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The topic of this episode of Creating Cadence (and this Cadence Guide) is around practices which support both our attention and our wellbeing.
I’ve come across a number of helpful resources this past month. They’re interesting and insightful conversations about overlapping topics, to do with flow, concentration, focus, mindfulness and meditation. And how they are good for more than just our productivity.
My interest in sharing these topics is because not long ago, I found myself struggling to concentrate and struggling to find joy in my work. My motivation and focus felt very dulled. There was a severe lack of enthusiasm to do much of anything.
As part of my digging into causes and researching solutions, I also came across a recent New York Times article about the phenomenon of languishing.
It was written by Adam Grant who is an organisational psychologist and specialist in workplace dynamics.
Languishing is a term that was first flagged in a research paper back in 2010. It’s a mental state associated with feeling joyless, aimless, stagnant or empty.
And like a firework going off in my brain, it suddenly all made sense why I was feeling a dampening of my usual lust for life.
Adam Grant calls languishing a void between depression and flourishing, a feeling of indifference that dulls delight and dwindles our drive.
As things drag on as the world remains on some degree of hold, it’s not surprising that many of us are feeling totally over it.
The good news though, is that there are ways to help us get out of the funk, and they overlap with the other topics I’m covering in this episode.
This edition is a curated summary of what I’ve learnt this month, to get you thinking, because it got me thinking … and it got me back to a more thriving mode of being.
My goal here is to help you get back on track and to stay on track. So let’s start by looking at ways to help us achieve our goals … even when we are not in the mood.
According to a recent Inc article by Jeff Haden, the keys to achieving huge goals are to have the skill to execute an action, but also to be able to optimise our focus, our task control, and our working memory capacity.
To activate these things, the article suggests setting aside time for deep work. Deliberately reserving that time to focus on one thing with no task switching.
Before starting, we also need to be prepared – that means initiating pre-work rituals, routines and processes that work by helping us get into the mood to do the work. That could be putting on some chilled background music, brewing a pot of tea, doing some stretches before you sit down at your desk, journaling your intentions for the day, or opening your bullet journal to today’s To Do list.
Also, consider what environment works best for you for deep thought and deep work? Sometimes it’s not at our desk. Do you problem solve best in the shower? Is your critical thinking at it’s peak when you’re playing ping pong? Or do you come up with the best ideas when you’re out walking?
Knowledge is power. And awareness helps us to optimise.
Another excellent resource about focus and performance is a podcast conversation between Rich Roll, the ultramarathon runner and wellness advocate and Adam Grant, who I mentioned earlier (it’s episode 580 of the Rich Roll podcast).
They talk about Adam’s new book called Think Again, which I’m in the process of reading at the time of this recording.
But they also discuss productivity, attention vs time management strategies, maker time vs management time and distributed working trends.
A core point that Adam makes during the interview is that as humans, we’re not meant to be multitaskers. When it comes to thinking, creating and problem solving, our brains function best as serial processors.
What that means is that we perform better when we do one thing at a time.
Adam Grant mentions that “our ability to be productive is calibrated with our ability to invest our attention and focus on one thing at a time.”
Rapidly jumping between tasks affects our ability to be creative.
And tied to task switching and lack of attention is procrastination. It’s become a big problem for many, not just from a productivity perspective. We are not avoiding hard work though, when we procrastinate, we’re avoiding negative emotions, like those which come up when we’re in a state of languishing.
We need both a degree of control and a process to help us overcome procrastination and accomplish more of what matters to us.
Consider first, what is your intrinsic motivation for getting something done? How does it tie into your values and beliefs, not just the external goal or outcome of the task.
How can you make your tasks more interesting so that you can overcome the negative emotions you may feel around doing a task?
Adam Grant suggests recruiting an accountability buddy or building in a reward you can earn for completing the task.
Something that works for me is that, I like to set myself little challenges and incentives around achieving certain tasks, It’s basically like a competition I have with myself. Those rewards might not be directly related to the task, but they make me feel good and they make the achievement worthwhile.
For most of us, it’s challenging to focus when we’re surrounded by distractions of any kind. And the most obvious distractions are noise and social media.
I’ve spoken about social media distraction a lot on this podcast and I specifically looked at the power of silence in episode 12.
We can’t always steal away to find silence, but we can achieve a stillness in the mind in spite of the distraction and chaos that might surround us.
So how do we achieve stillness?
By developing practices such as mindfulness and meditation. By becoming more present and focused on our mind and body. By learning to sit with and name what we are feeling. By creating internal and external states and environments that support our productivity and creative thinking better.
So Let’s consider meditation…
As far as pre-work rituals and activities go, meditation is a great place to start because it’s a proven way to support your attention and focus.
Ariel Garten, a neuroscientist and co-founder of the Muse meditation wearable, defines meditation as a practice or training that leads to healthy and positive mind states.
Meditation helps you become more mindfully and intentionally aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Meditation trains us in the skill of mindfulness and helps us to make better choices about how, what and where we focus our attention.
For more on meditation and how to get started, have a listen to Ariel Garten’s interview with Erik Fisher. It’s episode 373 of the “Beyond the To Do List” podcast.
And Rangan Chatterjee’s interview with Ryan Holiday on his “Live Better, Feel More” podcast (episode 171) covers the idea of stillness as one of many ways to alter your mindset.
Although what you experience in meditation may be different to what you experience in a flow state, they do support each other and both benefit us immensely.
Like meditation, flow states help us to manage our attention better. And focusing on one thing at a time can help us to reach a flow state. So it can become a self-perpetuating positive cycle.
Now some people think of flow as an elusive, magical experience that only comes to a special few. But according to Headspace (who make the well-known meditation app), flow is accessible to everyone whether you experience it during physical activity, or when doing something creative, or when completing a day-to-day task.
I’m going to read to you from a Headspace article about flow state. They define it is “a sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you’re totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum. You’re in the zone.”
If you’ve ever felt a flow state, they can seem magical. But you don’t need a special superpower to make them happen once, or happen regularly.
And it turns out that flow is beneficial for more than just our mind and our focus.
They talk about how to harness the flow state for maximum enjoyment and productivity. This is a fascinating masterclass covering both what flow is and what it does.
The skill of developing flow improves with practice. In other words, the more flow you experience, the more flow you can create.
Flow has been found to release feel-good chemicals into our bodies and to heighten our creativity. What’s more, the feelings created by these chemicals and the output of our creative thoughts generated whilst in flow, can outlast the actual flow state by a day or two.
Because of the way our brain has evolved, harnessing flow states help us perform at our best under pressure. So in a crisis situation, flow states can help us manage our stress and anxiety better too. That’s if we remember to practice them.
There are heaps of benefits to getting good at flow. According to the research which Steven Kotler cites, flow states can accelerate learning and amplify productivity, motivation, creativity, innovation, empathy and even ecological awareness. Flow states can also reduce pain and increase strength, stamina and muscle response.
So how do you get into flow?
Steven asks … what’s the thing you did as a child that caused you to be immersed in something for hours?
For me that was Lego. And it still is. But there are other ways to build a flow state, and to prepare your mind to get into flow.
At present, to get my mind into the right mood for flow, I use a variety of techniques, depending on how I’m feeling. This includes drawing and other forms of play, or brain dumping on paper, conscious breathing, using a distraction free writing app, and also listening to music to help me get into the mood for flow.
If calming background music is your thing too, I highly recommend an album called “Flow State” by Above & Beyond, available on Apple and Spotify.
So it’s interesting to see how even if going into flow is the last thing we might feel like doing when we feel terrible. It actually has the ability to make us feel better. So it seems like something we should be integrating into our daily work practices so that it becomes a regular habit.
To sum up … to move from languishing to flourishing, start with identifying how you feel, getting mindful about your state of mind. Work on your routines and rituals for creating stillness and getting you in the mood to concentrate, including trying out meditation if you’re not already.
The more you do the easier it will be to go with the flow.
If you have thoughts about this episode or you have a question relating to productivity, wellbeing or remote work, then I’d love to hear from you.
Can you share the challenges you’re experiencing with your focus, work performance or culture? Or have you found interesting solutions to support your work better in current times? You can write to: hello at growthsessions.co
Thanks for listening. If you’re liking the Creating Cadence podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you could please leave a review via ratethispodcast.com/creatingcadence … it helps others who might need to hear this to find the podcast .
Until next time, please take care out there. Be brave, think big and aim for stillness, so you can keep moving forwards, one step at a time.
Bye for now.
Languishing article – Adam Grant (NY Times)
How to achieve big goals – Jeff Haden (Inc)
Adam Grant interview – Rich Roll Podcast (ep 580)
Ariel Garten interview – Beyond the ToDo List podcast (ep 373)
Ryan Holiday interview – Live Better, Feel More podcast (ep 171)
Flow State article – Headspace
Steven Kotler interview – Aubrey Marcus podcast (ep 292)
There’s a Q&A element to my Creating Cadence Podcast and every few weeks I answer questions or give my thoughts and observations on specific topics and situations.
If you have a question relating to productivity, wellbeing or remote work, then I’d love to hear from you. Likewise, if you want to share the challenges you’re experiencing with your focus, work performance or culture, please share with me. And if you’ve found solutions to support your work better in current times, then please write in. We can all benefit from the learning. You can drop me a line at: hello (at) growthsessions (dot) co.
Until next time, please take care out there. Be brave, experiment and keep moving forwards, one step at a time.
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