downwards turn in 2017.  According to Mohamed Younis Managing editor

“The world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it.”

It’s time for positive action.

In my new white paper Fit for the Future I outline the six steps individuals and organisations can take to reduce stress and create a healthier happier work environment where people want to come to work, deliver great work and feel part of a supportive tribe that cares about its members.

Step One. Be aware

This is about knowing it’s possible to switch to healthy stress to promote smarter thinking and adaptability to change, starting by checking in to what’s happening for you right now.

Step Two. Stay curious.

Managing the unknown and the uncertain is less scary when approached with a beginner’s mind keen to explore all options. Researcher Francesca Gina has found that curiosity enables us to think more deeply and logically, reduces our tendency to fall into confirmation bias and stereotyping, while nurturing innovation and creativity.

Step Three. Elevate engagement

Perhaps our greatest challenge – how to inspire energy, enthusiasm and excitement in ourselves and others. This is about reframing our perception of stress i.e. it’s always bad to instead be something we can learn to handle with optimism and confidence. This is where taking a look at what the brain science and psychology can help you make the necessary positive changes to mindset and attitude.

Step Four. Commitment

Any relationship seeking longevity requires commitment from all parties.

Change can be tricky, hard work and slow. Committing to the long game is essential, as shortsighted politics can never succeed here. This is where developing our social intelligence with collegiality and community works well to build integrity, trust and mutual respect.

Step Five. Review

Performance whether at the individual or organisational level benefits from regular review that provides for continuous improvement. This helps to reduce the aversion to risk or failure and keeps you out of the status quo. Failing can be good if it demonstrates a willingness to explore and get better (and faster) at determining what is working well, what isn’t and what needs to change to promote growth and development.

Step Six. Celebrate high-performance

Evolution is a continuum, acknowledged by the regular celebration of progress as we adapt to the ever-changing landscape of our working environment. Our brains seek reward, experienced chemically by an increase in our feel good hormones and emotionally as a greater sense of purpose, passion for what we do and overall happiness.

To draw on Neil Armstrong’s quote, who on landing on the moon who said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it’s these small steps that provide a sound basis for smartening up our thinking skills.

This then leads to the natural integration of lifestyle and workplace practices to produce the desired results including

  1. Schedule enough sleep

You might know you need 8 hours of sleep to think at your best, but what is your reality? This is about placing a high value on getting enough sleep-eye and challenging your bedtime procrastination tendencies.

Choose to go to bed twenty minutes earlier than normal – yeah I know it’s a radical idea! Your sleep deprivation debt has been accumulating compound interest over time. The only way to start reducing that debt is to get serious about sleep, putting in place some new boundaries and giving your sleep the priority it deserves.

  1. Get moving

Physical movement stimulates the blood supply to your noggin along with the release of hormones and neurotransmitters to keep your brain cells fit and healthy and functioning normally. If surfing the Internet and watching the rugby on TV is as close to raising your heart rate as it gets, it’s time to invest in a copy of the film “Run, Fatboy Run” one of those marvelous quirky English films that will make you laugh (good for your brain too by the way) while also conveying the message we can all ramp up our exercise routine and dust off the trainers when we have the right motivation, whether it’s love, competitiveness or the desire to become the better version of ourselves.

  1. Meditate

Meditation can serve a very useful adjunct to smarter thinking at a number of levels. It’s excellent for reducing stress and cortisol levels. It elevates your ability to regulate your emotions (important especially if these have been predominantly negative) provides a sense of greater calm, mental clarity, enhances sleep, and hones your attention so you stay on task and are less impacted by distractions.

If meditation isn’t your thing and the very thought of it makes you feel anxious, you can also achieve similar benefits from practicing what is called triangular breathing. Here you take in a slow deep breath, hold it for a number of seconds, slowly exhale and then pause. ‘Simple!’ as the meerkat in the advertisement tells us, yet this can have a profound effect on your physiology and psychology to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and retain control of the prefrontal cortex – all needed for conscious thought.

We are standing on the pivotal edge of a brand new era, one that will see work as we know it transform, that will further incorporate our digital technology and AI seamlessly into our lives. This provides each and every one of us a golden opportunity to smarten up our thinking.

Thinking is the new black because it is your cognition – your ability to think, learn and remember that will ensure your continuing adaptability and thrival in the 21st century.

Are you ready for smarter, sharper thinking?

To find out more, you can download Fit For The Future here.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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