Can stress be your friend?

Can stress be your friend?

Man-riding-shark-for-stress-postYou’re an overworked executive so I’m guessing you’re more than a little stressed throughout parts of your work day and beyond.

There’s some recent good news about the physiological effects of stress that will not just help you better cope, but will probably help you live longer and healthier.

A study published in 2012 by researchers at the University of Wisconson-Madison demonstrated a fascinating link between the experience of stress and one’s perception of stress being either debilitating or enhancing. They studied 29,000 people collecting data on their stress levels and on their perception of the health effects of stress.

Using National Death Index mortality data, the researchers discovered that those who believed that stress adversely effected their health had a 43% increase in premature death.

In a second study, employees at a financial institution were asked to take a test on their stress mindset before and after watching three videos over the course of a week that either presented stress as enhancing or harmful. The employees who viewed the video that approached stress as enhancing reported better work performance as well as fewer psychological complications to their stress – all from their perception that stress can be beneficial.

There are some solid scientific reasons for these results. In a typical fear-induced stress situation, your heart is pounding and your blood vessels constrict, which is why chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. But in the study where participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed and did not constrict.

In fact, a pounding heart with open unconstricted blood vessels looks very similar to that of people in moments of great joy or courage.

Kelly McGonigal is a leading advocate for the relationship between stress and one’s perception of it’s effects. She gave one of the more popular talks on TED (below) where she goes even further by demonstrating the relationship between stress and the release of Oxytocin that results in our greater connection with people close to us. Kelly has also written a book entitled The Upside Of Stress: Why Stress Is Good For You and How To Get Good At It.

Multitasking is hurting you – try switchtasking instead

Multitasking is hurting you – try switchtasking instead

Paperwork attackThe science on multitasking seems settled. Doing more than one thing at the same time reduces the effectiveness with which you do each of those various tasks. Mistakes are greater and your memory of the details within those tasks are greatly reduced. You’re simply not operating at your full potential. Need more evidence? The University of London found that multitasking lowered IQs by as much as 15 points. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to lose any of those points!

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are good at multitasking, but the cruel reality is that we don’t even have the capacity to make that judgment since, according to cognitive psychologist Art Markman, the very areas of your brain that monitor performance are the same areas activated while multitasking. While you may think you are simultaneously reading an email while talking on your phone and evaluating a report just placed on your desk, you aren’t. You are actually quickly juggling your attention between all three activities. Cognitive whack-a-mole.

Instead, consider switch-tasking. Rather than juggling two or more simultaneous events, focus completely on one and then upon its completion or your need for either a break or tending to a more important task, switch. Discipline yourself to work on one thing at a time. Someone just entered your office? Either tell them they must come back or drop what you are doing and completely focus on the visitor. One task at a time.

You need to know yourself. How good is your focus and concentration? How quickly can you get into the focus-zone? Do you easily succumb  to distraction? These questions will help you build your best personal switchtasking habits. For example, if you are easily distracted, be aware of how frequently you switch tasks and maybe turn off the alert informing you of new email. If you can quickly enter the focus-zone, you can switch between disparate tasks, while if you have trouble quickly getting into focus, try switching between more related tasks so that your brain doesn’t need to make as large a leap.

Try these few techniques to improve the amount of work you accomplish.

  1. Stop doing more than one thing at a time. Maybe it’s time to admit that multitasking is not bringing out your best. Start exercising your focus by attending to only one thing at a time.
  2. Be clear on your priorities. In a mutlitasking environment, work tends to be driven by outside forces rather than by real priorities. Do you effectively use a to-do list and calendar?
  3. Give yourself “brain breaks”. Our brain uses more energy than any other part of our body, so it needs replenishment. Get up and walk around your building or engage in some other activity that gets the blood moving more and gives you a mental break.
  4. Be honest with yourself about how well you focus. Self-awareness is key in knowing how best to switchtask. Do you need breaks between tasks, or can you go directly from one to the other? Are you effective at switching between tasks requiring diverse skills or do you need to migrate more gently between similar tasks?
  5. Eat healthy “live” food throughout your work day. Heavy fatty foods drain you of energy. Look for tasty convenient foods that supply you energy rather than drain it.

Remember that activities typically require 30 days to become habits. For the next month, replace your multitasking habit with focused switchtasking.



The happy secret to better work

The happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor“The beatings will continue until the moral improves.”

We all understand the joke implied within that phrase – or do we? In this very entertaining and inspirational talk given at TEDxBloomington, author and speaker Shawn Achor demonstrates the backward nature of the belief that in order to be happy, one must first attain success.

As a coach to many of the Fortune 500, Shawn provides the following advice:

“If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves.”

Dale Carnegie’s great advice – mind mapped

Dale Carnegie’s great advice – mind mapped

It has sold over 15 million copies since being published in 1934. How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the great classics in the business self-help category. If you lack the time necessary to read the book, we found a mind-map containing its most salient points.


What wins in a battle between your customer’s heart and mind?

What wins in a battle between your customer’s heart and mind?

Quick… Which is longer, the vertical length of the table on the left or the horizontal length of the one on the right? Well, the table on the left of course, don’t you agree?

Wrong! They are the exact same length. You can print the drawing and measure it, but I assure you they’re the same length.

Notice that something interesting happens even when you can prove they are identical. You still don’t really believe it. You want to believe that the left table is longer, don’t you?

This silly illustration demonstrates something interesting about human decision making. Your logical mind knows they are the same length, but you still WANT to believe that the left table is longer. It just seems right. It’s an example of the emotion attached to beliefs being so strong that they override the reasoning side of our minds. If I told you that you HAD to choose one of the tables in order to place gold bars end to end, and the more you fit, the more you could keep… Quick, which table would you just feel better selecting? I’d go with the one on the left!

For someone in sales or marketing, this idea has huge implications. People choose things based upon what FEELS right to them. We go with decisions that confirm our personal beliefs, and those beliefs are founded upon what feels right. So why are so many products and services being sold based upon details, facts and features?

At Evergreen Trading, we wrestle with this constantly. We happen to provide a service that is steeped in details. After all, it’s a financial service, not cosmetics, shoes or fast food. We work initially with financial people who tend to be analytical. And to determine if a corporate trade transaction makes sense, numbers must be crunched, excess inventories must be counted, corporate real estate must be analyzed, returns on investment must be calculated. Not a lot of emotion going on is there?

Or is there?  [Read more…]