At a recent training, we asked participants to make a list of all the things you have to think about before going to work for the day. Here’s a little bit of what they came up with:
- Emails to send
- The schedule for the day
- To-do list items to check off
- Getting the kids off to school
- Making lunches for the family
- Anticipating what the commute will look like
- Efficiently getting yourself ready
- Worrying about problems you know you’ll have to solve
And that was just a sampling.
We then asked for a list of all the things they have to think about at work:
- Managing others’ emotions/expectations
- Communicating in a timely manner
- Solving problems as they arise
- Looking for ways to improve yourself
- Mentoring other employees
- Helping teammates with their work
- Being proactive to anticipate requests, concerns, needs of others
- Managing budgets and sales goals
- Answering questions from coworkers and customers
Again, just a snapshot of everything we deal with.
Finally, we created a list of everything we have to think about after work:
- Kids’ sports, plays, concerts, etc.
- What to make for dinner
- Getting housework done
- Managing household finances
- Keeping in touch with family and friends
- Reading and reflection for ourselves
- Plan for the next day, weekend, month, etc.
Long story short: We all have a shit-load of stuff going on in our lives.
One way to think about how our brains handle this plethora of “stuff” is to imagine a funnel:
The entry point of the funnel is wide. This is where everything we’re thinking about and doing in a day enters. The mouth of the funnel is endless and everything/anything goes in.
The exit of the funnel is much narrower. This is what we refer to as Capacity – or our ability to deal with what’s is going into our funnel.
Why is the exit so much narrower than the entrance? Because we’re squeezed.
We’re squeezed for time, resources, attention. We can only handle so much in any given day.
Or can we?
Getting More Capacity
What if I told you that your capacity was limitless? Or at least that the bottom of your funnel could be widened? You might roll your eyes and say, “Yeah right, Mark. There’s only so many hours in a day. There’s only so much I can do.”
Maybe. But, maybe not.
You may not be able to get more than 24 hours in any given day. The real question is actually around how to be more productive with the time you've got.
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When we work with folks in our trainings, there are four practices we recommend for expanding your capacity. These four practices, when used in combination (we often recommend them as part of a morning ritual), can be incredibly powerful in helping you develop the ability to be more effective in all areas of life.
Studies have shown that meditation can help improve mental strength, focus, memory, creative thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It’s also been demonstrated to help lower worry, anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness and depression.
Sounds pretty good right?
There are tons of resources and apps online for learning how to meditate. One simple exercise we use in trainings is to sit still, feet planted on the floor, hands on your thighs/knees, eyes closed. We use music (here’s one we like), but you don’t have to. Then, for 8-10 minutes, focus on your breathing while visualizing experiences like:
- A time you’ve felt loved…
- A time you’ve felt valued…
- A time you’ve felt proud…
We find that people experience more clarity and calmness after just this short exercise. Imagine what could happen when you do this daily.
For some reason, we all know the power of repeating negative thoughts over and over again. Brene Brown calls them “gremlins” – they’re nasty little voices in your head that tell you that you’re not good enough or can’t do something. We understand that these voices change how we feel about ourselves and that they can almost drive self-fulfilling prophecies.
So, then, why don’t we fight off the gremlins by playing their own game – only with a positive spin? That is the power of affirmations/incantations.
Affirmations (or some people prefer to call them incantations) are positive statements repeated over and over again to train your brain to believe them. They’re often aspirational and they’re repeated with conviction. Some examples might be:
I am connected and worthy of connection.
I embrace variety in life and work.
I choose how I feel and today I choose happiness.
I am a loving spouse and a supportive friend.
Every person’s affirmations are different based on what they need. Some people shout them to the universe, while others repeat them with conviction to their reflection in the mirror. Either way, bringing this positive energy to your day is incredibly empowering and will help you tackle the things that life throws your way.
I know, I know. You are already too busy; how on Earth are you going to add a workout on top of everything?
Because it’s imperative.
Many people think of exercise only as a necessity to lose weight or stay in shape. But the truth is that regular exercise is incredibly valuable for improving your mood, increasing your energy and sleeping better (and here’s even more benefits of exercise).
The exercise you do doesn’t have to be a marathon or CrossFit. Go for a walk or casual run. Ride your bike with family. Take a yoga or spin class. Over time, you’ll find that engaging in regular exercise will help give you the energy to go longer and harder day in and day out, so you can check off all those to-do’s without needing to hit up that post-lunch nap or afternoon pot of coffee.
The final trick we use is the idea of anchoring a feeling or thought to music. Music is incredibly powerful in triggering the brain to think of certain experiences or feelings with just a few notes. Examples of anchoring might be:
- Using AC/DC’s Thunderstruck every time you do your affirmation/incantation routine to automatically get you pumped up and in a state of excitement and energy. Every time you hear that song, you’ll be ready to take on the day with everything you’ve got.
- Using the same calming song every time you meditate. Over time, your brain will recognize that the song means relaxation, focus and clarity.
- Picking a song that calms you down to use in moments of stress. Whenever you’re feeling frustrated, stressed or angry, take three minutes to step away from what you’re doing, close your eyes and turn on that song. Again, the more you do it, the more your brain will be conditioned to relax whenever you hear the music.
Anchoring is valuable for all types of emotions and, similar to tying the string around your finger to remember something, triggers your brain to feel the way you want it to.
Back to You
We may not be able to create more than 24 hours, but by using capacity-expansion techniques, we can make better use of the time and energy we do have.
We’d love to hear from you – Do you use any of these techniques? How do they help you? Are they part of a morning (or other time of day) ritual? Weigh in down in the comments!