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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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Stress Together: Social Support Protects Against Stress

I was thrilled a few years ago when M, my college roommate, decided to move to Kansas City. I loved the idea of having my oldest and closest friend within walking distance after years of being several states away. Sadly, this weekend is her last in KC. As conflicted as I am about her move (selfishly, I want her to stay. As her friend, I believe this is right for her, and I’m excited for her new adventure), I know she is stressed. Packing and preparing for a move is no small task…even when you think it will be…which is why I volunteered to help.

“You don’t have to help me pack and clean,” she said. “Uh huh. Where’s the tape?” I asked. Packing isn’t necessarily fun, but it’s a lot like 3D Tetris, which I happen to be surprisingly good at it. As we wrapped up that day, she was thankful and seemed a bit relieved, and it felt good to me to be able to support her and help in a very real way.

Share the load: Social support reduces stress

Did you know that social support is one of the biggest protective factors against stress? Having people who care there to lend a listening ear or a helping hand is invaluable during tough times. Not only do we feel cared for and less alone, which reduces stress, but social support also boosts our resilience (our ability to adapt in the face of adversity and bounce back from hardships). What’s more, having a social support network also impacts our stress response on a physical level by settling down some of our body’s reactions to stress. It’s no secret that reducing your stress levels not only improves mental health, but also your physical health. The effects of stress run deep, so prioritizing stress relief and eliminating stressful situations by leaning on your social support network greatly improves your life. 

It’s not just receiving social support that helps us feel less stressed. Giving support does, too! It’s a similar situation, though, in that giving support not only feels good emotionally, but it also seems to have a calming effect on our body’s stress response. This is just one of the many health benefits to deepening our support group through social network, enriching social connection and social relationships. 

Types of social support

Social support during times of stress can take different forms. Often, we think about emotional support – someone being there for us, listening, sitting in the ick with us, expressing care, and being on our side. It’s a powerful thing to feel emotionally supported during times of stress, and that sense of connection buffers us against the multifaceted stress response.

Sometimes, however, what we need to give or get from our support system is instrumental support. We need concrete help alleviating the burden, whether that’s helping a friend pack, offering childcare, providing financial support, going to a doctor’s appointment, or making a meal. This type of support helps reduce or remove the source of stress. We are inherently social creatures designed to live in a connected community. We are not meant to be fully independent, and it’s not a weakness or a fail to need help sometimes. Life is hard. We’re human, and we need help.

Isolation and stress

We are literally wired for human connection. Yet, when we are struggling internally, many of us instinctively withdraw. We go further inward, pulling away from others. We don’t feel like socializing or being around loved ones.

We may worry about the impact our burdens will have on our loved ones. Concerns about weighing them down, making them worry, or bringing them down by not being fun or happy can all push us toward withdrawal as well. That’s unfortunate because doing so prevents us from using one of our best stress management tools and deprives them of that benefit as well. Next time you find yourself in the midst of a hard day or feeling stressed out, lighten the load and let a friend, family or community member, or a co-worker be there. to support you. It’s good for you both.

The wrong kind of social support

When it comes to receiving and giving social support in the face of stress, I want to call out two pitfalls to be wary of: venting and invalidation.

Venting isn’t always a good thing

It can feel good to vent to someone about the things stressing us out, but it you pay close attention, you’ll realize that venting isn’t always that helpful. Rumination is a nasty mental habit of looping endlessly on the same, typically negative thoughts, and venting often turns into ruminating out loud. When you rehash the same territory again and again, without a resolution or new insights, you’ve crossed into unhelpful venting. While it may on some level feel nice to share your frustrations with another person, especially if they agree with you, you’ll likely notice that your emotional landscape is anger, stress, worry, or sadness. You’re unnecessarily feeling the same things all over again, like stoking a fire that needs to die out.

Keep in the mind the difference between processing (making sense out of a situation and your reaction), problem-solving (coming up with a feasible solution to change or address the situation), and venting (rehashing and complaining repeatedly). Spend your time and energy on the first two and skip the latter.

Invalidation

Validation is an important relationship skill that involves recognizing and affirming another’s emotional experience. Invalidation, on the other hand, takes the form of denying, dismissing, or rejecting their emotional experience. It is a sneakily damaging thing that negatively impacts our nervous systems and erodes relationships and trust over time.

While some people intentionally use invalidation as a tool to manipulate, most people are well-intentioned and don’t even realize that they are being invalidating.

In an effort to help others feel better, we say accidentally invalidating things that actually hurt more than help. These kinds of statements come from a good place, our desire to help them feel better, alleviate some of their burden, or help them navigate a difficult situation. Unfortunately, they tend to feel dismissive, rejecting, or denying. Keep an eye out for comments like these common responses:

  • “It could be worse.”
  • “But at least…” (Finding the bright side can be quite a helpful strategy at times but not others.)
  • “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  • “Don’t be sad/anxious/embarrassed.”
  • “I don’t know why that bothers you so much.”
  • “You shouldn’t let that get you down.”

Instead, try reflecting back their feelings. Acknowledging another’s emotional experience does not mean you agree with it. It just means you see them and you understand them. Try something like “I can see how stressed you are” or “That sounds really tough” or (my personal favorite) “Of course you feel ____! That makes sense.” Once you’ve validated and offered support, you can shift into problem-solving or letting go or whatever the next step needs to be.

Strengthen your important relationships

Strong healthy relationships are important for more reasons that just managing stress, so it’s well worth the effort to develop effective relationship skills. In fact, relationships is one of the key elements of psychological strength. The next Peak Mind Quarterly Psych Strength Workshop is coming up on Tuesday April 12, and we’re focusing on communication styles. This workshop will help you understand your own communication style and characteristic ways of relating to others. It will also help you better understand important people in your life and gain more effective ways of communicating and connecting with them.

Develop a comprehensive personalized stress management plan

Last week, we made our Stress Management Mini-Course available to our community for the first time, and many of you took quick action to get a handle on stress. Kudos to you! If you haven’t yet, now is the time to redefine your relationship with stress and learn to navigate it with ease. Through this link only, you can get the Stress Management Mini-Course AND add Self-Care [by Design], our most popular course, for only $10. 

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
 – Fred Rogers
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Handle Stress Better: It’s Not All Bad

The end of my first semester in graduate school was probably the most stressed out I have ever been. It was finals week, and I had a ton of writing assignments due within an 18 hour window. Did I work ahead and plan my time out accordingly? No! Of course not! My best friend and I watched Beaches (so we’d have an excuse to cry) then hit the library afterward, leaving us less than 24 hours to write a 15 page paper and a few 3-4 page ones. Our plan was to rely on Dr. Pepper and adrenaline to write all night. As you can imagine…it did not go well.

At 5 a.m., I found my way-over-caffeinated-beyond-stressed-out-in-desperate-need-of-sleep self in the bathtub trying to relax enough so I could finish those papers. I seriously thought I was having an aneurysm. It was terrible. Somehow, I got it all done by the deadline, but I was a wreck, completely convinced I wasn’t cut out for graduate school or being a psychologist. I even called the school district in my hometown to find out if I could become a teacher instead. Fortunately, they never called me back, and I got to recoup over the holiday break. That experience taught me some hard-won lessons, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten near that level of stressed out again. Thank goodness because that really sucked.

Is Stress Bad?

After that little gem I just shared, you might expect me to answer with a resounding YES! And you might say the same thing. It seems that we’ve been taught to think of stress as a bad thing to be avoided, and that’s problematic for a few reasons. One, stress is unavoidable. Absolutely and completely unavoidable. Any demand for your time, attention, or energy is going to cause some measure of stress. So even if you withdraw from life completely – no work, no relationships, no nothing – you’re still going to get hungry, and that requires your time, attention, and energy to resolve. Viola, stress! Albeit, that would likely register as a very minor amount of stress (assuming you have ready access to food). Still, the idea that we can avoid stress is faulty because it just isn’t possible. 

The notion that we should avoid stress because it is harmful or bad for us is also faulty, but it’s a little more complicated. Yes, stress can be quite harmful for us, when it is chronic and poorly managed. That caveat is an important one, so keep it in mind. 

Unchecked, chronic stress can lead to all kinds of health issues and even premature death. It affects the quality of our minds, making them more negative and less effective problem-solvers. Stress can impact our moods and turn us into snappy unpleasant people to be around. All considered, chronic poorly managed stress has a negative impact on virtually every area of our lives and functioning. 

But Stress Can Be Good for You

Here’s the interesting thing to consider…stress can actually be good for us under the right circumstances. 

My little brother and April, my co-founder here at Peak Mind, have something in common. They both lift weights. Not like I do, taking a strength class here and there, working enough to be a little sore. They lift heavy. They intentionally put their muscles under a lot of stress to hold that heavy burden, causing tiny tears and microtraumas in the tissue…and that is absolutely necessary for building muscle mass and increasing strength. Our muscles must be taxed – they must be stressed – to get stronger. 

It’s not just our muscles that benefit from being stressed, though. A growing body of research suggests that other stressful conditions such as cold and hunger (e.g., intermittent fasting) can have a positive impact on our bodies and brains as well, triggering biological responses that help optimize our DNA.

Other Benefits of Stress

Beyond the increases in strength and health that can come from taxing our bodies, stress can be good for us psychologically as well. Consider the hero from your favorite action or fantasy movie. Did they have an easy, stress-free life? Doubtful! The journey for most heroes includes adversity and challenge, which they learn from and overcome, and it often becomes the source of their strength or power. We are no different. By overcoming challenge (aka stressful situations), we can build mental toughness, resilience, and find wells of inner strength we did not know we had.

How to Handle Stress Better 

Whether stress is good or bad for you depends on a few factors like how much stress you’re experiencing at any given point in time (stress compounds – it adds up), how much stress you can handle (your psychological strength and stress management skills), and your mindset (turns out, believing that stress can be good for you can make it so). You may or may not be able to control how much stress life throws at you at any given moment, but you can definitely do something about the last two factors. Rethinking your relationship with stress and taking intentional action to improve your ability to manage stress is critical. After all, stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s time to develop the tools, skills, and mindset necessary to prevent those freaking-out-in-the-bathtub stressed out moments.  

In honor of this being Stress Awareness month, we are making our Stress Management mini-course available for the first time. This little powerhouse of a product will help you redefine your relationship with stress and learn to manage it skillfully, transforming your experience when under pressure. This mini-course is multi-faceted to help you learn and grow more. You’ll get:

  • A short educational video
  • A beautifully designed digital workbook that includes additional information and 6 hands on exercises to help increase your awareness and understanding of your stress response and develop your own personalized stress management plan
  • A 2 week email challenge that will introduce you to a wide range of stress management strategies and tips
  • 3 in the moment tools to use any time you feel stressed, tense, or are having a difficult time

In addition, only through the link below, you can get our popular Self-Care [by Design] mini-course for only $10 (normally $29) when you bundle the two courses.

Remember, stress is inevitable. Being stressed out is optional.

“You cannot remove struggle from life, but you can improve your ability to handle challenge.”
– James Clear
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Mindfulness Practice, by a Former Skeptic

My mom and I are close. I’ve always adored her but, when I was younger, I scoffed a bit at (what I used to call) her Zen-Buddha-karma hippie interests. She had a mindfulness practice before people even knew what that was. Like a meditation practice. Deep breaths. All that. She was into yoga before it was cool, so I was exposed to it as a teen in the mid-90s. I didn’t mind yoga as a physical practice, but the meditation piece, though, no thank you. 

In fact, I turned down a trip to Costa Rica with her about 10 or so years ago because of it. She called to tell me about this amazing yoga retreat she was going on. I was in until she shared the schedule, which included an early morning meditation class. That was a hard pass for me.

Keep in mind that when I rolled my eyes at her meditation, I wasn’t some young kid who couldn’t sit still. I was a full-fledged doctoral level licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. I knew a lot about the human mind and how it works, and I. Was. SKEPTICAL.

Make your mind go blank? I called B.S. MINDS DON’T GO BLANK!

Which is true, they don’t. The mind wanders if you don’t focus on the present, but it doesn’t just go blank. The issue was that I didn’t really understand what mindfulness meant. I didn’t get the point of meditation.

And that was a HUGE oversight on my part.

Thankfully though, as a scientist at heart and a clinician who continually strives to learn and stay current, I couldn’t help but delve into this world, and I am now a fully reformed skeptic. I’m 100% on the mindfulness bandwagon and strongly encourage everyone to hop on it with me. It is for your mind what working out is for your body…nothing short of transformative.

Here are some of the factors that made me change my tune.

The Data

Hardcore research studies may not do much for you, but they do for me, and the results are compelling. Scientists and researchers have been studying the effects of mindfulness based stress reduction, and it is nothing short of a miracle. Mindfulness Exercises:

  • Decreases anxiety, depression, anxiety
  • Decreases stress
  • Increases happiness
  • Increases focus and concentration

I’m into all of those effects. Mental health and wellbeing is my business! But here’s where it gets even more crazy cool and convincing. Mindfulness – a mental practice involving awareness of the present moment, simply paying attention to the here and now – affects your body. too. Studies have shown that mindfulness has done amazing things like:

  • Decreases physical pain
  • Turns off 7% of the genes involved in your stress response. Literally switches them off.
  • Boosts your immune response (for example, researchers injected people with something known to cause skin rashes, but the people who had been practicing mindfulness didn’t get one!)
  • Even slows down the aging process on a cellular level

Seeing data like these was enough to convince me that this practice, which has been around in various forms for thousands of years, was legit. My direct experiences, though, keep me believing.

My Own Experiences

The actual details of how I incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my life vary over time, from informal to formal guided practices, and I’m not always consistent. Fortunately, there is always the option to simply begin again when I get off track. For me, personally, the top changes and benefits I’ve seen from this lifestyle practice include:

Self-awareness and understanding

Mindfulness has allowed me to observe my inner workings, gaining a better understanding of myself and my patterns of thinking and reacting. My ability to see these processes unfold in the moment has increased, too, which leads to…

Less emotional reactivity

I seem to be much more even-keel emotionally, less reactive in the moment, which is great because I feel more in charge and in control. I’m also much better able to sit with my emotions (to observe those sunsets, if you caught last week’s email).

Pleasure in small moments

Because mindfulness is essentially an attention training process, there are some, perhaps, surprising side effects. One is that I’m more attune to the small pleasures and joyous moments in life. I noticed that I literally stopped to smell the roses on a walk not too long after starting my practice. Pre-mindfulness and meditation (Pre-M), I most likely would’ve just glanced at those flowers, if I had noticed them at all.

Patience

Another benefit, for me at least, is patience. Pre-M Ashley was ants-in-the-pants restless on a 3 hour road trip. Post-M Ashley handled a 13 hour flight…with an extra 3 hour delay…in stride. Very little misery. A surprising amount of pleasure. I blame mindfulness.

I’ve heard that boredom is an attention issue, that nothing is boring if you pay close enough attention to it. My own experiences echo that. I have rarely found myself feeling bored since starting a mindfulness practice, even when there’s very little apparent stimulation. I can be quiet and still (believe it or not).

Develop Your Own Mindfulness Practice

There are an endless number of ways to start to build your own mindfulness practice, ranging from apps like 10% Happier to Peak Mind programs like Ascend and our Quarterly Workshops (and, of course, you’re welcome to join those), but where I really want to direct you is to this amazing FREE online summit coming up in January. 

Dr. April, Peak Mind co-founder, is teaming up with Fleet Maull of the Heart Mind Institute to host the Best Year of Your Life Summit. It’s 10 days of free content from THE leading psychologists, meditation teachers (including one of my personal favorites, Sharon Salzberg), and visionaries. (Seriously. I flipped when I saw the line up). It’s way more than mindfulness, but what a great place to start (or strengthen) your practice. See you there!

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Peak Mind Pro: Navigate Stress without Being Stressed Out

Back-to-school is always a stressful time for working parents. This year, however, makes previous ones look like a breeze. Set against the back drop of an ongoing pandemic, seemingly constant transitions in the workplace, and heavy world events, it’s important for employees to navigate stress more than ever.

In fact, a recent Gallop survey paints this picture vividly with data. Nearly half of employees experience a lot of worry daily and over half have a lot of daily stress. Rates of both are higher compared to last year, and the rates are highest for employees in the U.S. and Canada. 

This is troubling news because chronic stress is associated with all sorts of negative effects on your physical and mental health, like increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even death. 

Chronic stress impacts employee work performance, too. There’s not an off switch to flip to leave the stress load at home. Instead, poorly managed stress shows up at work in the form of presenteeism, disengagement (80% of employees are disengaged at work these days. 80%!), poor concentration, low efficiency, low creativity, difficulty prioritizing, and difficulty problem-solving and decision-making. 

Bottom line: Chronic, poorly controlled stress affects your organization’s bottom line.  

We don’t have to tell you about the damaging effects of stress. We have talked about that countless times on Peak Mind. Instead, we are here to give you tools – outside of the standard deep breathing and paying attention – to help you reduce stress and stressful situation. 

Stress, which is our body and brain’s reaction to any demand for our time, attention, and energy, is unavoidable. Fortunately, human beings are actually designed to handle a very high stress load…for a short period of time. The problems arise when the stress never ends, which is pretty much the case in our modern world. It’s important that we take steps at work and in our personal lives to create environments and routines that protect us against stress. Even basics like getting adequate sleep, hydrating and eating, moving as well as resting throughout the day, and periods without technology can make a drastic difference.  

There is a silver lining here. While stress is unavoidable, it isn’t all bad. When managed well, stress can actually be good for you. Stress can focus attention and provide the energy and motivation necessary to do well on a task. Under the right circumstances, stress can have a positive impact on your heart, making it more resilient. It can make you, as a person, more resilient as well. The challenge is turning bad stress (distress) into good stress (eustress).

Two of the biggest factors that help transform stress are: 

  1.  Believing that your efforts are worth it. 
  2.  Believing that you are capable of handling the task demands. 

 How can you help your team or organization tap into those mindset? 

Tools to Try

High stress can lead to overwhelm and difficulty prioritizing tasks and directing energy. That’s because high stress and anxiety bring with it a sense of urgency, making everything feel like it must be done right this second. The Priority Matrix is a helpful tool to sort tasks and develop a game plan. Use this tool on your own or with your team.

  • Urgent tasks have an impending deadline or are time sensitive. 
  • Important tasks matter. They provide value and make a significant impact toward meaningful goals.  

 

Psychological Strength

At Peak Mind, we’re dedicated to helping individuals and organizations thrive. We do this by teaching skills to build psychological strength, which encompasses solid stress management skills along with resiliency and mental toughness. 

Are you interested in learning what psychological strength is, how it operates in day-to-day life, and how you (and your team) can start to build it? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter below. 

Additional Resources

Our podcast vault contains a wealth of information to help in nearly every situation, including managing stress. These two episodes may be of particular interest to you.

Episode 267: How to Support Yourself Through Transitions

Episode 212: What to Do When You’re Stretched Too Thin

Ready to help your team build psychological strength?

Ready to support your team to help them manage stress and perform at their peak? Check out our ASCEND program! 

“It’s not stress that kills us. It’s our reaction to it.”
 – Hans Selye
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Peak Mind Pro: What Is Psychological Strength?

What exactly is ‘Psychological Strength,’ and why is it such an important set of skills for your team to develop? This is the question we’ll dive into in this post.

It probably comes as no surprise that our mind is the lens through which we experience and interact with the world. Every situation we encounter, favorable or challenging, is first run through our mind to help us interpret it and to set up our response to it. 

Here’s where things get interesting. In between our mind’s intake of that situation and our response to it lies something we call ‘The Gap.’ The Gap represents all of the inner happenings whereby our mind is:

  • Interpreting the situation
  • Adding context
  • Making predictions
  • Generating an emotional response
  • Crafting your next moves

 

Without Psychological Strength

Here’s the issue: For most people, ‘The Gap’ is filled entirely with our mind’s reactive thoughts and emotions. This reactivity runs on some of our mind’s most basic processes, such as:

  • Seeking out and finding threats in our environment (in an attempt to keep us safe)
  • Predicting the future or other’s behavior or thoughts (regardless of whether we’re right about those predictions)
  • Confirming our pre-existing beliefs (even if those beliefs are inaccurate)
  • Relying on mental habits constructed long ago (that likely aren’t helpful anymore)

When we rely solely on our mind’s naturally-occurring, knee jerk thoughts and emotions, it’s much more likely that our behavior will be reactive, leading to less optimal outcomes. 

 

With Psychological Strength

But, here’s the good news! When used correctly, ‘The Gap’ represents an opportunity. The opportunity to insert a new set of skills called ‘Psychological Strength’ that help dilute our mind’s natural reactivity. 

These skills don’t happen naturally – they require training and practice (just like learning to swing a golf club or shoot free throws). But, the impact it has on the way we experience and interact with the world can’t be understated. 

It allows us to see the world in a less biased, more balanced way. To take intentional and effective action. It allows us to THRIVE instead of merely getting by.

Read on to learn more about the components of Psychological Strength.

 

What is Psychological Strength?

Psychological Strength is a set of knowledge and skills that have been shown to increase resilience, psychological flexibility, effective and intentional action, happiness, and thriving. 

It includes skills in 7 areas: 

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Habits & Biology
  • Relationships
  • Self
  • Life Design

All of Peak Mind’s programs, workshops, and educational content focuses on these core areas to help people make meaningful shifts in their lives.

Take just a moment to imagine how you and your team could benefit from skills in these areas. How much more effective, engaged, and productive would you/they be? How would your culture improve? The impact really can’t be understated.

 

Tool to Try

You’re going to start building mindfulness skills by Minding the Gap. 

This technique will help you begin to explore your mind’s automatic reactions.

Think back to a recent difficult situation you experienced, particularly one in which your behavior was more reactive than you’d like. Really go there in your mind and recall the experience as vividly as you can.

Now Mind the Gap by mentally pressing pause and taking note of your internal reaction. What was going on inside of you before you reacted? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What thoughts, assumptions, predictions or expectations were going through my mind?
  • What emotions came up?
  • What sensations can I notice in my body?
  • What what actions did I feel urged or driven to do?  

A core skill in psychological strength involves adding a mental ‘speed bump’ to these situations. An intentional pause whereby we observe our own internal experiences before we react. 

Think ahead to an upcoming situation that you anticipate being difficult. Set the intention Mind the Gap – pause to observe your own internal experience before saying or doing anything. Even 10 seconds of observation can make all the difference in the world. Resolve to do this each time you experience a difficult situation. The more you practice, the more second-nature it will become.

“You have power over your mind. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
– Marcus Aurelius
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Peak Mind Pro: Be Your Best Self

In order to be your best self, you must be able to handle tough situations. To describe these situations we use the acronym “VUCA”: 

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

Situations and experiences that can be explained by one or more of these characteristics are particularly tough for us to handle. And if you think about it, is there a better word to describe the experience we’ve all been living through the last 18 months? (Seriously, if you can think of one, hit reply and tell us!)

VUCA situations are particularly tough for us because of our mind’s natural tendency to seek out predictability, familiarity, certainty, and stability. Our mind’s natural survival instinct sees a predictable, unchanging environment as one that is safe. It’s known. It’s one where we can let our guard down. We feel calm, confident, and at ease in predictable, familiar situations.

Let’s unpack that for a second. Our mind’s natural tendency is to feel at ease in predictable, unchanging circumstances. This is our comfort zone. So naturally, when things tip in the “VUCA direction,” we feel it, and it doesn’t feel good. It’s hard to be your best self when your mind doesn’t feel at ease. 

So, is it really surprising that anxiety and depression have risen exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic?

We’ve heard from countless organizations over the last couple of months, and there is one common theme: people are feeling the stress and pressure of the ongoing VUCA situation we’ve all been living in. 

But, people still have jobs to do and goals to achieve. Our businesses and organizations still depend on our teams in order to move forward, even during challenging times.

So, what can you do to support your team so they can show up as their best, even in the face of adversity?

Monthly Tip

This month’s tip is to take a page out of the book of a true high performer. Michael Phelps is the most decorated olympian in history. He won 28 medals (23 gold), and has been lauded as the “greatest of all time.”

What contributed to that level of performance?

Sure, you can point to his natural physical ability to account for some of it, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

When you dig into Phelps’ training regimen, you see a series of rituals, like his race-day ritual above. These rituals are carefully crafted to put Phelps in a state of mind that allows him to show up and perform at his best. 

He primes his best self, and your employees can do the same. By priming our best self, we put ourselves in the mindset that allows us to handle more uncertainty. The repetitiveness and familiarity of a ritual like a race-day routine helps calm our mind during VUCA times.

Ask your employees to answer the following questions:

  1. When was a time that I was at my best? (Describe it in detail)
  2. How did I feel? (Be specific! Were you confident, calm, assertive, engaged, etc)
  3. What activities tend to elicit or detract from those feelings?

 For example:

  1. I was at my best when I reached my set goals while working on a big initiative last quarter.
  2. I felt in control and in a state of flow.
  3. My work was planned out – I knew when to do what. I had uninterrupted time.

Your employees can use the answers to these questions to craft their own “race-day routine” to prime themselves to show up closer to their best self each day. Not only does this further personal development, but it can trickle into other areas of your life. In this example, this employee could spend some time each week to plan out their work. They could consider blocking work time on their calendar to ensure adequate time to focus. 

By priming our best selves, we put ourselves in the best possible position to weather the inevitable challenges that a VUCA situation can throw at us.

Ready to help your team build psychological strength?

Ready to support your team to help them manage stress and perform at their peak? Check out our ASCEND program! 

“The goal is not to be better than the other person, but your previous self.”
– Dalai Lama
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Peak Mind Pro: Combat Burnout at Work

A recent report by Medscape shows the staggering statistics of physician burnout in the United States. While it’s easy to point to the pandemic as the root cause, 79% of the physicians surveyed in this study report that their burnout began before the pandemic.

Research from Deloitte shows that burnout isn’t just a problem for our frontline healthcare workers. 91% of the respondents to a recent report say they have “unmanageable amounts of stress” that negatively impacts their work. 

The bottom line is that burnout is something that impacts us all. The cure for it is not to work harder and take on more. Read on to learn how building psychological strength can help combat burnout and promote work life balance to improve your mental health.

 

Psychological Strength Can Help

Psychological strength consists of teachable skills in 7 different areas. 

When we think about burnout, a few key areas are important to consider:

  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Habits & Biology
  • Life Design

Leading Indicators of Burnout

Burnout is a state of exhaustion – mental, emotional, and physical – caused by prolonged, unchecked stress. The sooner you recognize the early warning symptoms of burnout, the better chance you’ll have of combatting it. Emotions and thoughts are powerful leading indicators.

  • Emotions – Burnout is characterized by a number of difficult emotions such as overwhelm, dread, and anxiety. One of the foundational steps to combat burnout is to recognize your own emotional profile. The more you become aware of your own emotions and work hard to label them (not just “good” or “bad,” but to name them very specifically), the sooner you can recognize the indicators of burnout and make changes to support yourself. 
  • Thoughts – Your thought patterns can also be a key indicator of burnout. Thoughts like, “I’ll never get all of this done,” or “This is impossible!” indicate overwhelm, which can easily balloon into burnout if left unchecked.

Combating Burnout

Once you’ve recognized signs of burnout, or recognize that you’re experiencing burnout, you can take steps to combat it. Your Habits & Biology as well as Life Design can help you do that.

  • Habits & Biology – There is a strong connection between the way we treat our bodies and how our minds operate. During times of stress, overwhelm, or burnout, it becomes exponentially more important to do the basics: eat well, sleep, move, drink water, and relax. These basic health habits form the foundation of a stronger YOU who is equipped to lower stress hormones and in turn help your mental health. 
  • Life Design – Life design can help you identify the root cause of your overwhelm and burnout and generate sets of solutions to test out. Check out this month’s actionable tip to learn more!

Tool to Try

This month, we challenge you to use key questions from Life Design to help address an aspect of burnout. Grab a pen and paper and get ready to do some problem-solving!

1. Laddering

Think about the factors contributing to stress or burnout for you. Identity a problem area or a change that you would like to make. Then, ask yourself a series of questions.

Start with “What will that change do for me?” Be sure to write your responses down.

Then, ask yourself “Why is that important?”

Continue to ask “Why is that important?” until you get to your root desire. You’ll know you’ve gotten there when you can’t go any deeper or you find your answers circling back to ones you’ve already written down. 

2. How might I…

Now that you know what you’re really trying to target, it’s time to come up with some creative solutions. You’ll notice that your root desire can likely be fulfilled in multiple different ways – even in ways that didn’t occur to you before you did the laddering exercise.

Ask yourself, “How might I achieve my root desire???”

This powerful little question packs a big punch! “How” cues your brain to start problem-solving. It’s a clever way to bypass unhelpful thoughts like “I can’t do that,” which shuts down active problem-solving.

“Might” is a permission slip to think creatively. You’re not saying that you will or have to test out any of the possible solutions you come up with, just that you might.

By asking yourself “how might I…?” you are upping your brainstorming potential, and you’re more likely to stumble on a viable solution. 

Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down as many potential solutions or ways to get to your root desire as you can come up with. Don’t evaluate any of them! Go for volume.

Then, select the most doable option, and move forward with it to test it out. See if this is a long term fix for your burnout. Just taking an easy 5 minutes a day can help reduce your levels of stress, and combat burnout. 

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes….including you.”
– Anne Lamott
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Constant Comfort: Going Outside Your Comfort Zone

 One theme my mind is circling on is the idea of constant comfort, and going outside our comfort zone. I just left coffee and an intellectually stimulating conversation with a friend who challenges me to think – to really think. My mind is reeling, and I want to share it with you.

In our modern lives, we spend our time moving from one comfortably curated experience to the next. Central heat and air allow us to maintain an optimal temperature regardless of the season. Readily available food allows us to eat whatever we want whenever we want. Instant streaming, 2-day delivery, and Google mean that we are never without, at least not for long.

Trigger warnings, denial, masking, and filters mean that we can operate in carefully crafted social and emotional circumstances. Factor in an underlying cultural myth that we can – and should – be happy all the time, and it’s no wonder that so many of us have a warped relationship with discomfort. That is, we tend to see being uncomfortable as a bad thing to be avoided, something that shouldn’t be happening, that shouldn’t be a part of life.

And that attitude is incredibly limiting, if not downright harmful. If you never leave your comfort zone then you will never have a growth mindset. It is great to feel safe and reduce stress and anxiety, but at what cost? If you live with a fixed mindset and never step out of your comfort zone – even take small steps – then you will never build your confidence to live the life you dream. 

Sure, being comfortable – physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially – is preferable…or is it?

The Downside of Comfort

While being comfortable may signal that our needs are being met (for example, feeling well-rested is more comfortable to me than being exhausted, and we all know that adequate sleep is good for human beings), and being comfortable may reduce some stress (perhaps there is less need to worry about finances when you are financially comfortable), I believe that comfort is over-rated. Here’s why.

The more we get used to and expect to always be comfortable, the smaller our comfort zones become. In turn, we are more easily thrown for a loop when there is deviation in our experiences. Moreover, unwillingness to experience discomfort can come with dramatic ill effects.

Look at the lengths you go to in order to maintain comfort in any area of your life. Do you grab unhealthy food to avoid the discomfort of hunger as well as the discomfort that comes with having to prepare a nutritious meal or ride out a craving? Do you avoid the discomfort of physical exertion that comes with exercise? It’s those times we are outside comfort zone that we get stronger, physically and mentally.

What do you do to avoid psychological, emotional, and social discomfort? Do you numb out in unhealthy or unhelpful ways? Do you avoid asking the hard questions or having those tough conversations? How does that avoidance impact your relationships? Do you avoid doing things that make you feel awkward, insecure, or uncertain? To what end?

Like trying to shove a beach ball underwater, trying to avoid or get rid of uncomfortable feelings simply doesn’t work long-term. In fact, many of the measures we take to bottle up, shove down, suppress, or get rid of those uncomfortable feelings can actually intensify them or cause even bigger problems down the road. For example, eating your feelings can lead to more shame, disgust, and anxiety (and more eating of said feelings) while also creating health issues for your future self. Other consumption habits like shopping and mindless scrolling may help you avoid the discomfort of boredom or being alone with your thoughts, but they come with literal and figurative costs. Not taking chances may help you avoid the pain of failure or the discomfort of uncertainty…while also causing the pain of missed opportunities and regret.

Get this, there’s even some fascinating emerging research that suggests that states of physiological discomfort like being hungry or cold can actually trigger a beneficial response on a genetic level, slowing the aging process. Our bodies were designed for periods of discomfort. It may actually be good for us!

The Solution

All of this to say, the pursuit of constant comfort can cause some unintended problems. The solution, I believe, is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stepping outside your comfort zone in whatever capacity – socially, psychologically, emotionally, physically – can lead to growth and expansion. The bigger your comfort zone, the fewer things knock you off kilter. Your ability to sit with the ick without doing anything to make it worse in the long run (what psychologists call distress tolerance) can have a big impact on your life experience. Pushing into the discomfort strengthens us.

Moreover, reframing discomfort as a good thing to be sought out periodically can fundamentally change your relationship with it. It’s comparable to the fitness enthusiast who has learned to view sore, painful muscles after a hard workout as a good thing, a sign of increasing strength, as opposed to seeing the pain as bad. Understanding how discomfort can lead to positive changes – and having the psychological strength to weather discomfort skillfully – can be powerful

The things we do – or don’t do – all in the name of staying constantly comfortable can cost us big time. So go, be uncomfortable!

“Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can’t put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, then you will never grow. You will never change. You’ll never learn.”
―Jason Reynolds
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What a Bug on Your Windshield Can Teach You

I came across this excellent metaphor on how to focus attention this week, and I have to share it.

You’re driving down the road, and a giant bug splats on the window right in front of you. Maybe you startle a bit as the splat suddenly enters your awareness. Then what?

You can focus all of your attention on the bug guts splattered on your window. Or, you can focus your attention on the road ahead. You’re still aware of the bug, but your attention is focused on the road.

Let’s say, though, that the bug grosses you out or annoys you and you just don’t want it there (you just cleaned your windshield!). What happens if you try to remove the bug from your awareness? If you try to deny its existence or pretend like it’s not there? That gunk on your car will stand out even more! 

It doesn’t really matter what those specific thoughts are. You’re ruminating now, which is a pretty unhelpful mental habit. Your attention is fully absorbed by your thoughts. You’re in your head, which means that you’re not in the moment. 

The more we pay attention to the present moment, the happier we tend to be, even when those present moments are unpleasant (like a bug splat). And like that bug, unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, events, and circumstances may crop up, whether we want them to or not.

Whether we asked for them, caused them, or had anything to do with them. What shows up in our awareness isn’t necessarily under our control. Where we focus our attention, however, is. 

Choosing to pay attention to the things that help move us in the direction we want to go is a powerful psychological strength move. It takes a lot of self-awareness and practice, but it’s so worth it!

 P.S. A big thank you to Carl Robbins and Dr. Sally Winstead, professional colleagues at the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland, for sharing this metaphor.

“What you do with your attention is in the end what you do with your life.”
― John Green