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Are You Stressed?
or Performing Under Pressure?

Mind-Body Well-being (1st published in Staff Canteen)

I'm sure that as a professional you know very well that the mind and the body are intimately connected - indeed you could say they are one and the same, unless you subscribe to Cartesian Dualism (there's a phrase to drop into conversation!) but I digress. The point is, we've known for centuries that it's the way your mind interacts with external events that determines how you perceive them.
Take a fundamental experience - flavour. Flavour doesn't come from the foodstuff itself. Scientists distinguish between taste, which is derived from the food, and flavour which is what you actually experience, which is a combination of taste and other senses plus your mind's interpretation of these things. 

Previously we talked about how the ancient practice of mindfulness has become popular as a means to stay focused on what's happening in the present moment just as elite athlete's do when they are performing.  Well one of the big areas of mindfulness application is in stress management and that's a subject that comes up a lot with clients!

There's no denying, particularly if a big project is under way, that when the day starts the pressure often builds and it can keep building. However, it's important to remember pressure is not the same as stress. Pressure can come from the outside world or inside your own head; peopele can put pressure on you by making demands and on the other hand, you can put pressure on yourself by deciding something must be done within the next 10 minutes. Knowing where the pressure is 
coming from is useful in managing it but the important thing is to realize that wherever the pressure is coming from, inside or outside, only you can turn it into stress.

You must have heard many people say they work best under pressure but have you ever heard anyone say they work best under stress? Through mindfulness and other mental techniques you can become aware of the thoughts you are using to turn pressure into stress and make some changes. In this piece though I'm interested in some of the simple physical interventions you can make to protect yourself from the debilitating effects of stress.

Make no mistake, stress can have debilitating effects on your mental capacity: your judgment, decision making and creativity, to mention just a few faculties, so it's important to do everything you can to perform at your best even when the pressure is on. Because stress is a physiological response due to your body releasing a flood of hormones to prepare you to escape or stand and fight, as well  mindfulness you can take some simple physical steps to change your reactions. Here are just a few you might need reminding about:

Take exercise
Aerobic exercise that gets the blood circulating (brisk walking / running / cycling etc) will pay off in terms of using adrenalin and releasing the body's natural endorphins in the brain that help bring back a sense of wellbeing. Can you take a take time out for even a few minutes just like all the top athletes do?

Watch what you drink
Reducing caffeine and sugar (watch out for chocolate!) and staying hydrated with plenty of water can have very important effects on your blood insulin levels and your heart rate, which then feed back into the brain and the way you think about what's happening.

Get good quality sleep
The hours we work are often long so it's vital that when you do get chance to sleep you do it well! This doesn't just mean getting enough but equally importantly getting the right quality to allow your mind to go through all the sleep stages and be ready to wake up on form. You know you
I'm sure much of this is familiar to you but I wanted to remind you that most of the high profile leaders I know don't just know this stuff, they actually practice it and I'm convinced it's part of their recipe for staying alert, thinking clearly, being creative and inspiring their teams.

Coaching for Success
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Comfort Food?
When I say 'food', this interesting little study refers specifically to peanut butter sandwiches!

Researchers at Berkeley, California decided to test the effects of food on stress and chose peanut butter sandwiches as the test food. They offered the sandwiches to one group of students taking an exam and measured their anxiety levels at intervals during the exam. Compared to those that didn't get sandwiches, their anxiety levels consistently declined as they ate more.

Personally I'm not sure eating peanut butter is a useful stress busting tactic in the long term!

Pines, A. and Gal, R. (1977), The Effect of Food on Test Anxiety. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 7: 348–358.
Just Get Started - You'll Enjoy It!
Here's a report on a subject close to my heart - intrinsic motivation. I've mentioned before about being wary of simplistic reward programs or bonus schemes as human motivation is more complicated than 'pay 'em more and they'll work harder'. 

This piece from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology illustrates this with reports a a couple of experiments designed to look at levels of motivation before and during an task. Some tasks were boring and others pleasurable; some rewarded more than others.

At least in the lab, people who chose boring tasks but with higher reward expressed more regret about their choie afterwards and the authers conclude with the advice, "Choosing the means to a good end may seem wise, but don’t forget that participating in fulfilling activities is a good end in itself – an insight that can seem elusive from a distance, but which becomes self-evident in the moment."

Read more.........

What Comes 1st Passion or Effort?
In a new version of the chicken and egg conundrum, some research from Academy of Management Journal looked at entrepreneurs and did a couple of experiments designed to answer what comes first - the passion for a project or the effort needed to get it going?
Interestingly this research suggests maybe it's the effort that will drive the passion, not the other way around.
So next time you have an idea but no 'mojo' just have a go and see if you get more passionate about it!

Read more.........

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