Biases influence us all. The funniest part is that we are biased towards believing we aren’t biased, or at least not as much as other people. Unfortunately, this is one reason “flattening the curve” is so challenging.
To address this challenge requires all of us to recognize how our beliefs influence our decisions. There is one particularly misguided belief that seems especially prevalent at the moment. And before you shake your head in agreement, make sure you haven’t fallen into it.
1) People believe that they represent the “exception” rather than the “rule.”
For example, on a walk yesterday, I came across a group of six people standing close together talking. As I approached they said, “Don’t worry, we’re all good, we know each other.”
Because they knew one another (exception), they excluded themselves from the suggested social-distancing practices (rule).
Adding to this is that we then have a biased tendency to discount and even rationalize our actions, BUT we then judge the collective actions of others.
Consider this conversation, “People need to take this seriously; they should be fined for not following the rules… I’m going to call my hairdresser and see if she can squeeze me in an appointment before they close.”
Do you want to know how I know this conversation happened? Because it was ME!
I did catch the hypocrisy of my comment the moment I said it, but it is also why I wrote this.
At the end of the day, it is because we are uncomfortable, we feel inconvenienced, and we want our lives to remain as normal as possible. We are human.
We are also part of a society trying to stop a pandemic, and as the saying goes, “We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves!”
Perspective matters. The desert is made up of specks of sand and oceans are the individual collection of droplets of water. We are the collective, not the exception. The combination of our small, but positive actions to socially-distance will have an out-sized impact on flattening the curve.
It’s the start of another week in the midst of COVID-19. I suspect it will feel different, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I’d like to ask you to start by doing something difficult.
I ‘d like you to reflect on one of the hardest events in your life (outside of the current situation), where the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.
Knowing what you know now, and accepting that you can’t change the outcome, what would have helped you better cope with that situation?
Now, write down how can you apply that wisdom today.
In 2016, my mother died from breast cancer. When her cancer came back, it rapidly spread throughout her body. I spent the first couple of weeks obsessively trying to figure out how long she would live.
I felt that if I had this answer, I could make the best decisions around her comfort and treatment, when to notify family and friends, how much time I would need to take off work etc.
I believed that I could handle everything, if I just knew when my mothers death was coming.
I’ll give you one guess what my learning was?
I can’t predict, control, or force the future to unfold as I would like, not matter how hard I try.
I needed to increase my uncertainty tolerance and move on not knowing.
I needed to learn to make decisions on incomplete information.
I had to accept some decisions were right and some were wrong.
I had to learn to trust that I was doing my very best, with the resources I had in my most difficult moment.
I did get there, but I was overwhelmed, heartbroken and mentally, emotionally and physically drained by the time I got there.
Today, with my entire business future uncertain, I have experienced the same emotions. The good news is, I went through that phase much more quickly this time. I am more comfortable sitting with uncertainty and trusting myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I want answers about when the pandemic will end, I want certainty in what the world will look like, and I’d love to know I am making the right decisions at the moment…but I feel like I’ve been training for this.
With all of the uncertainty everyone is facing, there are three guarantees that you should expect :
1. Everything will take longer. Conferencing everyone in, trying to call into a customer service center, or waiting in line at the grocery store, expect everything to take longer.
2. Emotions will be running high. Everyone is facing uncertainty, but each person’s circumstances are different. It serves us to remember that as empathy is often the first causality in stressful situations. Even if you can’t see emotions, they are there and will influence people’s effectiveness and productivity, hence point number one.
3. Your colleagues, employees, and direct reports are TRUSTWORTHY. Please don’t make people earn your trust – start by giving it. Even if you can’t see them at their desk, even if they don’t respond immediately to your email, assume that points one and two are contributing to any delays, not that they are slacking off, untrustworthy, and lacking commitment.
It’s natural when dealing with sudden change and uncertainty for our brain to look for shortcuts via assumptions and expectations.
Shift these positively to strengthen relationships and help people be at their best.
How to stop to them from filling your day and draining your energy
I once read a story of a college professor who
became stranded in the desert after Google Maps directed him to turn left –
onto a non-existent road. He obediently followed and ended up stuck; for 11
days. This was a professor! I’m guessing that those reading this are thinking,
You’d never do that, right?
Maybe not with Google Maps, but what about meetings?
Have you ever blindly accepted a meeting invite?
At the start of a workshop a couple of years ago, I
opened by asking what had brought the attendees there that morning. One woman
joked “my calendar!”, which was followed by knowing laughs from her colleagues.
Following a hunch, I asked how many other people had automatically accepted the
meeting invite to be there that morning. Hesitantly, nearly half of the people
put up their hands.
Much like the professor who blindly followed the
Google Maps directions, these intelligent, busy, senior leaders automatically
accepted a two-hour meeting invitation simply because it was in their inbox. This
example isn’t an isolated incident.
Excessive meetings are consistently named as one of
the most prominent organizational vitality drainers. Studies suggest as high
as 73% of
people say that they attend too many meetings too often.
In our research at BrainAMPED, we have found that
there are two primary reasons people automatically accept meetings.
Or secondly, they feel they don’t
have the time to make a different choiceat
the moment, so they default to automatically accepting the meeting. Put another
way, people believe that it would take too much time and effort to decline or
negotiate their attendance, so they make the most straightforward choice available at that moment,
which means simply saying yes.
Though understandable, each of these tendencies will
leave you spinning in a self-created, negatively reinforcing meeting vortex.
More meetings leave you with less time. Less time leaves you feeling like you
have less choice. Less choice and less time will drive you to automatically
accept more meetings – spin and spin.
So how do you ensure you don’t
get stranded in the meeting desert even when your calendar is trying to divert
you that way? Here are two strategies to break out of the meeting
When you feel like you don’t have a choice, turn on your high beams.
Typically, your car’s automatic daytime running
lights are designed to show the objects on the road in front of you. When you
turn on your high beams, it illuminates the objects around you.
Depending on your company culture or role, there are
undeniably specific meetings that you are expected to attend. That is the road
in front of you.
However, what possibilities on the periphery do you
have some discretion to make decisions around? If declining a meeting isn’t an
option, then take control of how you manage your energy, actions, and time
around those meetings.
Perhaps, you go in and block the hour following a
group of back-to-back meetings. This predetermined time block ensures you can
address follow-ups while things are fresh in your mind. Or maybe you pre-plan
some portable snacks to take to meetings to keep your energy up.
I like to put my favorite kickboxing class on my
calendar at the end of a day filled with meetings. This commitment forces me to
leave my work and helps me clear my mind. I am always more efficient the
following day or if need be, later that evening, if something urgently needs to
Push back on the feelings of
meeting overwhelm by turning on your high beams to see where you can take
deliberate control of your choices around future meetings.
When you feel like it’s easier just to accept, create a fork in the road.
This strategy is meant to force you to slow down,
analyze the terrain ahead, and make a thoughtful choice before automatically
accepting a meeting invite.
The decision fork is derived by asking yourself a
series of questions before accepting the meeting. Examples of the ones we use
at BrainAMPED when helping our clients deal with meeting depletion include:
Are you clear on the purpose and what is expected of you in this meeting?
Do you have the physical time and energy to be fully present and effectively contribute?
How will attending this meeting impact on your productivity and critical priorities?
The goal of the
first question is to help you take personal accountability in collecting
Too often, people complain about meetings without
taking action to change them.If you don’t have these necessary details,
graciously ask for them before accepting it.
Remember, the meeting organizer has included you;
assume they see you as a valued attendee. In your request for details,
acknowledge that and let them know that your questions are to ensure you can
contribute best to the success of their meeting.
The goal of the
second question is to push you to be proactive with your time and energy
Take a step back and look at where this meeting
falls within your calendar. Consider both that day of the meeting and perhaps
that entire week. How many meetings do you have?
For example, maybe you need to let a meeting
organizer know that you are in back-to-back meetings in different locations, so
you will be late or may need to leave early. This clarification can help them
proactively adjust the agenda so that you can still contribute or be present
for decisions critical to your work.
I often choose a different location to take a
conference call to decrease distractions. Challenging yourself with these
considerations motivates you to manage your time and energy.
The goal of the
third question is to help you to think about goals and workflow more
If the answers to these questions suggest that your
attendance isn’t ideal from a business perspective, now you have a thoughtful
conversation template to have with the appropriate people.
And if it turns out you still need to attend, go
back to strategy number one and turn on your high beams.
Reframe the first part of the question to “What can
I do to ensure”…I am clear, I have the time, and it has the best
impact possible on my productivity and priorities. You will be surprised how
creative you can be when you make intentional decisions.
Whether Google Maps or meeting invites, you always
have some choice, so double-check before proceeding. It will surely help ensure
you don’t end up stuck somewhere you shouldn’t be!
If nothing in this title strikes you as strange, then we are in more trouble than I thought!
Late last year I came across an article
describing how Netflix had quietly started testing a variable playback feature
which would allow viewers to watch content at faster speeds.
Perfect! And while we’re at it, Spotify, you should have an option to remove the chorus from all songs. Why waste all that time listening to a repeat of the same thing? We could get through so many more songs that way.
Alright, perhaps I was being a little dramatic. Besides, no one would want to watch Stranger Things in fast forward, it would ruin the show!
I tried to let it go and hadn’t really thought of it again until a few weeks ago on a flight home when the gentleman sitting beside me had his tablet mounted up on the seat in front of him. I noticed that he was watching a movie in what looked like fast forward. Since he had his headphones on and was intermittently laughing, it occurred to me that he was using the Netflix feature.
Oh no, it isbeing used!
To be clear, I am not upset with Netflix for testing this option. It can’t be ignored that one of the things that have made Netflix so successful is their commitment to both anticipate and respond to their subscriber’s desires.
From a purely strategic perspective, Netflix is a business and thus in competition with others. They disrupted an entire industry by listening to the customer. Can I blame any organization for staying curious and keeping their finger on the pulse of future trends? Of course not!
At the end of the day, this isn’t even about Netflix. Its more about how this user feature, when enabled to race through content, represents our collective obsession with the notion of more, faster, newer, sooner.
Netflix offering a feature that potentially exacerbates that is what concerns me.
As a researcher of human behavior, these are my top three reasons why I would like Netflix to say no to the variable speed option following the testing period, even if users give it the green light.
There is nothing wrong with watching Netflix within
reasonable limits. There is a case to be made that immersing ourselves in a few
episodes of our favorite new series offers a brief reprieve from the stressors
of life. There are also some amazing documentaries that inspire powerful
conversations, challenge our beliefs, and fill us with pure pleasure. No one
would argue that Netflix can be both relaxing and enjoyable.
Though intermittently entertaining, there is a neurological tipping
point where too much, too often and for too long pushes enjoyment into addiction.
My primary concern is that the addition
of variable speed watching, which promotes watching more, may lower that tipping
Whether we watch Netflix because we love being able to escape life or because we simply love the show, our brain responds by producing pleasure-induced dopamine. At 11:30 pm when our eyes are stinging because we are so tired, but we feel this need to watch just one more episode that is us becoming situationally addicted to the shot of dopamine we get by starting the next episode.
This decision isn’t driven by logic, it is driven by emotional pleasure because our brain doesn’t distinguish the source of pleasure.
Providing the option to watch shows and movies more rapidly
does not increase enjoyment, it exploits our brain’s addictive tendency for
more, faster, newer, sooner.
Research suggests that the more addicted we become to the dopamine fix, the less enjoyable it becomes. Logically, you would think that if something is less desirable then we’d stop. Instead, we are motivated to consume more in attempts to feel better.
This may help explain why people make the seemingly
irrationally decision to trade-in a social hangout with friends for a solo
binge-watch of the latest release.
Multiple studies have highlighted that those most susceptible
to a technology addiction are teens and people already
experiencing feelings of isolation from their peers. This is the real
reason for concern. Technology addiction has been linked to higher levels of stress,
anxiety, and depression which could mean that the most vulnerable groups are also
the ones most likely to use this feature.
Point #1: There is no need to add a feature that could negatively impact the digital well-being of Netflix’s platform users.
From this point you may be thinking “Listen, lady, mind your
own business.” Fair enough. My intention
is not to tell people what they should enjoy and how to watch Netflix. It is to
challenge people to consider the consequences of their actions and decisions.
One of the primary motivators behind this express-watch feature
is because Netflix reported users being bored with shows that felt too long. In
other words, our attention spans, which are defined as the
length of time a person is able to concentrate or remain interested in a task
or an activity, are shrinking, even for entertainment. A study from Microsoft
found that our attention span has decreased to eight seconds – equal to that of a
Much of this diminishing ability to focus has been attributed
to the overstimulating world we live in today. Consider the volume of
information available at our finger times, the buzzing, dinging and blinking of
constant notifications, and the endless scroll holes social media offers.
It’s not a big leap to believe that how our brains process information is
changing, and not for the better.
This is my second reason why I don’t believe Netflix should
offer the option as it could add to the ever-expanding attention deficit being
Some may wonder if it really matters how distractible we are
– it does! Shrinking attention spans negatively impact our ability to achieve
goals, process new information and learn new skills. It makes it difficult to
stay present and connected with the people around us. It makes it harder to slow
down our overactive brain, negatively impacting the quality and quantity of
sleep we get each night. Each is needed
to promote positive mental, emotional and physical health.
Point #2: With attention being reported of one of our scarcest resources, I don’t believe Netflix needs to offer a feature that could further diminish it.
Perhaps the argument can be made that by providing an option
that would allow people to watch a movie in less time would motivate people, who
would otherwise skip a leisure activity altogether, to add it to their
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, this is the basis of
my third concern.
In my own research, I have seen again and again that our
pervasive emphasis on productivity and efficiency is distorting our perception
of relaxation and self-care. Instead of viewing it as something to enjoy, we
approach it as just another task that should be condensed down and checked-off
our to-do list. I leisured today, next!
It sometimes feels like we’ve transformed life into a hot dog eating contest. How much can we get through in a designated amount of time?
Even before Arianna Huffington started THRIVE Global, back
in 2013 a new and novel column was launched in the Huffington Post named “Less
Stress, More Living.” Still, things seem
to be getting harder with perceived stress levels raising
I worry that we are rationalizing unhelpful and unhealthy
choices in self-deceiving ways. For example in one conversation with a friend they
pushed back on my concerns arguing that decreasing the time we spend watching
each episode of the latest series sensation could provide more time for people
to spend with their kids, to exercise, to talk to their partners, to enjoy
nature and to do more meaningful things.
I don’t buy it. If you only have 30 mins, watch 30 min of a show – BUT ENJOY IT! Be present, let your senses be titillated, integrate yourself into the story, love or hate the characters, allow the music to create an emotion that is coded into your brain. And yes, I realize that I am giving far too much cinematography credit to many shows on Netflix, but perhaps we need to fully enjoy fewer things instead of just rushing through lots of things.
Besides, what are we rushing towards? I think most people
would agree, we are often missing the moment just to add more busyness and more
things to our already overwhelming schedules.
Point #3: We need to practice slowing down, not pressuring ourselves to speed up and be more efficient at watching Netflix.
A final reality check-in: who doesn’t eat more candy when there are leftovers from Halloween? We all know that when our phone buzzes it’s hard not to check. Give me a super-sized fry from McDonald’s and I’ll eat them all. I’m not saying that humans aren’t responsible for themselves – we are. But given the choice Netflix, please resist adding to our very human and often negative, tendencies. Instead, keep adding amazing content – that is all you need to keep us coming back!
Three questions to help busy managers lighten their load while developing their people
As a manager you know there is never a shortage of problems that
need fixing. Consider how many times this occurs in a typical day; someone
knocks on your door with a problem, a complaint, a request, or an idea that
they want your help addressing.
Who should be the first to offer a solution in these typical
types of conversations?
When I ask this of audiences, the room is always quick to
pipe-up with a communal “THEY SHOULD!” My follow-up question is always, “who
usually offers a solution first?” With much less enthusiasm, some of the braver
soles in the audience admit “we do.”
There are very good reasons why managers tend to be the first to
offer solutions and advice to other people’s problems, even if a little too
quickly or a little too often.
For starters having the answers, figuring things out, and
solving problems are precisely the skills that have helped many smart and
accomplished people achieve their success. Not to mention most managers that my
firm works with are genuinely just trying to be helpful.
On the other side are a whole host of workplace frustrations
that leave managers feeling like the only way to survive the day and protect their
energy and sanity is to solve things as quickly as possible and move to the
Do any of the following
scenarios sound familiar?
It feels like people are constantly dumping their problems on you to fix?
It feels like you keep having the same conversations again and again?
It feels like people are continually complaining about problems instead of bringing solutions forward ?
It feels like your job description should also include workplace firefighter, or worse, babysitter?
That to save time and ensure things are done correctly, it feels easier to just do it yourself?
If you find yourself nodding along in agreement to three or more
of the scenarios, chances are, you are at risk of what I call
This is a form of decision fatigue,
which refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual
after an extended period of decision making. The consequence of decision
fatigue may be the tendency to go for takeout over a healthy salad or skip the
gym for a Netflix binge following an intense day of decision making.
Fixer-Fatigue can be thought of as the deteriorating quality of solution-seeking conversations led by people dealing with a high volume of problems.
As a result, many managers stop asking questions and instead find themselves diving directly into fix-it mode, problem-solving and advice-giving.
Whether you want to develop your team to become more
self-reliant problem solvers, or you are tired of other people’s problems
suddenly becoming your problems to fix, there are three questions that when
asked consistently, will help decrease the potential of Fixer-Fatigue.
Take two; someone knocks on your door with a problem, complaint, request or idea. Instead of jumping into solutions, advice and fix-it mode, start by asking the following questions:
Question #1: What have you tried
This may seem like an obvious question but is surprisingly
under-asked. The benefit of opening with this question is that it immediately
starts you from their perspective and establishes a two-way dialogue.
Unfortunately, managers suffering from fixer-fatigue often respond
by stating the most obvious solution. Rarely is it helpful and instead, often
shuts people down.
I have witnessed the most well-intentioned people fall into this
trap (myself included). Liz Wiseman, the author of the New York Times Bestseller:
calls these leaders the “accidental diminishers.” This is because they
accidentally shut down the conversation, the intelligence, and the ideas of
others by taking-over the problem at hand.
The power of starting with the simple “what have you tried so
far?” has a two-fold advantage. First, asking it shows that you respect the
person and their abilities, especially if they are skilled and experienced in
the area they are bringing to you. Secondly, their response establishes a
starting point. This is true even if their answer is, “I haven’t tried
Especially in the latter case, it is critical to resist jumping
to solutions or offering your ideas as it will only reinforce the expectation
that you will fix the problem for them. Instead, look to challenge them to
think about their problem more deeply. Questions could include: What ideas do you
have? What has stopped you from acting on them?
If you consistently have people showing up at your door with the
expectation that you will solve their problem, it should raise a red flag.
Instead of getting angry and judging others for a lack of initiative or
motivation, use it to prompt your curiosity.
Why do people feel like they need permission to make a decision?
Look internally, what might you, as their manager, be doing to promote this
If you habitually fall into the advice trap and default to
solving other people’s problems, you may inadvertently be training people to
drop their problems on your desk.
Question #2: What else would be
helpful for me to understand about this situation?
This is a personal favorite of mine because this question helps
bring to light the periphery information. It also challenges people to think
more broadly and empathetically about their problem and the different
perspectives others may have about the same situation.
Additionally, it helps you avoid the trap of escalating a
problem with the intention of helping someone only to learn additional context
that would have changed your approach or your stance altogether.
People naturally tend to start from their perspective, remembering
and sharing information selectively to help build their side and justify their
actions. Your job is to make doing so more difficult and thereby challenging
them to think more broadly.
Other variations of the question include: What might this
problem look like from the outside?
What would the other side say is the most important thing for us
to understand? Or finally, what else could be contributing to complicate this
By committing yourself to ask this question, and the initiator
to consider their answers, you both get a fuller view of the situation and
ensure neither succumb to confirmation bias or
move forward on too narrow of a view.
Question #3: How are you looking for to move this forward?
This final question puts the accountability directly on the person
bringing the problem. It engages them to think about how they see things moving
forward and what (if any), help they need in the process.
Often this question is phrased as, how can I help? Or, what do
you need from me? As helpful as they
seem, they often initiate unintended consequences. Challenge yourself to frame
the question in a way that doesn’t automatically insinuate that you need to be
involved. If they need your help or support, they will ask. And if you can
support, now you know the best way to offer it.
Surprisingly, even though many managers say they are frustrated
with dealing with the constant barrage of crisis crossing their desks, it can
also be rewarding, especially if you can save the day. Be careful not to react
by rescuing people or interjecting yourself into a solution to make yourself
feel valuable. Instead, refocus on developing people to need you less and
trust themselves more.
Asking these three questions will undoubtedly save you time,
frustration and energy. Not only that, but simultaneously they will ensure you solve
the right problem when necessary, stay involved where needed, and step
back more often.
Besides, people are almost always more motivated to act on their
own ideas versus advice from others, no matter how good your solution is!
did not know either of them personally and yet it did not diminish the sadness
I felt when I heard of their deaths. Nor did it lessen the tears I shed reading
and listening to stories and sentiments shared by those who knew them.
their contributions to the world were very different, the lists of achievements
each had are as impressive as they are long.
it isn’t their notable accomplishments that have taken center stage, instead
what has been emphasized in every interview, every story and every post has
been a reflection of who these people
were and how they positively impacted those around them.
had an undeniable commitment to be of service to others as mentors and as role
models. Both were committed to lifting people up and helping others achieve
that commitment was as clear at the start of their careers as it was at the
end, both leave this world having demonstrated it in their work, with their
families and throughout their communities.
this emphasis on who these people were instead of just what they accomplished
that initiates a very natural and important response when we are faced with
loss. Instinctively, it causes us to look inside and reassess:
What impact am I having on others?
Am I living a life fully lived?
Are the people I love getting the best of me?
as Clay posed almost a decade ago in an HBR article
that ultimately reshaped the work I do and is still one of my favorite articles
of all time, death challenges us to consider the question:
will you measure your life?
on these questions. Sit with the resulting emotions and then take actions to
address each in the most positive way you can.
“tomorrows” are not promised, but we have an opportunity to make the most out
of today…both on and off the court.
I can fall into the all-or-nothing trap, anybody else?
It’s certainly not a quality that I am proud of admitting. It can show up in multiple forms but there is a particular ‘all-or-nothing’ scenario that I’ve really been working on changing. It comes in the form of appreciation.
More frequently then I’d like to acknowledge, I have found myself considering a gesture I could do for someone that I know they would appreciate. The reason I am even thinking about it is because I want this person to know how much I care for them.
And then for various reasons, some legitimate and some not, I find myself not following through on the grand gesture…or any gesture. All-or-nothing.
To make myself feel better, I will rationalize my inaction with the justification that a smaller demonstration of appreciation would not adequately show how much I care for them – and I can’t risk that!
But a recent experience following a week of very challenging work travel has helped me start changing this thinking.
I should start by sharing that I am very lucky to do a lot of travel for my work. I love it.
However, the less loved side of travel includes all the inevitable aspects; cancelled flights, missed connections and frequent delays, all of which often have me landing far later than originally planned.
This was exactly the case following one of my final flights last year. As I alluded to above, it was a heavy and challenging week of travel that started by flying out Sunday afternoon. I had planned to fly home Tuesday evening, spend time with my family and then fly back out the following day. As often occurs in the winter months, Mother Nature had a different plan.
Due to storms, I was forced to shift my flight home and instead go directly to my next keynote. After finishing my talk, my final flight home was again delayed. The same storm, which seemed to have been following me airport to airport the entire week, was now hitting Toronto. Luckily it was the tail end and the flight was eventually able to depart, unfortunately, it was six and a half hours later than originally scheduled.
As a result, it was close to 1:30 AM by the time I walked in the door. Being so late, I knew my husband would be asleep.
Yes, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to chat with him after being away all week, but admittedly I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. What was more disheartening was the anticipation of a cold house waiting for me once I arrived home.
I knew this because my husband can only sleep if the temperature is low – and by low, I mean cold.
I, on the other hand, always seem to have a chill and do not enjoy being cold, let alone sleeping in the cold. We’ve had the cliché argument about the temperature in our house from the moment we moved in together. (Side Note: he has a good argument, I can put on a sweater, but he can’t take off skin).
To compromise, I bought a small heating blanket last year. The ROI on this purchase has been unmeasurably positive. About 30 minutes before bed I turn it on so by the time I crawl under the covers my side of the bed is nice and warm.
However, being so delayed meant that I would be clambering into a cold bed (please note, I fully appreciate that this is not a life hardship). So, it was not surprising that the temperature in the house had hit its nighttime low by the time I got home. Resigned to the fact that cold blankets were awaiting me, I dropped my suitcase at the front door and headed straight to bed.
But to my delighted surprise, as I lifted the covers I was met with a warm bed!
My husband had very thoughtfully and kindly, turned on my heating blanket for me before going to sleep.
To be clear, all this gesture would have taken was for him a reach across the bed and hit the “on” button – a small action, but one with a massively positive impact that made me feel very loved by him and made being home even more special.
On top of all of that, and perhaps even more importantly, it was proof:
A small action taken will always beat a grand gesture considered.
My learning was to not underestimate the impact of a heating blanket moment.
The next time you catch yourself heading towards all-or-nothing thinking, shift your thinking to small-and-something and ask yourself, whose world could you warm today with a small action?
These 3 simple (research-backed) changes to the order of your evening is all it takes.
8:00 am: Get to work – Too tired to think.
1:00 pm: Go to a meeting – Too tired to think.
6:00 pm: Make dinner – Too tired to think.
11:00 pm: Go to bed – How do dragons blow out candles?
Sound familiar? This was a post a friend sent me a few months ago with the comment, “Why does this have to be so true?!” Variations of this made the rounds of social media sites simply because it reflects the frustrating reality that so many people deal with when it comes to falling asleep.
It turns out that just because you’ve decided it’s time to sleep, doesn’t mean your brain or body are on the same schedule!
If this is something that affects you, you’re not alone. Studies spanning the last two decades have indicated a steady rise in people, particularly women, having a harder time falling asleep.
This sentiment is shared by many of the clients that come to my company to help them raise their Work Vitality Quotient (WVQ). Inevitably, the discussion of sleep and the impact it has on their performance, leadership, and life satisfaction always comes up.
Clients will often say that because of things such as shift work, family commitments, client emails, or early morning commutes; going to bed earlier or getting up later isn’t an option. This makes falling asleep quickly a priority. Unfortunately for many of us, this just isn’t happening.
While numerous things may delay the onset of sleep, one factor that is undeniably having an impact is our tendency to push all day long in hyper-drive go-mode. By aiming to squeeze in as much as possible during the day, many people have inadvertently left little time to transition out of go-mode and into slowing sleep-mode.
“We get ready for everything. We need to shift our mindset around sleep from something we do to something we get ready to do.”
If you’re thinking, “I’m already too busy, I won’t have time for this,” fear not! This strategy isn’t about adding to your day; it is about changing the order of your evening.
With a few small, but intentional adjustments to your evening activities, you can establish a wind down routine that helps you to both relax, as well as craft the necessary transitionary time to make falling asleep easier.
A simple method that I have been using with clients as well as personally is what I call the 3-2-1 Sleep ‘E’ Routine. The goal of the approach is to create congruence between your desire to sleep and your brain and body’s readiness to sleep – yes, to help make you sleepy. The shift in your evening activities goes like this:
3 hours before bed – Limit Eating and intense exercise
2 hours before bed – Limit Emailing & work
1 hour before bed – Limit Electronics & screens
What does this look like in real life? Let’s say you plan to be in Zzz-land by 10:00 pm, this would be your approach to winding down.
3 Hours Before Bed (7:00 pm). Wind down EATING and exercise.
First step is to address eating, especially heavy meals. Your body requires time to metabolize and getting the majority of this done before bed not only results in a night of much better sleep but also decreases the chance of heartburn and indigestion, both of which makes falling asleep much more difficult. Unfortunately after the age of 30, this often increases when you lay down following a big meal.
Besides, I can’t be the only one that has the strangest and most vivid dreams when I go to bed with a full stomach!
If a nice warm decaffeinated tea relaxes you into the nighttime mode, try to finish this up within an hour of going to sleep. The later these are consumed, the higher the chance of a required middle-of-the-night bathroom break interrupting your sleep. Not to mention, the more times you wake up, the more often you need to fall back to sleep!
Next is exercise, this time allotment allows your elevated heart rate and core temperature, as well as all that energizing adrenaline adequate time to decrease naturally.
There is an abundance of well-researched data that shows exercising early in the morning increases the amount of deep sleep you get the following evening. It is during ‘deep sleep’ that the body repairs itself, and your brain cleans itself up, both of which leave you feeling more rested without sleeping more hours.
If the later evening is the only time you can exercise, consider swapping out your high-energy Spin Class for Yoga. Slower, stretch-focused exercise is widely used to calm your mind and body. To fully feel the benefits, incorporate breathing exercises and meditations. Both of which are proven to be powerful sleep-priming enhancers.
2 Hours Before Bed (8:00 pm). Wind down the emails and other work.
One of the best ways to help your brain disengage from workplace worries is to have a preset, designated time to stop working. The benefit of having this routine is that it signals to your brain that it can stop working, worrying, and thinking.
But it isn’t just about email; it is about mentally disengaging from work as well. In a 2019 survey I conducted most of the work people do in the evenings involved checking, clearing out, and replying to emails. What was most fascinating was that nearly 30% of the respondents commented that they rarely worked before bed – they just kept an eye on email. That is called WORKING!
Even if you disagree with what counts as work, research shows that constantly scanning your email signals to your brain that it needs to stay in alert-mode, ready to jump at the sign of an emergency – even when that emergency is a simple notification indicating a new email is waiting for you. Alert-mode and sleep-mode are not good bed buddies!
If you still find yourself defending your late email checking with the excuse that it helps you feel calmer to know what’s going on, read on.
Everyone knows that email can be triggering. Who hasn’t gotten a late-night crummy email from a colleague or customer? Even if you’re able to manage your fight-flight system and resist firing back an email, your brain stays hooked long after the email is read. To cope, you usually take one of two approaches. Either you try not to think about it, or you overthink it. Unfortunately, both approaches result in excessive cortisol, a potent stress hormone, being dumped into your system making sleep, especially falling asleep, much more difficult.
If the neurochemistry isn’t enough to dissuade you, consider how constantly monitoring your incoming messages and being preoccupied with with work impacts your connection to those most important to you. When you are accessible to work via email 24/7, it means we are inaccessible to the people around you 24/7. Physical connection via talking and spending time with those you love is both a more fulfilling and more relaxing way to ease into a healthier nighttime routine.
1 Hour Before Bed (9:00 pm). Wind down Electronicuse and screens.
Even with the hour before sleep being potentially the most important block of time, many people take a haphazard approach to calming themselves both psychologically and physiologically during this time.
For most of my clients, decreasing screen time before bed is the hardest adjustment to make. So assuming you’ve closed down your laptop, don’t try to trick yourself into believing that reading the day’s news or political headlines on your tablet won’t have an impact on your sleep – it absolutely does.
Just like the work email, news, and other social media all have the potential to trigger the emotional neural networks in your brain and prompting the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. When you have more cortisol, then melatonin (that sleep-inducing hormone) in your system, it chemically communicates to your brain and body to wake-up and take action, counter to your sleep goal!
In this final hour, helping your brain to disconnect from the day and settle down should be a priority. Spend this time relaxing with family, reading a good fiction novel, listening to an audiobook or Podcast, or doing some reflective journaling. It is critical to understand that the thinking brain fatigues, and the constant stimulation of scrolling social media tends to overstimulate the brain, essentially making it over-tired and unable to calm down and settle into sleep.
Before deciding what will or won’t work for you, test and tweak each step to suit you best. The calming power in routines comes from the replication of them. It takes time to get your brain, body, and behaviors on a new schedule.
The 3-2-1 SleepE Routine works with your brain and body’s natural processes so that when the light goes off, sleep is not far behind!