1. Lessons In Leadership

Fight Pressure by Taking Five

Final reflections on the journey for better brain health.

Some days it feels like I’m running up the down escalator, knowing that if I even pause to catch my breath I’ll lose any ground I gained that day. I know I’m not alone in this. Certainly, much of the pressure we feel is due to the day-to-day demands of work we enjoy. But increasingly, it seems the non-stop crush of headline news, urgent social issues, and tech-du-jour product breakthroughs make it hard to focus on any one thing. These disruptions, which can be both urgent and important, rightly demand our attention as businesspeople and as citizens. Even so, the struggle to stay on top of it all — when the inputs keep stacking up — just erodes our resiliency.

My team created a graphic to help document how these important events have piled up since the turn of the century. (You can read more about that in this article I wrote for Fortune.) Interestingly, this era is bookended by the iPod, which redefined how music could be enjoyed and shared (in 2001) but has recently been rendered obsolete thanks to the integration of streaming music directly into our phones. The life span of revolutionary ideas is getting shorter. And each year brings accelerating change, increasing uncertainty, and decreasing trust in the usual authorities — government and media. No wonder we feel under pressure and over extended.

As I have written about previously, many of us at Freeman have been working on building our resiliency through the Center for BrainHealth®. Having completed the basic coursework, I am making an effort to adopt a variety of new, healthy brain habits. Ironically, this has a double benefit; not only am I working on improving cognitive ability, but the very act of introducing change into my usual routine is one of the exercises we can use to help prime the brain for more innovative thinking.

One of my favorite new habits, and one that is frankly hard to stick with, is scheduling five-minute sessions five times a day to do “nothing.” Not checking email and texts, not making a cup of coffee, not even meditating — but simply letting my brain reboot. I can do this by closing my eyes, or petting our sleepy old dog, or looking out the window at how the wind reshapes the trees. That five-minute break lets my brain chemistry settle, lets it finish sorting files and completing tasks before I tackle something new. I’ve found that I get that time back, and more, because I have greater clarity and am more productive with whatever I tackle next. As a bonus, when I  accomplish that task, my brain rewards me with a shot of dopamine. All the benefits of a cookie without the calories.

I hope you have a wellness strategy for this summer, which is certain to be filled with challenges, opportunities, and more of both than you think you have time to process. As counterintuitive as it seems, when the world takes its toll, take five.

Final Reminder:  If you want to embark on your own personal BrainHealth journey, you can sign up at thebrainhealthproject.org

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