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As the number of days that we spend in lockdown – or still just working from home (if we'd rather be in the office) – continues to go without a clear end in sight, for some of us the novelty was the Working from home has worn out considerably and our days feel more like "rinsing and repeating". When a routine feels monotonous, we often lack motivation. And when our motivation wanes, our productivity can wane.
Physical intelligence can help. Right now, literally hundreds of chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) are racing through each of our bodies in our bloodstream and nervous system. Some of these chemicals have well-known names like cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone. These chemicals largely determine how we think, feel, speak, and behave, but most of us are primarily exposed to these chemicals – they experience thoughts, reactions, and emotions – without realizing that we can actively handle them. Physical intelligence is the ability to recognize and strategically influence the balance of certain key chemicals so that we can do more, cause less stress, and live and work happier.
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Techniques of physical intelligence have been used for decades – many come from the world of sports and the arts – and are all underpinned by the neurosciences. There are hundreds of physical intelligence techniques – breathing, moving, thinking (e.g. visualizing) and interacting – that are easy to integrate into our daily lives. There are four elements of physical intelligence: strength, flexibility, resilience and endurance, each of which is important for motivation and productivity in different ways.
When we feel positive about something or someone, we have a backlash in which dopamine (our pleasure and reward chemical) increases and cortisol (our stress chemical) adjusts itself optimally. We feel rewarded, which leads us to get more involved, do more and be more in the situation. When we feel disappointed, demoralized, motivated, angry or unhappy about something, we have an absence response, a primary threat response in which cortisol increases and dopamine falls. We don't feel rewarded by the situation – so we instinctively distance ourselves from it or oppose it.
The decline in motivation that many people experience when they face the boring or perhaps worrying routine of lockdown work is a classic "absence response". If we can identify situations, requirements and expectations for what they are – triggers of our primary threat (away) or primary reward (towards), we can react less reactively and constructively. When we work with or lead a team (or even raise children) and know what people need to feel fully engaged, we can speak and behave in a way that keeps people together by using a person's chemistry create and promote "Towards" answer – whether we work together in an office or connect via video conference.
Related: How To Strengthen Your Brain For Success
In order to control our back and forth reaction and create an environment that actively responds to reactions, we need strength – inner strength, trust, determination, the ability to assert oneself and to act and think wisely and decisively without Threatening others or feeling threatened is positively assertive, independent, smart and highly productive and able to improve our performance. The following strength techniques provide a basis to prepare to recognize and respond to or outside of responses and to create responses in our teams.
Ground yourself: How strong, confident and tolerant you feel is strongly influenced by your attitude. The grounded posture makes you feel stronger, more present, more alert and more comfortable at the same time. Centering reinforces the chemistry of high testosterone and low cortisol levels and supports our dopamine function so that we can focus on and coordinate our physical and mental energy to achieve and gain. To "ground yourself", feel the weight of your body on the floor or on the chair – more rooted than "tense". Keep breathing and release tension all over your body. Place your center of gravity where you need it (move your body sideways and backwards to find the optimal point). Breathe under the navel (to your center of gravity) and concentrate. Repeat three times: balance, breathing, concentrating
Tempo breathing: Be aware of your breathing while reading. Is it fast or slow, flat or deep? Many people hold their breath as they think, breathe in when writing emails, and breathe too shallowly at business meetings, at dinner, or while watching TV. Life affects breathing in a way that was not intended, to the detriment of our cognitive function, emotional stability … and our productivity. By breathing quickly, we can strengthen our brains and stabilize our emotions. It releases the chemical acetylcholine, which counteracts adrenaline and enables us to feel mentally / emotionally stable and confident, and to be able to handle situations with clarity, balance and control.
Ideally, you should spend more than 10 minutes a day on diaphragmatic breathing with a constant number of in (through the nose) and out (through the mouth) – counting in and out can be different. Discover easily counts for you. A study by South African bankers found that after 21 days of gradual breathing in complex decision-making tasks, they achieved an average improvement in cognitive capacity of 62%, whereas poor breathing leads to delays and delays in important decisions. Meditation is a great way to bring daily breathing into your everyday life.
A lack of motivation can also be the result of reduced inspiration, especially if we follow the same old routine – and are distracted by uncertainty and worry. To increase inspiration, we need to improve our ability to be creative and innovative as well as the ability to think differently (essential for creativity and innovation). These techniques are a good place to start:
Physical inflexibility leads to mental inflexibility. Relieving tension in your body helps to free your mind. Scan your body daily to identify and then treat areas where you are under tension.
Go ahead even if you are only around the house. Research shows that we have an innovative idea 45% more often when walking than when sitting, even when we are sitting on a treadmill.
If you shift your focus to look at something, we will find beautiful art or nature, which also triggers creativity.
Create cultures based on trust and novelty with teams, while promoting risk-taking. Maintain a positive mood by rating people's contributions so that they continue to delve deeply into common thinking. Use Open Space and encourage employees to create clear plans for implementing new ideas agreed by the team.
Innovation is particularly important today as companies work to implement creative solutions in response to the unique challenges and opportunities that the pandemic has created.
Related: The brains of entrepreneurs are wired differently. Here's how to use your right.
Resilience is our ability to recover from adversity and challenges (such as the current crisis), remain optimistic about disappointments, develop a learning mentality … and build support networks that are particularly effective in increasing productivity.
The study by neuroeconomist Paul Zak, published in The Trust Factor, reports that organizations that share information broadly and intentionally and seek relationships for support are 76% more committed, people are 106% more energetic and 50% more productive, 29% happier with their lives, 13% fewer sick days and 40% fewer burnout cases. He tested oxytocin (our chemical for social attachment and trust) in the bloodstream of thousands of employees in many industries and cultures and showed that trust and purpose strengthen each other and create a mechanism for high oxytocin levels over a longer period of time. Robust networks and the search for support promote oxytocin, which contributes to building trust – and are therefore an essential part of our happiness and a cornerstone of our resilience.
Building and maintaining these support networks is particularly important in this crisis as we are unable to personally spend time together, which reduces our oxytocin levels. Make a concerted effort to use your personal and professional networks by contacting people on your network for support. When you are videoconferencing, make eye contact through the camera lens to remotely increase oxytocin in others.
Another key component of resilience is relaxation and recreation. Sometimes lack of motivation and productivity are related to revision. If you find yourself working harder or longer than usual in the midst of this crisis and with fewer boundaries, make sure you plan enough time for restorative activities. Life is a balancing act of effort and recovery. After we have made an effort, we need to schedule time to restore. Try the following:
Write REST on your calendar in blocks throughout the week and note these blocks of time: withdrawal (distance from all digital devices, media, social media, etc. – give yourself a mental break), food (healthy food, lean protein, vegetables , Fruit, limited simple carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol), sleep (7-9 hours a night, depending on your needs with a nap or a few minutes earlier each night) and Treat (healthy relaxing treats: hikes, a hot bath, a soothing cup of tea, playing with children, nice music, whatever you find relaxing).
Endurance refers to mental toughness, endurance and planning. When we work on something that requires extreme patience or persistent effort in the long run, we need perseverance. Visualize an “endurance tunnel”. As you move through this tunnel, the walls may close and the light at the end of the tunnel may dim. In order to keep these walls wide and strong and to switch on the light, especially when it becomes difficult, these techniques help to increase your motivation and thus your productivity:
Assign key tasks to the first two hours of the day. When you tackle important tasks early on, testosterone rises because confronting tasks (rather than postponing or avoiding them) gives you the courage to break new ground. Dopamine is also increased because you will feel the reward of performance. If you start your morning with a clear head, when your memory is sharp and you can absorb information quickly, acetylcholine can also balance the adrenaline. This confidence and motivation will last the rest of your day, even if your brain isn't quite as sharp during the day. Conversely, postponement and avoidance lower dopamine levels and cortisol levels, continuing the demotivation cycle and lack of productivity.
Self-respect and encouragement for and from our fellow human beings enable us to endure the difficulties of every endurance tunnel in which we find ourselves. It is important to celebrate our own successes and to give and maintain appreciation in order to strengthen the dopamine level on which we can focus on challenging goals. We need each other, and the support and appreciation we give and receive is an important part of motivation.
Motivation is improved if we align ourselves with our values and our main purpose, do work that puts us in our element and fully utilize our strengths. As we become more aware of these deep motivations, we increase our productivity and the likelihood that we will persevere.
Language plays a big role in how motivated people feel. We have to use a language of responsibility against guilt to motivate criticism of a team or company performance. Think about whether you want to take on this team practice. After an important event, meeting, or project, let team members first criticize themselves one by one and tell them what went well and where they can improve. Then give each other feedback. This practice develops autonomy and kinship, two critical motivational factors that Edward Deci and Richard Ryan identified in their 2016 book Self-Determination Theory: Fundamental Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. The development of a culture in which individuals can be autonomous (high dopamine and testosterone levels) and yet strongly bound (high oxytocin levels) creates the conditions for sustained motivation and productivity.
With these techniques of physical intelligence, you should be able to motivate yourself and others and increase productivity during this crisis and beyond.
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are Directors of Companies in Motion and authors of the award-winning personal development book Physical Intelligence.