How to stop negative thoughts taking over your day

negative

We all have days where negative issues or thoughts start to overtake our minds. So much so, that we can’t focus on our priorities. When something’s bothering us, getting it off our mind is easier said than done. In fact, research shows that when people tell themselves to not think about a certain topic, it makes the thoughts even more intrusive. But rehashing negative thoughts over and over in your head is unpleasant and adds no value whatsoever— it can even pave the way to chronic depression.

Luckily there are some proven strategies that help you to expel negative thoughts from your brain ASAP;

1.Take a step back

Sometimes we have worked ourselves up to such a degree that we start to think in absolute extremes. For example, “I’m definitely going to lose my job” or, “Shes definitely cheating on me”. Where is the evidence? How did we get to this extreme point? When we get to this extreme place we’ve lost all rational and the only thing we must do is take a step back. The thing we absolutely must not do is take any action when we are in this, “extreme thought” space. Take deep breaths and bring yourself down to your rational thinking point, this is the only way you can begin to focus on other things.

2. Don’t read into things too deeply

When we have negative theories or anxieties it causes us to read into every little detail, far too much, with little accuracy. They say that The Idle Mind is a Devil’s Workshop. So, if you don’t get replies from someone, or shorter answers than preferred, your brain starts over-thinking why, especially, if you have a negative theory – by doing this you exacerbate your negative thoughts. Just stop. Stop drawing assumptions without evidence, it doesn’t benefit your mental health. Just be as rational in your thinking as possible and when you start to jump to assumptions you can assume your emotional thoughts are driving you.

3. Maximize positive thinking and minimize negative thinking

Regardless of your thoughts at any one time, always ensure you have more positive thoughts in your head than negative. If you can’t reframe a certain thought, think of everything else you have in your life. Be grateful. Always try to keep your attitude in the positive zone. This mindset becomes a way of life – the glass can be half full or half empty, it’s your choice. A quote I like to remember if I feel in a bit of a slump and want to regain control is “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”. – William Shakespeare

4. Reframe negative thoughts

Nothing is ever black and white. If you’re stuck on a negative thought, that involves a person, thinking with empathy instead of anger gives you a totally different perspective. Don’t be so set in your negative theories, people often don’t deliberately go out of their way to hurt others. Another way to reframe is to see the silver lining. How can this negative incident make you a better person? How can you grow from this? They say there is no success without failure, for a reason.

5. Don’t let negative thoughts become beliefs

Self-awareness is key. If you didn’t perform properly at work and you start to believe your own self-criticisms you will eventually believe you are incompetent. Positive people, instead believe they will do better next time. These tiny tweaks in your thinking, preserve your self-confidence and performance ability over time. Don’t be self-defeating. Monitor your negative thoughts and make sure you are not crushing your own confidence.

 

 

 

6 ways to improve your communication today

communication

Leadership and communication go hand in hand. How we communicate with others is integral to our success. Communication is a leadership skill that has multiple dimensions, verbal, non-verbal, and written, so if you want to get better at this critical skill, here are some proven strategies to learn;

1. Learn the basics of body language

Nonverbal communication accounts for 55 percent of how a public speaker is perceived. This means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through body language. Things like posture and eye contact matter. Stand tall and look people in the eye. Crossing your arms or reducing your size, in any way, communicates closed body language and a lack of confidence. Read more on body language here.

2. Get rid of filler words

Things like “Ummm” may seem innocuous but they drastically reduce the persuasive value of what you’re saying. Most of us use them out of habit. One way to get rid of them is to start keeping track of when you say words like “um” or “like.” You can also start to try to pause before you speak. Silence is not always bad, in fact, it communicates confidence and control and be assured that the silences feel longer to you, than they do to your audience.

3. Lead with empathy, not ego

When we have to have difficult discussions try to always lead with empathy. This means instead of using judgment “What you did was wrong/unacceptable”, start with “Why did you decided to do that?” or “How could I have helped you more in this situation?” or “How was this in your eyes?”. This takes you into an open and honest conversation where the other person can feel comfortable responding. This will help you to find solutions far more effectively and also build respect in those around you.

4. Listen, actually listen

One of the best things you can do to improve your communication skills is to learn to listen. So many of us are just waiting to respond. However, an effective conversation is a line of words elegantly connected with listening. So, instead of responding with “yes, but”, try and replace it with a follow-up question. Let people finish what they are saying and don’t interrupt if that is your inclination. Genuinely, listen to the speaker. These simple skills can go a long way in building trust with those around you.

5. Make your communication two way

Ask more questions and seek feedback. This is different to listening and more about keeping your mind open to input from others. The most successful people and companies are the most flexible. Asking questions about how others feel about a given topic or how they think something could be done better puts you in an active role. Asking questions is also a core leadership skill, it builds trust and keeps your mind open to innovation.

6. Create stories

Stories are powerful. They activate our brains, make presentations engaging and make us more persuasive than others. Use stories to bolster a point, “I think we should do it this way because of a time..”, use it to create trust, or prove characteristic points about yourself to a new audience for example, “I believe I can do this, because…” In its simplest form, a story is a description of cause and effect. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced. This is simply how humans are wired. Stories help you to make your points stronger and are more memorable for your audience.

How the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen can revolutionise your work

Kaizen

Kaizen, which translates roughly to “good change,” is a Japanese productivity philosophy, used by the likes of Toyota, in their famous Toyota Production System to promote serious organizational change. The philosophy is that constant and continuous improvement is conducive to big, long-term advancements. The Kaizen mantra is that “everything can always be improved.”

Kaizen and Market Leadership

Toyota famously embodied the Kaizen philosophy in their production warehouses. They believed that all employees should have an input into Toyota’s self-improvement, so much so, that any worker on a production line can stop the line at any time to address a perceived problem, correct an error, or suggest to management a better way to do things with the object of waste reduction and increased efficiency. The results of Toyota’s production system are phenomenal, resulting in their rapid market domination and high-profit margins. Toyota began offering instruction in the methodology to others most notably nonprofit organizations with the goal of improving their efficiency and increasing their impact. After three months of working with Toyota SPB, a disaster relief organization based out of New Orleans, reported that their home rebuilds had been reduced from 12 to 18 weeks, to 6 weeks. Further, construction industries reported that after employing the Toyota method (Kaizen) construction errors had reduced by 50 percent.

Why Kaizen works

Kaizen means that nothing is ever seen as a status quo – there is a continuous, collective force to improve everything which results in small, often imperceptible, changes over time. These incremental changes add up to substantial long-term advancements, without having to go through any radical and often risky, innovations. It’s a much safer and employee-friendly way to instill changes that must occur for a business to be truly competitive.

How to implement Kaizen

Notably, Kaizen is a philosophy, as opposed to a methodology meaning that it can be implemented in various ways from employee suggestion boxes to more rigorous employee inclusion methods such as Total Quality Management.

The most effective way to implement Kaizen is to understand the core elements of the Japanese production system, which can and has been, successfully applied to any work environment.

Much of the focus is on reducing “waste” and this waste can be identified in the following ways;

  • Movement – moving materials (or people) around before further value can be added to them

For example, moving people to different locations for meetings when it can be done virtually or having databases of information which take time and effort to get into (such as contact details) when these could be printed and put on a wall.

  • Time – spent waiting (no value is being added during this time)

For example, enforcing prompt meetings and properly organized calls where non-attendees are reduced.

  • Defects – which require re-work or have to be thrown away

This has a lot more to do with effective delegation than employee incompetence. If a junior had been briefed properly than re-works should be eliminated – if not then it’s a hiring system failure.

  • Over-processing – doing more to the product than is necessary to give the “customer” maximum value for money

This can range from adding too much detail to presentations/document designs – streamlining decision making lines.

  • Variations – producing bespoke solutions where a standard one will work just as well.

For example, creating new documents when you could use a precedent.

For more information on Kaizen read this insightful blog by MindTools.

 

5 easy ways to make your mind and life more peaceful

stress

Many of us live with underlying stress, a niggling feeling at the back of our minds. We are so used to feeling the stress that it becomes our norm.

Even if we don’t have obvious symptoms of stress, the hormone cortisol which is released whenever we feel anxiety/stress (no matter how small) has serious, long-term, health consequences. Therefore, for our overall health and sanity, it’s important to actively take action against stress, even if we don’t feel stress symptoms.

Here are 5 easy ways for you to find mental peace;

1.Notice internal negative thoughts

Nothing clutters our mind more than negative self-talk. When we judge ourselves we are inflicting stress and negativity onto ourselves. It’s crucial to pay attention to your thought patterns and notice when you start talking down to yourself – you are the only one that can stop this negative internal chatter – so self-awareness is key. Make a habit of swapping the negative comments with positive dialogue and see the difference you make to your mind.

2. Meditate

Meditation is the best remedy for stress. Not only does it reduce the symptoms more effectively than any pills ever could but it also reduces your chances of suffering from future stress. I have written extensively on mindfulness and how to incorporate it into your life here. Mindfulness meditation is suitable for absolute beginners. It’s life changing and has a wealth of scientifically proven health benefits positively influencing your mind and body.

3. Be grateful

It’s always good to anchor your thoughts and gain perspective. If you are living in the west it’s easy to take things for granted, we can get so caught up in our worries or dramas, that we forget just how lucky we really are. Appreciate everything around you at least once a day.

4. Distance yourself from negativity

To feel truly peaceful, you need to cut out any negative energy around you. If you have people around you that speak negatively about others or make negative actions, you should create a healthy distance. Negative energy can also be in the form of habits or lifestyle choices, such as excessive drinking or eating. Take time to recognize what makes you feel at peace and do everything to protect those habits.

5. Keep a diary

Feeling at peace is largely influenced by self-awareness. Writing our thoughts is an excellent way to understand why we feel the way we do. Having the reasons for our emotions physically in front of us helps us to find better solutions. By making time to write your feelings you’re giving yourself the chance to process everything that whizzes around your mind on a daily basis.

 

How to stay happy in your intense job

intense

If you find yourself in a work environment that is “intense”, you need to have effective outlets for stress or you risk reaching, breaking point. Tight deadlines, adrenalin fueled workloads certainly get the heart rate going but when the excitement dies down, your body and mind are seriously drained, leaving you vulnerable to a whole plethora of anxiety and stress symptoms.

1.Be mindful

The mindful hype is for a reason. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned meditator or a newbie, mindfulness is suitable for everyone and it’s particularly effective at targeting stress. Mindfulness is our natural ability to be aware of our thoughts and how our bodies feel at any given time. We step back and become present, observing how we feel in any situation. This allows us to respond more effectively to circumstances, as opposed to being irrational or impulsive. Overwhelming Mindfulness Research evidence shows that mindfulness boosts our immune system, intelligence, positive emotional states, self awareness, creativity, happiness, compassion and so much more. Crucially it helps us to gain perspective over situations and see things how they really are, instead of through a veil of anxiety or stress. Mindfulness is always available to us, every single moment.

Mindfulness techniques are as simple as taking 5 minutes (or even less) and following the “stop” process.

S = Stop

Stop what you are doing and take a purposeful break for mindfulness.

T = Take

Take three deep breaths (or how ever many necessary) to bring yourself into the present moment. Just focus on your breathing and nothing else.

O = Observe

Observe what is happening with your;

  • Emotions: How do you feel right now? Anxious? Happy? Observe your thoughts, without judgment, as they enter and leave your head, this step is all about self-awareness.
  • Mind: Are you making assumptions about your feelings? What is your “case theory” for why you feel a certain way?
  • Body: What physical sensations are you aware of?

P= Proceed

What did you learn from non-judgmentally observing your thoughts? Have you been exacerbating your stress by jumping to conclusions? Are your anxieties rational? Proceed with whatever you were doing before, making a conscious choice to learn from your observations and react to any situation in the most effective way possible.

2.Create your tribe

Create a tribe of supportive, like minded people both inside and outside of work. Your friends at work are likely going through the same struggles as you and sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is enough to boost your happiness in stressful times. It’s a plus if you can let off steam with your work friends after a long day and support each other in a relaxed environment. It’s also important to have friends totally unconnected to your work, people you can rely on for a good time, when you just need to detach from work.

3. Celebrate your wins

No matter how small, it’s important to celebrate your milestones. If you are working incessantly, you need to feel rewarded to keep on going without resentment. In a fast paced work environment sometimes we forget to celebrate the small moments but when we do it works wonders for our happiness.

4. Recognise the early signs of stress

Rather than ignoring signs of stress, you need to be in tune with yourself and note how work pressures may influence your mood, attitude and even your body. Self-awareness is key to self-preservation. If you start to notice negative changes, you can change your lifestyle or even mindset to stop stress from reducing your happiness. Create positive changes, as soon as you notice stress symptoms instead of waiting to reach the dreaded burnout point.

5. Recognise that stress is part of life

Don’t work yourself into a frenzy asking, “Why do these things always happen to me?” Instead, recognize that stress is part of everyday life, obstacles and problems are part of the journey and your reaction to the stress is the most important part of the process.

 

 

Tips to keep your brain sane in the big smoke

brain

Millions of us live and work in big cities. We are exposed to thousands of faces, sounds and smells, on a daily basis. One thing I love about London is the “thought of the day” written on large notice boards at busy train stations. By simply switching our attention to the small but numerous positives around us, we can make some stressful situations, such as rush hour, happier. City life might not be for everyone, however, it’s essential for some of our careers so, here are a few tips to keep your brain sane amongst the city chaos.

1. Avoid brain isolation

Do you walk around with headphones? Music is sometimes a nice compliment but it’s not beneficial to routinely ignore the world outside of your headphones. Try leaving them at home for a change and see what you learn. The cognitive benefits of absorbing the surrounding city stimulus are plenty. Mentally you connect to the rhythm of the city. You become more energized by taking in the traffic, the people and the conversation. Physically you are actually helping your hearing, as continually exposing your eardrums to loud music is not beneficial long term. Who knows, you might see something that ignites an idea or urges you to start a new conversation. Instead of relying on music to pass your travel time, rely on the stimulus around you and let your mind wander. By simply opening yourself up to the city surroundings, you open up your world of possibilities.

2.Be aware of what you see

So many of us have a habit of staring at the ground as we walk. Did you know that it actually stimulates part of our brain when we look at different faces? We activate the “facial recognition” region of the brain known as the “fusiform gyrus.” So just by simply looking up rather than looking down, you can give your brain a bit more of an exercise when walking through the big city. Further, big cities are cultural melting pots. Everywhere you walk you can find a little quirk to brighten up your day. Whether it’s street art, a witty quote on a pub chalkboard or a beautiful building, these little positive stimuli are waiting for you, around every corner, you just have to be aware of what you see.

3.Exercise

One of the best and least stressful ways to get around big cities is by walking. Exercise in all forms stimulates blood flow, strengthens your cardiovascular health and helps to focus your mind. Walking requires coordination, even though we don’t feel it our brains need to make a series of neural connections each time we walk. So, whenever you can, try to walk more, maybe get off a stop earlier, or don’t order the Uber. By choosing to increase your walking time your body and mind will thank you.

 

For more helpful tips on how to keep your brain sane in the big smoke read this helpful blog here by CogniFit.

Lifestyle habits that boost work productivity

productivity

Productivity is about taking control of your time. You hit your work goals and you enjoy your life, it’s about achieving the much lured after work/life/balance.

In order to take control of your day, there are some simple but effective lifestyle habits you can introduce. By gaining control of your days, you win hours, you can build a life you love and pursue your goals. Create your own win/win by incorporating these easy habits.

Productivity lifestyle habits

1.Write your to-do list before bed

Why? You know exactly what you need to do when you wake up, no time wasting, no forgetting, you can just get up and get on with it.

2. Wake up early

A simple but highly effective way to win hours. Make this extra time your competitive edge. Imagine waking up at 6 am and having at least two extra hours of productivity before you have to go anywhere. Just try it for a week and if it works for you, it won’t be difficult to make this part of your routine.

3. Exercise

Exercise is life. It gives you more energy, it gives you more determination and studies show that it makes you more productive.

As you age, your body generates fewer and fewer brain cells (a process called neurogenesis). However, early research in mice suggests that exercise can help prevent this slowdown. So, people who exercise might have more brain cells as they age, in comparison to their more sedentary peers, obviously giving them an advantage in the workplace.

In the short term, an exercise routine can give you more energy throughout the day. If you’re feeling fatigued and have the opportunity to go the gym, do it. For those of us with less flexible schedules, exercising in the morning, before your workday, can make the world of difference.

4. Write a productivity journal

Start to notice when you procrastinate and what triggers it. Note what time of the day you hit a slump and how best you overcome it. By being self-aware of how you reach “ultimate productivity” you can make the best of your days, every day.

5. Focus on hours, not goals

This not only makes more sense but it drives you to complete more work. I can’t go home until I finish this project, is more productive than, I can go home after working for eight hours, three of which may have involved heavy procrastination.

6. Don’t be afraid of productive breaks

You are not a machine, you cannot keep working until you feel confused or unmotivated. Taking just a 15-minute break can refresh your mind and make you so much more productive for the rest of the day.

Why we should embrace risk

risk

 

Psychologists traditionally viewed risk-taking as an abnormal behavior, associated with disorders such as substance abuse and a variety of personality disorders. Typically it was associated with unpredictability and arguably no right-minded individual would want to go into partnership with a rash, risk-taker.

However, scientists at the University of Cambridge claim that impulsive, risk-taking people make the best entrepreneurs. Studies show that entrepreneurs show an adapted type of impulsive risk-taking which is the ability to make risky decisions combined with an enhanced flexible problem-solving process – i.e. the ability to make decisions/take opportunities under intense stress.

The risk in business study

The study is based on cognitive tests completed by 16 entrepreneurs and 17 managers from Silicon Fen, a cluster of high-tech companies around Cambridge. On decision making that concerned ‘cold’ processes which are real-life tasks such as planning and hiring, both entrepreneurs and managers performed similarly.

The interesting results occurred when the entrepreneurs and managers were asked to make “hot” decisions such as financing a risky business with high potential. Whilst both entrepreneurs and managers made good quality decisions, entrepreneurs were significantly more inclined to make “risk decisions”. Entrepreneurs also had far higher ratings on questionnaires which measured impulsivity.

So, it seems, you are more likely to become a successful entrepreneur if you are more inclined to make risky decisions.

Are risky decisions good for business?

Entrepreneurs didn’t only show a predisposition towards risk-taking. They also displayed superior cognitive flexibility when it came to decision making. These cognitive processes are intimately linked to brain neurochemistry, particularly to the chemical released in our brains, dopamine.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, lead author of the study which was carried out at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, said: “This study has shown that not all risk-taking is disadvantageous, particularly when combined with enhanced flexible problem-solving. In fact, risky or ‘hot’ decision-making is an essential part of the entrepreneurial process.”

Therefore, it seems, that entrepreneurs have a very particular risk-taking skill they combine risk-taking with cognitive flexibility allowing them to take calculated risks – as opposed to reckless risks and make opportunities under intense pressure.

Differences between entrepreneurial risk-taking and other types of risk

It’s no secret that for entrepreneurs, taking risks and doing business goes hand in hand. The difference, however between successful entrepreneurs and reckless risk takers are the following;

  1. Entrepreneurs take calculated risks

Calculated risks are quite different from being rash but they do a require a degree of impulsivity to follow through with. Business owners need to take calculated risks if they want to grow. However, as with all risks, there is a potential for loss, so if you don’t have the impulsive spirit of entrepreneurs, you may never take the leap.

  1. Risk helps to distinguish leaders

As the Cambridge study displayed, the difference between managers and entrepreneurs is the risk-taking tendencies found in entrepreneurs. Risk also diversifies businesses from their competitors. Those who are willing to risk and do some a little different, position themselves as leaders, while others get left behind.

  1. It’s a form of self-development

Without risk, entrepreneurs would not experience failure. Failure and the opportunity to embrace it is an extremely powerful resource – one many entrepreneurs would say defined their success. Of course it is possible to learn from positive experiences too, however, failure has a “mountain-moving” motivating impact on determined entrepreneurs. Further, taking risks teaches us how to better calculate such risks in the future.

For more on the types of risks, entrepreneurs embrace read this helpful blog by Entrepreneur here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How cognitive biases impact your decisions

cognitive biases

cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive processes, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. Whether we realize or not, cognitive biases influence our memory, reasoning and decision making. So, if our memory of past experiences is biased i.e, we didn’t absorb all of the facts for whatever reason, this untrue perception can (and often does) influence our future decision making. Scary right?

How cognitive biases work

A cognitive bias is a type of error in our thinking, that happens as we absorb the world around us. Attention is a limited resource, therefore, people are selective about what they remember. Cognitive biases are often a result of our brain’s attempt to simplify processing information.

The cognitive bias becomes a benchmark which allows us to make sense of a new situation by relying on old experiences. In essence, the world is complicated so our brains feel a necessity to rely on mental shortcuts allowing us to process information at an increased speed.

It’s easy to see why cognitive biases add value in threatening situations but outside of primitive living, they can negatively impact decisions because we skip logical reasoning. The way to prevent our cognitive biases from distorting our thinking is to be self-aware of the most common bias types.

Types of common cognitive biases

1. Anchoring bias

This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information you learn (“the anchor”) when making decisions.

2. Confirmation bias

Instead of objectively searching for answers we tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions and pre-existing beliefs.

3. Outcome bias

Judging a decision based on the outcome, rather than the actual decision. For example, believing gambling is good for you because you won last time you played.

4. Stereotyping

Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person.

5. Overconfidence

Some of us can be too confident in our abilities. Experts are more disposed to this since they are more confident in their abilities.

6. Availability Heuristic

This involves making decisions based on examples that immediately spring to mind, instead of considering wider facts. For example believing drinking alcohol everyday isn’t bad for your health because your grandfather drank everyday and he lived to be 100 years old.

7. Blind Spot Bias

Not recognizing your own cognitive biases is a bias in itself. People interestingly notice cognitive biases much more in others than in themselves.

For more information on cognitive biases read this helpful blog by Mental Flosshere

How a snap judgement impacts you and how to influence it

snap judgment

 

A judgment is defined as a decision or opinion you have formed about someone or something after thinking carefully. A snap judgment, on the other hand, is the contrary. It’s an almost irreversible opinion we make about people within just three seconds. That’s scary stuff. The only drivers that can reasonably form an opinion, in such a short space of time, are our cognitive biases. A whole host of tiny assumptions, developed through our life experiences and expectations. The most worrying thing about cognitive biases, apart from the fact that they exclude rational consideration, is that we are typically unaware when we rely on them.

The impact of a snap judgment

Snap judgments don’t only impede our perception of the world but they can greatly limit our chances when we focus on 1:1 first impressions. Snap judgments are a form of positional thinking — right/wrong, good/bad, desirable/undesirable. So, if you think about it this way, you can spend hours prepping for the job interview of your dreams but the recruiters will have already decided by the time you sit down and introduce yourself whether they like you or not. This may impact their final decision if, for example, they need to choose between two equally good candidates.

How to get around the snap judgment

The only way to maximize your success in first impression scenarios is to understand the well-researched, scientifically supported conclusions people tend to draw from appearances/ behavior. It’s important to remember that these are not inevitable conclusions any given person will draw.

Appearance/Behavior Likely First Impression
Physical beauty Healthy/ strong
Well-dressed Successful
Appearing wealthy Influential/important
More eye contact Intelligent/ confident
Speaking faster More competent
Smooth, effortless charm More adventurous, extroverted, trustworthy
“Baby face” (rounded, large eyes, small nose and chin) More trustworthy, naive
Straight posture More competent, focused

Whilst we can hope to achieve our goals through merit alone, the research shows that first impressions really matter. The only way to thrive is to be fully self-aware of the impression you make on others.

For more information on the drivers behind snap judgments read this very insightful article by Six-Degrees, on The Psychology of First Impressions.

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