Embrace a both-and more attitude for greater resilience and positive flow

7 April 2021

Vitamine R

A healthy life balance is more important now than ever. The mental and physical well-being of our employees is also of paramount importance. It takes a great deal of energy and resilience to overcome all the challenges posed by work and our private lives. In order to provide our employees with extra support and guidance, the topic of "mental resilience" is discussed in various ways in our organization. This time Professor Elke Geraerts came to give us some interesting insights and tips. We would like to take the time to share what we've learned with others!

No time to read the full article? Find a handy overview of all the take-aways to improve your resilience here.

Resilience is a word you hear a lot in these challenging times. Actively working on that mental resilience and building the right life balance doesn't just mean getting in your bit of daily exercise. It also means being "smarter than your brain’," says Elke Geraerts, professor in psychology and founder of the company Better Minds at Work. She makes it clear that investing in resilience leads to more productivity and employee success. She also provided some specific tips and tricks that you can put into practice straight away.

Consciously deal with the legacy of your ancestors

47% of the time, our minds live a life of their own. Our thoughts wander; they go everywhere and nowhere. A wandering mind like this is by default negative. That’s because our primitive brain is at work. This part of our brain is constantly on the lookout for danger, an inheritance of our distant ancestors. In addition, it also wants new impulses all the time; which is great when you're hunting, but not when you're trying to get an important quote done and sent. Fortunately, we also have a prefrontal cortex. This is the youngest part of our brain (evolutionarily) and makes us the homo sapiens we are. It allows us to focus when we consciously focus our attention on something.

The good news is that we can train ourselves to consciously switch from the primitive brain to the prefrontal cortex. Elke advises you to regularly ask yourself, "what was I just thinking about?". Do this, for example, when you're doing some routine task such as making coffee or brushing your teeth. Where do your thoughts go? Are you already writing emails in your head or mentally putting one of your colleagues in their place? Challenge yourself to say as many positive things as possible about the person or situation that is ringing in your head. This is how you tackle the stress that your primitive brain unconsciously generates.

From Calimero to Calihero

You probably know a lot of Calimeros. Just like the cartoon character, you can spot them by their well-known statements such as "they are different than I am, and that's not fair," "that's not my responsibility," 'the others have to change first, then I will," or "yes, but." Their primitive brain absorbs a lot of their thoughts, which requires a lot of space and energy. Take note of such a mindset, both in yourself and in others. Talk about it, respectfully, to promote awareness. This will allow you to evolve into a "Calihero." You then take small steps to evolve out of yourself and into yourself. You look for relationships and are open to new things, based on a yes mindset. A vision that we also promote in our company through our Positive digital flow philosophy.


Multitasking = doing multiple things badly at the same time

Multitasking is often described as a skill in job ads. Elke disagrees, however. She states that 80% of your attention is lost during multitasking. Every time you switch tasks, it takes 25 minutes to find your full focus, resulting in a 40% loss of productivity. In addition, multitasking has an addictive effect. The more you do, the more your primitive brain encourages you to take on new things, because the new stimuli have resulted in a higher dopamine level. So you will have to switch more and more between different tasks in order to feel good. Elke therefore recommends that you build in an attention ritual for yourself when you need complete focus and want to "singletask." Many people do this unconsciously by sitting down, but it is actually a sign of calm for the body. For this reason, stand-up meetings or walking meetings actually work much better, because the physical movement indicates what you want to start mentally. Think about such a ritual for yourself. For example, listen to a particular music genre for five weeks before consciously focusing. After a while, you have conditioned yourself and the focus is on itself after hearing such a song.

Focused working makes us feel fulfilled about our work. Another way to get there is to give elephants priority over passing rabbits. Almost everyone wastes their best energy in the morning responding to emails. It’s like opening the rabbit cage and you immediately start focusing on the frolicking bunnies. It’s better to focus first on an elephant: a big task that often requires a lot of intellectual effort and where you need full concentration. During this period you close your inbox, ask your colleagues not to disturb you and put your mobile phone out of your reach.

Being offline is OK

Almost everyone is very ambitious and has a great deal of passion for their job. As such, we constantly want to get ahead and fill our mental "cups'" to the brim. No matter how much we would like our brain to follow our thoughts, it often cannot. Regularly breathing and filling up with energy is the only solution. Elke therefore recommends that some 'mental absence’ be incorporated on a regular basis. Take a look out of the window and let yourself wander with your thoughts. Discuss taking a break from your constant availability in your team. You don't have to be constantly online to prove that you’re working. Go offline. It will do you good and ultimately have a positive impact on your productivity.

What are you going to do to strengthen your brain?

Create your own recipe with the ingredients that Elke offers.

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