Staying Focussed, Alert, and Safe.

It is sometimes hard to stay focussed across our day, more so if you work in an open plan office. The distractions are numerous - talking, emails, phone calls, traffic, social media - so many to list. Conversely, if you work in a job that has no distractions, it is highly likely that your mind will wander off to other things. If you have a dangerous job, staying focussed is important.

So which is more dangerous from a health and safety perspective? Psychologically, working in an office. Physically and psychologically, working in a dangerous job with no distractions. Why, because when we let our minds wander off we are not focussing on the work at hand therefore prone to accidents. Moreover, if we let our mind wander it will tend to find negative things to keep itself busy.

Staying focussed in an office is not always easy, these tips might help;

  • Turn off email alerts and check them once every hour.
  • Prioritise the important tasks first while you are still fresh.
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones, with or without music.
  • After each call/email/task, look away from your computer to the furthest point that you can see, just for a few seconds.
  • Have a short break every 50 minutes.
  • Stretch every time that you stand up from your desk.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Staying focussed in a dangerous job where there are no distractions is a little more difficult, try these tips to train your brain to remain focussed;

  • Start you day the way you want it to run - if you are running late for work, you will run late all day. Get up earlier than you think that you need to.
  • Make it a ritual, not a routine - have set patterns that focus your mind in a similar way that pilots do before every flight.
  • Hold a briefing - not just at the beginning of the day or after every break, have a quick discussion every hour.
  • Keep it clean - continually clean your work space and the equipment you use, this will provide you with a short break and mitigate risk.
  • Look around you - situational awareness is about looking for danger before things happen. What is it that could go wrong and what can you do to avoid it?
  • Look after your mates - every so often, look around you to see how your mates are going, are they in any danger?
  • Commit yourself to the task - focus on that one single thing and concentrate fully on it. As your mind wanders, bring it back to what you are doing.
  • Change it up - don't change your job, change the way that you do your job. Bring variety into your day, this will change unconscious competence to conscious competence.
  • Recall your 'why' - why are you doing this task and what is your goal? This will give you a shot of dopamine and help you to focus.
  • Hold a debrief - after each hour and at the end of the day, ask yourself - "What did I do well, what could I have done better?"

Health and safety is important, the most important part is maintaining focus. Safety measures are helpful, however the best safety practice is to stay in the game, head first.

Let's talk!

Are You In A Washing Machine?

In our coaching workshops, people often ask, "How do you know if you are under stress?" my first question back to them is "Are you in a washing machine, a movie or are you drowning?"

When we worry, work too hard, have lots going on, feel overwhelmed, and have difficulty relaxing, we go into fight-or-flight. Some of you might be thinking right now, "Why do 'they' keep talking about this damn fight-or-flight stuff". Because fight-or-flight is ingrained into our brains and is responsible for so many things that are making us unwell.

Fight-or-flight produces numerous physiological and psychological deleterious impact in our body and brain - shallow breathing, heart pumping, chemicals dumped into our stomachs, adrenaline and cortisol into our blood, our thoughts become negative and defensive - the list goes on.

When overwhelmed, our brains race flat out at high speed, and won't stop. Brains, just like your body, cannot stay in a race forever. Firstly, our brains will try to fix things by working as hard as they can, that's why they are running so fast. Next, they will try to take control of you, through what you see and do. Finally, they will break down and possibly look for an ultimate solution.

When initially overwhelmed, it often feels like we are in a washing machine, going back and forth really fast. There are clothes all around us, some with a sharp zip that scratches us every so often. Because there is lots of water (things going on) around us we start gasping for air. As we move faster and faster we put more clothes into the machine trying to slow it down, to get everything 'washed' so that we can rest at the end of the wash cycle.

But, the cycle continues because there are always lots of clothes to wash.

Our brain, recognising that we are in this never-ending cycle, will trick us into thinking everything is not real. We are now in a movie, walking through life without being noticed. It's as though you can reach out to others but they won't hear you or see you. No one seems to notice that you are there, they don't even look at you. You could shout out but they won't hear you, they won't come, in fact they won't even turn their heads to look at you.

That's what happens in a movie, everything is surreal.

This movie, your movie, sometimes doesn't end well. It has one of those endings where you are left feeling hollow, disappointed, cheated. We now have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. We are all-consumed with our thoughts, negative thoughts, thoughts that we begin to believe are real. Logic, what's that? Sleep, what's that? Talking, ha, that stopped a long time ago.

This movie has a tragic ending, if we allow it to.

We are now drowning and there is no one around to help us. Or so we think. After all, we did learn to swim didn't we? We've been there before, we don't need help, we can help ourselves, eventually we will pop out of this wave if we keep swimming, won't we? After all, you don't want to seem like an idiot, a failure, a loser. Besides, I don't want to burden others, they have things going on themselves.

You will eventually pop out of the sea if you hold on to what has kept you going, the very things that you love about life. The hook, that's what crisis negotiators call it, the few things that we look forward to each day. The things that give us hope, the things that we come back to every now and then.

You see, the heart can rule the brain if you allow it to. So what do you love?

Let's talk!

What You Value can Bring Balance

I meet very few people who say that they have a balanced life and wouldn't change a thing. For most, there is the ongoing struggle between work and home where one seems to overpower the other. A lot of this struggle has to do with the unfair demands that we place on ourselves.

Finding what you value can help with this dilemma. Company values are different but work on a similar process, they determine what the company holds as important which underpins their operations. Company values are described in many variations of the same general theme - one team moving in one direction to reach a common goal, respectfully. Your personal values can be seen in a similar vein.

There is a difference between what you value and your core values, what you value is simply what is important to you whereas your core values are much deeper. Think of your core values as being ingrained into your brain and what underpins your operations just as business values do.

To truly bring balance to your life, you need to establish your core values and act within those. Identifying your core values can be achieved by undertaking an exercise with a reputable psychotherapist/psychologist or through one of the many online questionnaires.

However, to start the process of bringing balance back to your life, identifying 'what you value' and is a great start. So how do we find what we value and bring a bit of balance back to our busy life? Here is a simple exercise that may work for you;

  1. Write a list of what you value the most - family, partner, work, a sport, a hobby, money, church, spirituality, recreation, career, your pets, tramping, etc. Get as specific as you can. For example, name your hobby, name your sport.
  2. Between 5 and 8 is a good number for this list of what you value - any more than that and you have way too much going on. Cut your list down and focus on the new list of just 5 to 8.
  3. Examine each item of what you value - beside each value, write a number between 1 and 10. 1 means you are not achieving everything that you want to achieve, you feel you should be doing more on that value, you struggle thinking about it all of the time. 10 means you are achieving everything that you want to, you are happy with it and content that everything is going well for that value.
  4. Examine the value with the highest number - then make a list of the tangible factors as to why you believe that you are achieving everything for this one value. It could be factors such as time, money, travel, friendship, reaching goals, etc.
  5. Select one of the values with the lowest score - the value that you most want to strengthen, the one that is very important for you to add value to.
  6. Select one factor from your strongest value - now introduce that single factor into your weakest value. For most of us, that factor is 'time'. Regardless of what the factor is, the way to get the greatest change for the longest period is by selecting the smallest introduction of that factor. How was Mt Everest conquered, not one step at a time, one SMALL step at a time.
  7. Assuming 'time' is your selected factor, what small thing can you do continuously that does not affect what else you value? If you want to spend more time with your partner for example, look at what you are doing at home - can you help them in a regular task, sit with them for 5 minutes, make them a tea or coffee - every day. Perhaps you can combine your strongest value with your weakest, walk your dog with your partner if pets was your strongest value.

Small things done consistently make a massive difference in our lives. Why, because most of our concerns around not achieving in areas that we value is based on our perception. It's in our mind. We are most often doing better than we think we are, we just don't know it.

Making a practical, tangible change in your life WILL change your perception and bring that much needed balance back into your life.

Let's talk!

Feeling Overwhelmed, Join the Club.

It is very common today to feel overwhelmed, there's just so much going on in or world. Some say that it is too simplistic to suggest that technology is to blame, but that is squarely where it sits. Depression, anxiety and suicide rates began to significantly increase worldwide 40 years ago, coincidentally (or not) this was when mobile phones became commercially available.

It's not just the fault of the mobile phone, other technological advances over the last 40 years include the development of - GPS, fax machines, pagers, computers, VCRs, gaming, wireless networks, digitsation, smartphones - all designed to make our lives much easier through efficiency.

With each of these advances comes not just a more efficient way of doing things, we now have to battle with a completely new way of doing the same thing each time. As new models of the same item are produced comes a new way of doing the same thing in a different way. Instruction booklets that were once a few pages long are now doubled or trebled in size. Worse still, they are online which means we have to introduce another piece of technology to access the manual on how to use that new device.

What we know now through advances in imaging of the brain such as MRI, PET, and HFMRI scans, is that our world has advanced exponentially but our brains haven't, we still have that brain from thousands of years ago, albeit we are learning more about the way our brains work. Our brain is flooded with information, information overload.

Is it any wonder that we feel overwhelmed today? We have the same age-old brain that once worked methodically across our day to now asking it to undertake numerous tasks instantly. This has caused something termed 'inattentional blindness', the brain only sees what is an immediate priority, what is directly in front of it. How often have you watched someone walk in front of traffic while looking at their phone, oblivious to the danger around them?

So, how do we slow down this hamster wheel that we are all on? The simple answer is to get off social media, do one thing at a time, take up meditation and learn to breathe properly. But who has got time to do these things right? You have is the answer, if you want to leave the 'I am feeling overwhelmed' club.

Here are 10 simple things, in no set order, to start taking control of your 'life' again to reduce stress and anxiety;

  1. Take a break - walk away from all technology for 10 minutes every 50 minutes. Get off all smart technology at least two hours before bedtime.
  2. Remove all distractions - when working on an urgent task, turn off all possible distractions or go to a quiet place until you have completed what you need to complete.
  3. One task at a time - multitasking is a myth. Our brain can hold up to three tasks in our frontal lobe and we jump from one to the other so fast that we believe that we are doing three things at once.
  4. Practice mindfulness - an easy trick is to fully focus your thoughts on the task at hand.
  5. Breathe - take a single long slow deep breath every 30 minutes. Think to yourself (to slow your mind) "cold air in, hot air out" as you take that breath.
  6. Clean and tidy - tidy your work space, putting things in some semblance of order allows us to see where things are. A cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind.
  7. Look forward - every so often focus on good things that are coming up, in an hour, at the end of the day, in the weekend, in a month... The bonus, you'll also get a shot of the short-term feel good chemical, dopamine.
  8. Find the truth - our brains are designed to look for danger then exaggerate it, known as catastrophisation, to bring clarity to our problems. Don't allow your brain to exaggerate things, find out what is actually going on before you jump to conclusions.
  9. Remember the 3's - the three most important things that you can do for yourself are; socialisation (talk face-to-face with real people), exercise (30 minutes at the end of every work day) and sleep (7 to 8 hours each night).
  10. Write things down - our memory, regardless of our age, only holds on to what it believes that we need to know. Additionally, when we forget things, (and we always do), we incorrectly believe that our memory isn't as good as it once was.

I am not a technophobe, quite the opposite in fact, I believe technology is fantastic. We just need to use it wisely until our brains learn to adapt, which shouldn't take longer than a few more generations.

Next week I will follow this post with how to deal with that single major issue that is playing on our mind, the one that is vexing us, the one that we can't find a solution for, the one that is taking us down.

Being a member of the overwhelmed club is not the club that you want to be in, leave it now so that it becomes obsolete.

Let's talk!

Why Don't They Just Ask For Help?

In every day life, asking others if they would like a hand is relatively easy. In every day life, saying "Yes" when someone asks us if we would like a hand can be a little harder. In the not-so-everyday life, when life is getting on top of us, asking for help can be terribly difficult.

Why? In a single word, fear.

I am not talking here about when we are our usual happy selves, because we often ask for help when we need a ride somewhere, or when we need a lift with a heavy object, or perhaps to help recover from an event. I'm talking about when we become so unwell that we are considering drastic action, such as in depression or considering committing suicide.

I hear it said a lot - "If you are struggling, please just ask someone for help". The sentiment is well-meaning and will work if the person is in a lucid period or in the early stages of the mire. However, it will most often fall on deaf ears if the person is deep in the mire or completely overwhelmed with 'life'.

Why deaf ears, because when people are all consumed with life, the only voice they hear is their own and that voice is telling them to ignore the world. That voice, the one that comforted us as a child whenever we were struggling or afraid, has now become our enemy into our teens and adulthood.

So why don't we ask for help, and why does that voice try in vain to comfort us as it did when we were a child, fear is the answer for most of us.

Fear of burdening you with our issues, fear of what you might say to us, fear that you may scold or scorn us, fear that what you suggest may make things worse, fear of the repercussions of our actions, fear that you may view us as a failure, fear that we will never be seen the same way again, fear that we will never recover, fear of what the future holds if any future at all, fear of the unknown, fear of...... The list is endless.

Yes, these fears are irrational, illogical, and often unfounded. But we don't know that, because we aren't thinking rationally or logically like you.

When overwhelmed with life, we are unable to think like you, to rationalise like you, to bring clarity to what you are saying. We aren't like you so we can't work out why you don't you get it, why you can't see what we see, why you aren't listening to us, why you don't understand that we can't simply "snap out of it".

So what should you do to help us when we are overwhelmed? Take us to get some help if we readily want to go, encourage us to get some help if we won't go for help, listen to us without judging us or trying to fix us, ask us what we are thinking and feeling, or just be there for us.

A warm smile, a kind word, a gentle touch, every day is enough to keep us going. Remind us that we are loved, that we won't be scorned or scolded, that you don't care what we've done. Just be there for us when we need you.

Never judge us, because we are not judging you, we are merely trying to overcome our fear without being a burden on you. After all, you have your own 'life' issues without us adding more.

Let's talk!