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Unexpected Wisdom to Get Better Results

Small actions, done consistently, pay off huge dividends. It’s an effective way to get better results whether we’re talking about working out, increasing happiness, or fostering healthy relationships.

Getting in shape

My little brother is a beast. He is incredibly in shape, and it’s not genetic luck. He’s put in the years of hard work to figure out his optimal nutrition, and he puts in serious time at the gym. He’s experimented enough that he knows what to eat and how to workout to increase strength or cut to show off definition or bulk up, whatever. He’s a whiz at sculpting his physique.

I, on the other hand, try to be active but, like so many, struggle to be disciplined. In my head, I believe wholeheartedly that strength-training is critical for health and wellbeing. My actions, however, speak the truth – that I’d rather do anything but. Besides, I get overwhelmed sifting through all of the advice out there to figure out what I actually should be doing to get the results I want. Should I do tons of reps with little weights? Fewer reps with heavy weights? Functional training? Isometrics? Kettle bells? I don’t even know where to start! 

My brother is also one of the most inspiring people in my circle. I always leave our conversations feeling ready to take on the world and to be a better version of myself. For these reasons, I was really looking forward to asking his advice when we were together in Fort Worth a couple weeks ago for our nephew’s graduation.

“Hey, kiddo. I want to get buff fast. What should I do?”

His answer blew my mind a bit.

Unexpected wisdom

I was looking for a plan, detailed instructions on what to eat and how to exercise. Instead, what I got was actually beyond useful.

“Honestly, Ash, the best advice I can give you is ‘whatever you can do consistently’.”

His advice was like a light bulb going off. Duh! Of course, consistency is the highest priority. I could have the optimal fitness plan, but if I can’t (or won’t) follow it, for whatever reason, I’m not going to get results. It was freeing to cut through all of the noise and feel good about focusing on one top priority: just be consistent. Walk, yoga, run, dance, regret catching the occasional HIIT class. All of these will move me toward my goal. 

That conversation helped me realize that I was letting the pursuit of the best get in the way of progress. 

It got me thinking about how many other places and in how many other ways this mindset might apply. Where do we tend to seek out the best, the perfect, the right, the big pay off, or the grand gesture to our detriment? Where does focusing on big moves lead us to be ineffective or, worse, take no action at all? 

The Danish secret to happiness

Right around this same time, I stumbled across the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”). Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest nations on Earth despite having long, dark winters. I’d venture to say that a culture based on hygge is one of the main reasons. 

Hygge is cozy, warm, connected moments. It’s candlelight instead of harsh overheads. It’s snuggling up with a warm blanket in a welcoming nook to read or board games with your best buds. It’s comfort food and comfortable silence, laughter and intimacy. It’s coffee shops with close friends over bars with strangers. And it’s a priority, built into every day. 

In the U.S. (where I live), I think we often look to big, noticeable outside things to bring us happiness – shopping, vacations, dream dates and jobs, promotions or achievements – and we underestimate the cumulative effect that little moments of cozy pleasure may have on us.

What if we took that same “whatever you can do consistently” mentality and applied it here? What if we made efforts to design our daily experience – our activities and our environments – to promote hygge? I can’t help but think that would pay dividends in terms of happiness. 

The foundation of strong close relationships

Similarly, small things often trumps grand gestures when it comes to relationships. John and Julie Gottman are psychologists and the world’s leading experts in couple relationships, with about 40 years of research under their belts. They can predict with near-perfect precision which couples will stay together happily and which will not simply by observing them talk for a few minutes. Based on all of their research and knowledge, the Gottmans advocate for small things often. 

It’s the little moments that build – or break – your relationships. A grand gesture of rom-com proportions might make for a good story, but it won’t erase the damage of speaking unkind words or ignoring your partner’s bids for attention on a daily basis. When it comes to healthy, happy relationships, it’s the small things, repeated frequently – a habit of relationship-boosting interactions, if you will – that matters most.  

Life design and positive habits

At Peak Mind, we’re big proponents of life design – a process for experimenting your way toward a life aligned to you. A key aspect of life design is iteration – designing an experiment, testing it out, then tweaking. It hinges on a bias toward action. Take the step, have the experience, let that experience be your guide, then take another step. Let’s carry this attitude and my little brother’s wisdom forward to every domain of life. 

  • Consistency matters most if you’re looking to change habits and get better results.
  • Small changes are easier to maintain than big ones.
  • Small things, repeated often, pay off with big results. 

Can you imagine what life might feel like if we did that?

“Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.
James Clear
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Peak Mind Pro: Mindfulness at Work

If there was a magic pill that made you sharper, more effective, more creative, and more socially skilled while simultaneously improving the quality of your decisions and reducing the number of mistakes you made – with side effects of lower stress and more happiness – would you take it?

Absolutely! 

And you’d probably give it to everyone on your team or in your organization as well.

While this magic pill doesn’t exist yet, mindfulness does all of those things. 

Mindfulness is your competitive edge

Many people these days have heard of mindfulness and how beneficial it can be, but they’ve dismissed it due, in large part, to misunderstanding what it actually is.

Set aside any preconceived notions of sitting cross-legged on a pillow with your eyes closed and mind going blank. Instead, think of mindfulness as heightened focus and awareness. This combo is your competitive edge. 

In action, mindfulness at work means being fully aware of what is happening, both inside of you and around you, and being able to direct and sustain your focused attention where you need it.

 

Awareness

How much time do you spend on autopilot or lost in your head? If you’re anything like the average person, it’s at least 47% of the time. That means that you are not fully present and focused on what you are doing roughly half of the time. That also means that you’re likely missing out on lots of vital information. Imagine how much more effective you could be if you raised that number even a little bit.

Focus

Being able to direct and control your attention – focusing on what is important while filtering out distractions – allows you to perform at a higher level while exerting less energy. Multitasking is a myth. When we divide our attention, we are actually shifting back and forth from one task to the other, albeit sometimes very quickly. That shifting eats up our limited resource of attention and actually requires more energy and effort resulting in more mental fatigue and stress and less quality work. 

The Solution

Mindfulness – being aware and focused – is a core element of psychological strength. As with all core elements, it is a skill that can be developed if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to do so. 

Tips to Try

While setting aside time most days for a formal mindful meditation practice (e.g., with an app like 10% Happier, Calm, or Headspace) can be tremendously beneficial, this just isn’t feasible for many people for a number of reasons. At Peak Mind, we are fans of finding effective ways to build mindfulness into the cracks of a busy, modern lifestyle. Try these tips out for a couple of weeks and see what a difference it can make.

1. Help you and your team have more effective meetings by starting with a little mindfulness. Ask everyone to set aside their phone, tablet, or laptop and spend the first 2 minutes of the meeting in silence thinking about the goals for the meeting. This will allow everyone to show up both physically and mentally, to become aware and focused on the task at hand. You will likely notice that meetings become more efficient.

2. Encourage employees (and model this behavior by doing it yourself) to carve out dedicated work times in which they focus solely on one important task or project. This means making these time blocks as distraction-free as possible by turning off notifications.

3. Build in mini-mindfulness breaks. Set a timer to go off hourly (or at least periodically). When the timer goes off, notice what you are doing and where your mind is. Were you focused on what you’re doing? Try to follow one full breath. This means resting your attention on your breath and trying to stay with it from the start of the inhale, to the pause at the top, and all the way through the exhale. Then, ask yourself, what do I want to focus on right now? 

If you are interested in learning more ways to help you and your team develop this vital skill, email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn
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How and Why to Control Your Attention

What you focus on matters. Being able to intentionally direct and control your attention can make a big difference in the quality of your life experience.

Psychological resources

When you think about your important resources and how they influence your life, what comes to mind?

Most people think of money or other financial resources. Those are important, for sure. They’re the key to some aspects of stability, freedom, and pleasure. I’d argue, though, that we expend too much time and energy acquiring and protecting that particular resource at the expense of others that have a dramatic impact on our life experience. 

Just as your financial assets may make a tangible difference in the quality of your day-to-day experience, so will your psychological resources. Yet, we often overlook the importance of these resources and how the ways in which we choose to “spend” them will shape our life experience. Today, let’s focus on one important psychological resource: attention.

Attention

Simply put, what we focus on matters. The information we take in and the relationships, activities, and aspects of experience that we spend time on will have a big effect on us. What we focus on day in and day out shapes who we are, our outlook on life and the world, and, ultimately, what we do with our time on this planet. 

Attention is a limited resource, though, so it’s important to think about where and how you “spend” it. Unless you’re a fellow psychologist or really into mindfulness, you probably haven’t thought a lot about where your attention goes and why. 

Internal and external distractions

Our attention gets hijacked all the time, with and without our direct permission, We are constantly being bombarded by demands for attention. Things come at us from the outside (like notifications or loud noises) and from the inside (internal distractions like urges, thoughts, and emotions). Our minds, awesome little jerks that they can be, often don’t help us out because they happily chase any and every distraction unless we have the awareness and ability to stop them.

Being able to consciously direct your attention is an important skill and one that can be developed. Think about the implications here. Rather than having your attention jerked around by any internal or external distraction, what if you could choose where to focus and sustain your attention? What if you could hone in on something and filter out everything else? What if you could stay focused on the things, people, and tasks that you deem worthy? What a difference that would make! Strengthening your attentional control muscle gives you an advantage in virtually every area of life.

Get intentional with your attention

One of my favorite authors, Mark Manson, introduced the concept of our attention diet, comparable to nutrition. If we eat the super appealing, highly addictive, easy junk foods like candy and chips, we may find momentary pleasure. But at what cost? Repeatedly, over time, eating junk makes our bodies incredibly unhealthy. Manson argues it’s the same thing with our minds. If we repeatedly consume junk, there will be a negative impact on the quality, strength, and health of our minds. That makes sense to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good Netflix binge. But, if I’m being honest, what actually happens after more than a day of heavy TV watching is that my motivation goes down. It’s that much easier to hang out on the couch the next day and to lose steam on the projects that are actually important or value-adding to me. What’s more is that the quality of my thoughts and mood are impacted, too. My enthusiasm is dampened, and things in general feel a little more blah. I know this isn’t just me. 

Guarding your attention

In addition to having the ability to control our attention, being intentional about where we choose to direct our attention is critical. Here are a few tips for protecting and maximizing this precious psychological resource.

1. Take up a mindfulness practice

Mindfulness, a core element of psychological strength, is essentially attention training, and I believe that’s part of why it’s such a beneficial practice to cultivate. There are a ton of ways to build mindfulness, and I’d encourage you to experiment until you find some that work for you. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into this topic, join us at our next Quarterly Workshop (it’s virtual), Mindfulness: It’s Not What You Think, in July.  

2. Be ruthless with distractions and ntifications

You expend less energy and waste less of your limited attention if you set yourself up for success. Be brutal when it comes to notifications. Ask yourself, do I really want to let this app interrupt me and hijack my attention at any point? Do I really need these notifications on my watch? Put your phone on silent or do not disturb when you need to focus or, better yet, leave it in another room. Same thing goes with being available online for direct messaging. Remove distractions and attention hijackers from your environment when possible.

3. Reflect on what you take in

Spend some time regularly reflecting on what you’re taking in and the quality of your attention diet, so to speak. Are you gorging yourself on junk information and relationships or are you taking in high quality, nutrient rich ones? 

Bottom line: It’s important to consider how your attention shapes who you are and what your life is like. Being able to intentionally direct and control your attention can make a big difference in the quality of your life.

“Remember: What gets attention is not always important. And what is important rarely gets attention.”
Mark Manson