Friday 23 September 2016

Exercise and the benefits it has on mental health and productivity at work

Everyone knows that exercise is good for them, right? The physical benefits of exercise are well documented – helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

The mental benefits associated with exercise are also reported, but arguably not to the same degree. Regular exercise has been found to have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety, as well as helping to relieves stress, aiding better sleep, and boosting overall mood.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the positive effects that regular exercise has on our body can also be linked to improved work performance. It has been found to promote:
  • Improved concentration
  • Sharper memory
  • Faster learning
  • Prolonged mental stamina
  • Enhanced creativity

There is also evidence suggesting that exercise taken during work hours can boost performance. A Leeds Metropolitan University study examined the influence of daytime exercise among office workers with access to a company gym. It found that on days when employees visited the gym, they were better able to manage their time, felt more productive and enjoyed more fruitful relationships with their co-workers.

Now, not everyone has access to a company gym, however another study, reporting in Psychology Today, has shown that even a small amount of walking during the day will have a similar, positive impact on your productivity at work. This includes an energised, engaged state of mind and heightened feelings of interest, alertness and enthusiasm.

It can be hard to carve time into the working day to dedicate to exercise, but if we change our thinking towards a swift stroll around the offices between meetings, rather than running a marathon at lunchtime, we should still be able to reap the benefits.

Five small steps to making exercise part of your working day

1. Schedule it in as you would any other task
Now that you’re convinced of the work benefits associated with exercise, you should feel better about adding small chunks of exercise into your daily schedule.

2. Top and tail your day with exercise
If exercise is something you don’t relish, make sure you’re active at the beginning of the day – get it over with! If the opposite is true, you can also reward yourself with an extra splurge of activity at the end of the day.

3. Give it a work twist
Combining exercise with a work-related task can reduce the guilt of exercising during work time. Draft your emails as you walk, or review your daily targets and to-do list whilst taking the stairs instead of the lift.

4. Make it goal focussed
Target-driven workers may find it helps to make any work exercise goal-related. Sign up for a charity run, perhaps, and get colleagues to sponsor you. This way you’ll feel like you are training for something, rather than just exercising.

5. Take something over nothing
Out of tiny acorns, oak trees grow… It really doesn’t matter what – or how much – you do to be more active during the working day – just start small and see where it takes you!

Remember, you’re making small changes that will have a big impact. You will have days when you can’t find the time, or just feel too tired/stressed to do anything. The key here is to recognise when it happens, but be ready to wipe the slate clean the next morning. 

Short-term setbacks don’t matter in the bigger picture of your longer-term goals: better health and increased performance levels at work.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Seven steps to conquering your fears, so you’re free to achieve your full potential

We all experience lapses in confidence every now and again – it’s all part of being human – and there are often particular tasks that we don’t look forward to at work; whether it’s delivering a presentation to a group of colleagues, delivering bad news to team members or renegotiating work hours. Luckily, these events don’t tend to be everyday occurrences, however they can impact on our performance and overshadow the rest of our work.

We have developed seven steps to conquering your fears at work – whatever they may be – so you’re free to achieve your full potential in the workplace.

1. Write it down

When we think about things in our head, even the smallest issues can manifest into mountains. The more we think about things, the bigger they become, until they become debilitating. The simple act of writing down what scares us, immediately makes the issues more manageable. Try it. Once written down, we can start to break down our fears and create an action plan to deal with the problem.

2. Own it, accept it

As humans we are born with certain fears – a fear of being left, for example. Fears are what keep us safe and keep us alive. However, many fears – such as speaking to groups of people – are learned behaviours. They’re triggered by life experiences and when we find ourselves in similar situations in the future our learned fear is invoked again. The way to break these fears down is to own them and accept them. Once you have admitted to them being part of who you are, you will find yourself more able to work through your fears.

3. Talk about it

Once you’ve accepted your fears, it’s time to share them with people we trust… colleagues, managers, family – it doesn’t matter who with, but the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is true. Talking about your fears with others makes things easier to deal with and stops them from becoming insurmountable. Fears often sound ridiculous once out in the open and getting a second opinion can often put our fears in perspective.

4. Visualise the best result

Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping us conquer our fears and rewire our thinking. Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. In other words, when we think about the positive outcomes of our actions at work, we are more likely to take events in our stride and conquer our fears. Remember when you asked your boss for a rise and increased your income by 50%? Remember that standing ovation you got after your project presentation? No? Maybe you need to think a bit harder. Remember: think success, be successful.

5. Compartmentalise

Set time aside to deal with your fears but don’t let them take over the rest of your day. If you know you have a stressful event coming up, put 10 minutes in your diary every day when you will focus on your fears. Use the time to think about the fear you’re facing and take time to compose yourself. Getting your mind around what you fear is half the battle. Try some mindfulness exercises to help manage your anxiety.

6. Face your fears

Many behavioural therapies focus on exposure. Put simply, this means often the best way to overcome a fear of something is by doing it. Fear is irrational and chances are our worst case scenario just won’t materialise. Exposure helps you superimpose positive memories on top of your fearful ones to change your mindset.

7. Reward your efforts

While much of the time we are able to avoid that which we fear, there are certain times in the workplace where this just isn’t possible. In much the same way as we reward our children for their positive behaviour, there is no reason why rewards should not feature in our working lives too. Put time in your diary following a stressful event to pat yourself on the back for a job well-done. A shopping trip, a trip to the movies, a night out with friends. Treats are always better received when they’re earned and what better way to earn one, than by facing your fears, head on?

No-one wants to let their fears stop them from achieving their true potential. Put all these steps in place and we hope you will soon be able to embrace your fears and unleash new skills you’ve been hiding. As Susan Jeffries said: Feel the fear and do it anyway!