3 Tips for Managing the Lows of WorkNov 29, 2020
Back when I worked in the City for 15 years, there was one common theme.
The highs were high, and the lows were low.
The lows got so bad for me that they led to inconsistency in my performance, fractured mental health and crippling drug addiction for most of my adult life.
Myself and many of my colleagues at the time sat in the same roller coaster, and I saw the ride ruin many lives. I genuinely believe that no one deserves to have to live with this level of pain and self-doubt. Your personal and professional development, for the best part, should be a challenging and enjoyable experience.
That's why in today's blog, I am going to be giving you my top 3 tips to managing the lows of work, that I wish I had known back in the day.
Tip 1: Reward Effort over Outcome.
Tip 2: How to think rationally.
Tip 3: How to purposefully organise the stress in your life.
- Review the tips
- Apply the simple and easy methods to your day
- Start becoming the go-to <insert job title> in your market
1. Reward Effort over Outcome.
Why are you feeling so low?
Often it's down to the deals you are not doing, the calls that have gone bad, the amount of energy you've invested into a client, only for them to pull the plug on the budget at the last moment, or maybe you find yourself once again being let down by poor leadership.
And this is just your Monday morning! By Wednesday, the emotions of all these small moments have compounded, and you've checked out for the week.
Self-doubt builds up, and you question whether you have the skill to become an" "operator" in your field.
The stress becomes too much, and the negative repetitive cycles continue as you don't get the outcome you desire.
But here's a thought.
Imagine for a moment, a colleague that you respect. Someone who's got a creative edge you would die for, a client portfolio you would sell your best mate for and is so silky smooth on the phone that yes, they could sell ice to those Eskimos!
Now take another moment to think about how they developed the skills, client base and ability to deliver projects on time and with ease, that you wish you had.
Consider how they developed the soft skills of active listening, intuition, client management, staying calm amongst the chaos, strategic thinking, effective decision making, perspective and resilience.
Do you believe they got given these skills? Or do you think they earned them? Natural born anything rarely exists.
Like an Olympian who places a gold medal around their neck, a good <insert your job title> has to put a lot of time and effort into learning the skills required for getting the desired outcomes they seek.
You see the lows of deals falling through and clients ignoring you as a personal failure when the reality is you have to see it as part of your training and job. News flash! You will never avoid these things happening, as it's likely that part of the reason you get paid is to deal with people and the reality is they will always throw you curveballs.
But, with every ball you drop, you need to realise you are getting better at catching the next one.
Over time you will trust your instincts earlier when a project is going south, you will get better at leading team meetings and negotiating with partners.
The research shows us that when you reframe stress as a challenge, you will score higher in your ability to deal with what's in front of you, while not sacrificing your mental and physical health. Next time you find yourself feeling low, frustrated or stressed, stop and consider how you can reimagine it as a challenge that you need to work through to gain the skills you need to achieve long-term results.
Also, remember to reward yourself for the effort you've put in, no matter what the outcome is. Again, the science shows us, that doing something as simple as saying "well done" to ourselves after a hard effort, can release chemicals in our reward centre to keep us going and stay positive.
If you start focussing on the effort you put in, I assure you, the outcomes you seek will follow soon after.
2. How to think rationally
In the last tip, we talked about the positive effects of being more rational when stressed and starting to reframe how you approach challenges.
Now I can hear some of you saying that's easier said than done Chev, but when I'm low or stressed, the last thing I am is rational!
When I was low, I would get lost in my spirals of negative self chat, and the only way I could slow my head down was through self-medication. Now, don't think I don't deal with this to this day. The low days still and always will occur, I've just been lucky enough to replace drug-fuelled nights out, with Ben & Jerrys fuelled Netflix binges.
So tip 2 is about understanding how we avoid flipping our lid and hold on to our rational mind when things get tough. To do this, we need a quick science lesson as we explore your brain and what happens when it gets too stressed.
The Lizard Brain
The lizard, aka the Brain Stem, is in charge of our core survival instincts and reflexes, such as fight, flight or freeze & rest, heal & digestion. These are unconscious operating systems designed to keep you alive and safe.
When the needs of the lizard brain are met, we feel peaceful. When not met, we feel fear.
Fear MAKES US HIDE UNDER A ROCK or LASH OUT LIKE A COBRA at a perceived threat.
The Mouse Brain
The mouse is our limbic system and is here to help you seek out pleasure and avoid pain in the moment. The mouse lives in the present and is not concerned with the future or the past. It learns about the world you live in, and when to fight, flight or freeze based on the experiences you've learned.
Such as stoves are hot, and crossing the road can be dangerous.
The mouse is always trying to seek out pleasure in your current environment so it can feel satisfied. When the mouse is satisfied, we feel content. When not satisfied, we feel agitated and frustrated.
Some of the information in the mouse brain is useful; some is no longer relevant to the world we live in. These deep mazes and grooves of behaviours are patterned through life experiences, and this can be good and bad. Lots of addiction behaviour is deep-rooted here.
The Monkey Brain
If the mouse is busying itself with reacting and tunnelling its way through life, the monkey mind (aka high mind) is where we have creative and abstract capabilities. The high mind helps you empathise with others, and you can determine how a present action will impact your future.
Your ego lives here and YOUR ABILITY TO RATIONALISE SITUATIONS!
When may you need to rationalise a situation?
WHEN YOU ARE FEELING LOW AND TRYING TO OVERCOME SELF-DOUBT IN YOUR JOB.
So...let us explore how these three parts of your brain work together.
Your pre-frontal cortex is an area of the monkey mind that lives behind the forehead and is critical for self-regulation.
Now listen up as this is the critical bit. Think of the monkey keeping a firm grip on the mouse and lizard.
When emotions and sensations (aka stress) rise from the brain stem and limbic system, aka the mouse and the lizard, the pre-frontal cortex can decide what to do with these emotions and sensations based on the best response for what you know about the situation at hand.
The monkey needs to be the one running the show, not the mouse and the lizard.
The challenges you need to be aware off are the variables that can weaken the monkeys' grip of the brain stem and limbic system (the lizard and the mouse.)
Example include a stressful morning on the phones, deals going south, a heavy night out and poor lifestyle choices such as diet, movement and sleep.
The more stressed you are, with the more variables going against you, the more you will weaken your grip and start to" "flip your lid."
When this happens, you're no longer operating from the high mind, instead, you are being driven by the mouse and lizard.
A flipped lid state means you are operating from a primal fight, flight or freeze state or the reward centre that looks for numbing pleasures or avoiding pain. When this happens, you are no longer empathetic, you lose your values, and you are coming from a place of survival.
NOT THE BEST PLACE TO BE RATIONAL ABOUT YOUR WORK AND NAVIGATE SELF-DOUBT!
Therefore, to ensure you can be rational about the low points and maintain access to the psychology that count when it counts, you need to double down on the lifestyle choices that help keep your lid closed such as consistent breaks, movement, nutrition and sleep.
3. How to purposefully organise the stress in your life
As mentioned in tip 2, you must take care of yourself so that you can maintain access to your higher mind. The problem is your busy, and you've got no time to go to the gym, cook a good meal or take a lunch break.
Well, for you to be a better <insert job title,> you need to realise that time is to the metric to success, your energy and focus are.
Getting stuck in first gear from the moment you wake up and being stuck to your screen will cause you to flip your lid by lunch, and then you're unable to focus on one singular thing as your mind jumps from task to task.
To counter this, it's time to purposefully organise periods of stress with moments of rest during your day. Think of it as the same principle behind your interval sessions down the gym or out on a run. You put in the effort, and then you give your system a chance to recover, reset and adapt.
Without that, you would burn out pretty quick.
Break your work into time blocks, ranging from 20 to 90 min max, we all work at different rhythms, so explore the timing that works for you. Each block should be time spent on one thing, such as client calls, proposals or daily admin.
These are periods of deep focus, where there are no distractions from your inbox or social media unless that block gets reserved for that action!
Pro-tip, do the hard things earlier in the day and save the shallow tasks until the end of the day.
On the other side of these blocks, you have to give yourself 5 to 15 minutes break from all screens and inputs.
Those short blocks of recovery are your bodies opportunity to keep your lid down, so you can keep access to the self-control, strategic thinking, creativity and decision making that you need to do a good job. Respect that process and don't stimulate the brain during these down-times.
Every 3 hours, taking a slightly longer break than you've been taking and ensure you go and move outside (especially at mid-day during the winter months.)
By following this tip, you will have more energy and focus for more extended periods of times.
That's my three simple tips for managing the lows of work.
If you follow these tips you will, do more deals consistently, stand out amongst your competition and still have the energy to show up for your self-development and loved ones at the end of a hard day.
Now, here's my challenge for you. For the next 30 days, at the end of every day, do not leave work until you've planned your blocks of focus for the next day, along with the activity you will follow each block with to help keep your lid closed.
For example; 50 minutes of client calls, 10 minutes of fresh air, and so on.
Make sure you shut down all distractions, and you know exactly what work you should be focussing on as you start each block.
Let me know how you get on and follow up with any thoughts or questions you may have.
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