1. Here are the first 4 keys to Thinking Clearly.
2. Key 1: Use stress to your advantage. You can learn to deal with chronic stress by a few proven techniques.
3. Key 2: Get in a state of flow. Learn how to get into a state of flow, or the “Zone”, on demand.
4. Key 3: Be mindful. By practicing mindfulness, you will strengthen your ability to stay in the present moment, develop your capacity to focus, increase the flow of information between mind and body, and enter into and stay in your Zone with more ease.
5. Key 4: Cultivate more energy, less tension. You can use Combat Breathing to calm anxiety or stress anytime you feel that you are out of your Zone.
By thinking clearly, you will be able to function at a higher level in everything you do. The challenge is that because it’s the brain and the mind you’re working with, you have to practise and be consistent. The research shows that if you can do just that, you will end up changing the structure of your brain, and ultimately it will be easier to concentrate, problem-solve, live in the moment, and reach your potential. Here are the first four keys to thinking clearly.
Key #1: Use stress to your advantage
You might be surprised to hear that there are advantages to stress. During acute stress, adrenaline and cortisol increase the activity of various organs like your heart, lungs, and muscles. This increases your capacity to function at a high level, both mentally and physically.
However, chronic stress damages your body, threatens your mental health, puts strain on relationships, and takes the joy out of life. Not to mention it contributes to high blood pressure, increases your risk of having a heart attack, can lead to weight gain/obesity, and causes brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
The good news is you can learn to deal with chronic stress by using a few proven techniques:
1. Move your body: rhythmic, repeated motion is particularly soothing to our minds and bodies, such as a long walk, cycling, swimming, or running. But any kind of movement will relieve tension, improve circulation, and clear your mind. This is the muscular meditation we discussed earlier.
2. Get into nature: head outside to the park, the woods, or the garden to lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, reduce tension and depression, and boost your mood. It’s stunning how good it is for your health to be in nature. Leave the cell phone and ear buds at home.
3. Practice yoga, mediation or Tai Chi: like nature therapy, yoga and Tai Chi decrease stress and anxiety, increase energy, and boost your immune system. They also give you more stamina – needed in stressful times – and improve the quality of your sleep.
4. Have perspective: don’t be so quick to conclude that you “can’t handle” a stressful situation. This is truly a mind over matter opportunity. Believing that you are strong and resourceful actually makes you stronger and more resourceful. Don’t give into negative self-talk about not having what it takes to manage life.
5. Change the nature of your response: research indicates that taking an active, problem-solving approach to life’s challenges relieves stress and can also transform it into something positive. If you withdraw, deny the problem, or spend all your time venting, you’ll feel helpless. Instead, be determined to make a change, put effort into it, and plan for better results. Pivot from threat to challenge.
Key #2: Get in a state of flow
Have you ever been completely focused and absorbed in a task, then then an hour later, you emerge from the flow and realize you have just done some of the best thinking you’ve ever done? Or a day when you were working or studying and understood everything easily – and the words just flowed smoothly onto the page? Or gone for a run and settled into a smooth rhythm in which your mind quieted down and you flowed through the steps, when running became easy and you were able to perform at a level you never knew you were capable of until that moment?
Just about everyone can identify with moments like this. Unfortunately, for most of us, these moments are rare and seem random. But the flow state – “the zone” – is something you can achieve on demand, and it is a state you can control.
In the research literature “The Zone” is known as the Ideal Performance State (IPS). When our activation is low, we lack motivation, interest, and energy. When our activation is high, we are agitated, anxious, stressed, or tense. But somewhere between these two activation states (too activated or not activated enough) there lies the magical ideal performance state. The state where we are energized, motivated, focused, happy, and able to perform at our best. Knowing what you need – and how to ignite your body and mind to prepare for that demand – can help you build your own Peak Performance Zone.
The key is to build a picture of your ideal performance state so that you can trigger that state by acting like you did when you were in it. From there, the thoughts and feelings will follow. And if you get distracted and are acting in a way that isn’t optimal, take control. Make some changes. Breathe your way into it. Move differently, think differently, transition to a different emotional state. The goal is to develop systems, routines, and skills that make your Zone available to you whenever you need it.
Key #3: Be mindful
Mindfulness, which involves keeping our awareness in the here and now, is a key to mental health and elite performance. The idea is to stay in the moment in the face of massive potential for distraction.
If you practice mindfulness, you will
· strengthen your ability to stay in the present moment
· develop your capacity to focus
· increase the flow of information between mind and body
· enter into and stay in your Zone with more ease
Take a few minutes to do nothing but collect data through your senses. What are you touching, and how does it feel (cold, warm, hot, smooth, rough, soft, hard)? What can you see in terms of shape, colour, texture, distance, closeness? What sounds are close by and farther away, and can you identify them all? What smells are in the air (cologne, coffee, someone's lunch)? What taste do you have in your mouth (sweet, sour, metallic, bitter)? Practise for a few moments each day and you will develop your ability to stay present, develop focus, connect to your body, and stay in your flow state.
Key #4: Cultivate more energy, less tension
Now that you have a sense of what your Zone is, you need to learn how to return to your ideal performance state when going gets tough. When tension creeps into your relaxed, high-energy, high-output state, your effort increases but your performance drops.
Deep, controlled breathing to calm anxiety or stress is often called Combat Breathing. You can do it anytime you feel that you are out of your Zone.
The reason breathing is so effective is that the centres of your brain that control breathing are closely linked to the area that controls stress. If you can calm the electrical activity in the breathing centre, then you have a good chance of calming the stress. That’s why yoga and meditation work.
Today's Habit: Single Tasking
This week, we’re going to continue with single tasking. If you found it hard to do an hour, try 30 minutes. If you found 30 minutes hard, try 15. Slowly as you get better at single tasking and learning to switch off your distractions, you can carve out more time to single task during the day.
Remember, it’s all about focusing on your most important task and only your most important task. Once you accomplish that task, you can move on to the second most important task.
Keep up the good work!
The information and advice provided in this program is intended to assist you with improving your performance, as well as your general health. It is not intended and should not be used in place of advice from your own physician or for treatment or diagnosis of any specific health issue. By participating in this program you acknowledge that undertaking any new health, diet and/or exercise regime involves certain inherent risks, that you assume such risks, and that you release The Wells Group Inc. from any responsibility or claim relating to such participation.