|Meet the productivity paradox, where the very thing that often slows us down at this time of year – anxiety – can actually be harnessed to speed us up. You read that correctly. Here are some nifty techniques that can transform anxiety from a productivity killer into a productivity booster.
What: This is your go-to technique when anxiety starts buzzing like an overeager alarm clock.
How: Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. This isn’t just any breathing – it’s like giving your brain a mini spa day.
Why: It slows down your heartbeat, tells your brain to chill, and shifts your focus away from worry.
The ‘What If’ Game:
What: Flip the script on anxiety’s favourite question: “What if everything goes wrong?”
How: Ask yourself, “What if everything goes right?” Imagine the best possible outcomes.
Why: It’s like mental judo – using anxiety’s momentum to throw it off balance and foster a positive mindset.
The Power Pose:
What: Stand like a superhero – hands on hips, chest out, head held high.
How: Hold this pose for two minutes. Yes, you might feel silly, but no one’s watching!
Why: Research shows this can increase confidence and decrease stress. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like a superhero for a minute?
The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique:
What: A grounding exercise that brings you back to the here and now.
How: Acknowledge five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
Why: It’s like a reset button for your brain, pulling you away from anxious thoughts and into the present moment.
The Pomodoro Technique:
What: A time management method that breaks work into short intervals.
How: Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat.
Why: It keeps anxiety in check by preventing work overload and keeps you cruising along with regular breaks.
Remember, harnessing anxiety is a skill, much like learning to ride a bike. It might feel wobbly at first but with practice, you’ll turn those anxious jitters into productive spins. The next time anxiety comes knocking, welcome it in and put it to work.
Written by Eileen Pease at Dynamic Learning.
Have you ever found yourself holding back a brilliant idea out of fear of ridicule or dismissal by your colleagues? This hesitation signifies a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. But imagine a different scenario—a workplace where you feel comfortable expressing your opinions openly, regardless of their imperfections. A place where you trust that your team members will listen respectfully and be receptive to your feedback. This is the kind of workplace where psychological safety thrives, the kind needed for employees and businesses in times of transformational change.
Psychological safety in the workplace is a critical factor for promoting employee well-being, job satisfaction, and productivity. Practically speaking, it means individuals can share opinions, ask questions, and express concerns without facing negative consequences. When employees feel psychologically safe, they proactively solve problems. Executives see innovation, job satisfaction, and higher returns. But how can an organization achieve psychological safety?
Psychological safety in the workplace
According to a study by Rockmann and colleagues (2019), workplace psychological safety is closely related to brain functions, enzymes, and processes that regulate emotions and cognitive processes. The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus are key brain areas involved in psychological safety and emotional regulation. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure located deep within the temporal lobe, plays a crucial role in processing emotional information, particularly fear and threat detection (Phelps & LeDoux, 2005). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in a workplace, the amygdala can become overactive, leading to heightened emotional responses and a heightened sense of threat.
The prefrontal cortex, located in the front of the brain, involves cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, and working memory. It regulates emotions, particularly negative emotions such as anxiety and fear (Davidson, Putnam, & Larson, 2000). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace, the prefrontal cortex can become less active, impairing their ability to regulate their emotions and making it more challenging to think clearly and make effective decisions.
The hypothalamus, located in the brain’s center, is critical in regulating the stress response (Ulrich-Lai & Herman, 2009). When employees feel psychologically unsafe, the hypothalamus can activate, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, chronic activation of the stress response can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and burnout (McEwen, 2007). Therefore, promoting workplace psychological safety is not only crucial for employees’ well-being, but it can also lead to increased productivity and organizational success (Edmondson, 2018).
Enzymes such as monoamine oxidase and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) regulate emotional responses in the brain. Monoamine oxidase breaks down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, crucial in regulating mood and emotional responses. COMT breaks down dopamine, which regulates emotional responses and reward-based learning. These enzymes can be influenced by environmental factors such as stress and social support, which can impact emotional regulation and psychological safety in the workplace.
The Practical Value of Psychological Safety
Businesses operate in an ever-changing landscape and a heightened level of transition. To manage the speed of change and keep costs in control, the best executives want every employee working as part of a team. They want teams to become more engaged in error prevention and for solutions to challenges to quickly emerge. To achieve that kind of speed and focus, psychological safety encourages honest feedback, quick adaptation, and personal growth to remain relevant in the market. Consequently, employees are more likely to contribute and help without needing to be asked to do so.
Strategies for Creating Psychological Safety
Creating psychological safety requires ongoing effort and commitment. Here are some tips to help you achieve it:
- Start with Leadership. Leaders set the tone. Effective leaders play a crucial role in fostering psychological safety by modeling desired behaviors, including acknowledging their own mistakes and demonstrating vulnerability.
- Encourage Open Communication. Active listening, non-judgmental feedback, and respectful communication contribute to an environment of psychological safety. Share stories and examples of how psychological safety has improved workplaces, recognize and encourage open communication, and engage employees in collaborative problem-solving.
- Foster Inclusivity. Encourage cognitive diversity as a driving factor for innovation. Create a workplace that celebrates and embraces cognitive differences, where everyone feels capable of sharing their ideas. Train employees to recognize and mitigate cognitive biases that can hinder critical thinking and data processing.
- Continuously Improve. Create an environment where it’s acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them. Regularly evaluate policies and practices to ensure that they support psychological safety, making changes when necessary.
Remember, creating psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires commitment from employers and employees alike. To foster a workplace culture that values psychological safety, promotes well-being, and drives business success is an intentional act of leadership.
Denise Cooper is a executive trainer, author, podcast host, and Chief People Operations at Custom Health and Founder and CEO of Remarkable Leadership Lessons, a company that assists senior-level business leaders and managers in raising their game. Katrina Hardie is a Workplace Wellbeing Culture Consultant who helps individuals, leaders, and teams recognize how their work environment impacts their health, well-being and performance and teaches them methods to turn this around in a sustainable way.
Rockmann, K. W., Ballinger, G. A., & Buckley, M. R. (2019). Managing for team psychological safety. Organizational Dynamics, 48(1), 6-15.
Phelps, E. A., & LeDoux, J. E. (2005). Contributions of the amygdala to emotion processing: From animal models to human behavior. Neuron, 48(2), 175-187.
Davidson, R. J., Putnam, K. M., & Larson, C. L. (2000). Dysfunction in the neural circuitry of emotion regulation—A possible prelude to violence. Science, 289(5479), 591-594.
Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2009). Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 397-409.
McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: Central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87(3), 873-904.
Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.
In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long study to find out: What makes us happy in life? The researchers gathered health records from 724 participants from all over the world and asked detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. The most consistent finding we’ve learned through 85 years of study is: Positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer. Period.
The No. 1 key to a happy life: ‘Social fitness’
Relationships affect us physically. Ever notice the invigoration you feel when you believe someone has really understood you during a good conversation? Or a lack of sleep during a period of romantic strife?
To make sure your relationships are healthy and balanced, it’s important to practice “social fitness.”
We tend to think that once we establish friendships and intimate relationships, they will take care of themselves. But our social life is a living system, and it needs exercise.
Social fitness requires taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive.
How to take stock of your relationships
Humans are social creatures. Each of us as individuals cannot provide everything we need for ourselves. We need others to interact with and to help us.
In our relational lives, there are seven keystones of support:
- Safety and security: Who would you call if you woke up scared in the middle of the night? Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?
- Learning and growth: Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?
- Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows everything (or most things) about you? Who can you call on when you’re feeling low and be honest with about how you’re feeling?
- Identity affirmation and shared experience: Is there someone in your life who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?
- Romantic intimacy: Do you feel satisfied with the amount of romantic intimacy in your life?
- Help (both informational and practical): Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem (e.g., planting a tree, fixing your WiFi connection).
- Fun and relaxation: Who makes you laugh? Who do you call to see a movie or go on a road trip with who makes you feel connected and at ease?
Robert Waldinger, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and director of Psychodynamic Therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is a practicing psychiatrist and also a Zen master and author of “The Good Life.” Follow Robert on Twitter @robertwaldinger.
Marc Shulz, PhD, is the associate director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and a practicing therapist with postdoctoral training in health and clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School. He is also the author of “The Good Life.”
‘Too much free time won’t make you happier,’ says psychologist—how many hours you really need in a day
I remember in 2013, sitting on the late-night train home from New York City to Philadelphia, feeling utterly overwhelmed with life. For a working mother, it felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
My research has since shown that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling. As a social psychologist and behavioral science professor at UCLA, I wanted to know: Will having more hours of free time actually make us more satisfied in life?
So I enlisted my colleagues to study how tens of thousands of Americans spent a regular day, as well as their overall happiness levels. The results were illuminating.
Too much free time won’t make you happier in life
First, we calculated how much time people had in a day to spend on discretionary activities, such as relaxing, watching TV, playing sports or hanging with friends.
Then we tested how that calculated amount of time related to their satisfaction in life.
What we found was that two to five hours of free time in a day is ideal for boosted happiness. Having less than two hours or more than five hours of free time a day, however, decreased happiness.
The data confirmed that I was “time poor” — or feeling like I had too little time available to do all that I needed and wanted to do.
On the other hand, regularly having more than five hours of discretionary time in the day is too much, because it undermines one’s sense of purpose.
It’s worth pointing out that having a sense of purpose does not require working in a paid job. For example, unpaid volunteer work often provides a sense of purpose.
Additionally, tasks required to produce well-functioning households or for successful parenting can similarly offer a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
Yet I recognized that in my case, work gives me a significant source of purpose.
Free time is important, but so is how you spend it
The flatness of life satisfaction between two and five hours suggests that, except at the very extremes, the way we spend our free time matters a great deal.
We have 24 hours in a day, but the way we perceive time is subjective. This is important because how long a minute, an hour, a day, or a decade feels informs whether you view yourself as having “enough” time.
Feeling confident that you are able to accomplish everything you want to do is the definition of being “time affluent.” I learned that even with the 90 minutes of free time I had a day, I could make my days feel less overwhelming and more fulfilling.
Here are three ways to feel more “time affluent,” without adding more free time to your schedule:
- Get moving.
Try 30 minutes of exercise per day for a few days this week. It’s important to block out time in your calendar for this. The activities don’t have to be strenuous; just taking a slow jog outside or walking to work — instead of driving — is enough.
After your session, write in a journal about how you’re feeling (most likely, you’ll feel great). So the next time you think you don’t have enough time to work out, you’ll remember how you felt, and that the time will be worth it.
- Practice acts of kindness.
In one of my studies, I found that giving time to other people can make you feel like you have more discretionary time.
Sometime this week, perform two random acts of kindness — one for a friend or acquaintance, and another for a stranger. It’s up to you what you do, but here are some ideas:
- Pay for a stranger’s order at a coffee shop.
- Give someone a compliment.
- Help a coworker complete a task.
- Bring a family member a tasty treat or beverage.
- Leave a friend flowers or a nice note.
Whatever it is, do it with the sole purpose of benefiting the other person. Don’t think about or anticipate receiving anything in return for your kindness.
- Experience awe
The ocean has always had a powerful effect on me. It inspires and fills me with a sense of awe. Finding ways to achieve this feeling can expand your perception of time.
In one study, researchers showed that compared to reflecting on a happy event, reimagining an awe-inspiring event made people feel less hurried. It also made them behave as though they had more time — making them more willing to volunteer their time for a charity.
Try to fit one of these experiences into your week:
- Social interactions: Whether through physical intimacy, eye-opening conversation, or cradling a newborn, our interpersonal relationships extend us beyond ourselves.
- Being in nature: Take a stroll in your neighborhood park. Look up at the moon. Catch the golden-pink glow of dawn or dusk, and you’ll feel less rushed.
- Absorbing art:I vividly remember as a college student being awestruck by Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” At first, I was anxious to take notes for my essay. But standing there, peering at the artist’s swirling vision, I was enraptured and moved beyond concern about time.
- Witnessing accomplishment: Tremendous inspiration can be found in individual achievement. Watching a skillfully executed athletic feat, for example, can open our eyes to the magnificent possibilities of humanity.
During moments of awe, absolutely nothing feels limiting — certainly not the minutiae of the day’s schedule.
Cassie Holmes is a psychologist and professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Her work on the intersection of time and happiness has been featured in such outlets as NPR, The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. She is also the author of “Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most.”