Most of us give little thought to mentally preparing ourselves to perform at work. Driven by unquestioned processes and rituals (e.g. meetings), we rush unthinkingly from one task to the next.
I recently had to re-paint the woodwork on my deck. It was covered in dust and loose paint, so I knew I needed to first clean off the dirt, then rub it down with sandpaper. In other words, I prepared. I knew that missing these steps would result in a bodge job that would look terrible and soon need re-doing.
Similarly, when we go to the gym, or get ready for a sport, we prepare our bodies by warming up. When we don’t, we know we’ll feel terrible and are prone to injury (especially if, like me, your lycra-wearing days are behind you!). Again, we know we need to get our bodies ready to maximise our chances of success. We all know this stuff and either do it – or know we should!
So back to those meetings...what actually happens? We usual jump straight into more meetings, perhaps some customer calls and finally report writing. Each of these types of tasks require us to access different parts of our brain.
We rush around with a misguided belief that we are being productive, but what would make us more effective would be to create a space to consider, pause, reflect and mentally prepare for each task. Instead, we’re slapping on the paint and turning up to play 5 minutes before kick off.
We need to give more thought to building our mental readiness! This is about mastering the capacity to focus, self-manage and maintain a healthy degree of internal discipline to approach (and enjoy) the challenge ahead.
HOW mental readiness
FITS INTO OUR LEADERSHIP MODEL
THE 3 ELEMENTS OF mental readiness
Mental Readiness refers to the ability of a person to create a balanced psychological state in which they can perform at an optimal level.
In business, people value and encourage confidence in themselves and others in an often casual or random fashion. This is strange given how positively we view confidence (but not arrogance) in our leaders. Conversely, most of us have worked with colleagues who are, often inexplicably to us, stricken with a lack of confidence that completely overrides their ability to get the best from themselves.
As Vince Lombardi - the highly successful American Football coach who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships in seven years – said:
Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.
Building confidence is often a matter of awareness. It is easy to obsess on our failings and devalue the many counter-balancing successes.
When we run workshops at About my Brain Institute, one exercise unfailingly reveals that most of us feel inadequate – at least some of the time.
Good leaders know the importance of nurturing confidence – both in themselves and others - to counter this deep seated ‘not good enough’ paradigm. Helping someone in your team to overcome a confidence deficit to unlock their potential not only feels wonderful – it’s great for business too.
The single biggest challenge of the contemporary work environment is conditioning ourselves to overcome distraction. Emails, chat heads, texts, ubiquitous screens and 24/7 connection are hard to ignore.
Perhaps our brains work against us here, by offering those little dopamine hits when we are stimulated by a new piece of information. Add in the trend to open-plan offices - that aim to encourage and facilitate collaboration, but for many have created impossibly distraction-heavy environments – and it’s easy to see why we struggle to focus for prolonged periods.
Both intentionally and unintentionally, our response is often to withdraw. That’s why it’s not unusual to see people walking in the street oblivious to those around them, or co-workers with far-away eyes, escaping into their noise-cancelling headphones.
This is a problem and, unsurprisingly, has significant impact on individual and team performance. We must learn to be fully-present – both to perform at our best in any given task, but also so that we are effective when interacting with others.
Building our focus can provide us with greater information recall and a more stable mood – both pre-requisites of good leadership. Mindfulness techniques and neuro-measurement devices are different approaches to helping us win the focus game.
We know that planning is important, but so often, under the pressure to “get stuff done”, succumb to winging it. The satisfaction of feeling we are progressing with a task is quickly replaced by frustration once we realise we have not planned well and are wasting time and resources.
With this in mind, there is a lot that we can do to better access the most productive parts of our brains to bring to bare on the task.
Activities can include:
- Visualising a situation and its probable outcomes before it happens.
- Physically preparing by breathing and centering.
- Positively reinforcing other people’s thoughts through words (the half-time peptalk!).
- Breaking a task down into smaller chunks – particularly useful if it is complex
Proper planning helps the executive part of our brain to think more clearly and prepares it to better deal with the unknown and unknowable.
As leaders, it’s smart to invest time in these planning activities before we jump into execution. So writing what needs to be communicated, mentally rehearsing a difficult conversation or talking through a presentation and anticipating likely questions are all great ways to increase performance and reduce anxiety.
My favourite planning quote is by Abraham Lincoln, who said:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
For most of us, it’s a case of more sharpening and less swinging!
Get ahead by getting mentally ready
When we stop to think about the significant personal and performance upsides to be gained by investing even a small amount of time in building our Mental Readiness, it is a no-brainer. In a competitive world, it may just be the difference between success and failure!