The shops are full of mince pies, the festive lights have been switched on and Christmas markets are go. If you you haven’t quite caught up, the festivities are just around the corner. According to the Stress Management Society one in twenty of us find Christmas more stressful than being burgled. Yes, really. If you’re that one in twenty we’ve got your festive wellbeing covered with some practical tips to ensure you keep your cool in the run up to yule.
The second in our series of July blogs live from New York examines the latest US research and takes a deep dive into the work we’re doing here with our clients. Here we look at how rethinking stress may rewire your response to it
‘For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so … since nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.’
Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2, Page 11
Stress has a bad rap and with good reason. Conventional wisdom dictates that prolonged stress will kill you (it’s true). Stress will make you ill (it will). Stress is bad for you (it is). Stress will …. (fill in the blanks). It’s all true and we know it. But is it possible that rethinking our perception of stress might increase our ability to manage it? New research suggests that the way we perceive stress may be critical in terms of how we respond to it. So what is re-thinking stress and how can we do it?
Resilience: from the Latin word resilo – to jump back. The capacity to bounce back from adversity, adapt and succeed.
Embracing difficulty is key to resilience. But what is it? Resilience describes our ability to manage difficulties effectively rather than be overwhelmed when confronted by adversity. Perhaps one of the most profound definitions is from Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and author of ‘Man’s search for Meaning”. ‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.’ It comes as no surprise that Frankl’s work has been modified and applied in a workplace setting. An increasing body of research suggests that resilience is also a valuable predictor of success. Penn Professor, Angela Lee-Duckworth’s research suggests that resilience is an even more accurate predictor of success than IQ. A heady claim for something we’re not taught in school. So what’s is it about resilience that makes it such an important differentiator? Lets find out.
Glenn Richardson, Professor and chair, Department of Health Promotion and Education, University of Utah describes resilience as mental toughness and encourages employees to think differently about how they view difficulty. When met by challenge, Richardson suggests that we develop the mindful habit of taking a moment of calm to support ourselves in developing resilience, by making a choice to work with our emotions to accept failure and examine what we can learn from it. This presents a very different approach to turning away from difficulty to get the job done which employees are sometimes forced into doing by workplace pressures. Dr Gregg Steinberg suggests that challenge and adversity can develop emotional intelligence and grit, enabling people to bounce back to an even higher level of resilience than before. For Steinberg, adversity creates and shines a light upon what is missing in life, highlighting what we need to be more successful and happier. Watch Gregg talking about ‘Falling Up’ in our ’10 Best Resilience Videos’ blog. You might be asking yourself how you can turn towards difficulty or failure when your natural response is to turn away, run for the hills and avoid it. Resilience is a skill that can be learned and you can begin to work out your resiliency muscles right now. The next time you face adversity, try the following;
Embed calm checkpoints into your day.
Take a moment to notice what’s happening. Breathe and sit with what is there for you in that moment.
Known as ‘Affect Labelling’ this is where you identify the emotion. Try saying to yourself “Hello anxiety” if that’s what you’re feeling. Recognising and naming the emotion makes a distinction; you are experiencing anxiety rather than labeling yourself as an anxious person.
Work with what shows up.
As human beings we typically move towards what feels good and avoid what doesn’t, frequently missing what we feel neutral towards. Instead of moving toward the positive or trying to push difficult emotions away, bring a gentle curiosity to both. Notice your reaction without judging it. Reflect on the nuances of perceptions of positive, negative and neutral. Is there an associated response in the body? Tension or lightness? Bring mindful awareness to whatever arises.
It’s not Forever.
Recognising the impermanence of all emotions is key. Mindfulness teaches us that emotions are just mental events with a short life span. Ask yourself what you need in order to manage that emotion in this moment.
Reflect on what is really going on for you. Is there historical stuff or emotional baggage that has led to this emotion? Your response might be appropriate, now you’ve investigated you’re in a better position to choose how to respond effectively and skillfully.
Practice on a regular basis.
When you develop the capacity to face difficulty you are able to make more skillful choices. Mindful awareness of challenging situations gives us the opportunity to defuse difficult thoughts and emotions and create distance. With that distance we can choose our response rather than falling into habitual knee – jerk reactions.
Difficulty is part of life, it isn’t going anywhere soon but the good new is that resilience isn’t an absolute. Changing over time it can grow, be learned and developed. For more information on how to build your resilience check out our other blogs, our free ‘Build Your Resilience’ webinar or come to one of our resilience training courses, we’d love to see you there!
To find out more about building resilience or resilience training contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The world of work is changing at a pace that is unprecedented. We live in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world where organisations and individuals are struggling to keep up and maintain resilience. This constant pressure is impacting performance in many organisations. The attention economy is big news. But how do we maintain focus and optimise performance at work when we are bombarded with information, constantly available courtesy of multi source technology and distracted by overload?
Mindfulness offers us a method to regain equilibrium and train our brain to focus on the task at hand. When we are distracted on average every 3 seconds in the workplace it provides an opportunity to bring us back to the moment and focus, optimising our performance away from the constant hum of organisational busyness.
The results speak for themselves. Research by Paul Condon and Dave Desero of Northeastern University and Gaelle Desbordes of Massachusetts General Hospital found that mindful training improved focus, decreasing stress levels at the same time. The researchers watched as resilience soared. Mindfulness training didn’t stop at that. Dessero and Condon observed greater compassion and empathy amongst employees, improving engagement, team work and corporate culture. Put simply, those workplaces became kinder (and more productive) organisations to be in.
The constant pressures of complex change resonate with many of the leaders we work with at Positive Change Guru. We’re often asked how mindfulness can optimise workplace performance so we’ve put together four ways to maintain your organisational agility in a VUCA world.
1.Create space to reflect.
It might seem counterintuitive to carve out space in your diary for what seems like a luxury but thinking time pays dividends especially in VUCA cultures. Make time weekly, fortnightly or monthly to plan and prepare. Reflect upon what’s working alongside what isn’t. Are you able to identify areas for development in systems, procedures, finances or time management? Consider what you do and how you do it, looking for ways to create a bump in organisational performance.
2. Start the day with a pause.
We’ve all been there, beginning the day with caffeine, diving straight
into emails and our workload. It’s automatic daily behaviour for many of us. Instead, set an
intention to start the day with a moment of calm. Before you launch into the day, sit for a
moment, focusing fully on your breath. Move from doing to being. Noticing how it feels to be
fully present. Feel the breath enter your body from the tip of your nose, into the nasal cavaties,
down your throat and into your lungs. Now pause before you feel the breath leave your body as
you exhale.It’s a small commitment that the leaders we work with tell us can make a big difference.
3. Take one thing at a time.
In attention deficit cultures multi tasking is a myth. Being pulled in
different directions at the same time doesn’t make you super efficient, it makes you stressed.
Emailing whilst on a call or attempting to multi task during meetings will burn you out and leave
you less productive, not more. We know from the field of neuroscience that it isn’t possible to
perform at our optimal level without focus, so take things one step at a time and create an
environment that will enable you to get into flow by minimising distractions. Divert calls and turn
off your email alert. If you are working on a task that needs complete focus, minimise peripheral
distractions to optimise your performance.
4. Leave the past behind.
It’s tempting to cling on to what we know and remain in the apparent
safety of organisational comfort zones. ‘We’ve always done it this way” is not a philosophy that
will serve you well in changing times. Remaining agile in a VUCA world requires flexibility. When
you recognise that old systems aren’t working or procedures are outmoded, move to change
things. Innovate, try new ways of working, look at the leaders in your field and investigate
alternative strategies. Ask yourself what is possible. Remaining agile is about thinking ahead,
daring to step outside of the box, not remaining in your comfort zone.
Want to find out more? Contact us to talk about how you can optimise your organisation’s performance in a VUCA world at email@example.com
It’s all too familiar, with a seemingly endless ‘To do’ list it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. The overwhelming phenomenon of cognitive gridlock, feeling stressed at work pushes us to plough on when we should be taking a break. Greenspace doesn’t even enter into our day, we’re fast becoming factory farmed humans. Just a few minutes of time outdoors, chilling out with Mother Nature could be exactly what we need.
A recent Lexis Nexis survey of 1700 workers found that employees spend over 50% of their day processing information rather than concentrating on their designated role. When we’re spending our time sorting and sifting through information before we even get down to the real work, there’s no wonder we’re stressed.
A University of California Irvine study revealed that being exposed to constant emails throughout the day increased the heart rate of those studied. Michael Posner, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregan states that when we are in such states of continued focus, our brains become fatigued and less effective. As the pressure mounts it seems counter intuitive to take a break. Instead we labour under the misconception that the harder we work, the more effective we’ll be. Not so. The longer our brains are switched to ‘on’ mode, the slower we get. Downtime replenishes both our bodies and our minds. But not just any old break will do. Greenspace, it seems, could be the answer.
Dr Marc Berman at the University of Michigan found that after a twenty minute walk, memory and attention improved by 20%. A twenty minute walk in a busy street resulted in no improvement. It seems not all downtime is created equally. Berman’s research also found that just sitting for ten minutes in a quiet room, looking at pictures of nature had a calming effect producing an increase in cognitive activity and performance.
And if you’re feeling cranky at work as a result of all that information overload, it seems that nature can also improve your mood. A study from the University of Rochester by Richard Ryan discovered that viewing nature had social benefits. Ryan’s research found that 370 test subjects exposed to natural as opposed to man-made environments encouraged people to “Value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money.” Making it worth taking your boss along for a walk if you’re considering asking for a raise.
Dr Ian Frampton at Exeter University found that when research participants were shown pictures of rural scenery the regions of the brain associated with calm were activated. Pictures depicting urban scenes did not produce the same response. Suggesting that when you can’t escape to your favourite greenspace there’s still a viable alternative to increase your ROI for downtime.
Not sure how to inject more nature inspired downtime into your working day?
Here are our top tips.
1. Recognise that you deserve and need a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed remind yourself it will improve your performance (it won’t slow you down). Prioritise at least one time slot for natural downtime each day.
2. Go off grid. Switch off your electronic devices for the duration of your downtime for maximum impact.
3. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, find a green space nearby and take a quick walk or find a seat to take in the view.
4. Go green. Consider adding nature to your workspace. Think plants, pictures, photos or saved recordings for those times that you can’t physically get out into a natural environment, it’s the next best thing.
5. Unwind by journaling in nature. Find a balcony, garden or park and reflect. Jot down one or two lines about your day.
6. Shelve your mental ‘To do’ list and breathe. Sit in your greenspace, focus on the present moment listening to the sounds around you as you begin the relax. Spend time taking in the natural environment around you, really be in the moment as you sit and enjoy your green ‘me’ time.
At Positive Change Guru we work with individuals and organisations to build resilience and optimise performance. Check out our courses on the events page or contact us to talk about your training, consultancy or coaching needs.
What’s fuelling your burnout? Feeling exhausted? Perhaps even a little cynical where work is concerned? You could be suffering from burnout syndrome. A common response to stress, burnout is characterised by a variety of dimensions from fatigue, demotivation, frustration, cynicism and ultimately, reduced efficacy. So what, exactly, is fuelling your burnout?
The Beginnings Of Burnout
It isn’t a new phenomenon, Graham Greene wrote about it during the 60s in ‘A Burnout Case’ as a result the term was later coined in the context of employee burnout by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It’s firmly part and parcel of corporate landscape now with employees increasingly being asked to do more with less.
Montero Marin at the University of Zaragoza identified three types of burnout. In a study of 429 university workers in a variety of occupations ranging from administration to research, the study identified 3 separate subtypes;
What’s Your Type?
- Boredom. This type of stress stems from lack of challenge. When employees aren’t stretched they’re unable to get into a state of flow, or optimum performance, stifling their development and their motivation. If you find yourself using avoidance as a coping strategy and complaining about your organisation on a regular basis, the research suggests this could be your burnout type. Leaving you feeling like giving up. boredom is fuelling your burnout fire.
- Overload. This subtype is characterised by frenetic behaviour. You find yourself doing, doing, doing with a constant mental ‘To do’ list. Your coping strategy is to keep working until you’re exhausted in the belief that you’ll somehow make headway. You’re overloaded by stress and feel cynical due to the lack of support you receive. You may feel that your organisation is limiting you. Excessive workload is fuelling your burnout.
- Worn Out. In this subtype when you’re faced with stress, you give up. It’s all just too overwhelming. The will to achieve is there but you lack motivation to get started in the onslaught of stress. If this is your subtype you may feel badly let down by your organisation. You’ve simply had enough and that is fuelling your stress.
What’s Fuelling Your Organisation’s Risk of Burnout?
Now you know what’s fuelling your individual burnout, lets take a look at your organisation. Maslach, Schaufel and Leiter identified 6 organisational risk factors that increase the likelihood of burnout.
- Mismatch in workload
- Mismatch in control
- Lack of appropriate rewards
- Loss of sense of positive connection with others
- Perceived lack of fairness
- Conflict with values
If the causes of burnout are multi factorial, how can you begin to combat it?
If you’re a leader, the starting point is your organisational culture. Here’s our checklist to guide your stress audit;
- Do you have a wellbeing strategy?
- Do staff have a healthy approach to work life balance and is this modelled by your leadership team?
- Are your people micromanaged or given the autonomy to carry out their role?
- Do you model your values or is there a disconnect? Do you need to revisit your strategy, policies, procedures and actions?
If you’ve identified that you’re on the way to being stressed, find a way to reduce your stress levels by;
- Practising mindfulness (see our mindfulness resources on this site)
- Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions. Talk to your GP who will be able to recommend a therapist.
- Reflect upon whether your values are in alignment with your role. Is your current role what you feel drawn to as a profession or is something else calling you?
- Check your work – life balance is where you want it to be. If it isn’t take the necessary steps to address the areas that need work. Cut back on your hours, take lunch breaks and make sure you create time for friends, family and a life outside of work.