If we enter into a marathon then we expect to do a fair bit of training to get ourselves in the best shape that we can be. The same is true of many other physical challenges and we accept that. Whatever the nature of that challenge we build any specialised skills that we need on a foundation of good all around fitness.
When we undertake any challenge at work are we as diligent? We know that our brains reach their capacity for growth in early adulthood, so we can’t get our brains any fitter. WRONG! Latest research proves that the brain has the capacity to grow new strong neural pathways throughout our lifetimes ( neuroplasticity ) and even physically change the structure ( neurogenesis ). So just like the right physical exercises will increase overall physical ability, so the right mental exercises will increase mental acuity. This is marvellous news for the trainee manager and the old pro alike. This works on the basis of “what we practice grows stronger”.
However, there is a need to apply this new information properly. It is not just a case of doing a few meditations and a crossword puzzle or two. We need to build a foundation of vital ‘soft’ skills that will become a strong resilient and reliable framework for all our technical knowledge.
Just like an athlete would split up a race into ‘warm up’, ‘the race’ and ‘warm down’. Lets look at how this race analogy would work within a mindful manager’s day.
The Warm Up.
So, before the day kicks off we need to make sure we are ready and well prepared. We do a few mental stretches to focus the mind and make sure that we are aware of any niggling problems that we have carried over from yesterday. Unresolved conflicts and stresses from the past can compromise our performance mentally and emotionally, just like a tight or pulled muscle might do in a race. We flag up and accept any potential problems that might trip us up.
We need to plan our strategy for the day. This is where the ability to vary focus is so important. What hurdles will we need to clear and what about the hurdles our team may be struggling with? What needs to take priority and what can be delegated or relegated to another time? Who will we be competing with and what are their likely tactics?
Are we physically OK? Have we had breakfast for instance?
OK. We are on our way. There are a few exercises we can do during our journey to work, however long or short that may be.
Time it takes to Warm Up efficiently: 5 - 10 minutes.
As managers we are going to be in many races during the course of the day, each with its own demands and each benefiting from a different strategic approach. So as time between races will be brief, we need a quick and reliable set of exercises to keep us at maximum efficiency.
During each intervention we will need to assess how we are doing at any moment in time, giving us the ability to change our focus of awareness and alter and amend our approach to the situation. A successful intervention will give us flexibility, choice, self awareness and awareness of others. Not surprisingly if we can respond to challenges rather than react, our stress level and the stress levels of those around us will be much lower. This is where we start to grow those new neural networks that increase our confidence and competence as managers.
We need to get into the healthy habit of using these interventions multiple times during the day to pick up physical well-being feedback from our bodies as well as mental and emotional clues .
Time needed for each successful intervention: 1 minute.
The Warm Down.
At the end of the day, or after a particularly difficult incident we need to make sure that we warm down properly. In much the same way that we would stretch muscles after a race and pay attention to any particular problems, so we take time to fully feel the effects that the day has had on us physically, mentally and emotionally, Rather than turn away, or ignore problems we accept that they are there and acknowledge that we might be able to do something in the future to rectify them, even if it is not possible now.
It is also a very good time to pay attention to the things that went right and make a note to do them again. Often, if we lack self awareness we can be so glad that something went well that we don’t really understand why it did, so we miss the chance to recreate what we did in the future.
With the right exercises it is also a good time to put an end to any internal conflicts and any residual negative feelings we are harbouring towards others. Such thoughts keep our stress levels very high. Practising compassion has been shown to positively affect brain chemistry.
Time needed for a professional Warm Down: 10-15 minutes.
So, with a very small investment of time each day, we can make a massive difference to the efficiency of the way we perform our job, increasing the quality of our output and displaying noticeable management skills. Lets say, assuming the worst possible scenario, we only make a 5% improvement in our performance, that could easily be the difference between winning and losing many of the daily races, or the overall championship. Even Usain Bolt would have readily accepted an extra 5% boost in performance if it was legal!