You’ve been pushing, you’ve been busting your hump. You’re grinding away, making progress…but not sure how much longer you can keep up the frenetic pace. You have commitments. You have responsibilities. The last thing in the world you can afford right now is to start slipping mentally.
Do you press on or step back?
“But I’ve got deadlines! I’ve got product to ship! Time is money! I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
So you slam another Red Bull and crack your knuckles. You still have a ways to go…and the fog is setting in.
How many times has any (or all) of this echoed in your mind as you struggle to drag yourself through another day? It’s not glamorous to admit feeling “foggy” or low in energy…but everybody has days like this.
Too many in fact.
There are all kinds of causes for an ‘off’ or ‘down’ day. But what if you love what you do and still feel wiped out?
What do you do if you’re not as focused, as sharp or as “on it” as you’d like to be?
I recently read an article in which performance specialist, Brett Bartholomew of EXOS, extolled the virtues of NFL football players needing to “tune out” and “let their brains essentially turn to mush” in order to recover form the mental demands of a 6-plus month NFL season.
These are multi-million dollar athletes, and they are being told essentially to “veg-out” and decouple from the mental barrage of their professional lives! What gives?
Well, as it turns out, this advice doesn’t just serve pro athletes, it also applies to YOU.
The brain benefits from a strain-and-rest cycle just like a muscle would. In order to get the maximum performance from your brain, it’s important to not only put it under constructive strain (problem solving, creativity, advancing toward goals, etc), but also allow it time to recover and rest.
So often in business and in life, we take on the “I’ll rest when I’m dead” mentality. We wear it like a badge of honor, oblivious to just how self-fulfilling a prophesy it can be.
There are tons of studies that point to how better athletic performance, business growth, and life fulfillment can be achieved from giving the brain rest periods.
But what if you’re “too busy” to unplug completely and allow your brain to go to mush? What if you are smack in the middle of a major project (or typical week) and need to recharge now?
Here are a few recharge solutions you can implement immediately:
Be a daydream believer. Albert Einstein accredited his breakthroughs in coming up with the Theory of Relativity to daydreaming. As the story goes, he was ‘stuck’ on a problem, and gazed out his office window to observe fog wrapping around a street lamp. AHA! Light (from a star) bends around solid objects (a planet). And from that epiphany came The Theory of Relativity. You can have similar breakthroughs on your biggest challenges simply by giving your brain a chance to just drift off and “veg out” during the day. Strive to do this at least three times per day. These breaks don’t have to last more than 5 or 10 minutes, but they can go a long way toward resetting your brain and allowing some of your best ideas to percolate to the surface.
Be a slacker. Yes, you can and should goof off during the day. Tell jokes, play the guitar, sing (even badly), roughhouse with the kids, doodle, and watch those ridiculous kitty videos on YouTube. Even better, take in something that makes you laugh. Laughter has incredible effects on the brain and immune system, so laugh it up! Like it or not, life is supposed to be enjoyed, and even the most disciplined and buttoned-down people in the world can benefit from a little goofing around. The side benefits include better problem-solving, creativity, stress-reduction and…wait for it…productivity! Who knew? If you’ve ever noticed yourself losing your motivation, or simply dreading a particular task, reward yourself with 10 minutes of play time where you completely unplug. Short breaks go a long way toward recharging the brain.
Sleep it off. Our society undervalues sleep more than just about any other country on the planet. I know; I spent over 12 years in the US Navy. NO organization undervalues sleep more that the US military. However, sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect military units. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of American adults average less than 6 hours of sleep per night (less than the recommended 7-8 hours). I realize telling driven people that in order to get more stuff done and increase performance they have to pull back and get more sleep is like telling a Formula 1 driver he can win any race by going 10 miles per hour slower. But it’s true. Strive to get the recommended amount to sleep each night, and avoid electronic stimulation an hour before bed. And don’t underestimate the power of a power nap! Even 20 minutes can refuel your brain and sharpen your mind for the rest of the day. Do yourself a favor and put a premium on your sleep.
Breathe in, breathe out. One of the best ways to clear the mind and give it some much needed downtime is meditation. You don’t even have to do it “right” for it to work. Simply sit quietly—with as many distractions removed from the room as possible—and focus solely on your breathing for a few minutes. Strive for a nice, straight (but relaxed) posture, eyes gently closed, and inhale and exile deeply from your diaphragm. This will do wonders for your cognitive focus and overall well being. If this seems silly (I know, I thought so at first), consider this; US Navy SEALs, NFL teams (including the Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks), top-level CEOs and executives, and even MMA fighters use meditation to gain a mental edge in business, sport and life. If you don’t already employ a meditation routine, preferably at the start of your day, and notice a rise in your focus, execution and mental clarity throughout the day.
Bonus: Be sure and implement a break at the end of very 50-90 minute block of work. Set a timer (the one on your phone is great for this) for 50-90 minutes and go to work on a specific task. At the end of that work period, reset the timer for 10 minutes and do any of the above suggested recharge solutions, then get back at it for another 50-90 minutes. Follow that session up with another 10 minute break, and so on.
I do a lot of work with people to help them focus and execute better in their businesses and in life, and it never ceases to amaze me how we neglect to invest proper mental care on ourselves. Implement these strategies and watch your focus and performance improve. And remember to enjoy the ride.
Fly High, Fly Fast, Fly Far.