How to Regain and Develop Focus and Productivity at Work and in your Personal Life.

Our minds wander about 50% of the time.* Add to this work and social interruptions and it is no surprise that you would have a hard time staying focused.

There’s another dimension to losing focus. More subtly, as our attention becomes divided and our thoughts fragmented, switching tasks demands more brain power and energy expenditure than concentrating on one thing at a time*.

Switching focus takes only 1/10th of a second, but it might add up to a 40% productivity loss in one day. The switching also results in cognitive overload, which is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. Further, the more you lose focus and turn to distractions, the more you become unable to sift relevant from redundant information. You are no longer able to learn and apply knowledge effectively.

The primary reason for a loss of focus and productivity is nowadays mostly created by the incessant interruptions from digital media. I will use this as an example in showing you how you can regain more focus and increase your productivity.

Are you like me juggling professional activities, family life, and perhaps an active social sporting schedule and a major project on the side (I’m writing a doc thesis)? Somehow your core activities need to fit into your weekly schedule and cannot be abandoned.

  1. Ask yourself “How efficiently do I make use of my time and where do I waste it?” and “What do I want instead?”

Formulate an intention clearly, because motivation gets you started, and motivation arises from the benefit you perceive in pursuing a course of action.
Precise formulation is an important first step to creating a positive frame of mind so that change can occur.* Research shows that behavioral change only happens while in active, positive states. The intention could be something like “Becoming focused and productive by removing needless distractions and only allowing a maximum of one hour a day for social media browsing by April. ” A clear intention states the goal, quantifies it, identifies resources and hurdles, and has a start and end date.

Since I could not answer the question, I began examining how I spent my days.

  1. Start with monitoring how you spend your day.

Set up a recording system. It could be your diary. Start writing everything you do for a week. Do so even if it is only a 15-minute activity. You are observing yourself. Keep yourself motivated by also getting some feedback from others: are you spending too much time facing your phone instead of people?

This exercise helps you determine your attention-grabbing activities or hurdles. The chances are that they have a pattern, such as a time of the day at which they occur most often, or, in particular, situations such as after an upset, or when you are tired.

You will identify the pattern by the end of one week. Gaining this clarity is essential to keep you motivated as you pursue your stated intention or goal.

I recorded my daily activities every 30 minutes and found several time-wasters after one week of self-monitoring. More importantly, I discovered that I would drift up to three hours a day on the web and handling irrelevant emails. I also noticed my pattern. It would start like this: I’d work for a while, and I’d turn to an incoming IM or an email notification flashing on my screen. I would open the mail, follow an online thread, then click on embedded links, find my way through attention-grabbing headlines, and I would then discover who are the 25 celebrities who have aged terribly. One hour later, indeed, my 5 minutes of IM interruption would have become an extended digital wander. I would lose any sense of time, erring through a stream of entertaining but irrelevant information. I added up to 19 hours a week wasted on the internet. I believe to be an average.

This wandering process is addictive because the net and smartphones deliver exactly what our brain craves: novelty, constant stimulation, and immediate gratification.

  1. Process your findings, but don’t implement a radical plan yet. 

As an immediate gut reaction, I tested sheer willpower for a while, restricting access to social media and apps, and scheduling every minute of my day on one of my core activities instead. I lasted three days and spent the fourth on an internet binge.

So much for my ambitious plan to eliminate distractions. I concluded that I needed not to eliminate time-wasters, but create a dynamic balance between the important stuff, my core activities, and the addictive fun of strolling on social medias when I needed a break. I also systematically listed the time wasters, selected the mostly harmless ones, and thought about how many of them I needed to be able to last through my day.

  1. Implement a progressive course of action. Motivation only works so far as you can create new habits.

Habits are formed one at a time, through repetition.

Try this first: when you wake up in the morning, immediately make a mental or written note of the 3 tasks you need to accomplish today to support any one of your core activities.   Then ask yourself “what do I need to do now?” and then, “is this really what I want/need to do?”. Once you have your answer, schedule the most important activities in your calendar, preferably first thing in the morning. Block whatever time you need to complete the whole task or a chunk in your diary. Allow this activity to become all-absorbing for that period. Commit to switching off the phone, the internet and other distractions during that time. Then do it. Notice how long you can last this way. This becomes your baseline.

You are now applying principles often discussed in time management: “one thing at a time” , “batch processing,” “working on what’s important first,” or using “concentrated time.”

My use of a progressive course of action is deliberate. Willpower is an energy that comes in limited supply*.

Discipline is an action that requires moment by moment intention and focus,- the very thing you want to regain and strengthen-, and, like any task, it is tiring to the brain and cannot be sustained through a whole day. Willpower is like a muscle, and growing it happens with the implementation of a rigorous training schedule that makes it stronger over time.

A behavior is a set of habitual actions. Forging a new course implies creating some new habits and only one at a time, so that your daily reservoir of will and discipline is not depleted. A habit, as it becomes an automatic repetition, requires less and less energy to sustain over time. Once seamlessly integrated into your life, you can then move on to the next new habit you want to form. Productivity and focus derive from handling one task at a time,  a wholly different concept to multi-tasking. There is no such thing as multi-tasking: the human brain is wired only for task-switching.*

  1. Add more periods of focus to that initial distraction free activity.

So far you only have one daily activity that is subject to your focus-enhancement goal. You have not yet attempted to disrupt or curtail your distraction pattern. You are allowing for the new routine in step 4 to become ingrained and automatic. It takes up to three weeks for this integration to occur.

At that point, move on to scheduling a new  activity, respecting the no-interruption rule suggested in step 4. Slowly integrate that new task in your day. Allow it to encroach on the distraction pattern you have uncovered in step 3.

  1. Test at which point you can no longer tolerate distraction-free time.

Whether you were able to work without distraction for 1, 3 or 6 hours, there come a point where your attention is exhausted and needs a rest. Take a break, and allow your favorite distraction to take precedence for a while. Monitor yourself and do not allow that break to exceed a given amount of time. You need to set that duration in a realistic way: the length of the break fits the length and intensity of previous work. Stick to the period you set. An alarm is a good way to get started.

  1. Exercise your focus  before you move on to lengthier periods of attention.

Keep scheduling a suitable amount of time for each new task, and repeat steps 4 to 7. Slowly increment your focus time, beyond what you uncovered at step 6. Week after week, you will find that you are flexing your focus muscle with more strength.

Be realistic. If your stamina, health, and other issues do not allow you to exceed more than one, two, five or six hours of focus, do not attempt to push greatly beyond your current limit. You would demotivate yourself. Simply identify what is your optimum, most productive pattern and challenge it from time to time.

  1. Continue building your attention practice.

You do this by creating routines and automatisms, or activities that you do without thinking about them. Although some activities might only be a few minutes in duration, consider treating them like any task you would start in Step 4 above. These micro-tasks are actually going to support decluttering your life, increase your wellbeing, vitality and productivity, and will keep strengthening your ability to focus.

  1. For each goal that you’ve reached……. schedule and set a reward, and give it to yourself.

An alternative is to think about what you have to lose if you don’t get your work done, though it is not as fun!

 

The following are routines that promote productivity and sharpened focus. Remember to only incorporate one at a time into your new routine.

–   Planning activities: taking a few minutes to plan your day and week ahead ; scheduling repeating blocks of your essential or regular activities ; waking up every morning deciding on today’s most relevant activities or/and going to bed and thinking of tomorrow’s important task.

–   Planning short recovery activities during the day. Recovery activities counter stress, even if only a few minutes in duration: meditating, taking a power nap, walking briskly to the coffee machine, using relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

–   Creating an “offline or digital free” zone in your day, in your week, or as a vacation during the year; leaving your digital devices out of the bedroom.

–   Learning to check and change your perspective: focus on what you need to make things happen, as opposed to rationalizing why they did not occur. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm, assess, plan and plot before you start a new task.

–   Ditching drama: review your email list, it might be time to unsubscribe a few senders; think about a conflict you may have with a colleague or a friend and sort it out ASAP (Don’t let the issue gain control of your mind. It is a minefield as any unpleasant thoughts are likely to lead you to seek distractions.)

 

Resources:

*A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071660

* Research on Multitasking: http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx

* Fostering positive emotions for Intentional Change – an introduction: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/intentional-change-theory.htm

 

 

Transforming Our Internal Universe – Part 2 : The Feedback Loop

This post revisits the  topic  of my previous blog, Transforming Our Internal Universe on changing our brains and how we can release encoded memories and break old habits in order to rewire our minds for greater performance and overall enjoyment of life.

To summarize, in order to change, grow and develop ourselves, we need to demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances and then adopt new habits by initially breaking old ones. Being provided with instant feedback from the responses of our environment as we act and do things greatly assists our personal understanding of the consequences of our actions, for example, as a child when you first touched fire, the feedback was immediate: a burn.

Similar principles apply in more sophisticated forms later in life: as we apply a method of relating to others, at work or at home, their reactions teach us how to adapt our responses to various persons, for the best possible outcome in our communication. The same applies to our work and living habits: a certain way of doing things, such as handling our pile of documents on our desk or setting up a schedule of appointment for the week, may be efficient in which case the outcome (feedback) is immediate and positive: the way we organized ourselves saved us time and effort while fostering a sense of achievement. This type of feedback is self -reinforcing: the more we do of the same, the more we reinforce a habitual way of doing things.

At times, the feedback is less successful or can even be disastrous. If our communication is not well received or not understood, it potentially leads to tense moments when interacting with others. The way we keep organizing our desk leads to the loss of needed documents, generally at the very time they are needed, or we keep our schedule in such way that we miss an appointment.

This type of feedback, after it happens a number of times and doesn’t lead to a desired outcome, tells us that it is time to change the way we are handling things.

We seek to create new behaviors and ways to do things to create the outcome we desire. Accordingly we look for positive feedback. This in turn reinforces our idea that we can adopt this new strategy and it gives us the motivation to pursue it and refine it.

Change requires first that we become aware that something is not working and not serving us. It then requires that the discomfort is great enough for us to want to take steps to get back to a state of satisfaction. It then requires intent. The matter moves from “ something’s wrong “ to “what” to change to “how “ to change it.
The question “how” happens often as we are feeling the full impact of discomfort, stress or even distress about our current condition or issue. It is generally at that stage that we start educating ourselves through self-help or various educational books or any methods on the topic relevant to our issue. Because we are exploring brand new ways to do things, the question now moves from “can I change it” to “how can I change it”, as we become more aware of the issue and grasp ways to solve the issue.

At that point, intent and will power come into play. We consider will as the ability to choose a course and stick to it, no matter what. A simple example would be the decision to stop smoking or lose weight. With will, we believe we can quit cold turkey, or stick to a low calorie diet for the weeks or months it takes to reach ideal weight. We build up our resolve through positive words, creation of a plan, enlisting friends’ support, and many other devices.

“Sticking to it” is the key. This method works for many but not all. Along the way, a cigarette will be smoked and a chocolate cake will be eaten. This may lead to a sense of failure, with the thoughts “ I am weak”, “I can’t do it”. Some will then give up and return to smoking and high calorie diets, while others will persist and give another try at “sticking to it”. The issue becomes that as ‘failures’ pile up, we become much less motivated to give it another try. What can we do then, except for giving up?

There is another approach to using our will and intent: it involves being realistic and expecting failures along the way, and in doing so, we can make the failures more manageable. This requires being aware that what has been wired into our brain for months if not years (e.g., a smoking habit) can not be undone through a statement “just like that, I can will” (please see my previous blog: Transforming Our Internal Universe) for information about how we create and keep habits not only at the thought level, but also how our whole body sets a “normal” threshold of arousal through our biological systems’ operations and creation of chemical cocktail releases, as well as wiring of our neural pathways).

In essence, all our behaviors are not simply the result of habits and mental processes. We have to take into account that we have neurologically wired ourselves to maintain those habits and that not only mental, but also physiological process within our bodies must be taken into account. If behavior and bodily responses are changed, it can re-align thoughts and emotions that are repetitive and habitual, and all those in turn lead us to repeat behaviors of which we are no longer aware, because we are on auto-pilot.

So how to achieve change? It will not happen merely by discounting the strength of our wiring and implementing a new behavior through will alone and which we stack upon old wiring. If this were the case, we would end up with competing drives. Instead, we have to undo the current wiring of our synapses in order to create new wiring, along a new path and then make that path habitual so that associated chemical releases in our bodies change too, until we have developed strong mental connections that lead to a new habit of doing, thinking and feeling.

The key to the will element is to stick to a realistic expectation as we go and in our decision to use a number of tools to reach this goal, one tool being REPETITION of a desired new behavior or pattern of thinking and its associated emotions. Some other tools are: developing awareness of our current wiring, and learning simple techniques to develop such awareness, so we can catch ourselves in the moment and undo the wiring while also implementing, right here, right now, an alternative response. Finally, we need awareness to observe the feedback and draw lessons from it.

If the feedback seems to be the outcome we seek, then we have a new path to pursue by reinforcing our wiring build-up and fostering new cocktails of chemical releases in our bodies. If the outcome is not what we sought, we can seek a brand new path or a slightly different one so we can tweak the responses, or feedback we get.

It is a slow process, made of trials and errors, and hence exercising will is not to “quit smoking” (this is our goal) but to stick to steps that allow us to build our will, and as we become more proficient, leading us toward our goal.

In doing this, we consistently align body and mind and observe our emotions, to foster change, because our being is congruent, without pulls and pushes from one part of ourselves against the other. This ‘consistent’ observation of self and alignment is not a difficult technique to learn and takes no time to implement. It consists in replacing outdated and no longer useful thoughts with new ones. Once such method as been applied to one area of your life, it becomes ‘wired’ too, as memory, thought and behavior, and also as body sensations and physiological and chemical processes, and finally as emotions. You can then draw on this knowledge, where you whole self is ‘aligned’ to now tackle other aspects of yourself that you want to improve, using this same technique over and over again.

In essence, we learn to notice and analyze the feedback we get before and as we change, apply some techniques to develop greater awareness of the various processes going on in our bodies as beacons and compass, do the same with learning to accurately define our emotions, use tools to defuse our thoughts as they relate to what we want to change, learn to operate in the now, moment by moment, and rest our chattering mind and in doing this using our intent or will to REPEAT a new pattern, which in turn creates new neural pathways in our minds.

Those tools and techniques will be the topic of my next blog.

Link to Wired Article on line:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/

Romantic Relationships and the OCEAN Big 5 Personality Traits

Researchers have found that adult personality traits are fairly stable throughout life, in a process that starts in childhood. The traits are:

Openness: characterized by imagination, curiosity and seeking out new experiences vs. cautiousness

Conscientiousness: being organized, deliberate and conforming  to rules, and social, group or personal  norms vs. carelessness

Extraversion: being outgoing, assertive, easygoing, deriving satisfaction from interaction with others vs. aloofness

Agreeableness: being kind, helpful, easygoing, pleasing others vs. unkindness

Neuroticism: being anxious, nervous and self critical and/or in touch with feelings vs. confident

We all have one core trait and we express other traits to some degree, according to situations, cultural context and the people we are with.  The Big 5 are found in all cultures and vary according to age and nationality.

How does this affect your romantic relationship? If you and your partner have similar degree of conscientiousness, this is likely to lead to relationship success.

Openness is another trait that contributes to a good relationship, as it promotes a feeling of greater connectedness and satisfaction,  because it is linked to  the ability to solve conflict and to better communicate.

Life experiences will alter the prevalence of one trait over time in a dynamic process,  and  you can actually increase your level of openness by practicing with a number of  cognitive training tools.

More information about the Big 5 Personality traits: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~johnlab/bigfive.htm

Free Big 5 personality test: http://personality-testing.info/tests/BIG5.php

Transforming Our Internal Universe: Changing our brains with the power of thoughts, emotions, and the body.

When we achieve congruence in speech, thought and action, we function at our peak, because our whole being is fully engaged, with all parts of ourselves working harmoniously and co-operatively toward a goal or a state of being.

However, how do we synchronise these three parts for peak functioning?

This comes through the integration of feelings, senses, and thoughts.

Such integration involves understanding and managing our inner world, which includes the rational mind (the thoughts) and our capacity to have and identify certain emotions. It also involves understanding the relationship between our environment and our body, through its ability to sense and self regulate. In this sense, all aspects are interconnected.

Once a thought exists in our mind, masses of physiological reactions occur in the body and emotions are felt.

Lets put it to the test: notice the sensations you feel when you recall a cherished event, or a person you love.  Then after a short break, do the same,but this time recall an intense moment, one of anger, frustration, fear, or sadness.

The  sensations are different and produce either well-being and relaxation or tension. These sensations are only the surface sensing of much deeper processes at play within your body.

The thoughts create a cascade of bodily reactions that in turn produce what and how we feel, and naturally how we act.  Each time we direct our attention or awareness to a given thought, feeling, event or situation, we set in motion subtle neurological processes that alter our blood flow, activate several glands and produce a chemical cocktail that is released in various organs and changes our physiological systems such as the respiratory or cardio-vascular systems, accelerating or slowing them down.  They also modify electrical impulses in various parts of the brain, and create new combinations and sequences in the neurological pathways.

All these processes remain unnoticed unless by our brain’s unconscious.  However, what we put our attention on, ultimately defines us on a neurological level: we become what we think and our body’s health is related to how and what we think.

Our habitual thinking trains our body to react to  certain habitual chemical processes.  Whatever the chemical releases, they become regular and reach a state of normality over time.  Some however become abnormal. For instance, increased arousal levels caused by adrenalin production, perhaps the result of a stressful life,  can over time lead to cardiac issues.  Yet we do not notice, because these conditions are our level of normal, that is usual and functioning.

Think of similar events occurring over time, such as the daily rush to work, and the way we think and react to this.  Chances are, we think and act in the same manner, time after time, without even noticing, and this in turn creates the same chemical processes that run repeatedly through our body.  Depending on the processes, rushing to work every day can be a fun and relaxing experience that can be nurturing to the body, or detrimental to our health. All depends on the feelings and thoughts associated with ‘going to work’ and the chemicals thus released internally.

Sometimes, we become aware of how we think and how we do things similarly and perhaps, how it may affect our body and our health.  Because we are versatile beings and are capable of thought, we can  then choose to keep our attention on the thoughts, feelings and actions that serve us,as opposed to those that, though once useful to us, we now recognize are detrimental to us.

For instance, placing your attention on pain in the body is beneficial: it tells you that you need to pay attention to an injury or illness, and take appropriate steps to heal.  However, if the pain becomes chronic, or if you worry about it , or get frustrated because the pain impedes your daily life, your focus makes the pain exist even more.  At that point, if you place your attention on something else, the part of the brain that processes body sensations switches off, and the pain goes away or its intensity reduces significantly.  If you pay attention to pain consistently, you wire your neurons strongly toward the pain, and you develop a more acute perception of it. Like a finely-tuned instrument, your body and thoughts are now able to feel the pain even more acutely.

Our attention brings anything to life.  We mold ourselves by the repeated attention we give to something: we are a work in progress, and through experiences, memories, fantasies, all information inputs alter our brain cells by neurologically rearranging and rewiring neural pathways through the various stimuli we get.

In essence, we become what we spend our time mentally attending to.  Hence, the thought that we have the ability to reshape our brain, and thus, reshape our destiny holds true.

Yet, can we unlock the means to manage our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to move from stress and pains toward regeneration and change?

The answer is yes and a stark contrast to older beliefs that the mind is static. 21st Century research shows us otherwise.

We have the neuro-plasticity to “break the habit of being my usual me.”  Our brain can and does evolve and it does so limitlessly.We are able to achieve congruence of thought, feeling, and action, as we move away from a state of stress and reactivity to a state of alert mindfulness.

Through our own stress, we exist in a primitive state of survival, one that limits our evolution.  We experience life, but do not reach our peak. Realising our potential demands alertness, flexibility and health.

Sometimes, we choose to remain in a situation that creates stress: a less than satisfying job, an unhealthy relationship or location, and so on…  Why is it so? Why do we stay in a situation we dislike? Why don’t we change what makes us suffer? We know intuitively that “this is not good for us”, yet we feel unable to change anything about it and “put up with it”.

The response is simple: because not only have we become accustomed to whatever conditions we live in, but we also have mentally become addicted to the emotional states they produce, and our bodies have come to assimilate that the chemical reactions that arouse from that state of being are normal and are to be expected.

As we become stuck in one mindset or attitude, genetics are partially responsible, but we have hardwired a part of our brain through repeated thoughts and actions. And these are difficult to change.

To consider changing is to accept becoming different: we are no longer who we used to be.

We first have to experience something that makes us feel uncomfortable enough to want things to be different, and we sense that to overcome our life conditions, we have to change something in ourselves.

So, how do we overcome this challenge of redefining ourselves? How do we change something in ourselves to create new connections in our brains, new habits, or new approaches to similar events? How do we create the principles upon which, from timid we become bold, from helpless with finances we become confident we can take care of our financial future? How do we move from feeling dissatisfied with our relationship or job, towards a stage where we can change their dynamics, or simply make a decision we may now still fear, that of leaving them?

Overcoming a challenge requires first that we demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances,and second that we adopt new habits, by initially breaking old habits, through the release of encoded memories of past similar experiences that are outdated and no longer apply to, nor serve us in, our present circumstances.

My next article will describe some of the methods we can use to build up will, release old habits and how to rewire our minds for greater efficiency and happiness by achieving congruence of thought, feeling and senses as we learn to integrate senses, thoughts and body responses.

Coaching and counseling can help and support you in this work. How about contacting me for obligation-free information and for assistance in devising a three to ten week plan to help you get there?

MBB (Mind Body Bridging) is the method we will use as you journey to transform your mind. It is a 21st Century modality, used in various medical, psychological and coaching practices, with techniques drawn from the latest findings in neurological science and psychology, and thoroughly tested in clinical settings.

Top Ten Mistakes in Behavior Change

A short presentation from Stanford’s University Persuasive Tech Lab*.  Straightforward, simple  and very effective. Keep these ten points in mind as you set goals and change habits, you’re on your way!

*credits appear in the presentation page.

Our Everyday Life Saboteurs

….what they are, where they hide, what they do, and how to train them.

These are the little troublemakers that constantly frustrate our efforts to change our habits, get on with a project, or achieve a goal or an intention. They use subtle, creative and varied methods to get in our way, bring down our best laid out plans and gobble up our good resolutions. But here are ways to deal with them!

“saboteur: inner resistance that we must overcome every time we want to change our lives”

Have you ever started a sports routine and ended up back on the sofa after a few days or weeks of effort to stick to the schedule? Started a diet and then treated yourself to a huge restaurant meal to celebrate having shed a few pounds? Decided on a set of New Year’s resolutions, carried them out maybe a month or two, only to forget them all by March of the same year? Delayed making important decisions about your career, relationship or moving house?

For most of us, the sabotage happens repeatedly in specific areas of our lives. Our saboteurs have a personal profile, and they are very active in matters of health, action and decision making.

Here are some of the areas they love to work in:

• nutritional choices
• exercise
• time planning
• completing projects
• learning new subjects
• keeping a tidy home,
• making important decisions
• being in contact with others
• having the courage of your convictions and standing up for them
• engaging in cultural activities
• taking stock and time for contemplation

and generally…any situation that calls for us to use our will power or confront danger!

Saboteurs have a whole bagful of tricks and tactics. They operate without our even noticing, so we don’t realise that we are unconsciously delaying or forgetting to do things.

One tell-tale of sabotage is when you find yourself coming up with all kinds of excuses to talk yourself out of doing something, the favourite formula being…. “yes, but….” If you listen to your inner dialog, you may hear some of these excuses and tactics that undermine your commitment to act: “it can’t be done” or “it’s too difficult” or “I can’t do that”–or the all time favourite–“I just don’t have the time”.

Another common sabotage tactic is using the call of moral duty and false consideration for others to absolve ourselves from responsibility to act: “people don’t do that sort of things”; “what will they think?”, “I can’t do that to her”.

The next tactic is using conditional tense when formulating a resolution, because there’s no danger of immediate action in sight! That’s when we use the words “should”: “I really should get going” or “I can’t do it yet, first I have to…..”

Of course, that’s not the whole bag of tricks! There many other tactics, such as:

• Playing things down––“It’s not really that important”
• Not taking responsibility––“that’s not my job”, “it has nothing to do with me.”
• Playing things safe––“what if it doesn’t turn out the way I expect?”
• Taking it easy––“Let’s call for a pizza instead of cooking” or “I guess I’ll drive rather than bike this time.”
• Watering your goal down ––“I’ll give it a try…”
• Formulating your goals too vaguely in a non quantifiable way––“I want more money, less stress.”
• Setting up herculean plans by taking on too much or not planning at all––“I don’t know where to begin!”
• Using diversion tactics–– “I’m not in the mood now.”
• Making exceptions––“Having that creamy cake just once won’t hurt my diet.”
• Abandoning your goal––“It’s not worth it, it takes too much effort.
• Sideways glancing––“If he doesn’t need to do it, I don’t either.”
• Playing the victim––“I can’t help it!”…and finally
• Playing the loser––“What’s the point, I can’t seem to do anything right!”

Reading this list, which saboteurs do you recognise as your own favourite tricks when you are faced with decisions and need to act on or stick to a commitment?

Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with our saboteurs and tame them. We can train them, but first we need understand a few things about them. We can’t run away from them or drive them away. We can’t keep them locked up forever, with the firm iron of self-discipline. But we also can’t give up all resistance and let them take over either. Ultimately, we need learn to live with them and tame them to become our best friends.

Our saboteurs are part of our personality structure, and the more pressure we apply to getting rid of them, the more resistance we will meet and the more we’ll have to deal with them. Battling against a part of your personality is battling against yourself. But while we all have certain saboteurs, they are not the whole of who we are. We may need to allow them their place––but not let them rule.

Steps we can take are to make these internal saboteurs our friends are:

• Letting them win from time to time
• Reviewing the way you choose your language, changing “ I have to go to work” to “I am going to work” or instead of saying “I don’t have the time” practice saying “ I don’t want to do that” or “I’d rather do something else”
• Learning ways to self motivate that are neither applying the stick nor giving a carrot. Yes, it is possible to move away from pressure and reward; try using cost and benefit analysis instead!
• Matching an action’s challenges to your current ability to meet them by setting the bar not too high nor too low
• Deciding on it, planning it and then doing it, in a measurable, realistic way
• Practicing with small tasks and then moving on to bigger tasks progressively, to anchor new behaviours and habits

If you want to know more about how to identify your saboteurs, befriend and rally them to your causes, a course of CBT or NLP coaching can be very helpful; these techniques will foster changes in your saboteurs and help you anchor new useful habits for the very long term.

Why not contact me for an obligation-free 30- to 45-minute assessment?

A Simple Exercise in Reconnecting with Your Self

“An essential skill when time is scarce and tension is high, because a busy head cannot calm a busy mind.”

Do you feel highly stressed, with your mind overactive, parts of your body tense, and your thoughts spinning out of control?

  • Do you have a feeling of dissatisfaction or pain that you can’t quite pinpoint?
  • Do you encounter situations in your daily life that cause you stress, fatigue, anger, pain or irritation?
  • Worse, do you carry unresolved suffering from past emotional trauma, and can’t rid yourself of the accompanying numbness and tension?
  • Do you feel that your effectiveness goes as you find that your body can’t relax and intrusive thoughts won’t go away?
  • Is your energy sapped, but when you try the recommended remedies –– such as grounding and relaxing, starting an exercise routine, changing your diet, balancing your lifestyle, reading a self-help book, turning to friends, taking a weekend away­­ –– somehow you don’t have enough time or see the results quickly enough, with the result that you don’t stick to the routine, practice the exercises, of follow these regimens?

If you say yes to any or all of these questions, please try an exercise in Mindfulness and Awareness to reprogram your mind to emotional calmness and resilience.  The exercise doesn’t require you to run to the gym, become a meditation participant in a sangha, read books, take a holiday, or invest in anything but yourself, and it can be applied for a few minutes, anytime, anywhere.

Mindfulness is being used more and more in various health fields, both physical and psychological.  Research in Western countries now demonstrates that some simple and quick techniques that have been taught in various Far East countries for hundreds of years are extremely effective in giving your body and mind a rest.  These principles are now applied in Positive Psychology, motivation training, stress, burn-out and anxiety programmes, and many other areas of physical and mental health, such as cancer patient units and centres specialising in trauma recovery, e.g., army veteran centres.  And the same exercises are effective when applied to daily stress, tension, or emotional upsets.

Mindfulness consists of allowing troublesome thoughts and sensations to come and go.  It is the opposite of the traditional ineffective advice to “move on”, “just don’t think about it”, “let it go”,  “box it”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, and so on.  Instead, mindfulness involves simply relegating these thoughts to the background and observing them as they come and go.

To do this, you need to use the power of your senses to relax the mental and physical tension you feel because of difficult situations and bring your mind and body back to optimum and natural functioning!

“When in frustration, go back to your senses.”

Try this:

  1. Think of a frustrating thought (e.g., a stressful morning meeting, traffic jam on the road and missed appointment, issues with a partner, etc.)
  2. Feel how your body reacts and tenses up as you bring the thought to the fore.  Bodily sensations always associate with a thought about an event.
  3. Now immediately rub your fingers together or against your desk or your clothing – touch something.
  4. Don’t consciously fight to try to make the frustrating thought disappear from your mind — just bring your mind to the sense of touch.
  5. Notice how the thought and tension are somewhat minimised.
  6. Do this again and again throughout the day.

Repeat this practice over a few days and then broaden it to include another of the senses.  For example, follow touch by bringing in your sense of hearing:

  • Consciously bring your mind to become aware of background noises, such as the hum of the aircon, or of your computer, multiple faint sources of noise, e.g., conversations in the street, birds chirping, the sound of your fingers tapping on the computer, etc.  Background noises are not those of the TV, but subtle sounds and hums around you.
  • Let the noises in the background come to fill the foreground of your mind.  As you do this, you may notice how your current thoughts are still present, but minimised in your mind.

Then, do the same again, this time with your vision:

  • Notice what is around you, especially the texture of the objects you see, whatever those objects are, beautiful flower or trash on the street.

And do the same again with your sense of taste and smell.

  • Notice the taste inside your mouth, or the texture of the gum you chew, or the food you eat.  Concentrate on the smells around you, whether pleasant or not.

This may take a few minutes, or maybe just seconds.  The trick is to remember to do it.  Like any muscles, the more you practice being aware of your senses, the stronger and more effective this Mindfulness technique becomes.

Underlying this exercise is a fundamental principle: when our minds are overactive, our bodies tense up, and our senses close down.  Our senses are our connection to reality.  Reality lies outside of us, externally, not within our internal thought processes.  Deliberate moments of (re)connection to our external physical environment by bringing our sensory modes to the forefront of our attention appeases the mind, and hence appeases our body responses.

If your mode of taking in sensory inputs is mainly visual, try doing the exercise above with your other, less utilised senses: touch, hearing and taste or smell.  Do this each time you face a problematic thought or feeling.  Allow the thought or feeling to coexist with all of the background sensory inputs your mind is now absorbing.  The relief or melting away of thought and tension may be nearly immediate or may be a slower process, depending on the intensity of the problem and associated mental or body sensations and also how much experience you have using this exercise.

If you are interested in knowing more about this method and various exercises you can apply to calm your thoughts and tension, why not sign up for either an individual session or a workshop? Contact us for details.