Clearing the Space. How to Do Your Best Thinking.

One of the first tenets from the Neuro-leadership Group in my training as a Results Based Coach is to clear the space before starting any coaching session. It is clearing your prefrontal cortex so that you can prepare to do your best thinking. When I was working with a client this week she said, “Oh so it’s like Lakshmi-ing your brain.” So you might be asking who or what is Lakshmi? Well, apparently it is the Hindu goddess of wealth, love, prosperity and fortune. It is believed that you need to clear out the space and sweep before you can begin to bring wealth and prosperity in. Hmmm. Nice metaphor. Sweep out your brain before you start bringing in the innovative ideas.Clearing the Space

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is in charge of executive function. This means that it’s the problem solving area. It brings all the current perceptions and past memories together to make decisions. The problem is that, especially in our technological environment of constant interruptions and distractions, we really don’t “make space” in our prefrontal cortex to do our best thinking; and often don’t even review anything before making a decision We are all on one giant squirrel hunt or chasing shiny objects and never focusing on our true path.

So here we go, my thoughts on how to clear the space:

1. Turn off. First of all, you need to turn everything off. This probably means you need to turn off or place your phone in another room in silent mode. The first squirrel that will interrupt your best thinking is a buzz, bell or other notification from your phone. You can live without your latest social media update for an hour. If you are on your computer, make sure all of your email and social media are shut down. I have a little piece of a post-it note to cover up the little envelope that shows up in Outlook indicating I have a new email.

2. Close the door. Make a space that is free from interruptions from the outside (or inside) world. I close my door so that my dog, or my husband or the noise from the stereo in the other room are out of my space. When I work with clients in person, we sit in a room at a table and the door is closed. The only thing in the room besides paper and pen is a clock so that I know what time it is. Physically create the space to think, that is private.

3. Breathe. I recently learned something called 4-7-8 breathing by Dr. Weil. Basically, you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts and exhale for 8 counts. You do this cycle for 4 times. It might take 3 minutes and more likely less time. But doing so really is relaxing and centering. Focus on the breathing, and for me, this comes naturally because I am counting in my head and noticing what is going on in my body. I’m sure there are other breathing exercises out there or you may already have a practice that you use in meditation or yoga. Use what you have or give one of them a shot or try this one. The point is to relax, be present and be centered.

4. One word. When I coach clients, we each disclose one word that encapsulates what is in the “background” for them. This could be the “boss”, “reviews”, “wedding”, “bills” or “graduation”. We then metaphorically place that word on the table or floor or chair or garbage can, so that, if we want to, we can pick up that item at the end of the coaching session. This removes whatever concern, issue or event that might be rattling around in your prefrontal cortex. It physically removes it, so that we can start doing our best work.

5. Basics. I always make sure that I have a glass of water, paper and pen when I am coaching or being coached. When I do a lot of talking, I want to make sure I can replenish. I want to be able to take notes as well. It’s the same if you are trying to work out the logistics of a problem or writing an essay. Make sure you have the essentials so that once you have cleared the space, you are ready to go. When I write, I only have my word processing program open. Make sure you have the basics before you start your best thinking, and make sure you’ve set yourself up for success

Now you are ready to do your best thinking. Your prefrontal cortex is ready to go. It’s like a clean, well swept stage ready for Hamlet’s soliloquy to stand in the center and deliver each beautifully spoken line to the balcony. How do you clear the space?

5 Tips on Optimizing Your Results. Hint. Don’t Eat Radishes.

Willpower is a finite resource.  I’ve been reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg at the suggestion of Cindy Lamir from Impact Business Coaches.  It’s amazing what researchers will do to college undergraduates.  In one study, they had two groups of participants.  The first group was put in a room with a bowl of radishes and a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and they were told to eat  all the cookies they wanted but ignore the radishes (easy enough) for 5 minutes. The second group was told to eat all the radishes they wanted and ignore the cookies, so they spent 5 minutes resisting the warm cookies.  Afterwards they were given a difficult puzzle to solve.  The cookie folks spent an average of 19 minutes trying to solve the puzzle, the radish folks (in addition to being grumpy) gave up after 8 minutes.  The radish folks had spent their willpower. bowl-of-radishes

In another study with two groups of participants, one group was given an altruistic  reason to resist eating warm chocolate chip cookies for 5 minutes and treated with respect. The other group was treated rudely and told to resist the cookies.  The group that was treated with respect out performed the other group when given a cognitive test.  The disrespected group had spent their willpower.

All of this involves your prefrontal cortex which, as I described in my post “The Big Lie”, is a small stage with room for maybe three actors. Unless you can make something a habit and, therefore, moved off the stage, you will be exhausting your resources.    So how can you get the best results from your prefrontal cortex and optimize your results?  Here are 5 steps:

1. The early bird.  Your best work is in the morning.  Your tank is full.  The stage is clean and there plenty of resources available.  If you need to deal with a difficult situation (perhaps reprimanding an employee or talking to your ex) do it in the morning.  If you are going to be creating (writing your novel, painting a master piece, or developing a new project) the early bird gets the worm and better results.

2. Unplug.  The last thing you want to do is spend time on email, voice-mail, social media or sit around the water cooler.  This seems counter intuitive – doesn’t everyone spend the first hour at work cleaning out their inbox and putting out fires?  You are going to need to turn it off to do your best work.  Putting out fires will only deplete your fuel tank and leave less resources for your creative best.

3. Focus.  Set the timer for one hour and focus on your masterpiece.  If you can’t possibly handle an hour, then start slow with 15 or 30 minutes .  There are apps for this as well.  Check out the link for some apps that are available to keep the distractions from your desktop at bay.  Anywhere from 60 to 90 minute chunks are optimum for flow.  Try for one chunk per day and then move up as your schedule (and distractions) permit.

4. Break. Take a break after your chunk of flow has been completed.  Powering through on for 2 hours or 10 will diminish your abilities.  Your prefrontal cortex only has so much in the tank and it needs some time to recoup.  If it’s not possible to go for a walk, talk with a colleague or call your mother; kill some time doing menial tasks like cleaning out your inbox or clearing off your desk.  Just be sure to step away from your masterpiece.

5. Return.  Get back into the project only after you have completed steps #2 thru #4.  Remember that as the day wears on, you are expending precious resources and that your best work is likely behind you.  This is true so long as you can stay away from the radishes and rude folks.  If you are starting a diet, upset with your cable company or just found out you bounced a check…walk away from the project.  If you can’t do your best work with all of your resources and a stage with one actor on it – leave it for another day.

So now you are thinking – but I won’t get anything done.  You can get things done and the quality of your work will be far superior if you just plan ahead.  Take care of your prefrontal cortex to maximize your results.  Stay away from the radishes for breakfast.

What would you do?