When we find ourselves in a rut, regaining energy and motivation can seem like a daunting task because we feel as if we have to make a drastic change– to go on a juice cleanse, or perhaps a month-long yoga retreat. But the reality is, even small tweaks in your daily lifestyle can greatly improve your mind, body, and spirit. These small adjustments are what Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines call “micro-resilience” and they provide easily applicable techniques in their book Micro-resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts In Focus, Drive, and Energy.
The author, Bonnie St. John, is the definition of resilience herself. Though she had her right leg amputated at the age of five, she went on to qualify for the 1984 US Paralympic team, becoming the first African-American to win Olympic medals in Ski Racing. Besides being an athlete, St. John is also a bestselling author, a leadership consultant, a Harvard graduate, and CEO of the Blue Circle Leadership Institute. She and her husband Haines, who is also a leadership consultant, co-wrote Micresilience to address their clients’ issues of “periodic burnout, lack of focus and low energy.”
Here is a quick rundown of the five areas that St. John and Haines split micro-resilience into, along with a few techniques that fall under each category:
1. Refocus your brain
In order to perform at the highest level, one needs to learn to use their brain efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not the answer. In fact, multitasking can reduce productivity by 40% since it involves constantly shifting attention and focus. St. John and Haines suggest that instead, we should create “islands in the stream” or “zones” by carving out an hour or so of time to get focused work done free from distraction. This can be easily achieved by turning off your phone, finding a quiet space (an office, library, bookstore, etc.), and communicating to family or co-workers about how to reach you.
Another tip for using the brain efficiently is offloading. Making mental notes to ourselves is not only mentally draining, but also risky because our memories are often faulty. Any time a good idea or a to-do item pops into our head, we should immediately write it down somewhere, such as in the notes app or in a physical notebook. Offloading these thoughts clears space and energy in your brain.
2. Reset your primitive alarms
Whenever we perceive a threat, the amygdala, the emotional center of our brain, takes over and sends out adrenaline, setting off a fight or flight response. As primitive humans, this sort of response was necessary to protect ourselves. But regarding conflicts with classmates, co-workers, family, or friends, we don’t want our emotions to hijack our brain and prevent us from thinking clearly.
Simply labeling the emotion you are feeling can help calm you down. For example, ask yourself “Am I scared? Am I embarrassed? Am I frustrated?” Researchers at UCLA have discovered that labeling the emotion will increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with planning and rational thinking. Once the emotion has been identified, then it will be less powerful, and you will realize that you can choose how to behave. Relabeling can also be helpful. For example, a dancer may feel nervous or anxious for a performance, but instead, she could relabel her feelings as those of excitement or passion for her craft.
3. Reframe your attitude
Although many people equate optimism with naivety, having a positive attitude allows you to see new possibilities and creative solutions that pessimists would never think of.
For example, one technique, “Reversi,”simply involves taking a statement about an obstacle or limit and flipping it around. Instead of saying “I can’t make the volleyball team because I’m too short”, you could flip it around and say “I can make the volleyball team”. For a moment, you’re able to get out of your head and consider the possibilities. You could practice extensively to strengthen your volleyball skills, and perhaps your height could be an advantage with certain skills such as digging.
4. Refresh your body
Our bodily health directly impacts our mental performance. St. John and Haines emphasize the importance of staying hydrated, especially while you are under pressure. Our brains are mostly made up of water, so it makes sense that dehydration leads to reduced cognitive and motor skills, poor memory, and mood disturbances. Having a water bottle nearby at all times is a great way to ensure that you are hydrated throughout the day.
Exercise is also a great way to keep the body refreshed. St. John and Haines say exercising on big important days is especially beneficial. Many people exercise a few days a week, but on a big day they skip out on a workout. However, the micro-resilience perspective is that by exercising a moderate amount you’ll have creative ideas, and better memory for hours after. So we should be exercising on our big days because we need our brains to be performing at its best.
5. Renew your spirit
Having a purpose or a “why” is essential to success, because without a strong inner drive, then your work will just seem to wander aimlessly. Once we know our purpose, keeping them at the front of our minds can be difficult. St. John and Haines suggest having touchstones– physical reminders as to why we do what we do, what values we hold important to us. These touchstones can be as simple as a parent’s photo of their child in their wallet pocket, or a quote about kindness on your phone’s lock screen. That way, during times of stress or decision making, seeing that touchstone can keep you focused on your “why.”
We’re all going to experience frustrations, conflicts, failures, and other stressors of some sort throughout our everyday lives. But how we bounce back from these let-downs is what ultimately determines our success. Micro-resilience gives us the tools to be able to recover quickly and effectively so we can keep going.
Photo: Bonnie St. John