Why you can’t afford not to increase your impulse control

Key take-aways from this article:

  • A study about impulse control
  • Our smartphone habits
  • What is happening in our brains? (Very nerdy section of the article, you can skip this part if you like)
  • How do we exercise and increase our impulse control?
  • The constructive pause

Impulse control, attention and selective attention is a way of defining how our brain works with and interprets knowledge. In this blog post we dig into our impulse control and why it is so crucial to your well-being, both at work and in your private life – and especially why and how it affects our job performance.

A study about impulse control shows…

A classic example of why impulse control is important was shown in the famous Marshmallow Test conducted in 1960 at Standford University by professor Walter Mischel. Here, a group of children were given the opportunity to have one marshmallow or to wait 10 minutes and then get 2 marshmallows, 10 more minutes to get 3 marshmallows etc. 20 years later the study concluded that the longer a child could wait for a marshmallow, the better they managed in their adult life.

The above example is largely about our ability to control our impulse control. It’s simply about a reward and for how long we can wait to receive the reward. If we are tired and cognitively untrained, then it is easier for our brains to react quickly and choose a quick reward rather than waiting patiently for a bigger reward.

Our smartphone habits and impulse control

There are indications that our mobile habits are pushing our impulse control in a wrong direction. Most people have found that the more they are using their smartphones and other electronics, the harder it is for them to turn them off and have time without them. This phenomenon is primarily about a chemical reaction in the brain where a substance called “Dopamine” is released when we experience something nice that pleases us. It can be when we meet an old friend on the street or if we see something on social media or streaming services that we really like.

For the nerdy reader: in the next section I will delve into what exactly is going on in our brain when we need to take use of our impulse control. Feel free to skip this and read the rest of the article if you’re not interested in the brain’s functionalities.

What happens inside the brain

It is the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) that is associated with impulsivity and which is a major regulator of the Amygdala. This circuit begins with a pyramidal output from the Orbitofrontal Cortex to the central parts of the Nucleus Caudatus in the Striatal complex, then to the thalamus and then back to the OFC. Cortial circuits from these brain regions are involved in regulating impulsivity and compulsivity (inflexible, compulsive, problem solving and behavior).

Figure 25. Impulsivity and compulsivity are associated with failure to regulate a Corticostriatal Thalamic-Cortical (CSTC) circuit involving the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OBC), the base of the Nucleus Caudatus and the Thalamus.

The text is an excerpt from out publication made in collaboration with out chief psychologist Jens Hardy Sørensen. If you would like to read the entire book, you are welcome to contact me to have it sent to you. I usually like to put a good bottle of red wine to the person who reads through the whole book.

In other words…

When we run too fast in our daily lives or expose ourselves to too many impressions, it can be very difficult to wait for a reward. It can be shown in the form of a very talkative behavior. It may also appear that we may have a hard time waiting for it to be our turn to talk, or that we are constantly interrupting colleagues around us to satisfy our own needs without regard to the given situation.

Exercising your impulse control

You can train your impulse control in a variety of ways and it can help you give a more efficient everyday life and a more relaxed leisure time. Cognitive training with a focus on impulse control is about practicing how to defer a reward and we must also practice thinking, accepting and then reflecting on whether we want to act on a given situation or if it best to postpone an action in order to achieve a bigger reward.

Two initiatives that you can do

The first initiatives is found in our app where you can train your impulse control through cognitive exercises. For example you will be presented with two characters, then you need to choose whether or not to react with a click. The point is that you are presented with two characters that look like each other, but you have to click when they have the same color. By doing this you have to use your impulse control, in order not to click when the wrongs characters appear. It is important to do the exercises continuously so that you can continue to maintain and challenge yourself.

These types of exercises may seem relatively simple, but many are then met with some obstacles. Because if we start to expose ourselves to too many impressions or take on too many work tasks, than we can handle, then it starts to get hard not to press the button when you do the exercise – our impulse control is weakened.  Over time the exercises provided can give you an objective insight into how stressed our pressured you feel by using our stress indicator.

The other way to exercise your impulse control is by taking breaks. Breaks are something most managers and employees with whom we have worked find difficult. They all agree on the fact that they want to take a break and that they can benefit from it – but when they try they are quickly hit by everyday life and the breaks are not held. It may be due to regular hustle and bustle, but some also feel weird about sitting 1-3 minutes and starring out in the blue. A bank employee described how his office windows were facing the street and that he could not make himself sit there and flourish because what if a customer came by while he sat there and looked out in the blue…

The constructive pause

That is why, in collaboration with our customers, we have developed the constructive break which is a fantastic tool for doing an impulse control strengthening exercise. In all its simplicity, you have to sit down with our app, or a piece of paper, and then give yourself between 2-4 minutes where you accept all thoughts that pop into your mind and take notes of all the thoughts either in the app or on paper. It is important that you do not make a to-do list and you should not try to force some thoughts, but you should try to relax as much as you can.

In that way, the brain gets a time-out in a busy modern everyday life. When you have finished writing down the first thought you just wait for the next thought to appear and write it down. It is important to note here that there are no right and wrong thoughts, it is more about accepting that they are there. One thought might be that you have to buy dog food after work or that you have to call you colleague.

The impulse control exercise is that if a thought is that you need to call or write and e-mail to a colleague , then you need to simply accept that thought and not execute it right away. You are welcome to reflect on your thoughts and prioritize them after which thought you should do something about and which ones you may simply smile at and let go.

To summarize. After a constructive break, you don’t have a to-do list! But on the other hand you have knowledge about what is on top of your mind right now and these are usually things we use energy to keep down.

 

Our concentration is under pressure

Our concentration is suffering

Our ability to concentrate has been put under great pressure by modern society where we are constantly disturbed. It can have a direct impact on how well we thrive, both at work and at home. I hope you find this blog post inspiring and that you get some good and constructive take-aways.

Take-aways from this article:

  • We’re depending our how well we can process knowledge
  • System 1 and system 2
  • A real-life example
  • How routines can make you a high-performer
  • Emotions and feelings
  • Negative self-talk
  • What you can do to stay focused

 

We depend on how well we process knowledge

When talking about the brain, the terminology system 1 and system 2 is frequently used to explain how we act in everyday life. The terminology also gives a good explanation of how most of the actions we take are done without giving much thought to them.

But when it comes to the processing of knowledge that most of us work with today in the sense that we have some professional experience combined with what life otherwise has taught us through time. Then we use this knowledge and experience to work out a situation or task that we have been assigned to solve.

System 1 and system 2

For those who are a bit curious I want to explain the idea of system 1 and system 2 further in the next sections, but you are welcome to read the rest of the article without this part.

We generally process our knowledge in the prefrontal cortex and it is the degree to which you use your prefrontal cortex to reflect on a given situation or task that decides whether you use system 1 or system 2 to process the knowledge.

The prefrontal cortex physically takes up 25% of your brain and when it comes to processing knowledge, it has a very poor ability to do so over a long period of time. In contrast, it is excellent at solving complex problems. An example from the book “Your Brain at Work” explains that the prefrontal cortex can process what corresponds to approx. a cubic meter of knowledge – but only for a brief moment at a time. In comparison, the remaining part of the brain can process knowledge that corresponds to the Milky Way. Therefore, it can be said that the motor behind is significantly larger in the remaining part of the brain.

Imagine that every thought that you get runs in a circular motion, where we are first exposed to some information that we then process and compare with past experiences and then we perform an action that can either be proactive or reactive.

System 2 is crucial for good performance – and a very important fact is that we can teach system 1 how system 2 should react in a given situation.

The Formula 1 driver

A good example is the Formula 1 driver who can drive 300 km/h while giving a message to his team manager through thee radio. He can do this because he only uses system 2 to maneuver the car and system 1 to communicate with his manager. For most people it would be an impossible task to deal with these to task at once, but the Formula 1 driver has incorporated these routines so thoroughly in his brain that driving a racing car does not require reflection on his part.

The building of system 2 does not come automatically, it is something they have been working on for a number of years, and they work hard with visualization that helps the driver ensure that they have a clear picture of what, when and how the driver should react and how the things should work.

 

Why routines can make you a good performer

It is an incredibly powerful tool to work with routines in your everyday life, because once the routine has become part of your daily habits, you are drawing on a resource the size of the Milky Way (system 1).

It is also important to note that there is also a large gap between when a reflection is processed 100% in system 1 or 2, because it should be seen as a tight transition between using both systems. The really heavy and complex decisions that are made in system 2 involve large parts of the prefrontal cortex and it uses the upper part of the prefrontal cortex which starts a top-down reflection where we can take a thought, evaluate it and look at it from different perspectives, but we cannot do that for longer periods of time and we also cannot process two thought at the same time.

The emotional feelings

In addition to the ability to view a situation form a different perspective, the prefrontal cortex also has an incredibly important function in managing our emotional feelings in a given situation. Here it acts as brake pads where our emotions are regulated for example when we are put in an unexpected bad situation. For example, you might feel the urge to tell a colleague or your manager that “they should go to h…”. However, fortunately it is an ability that most of us possesses to a considerable degree.

Negative self-talk occurs more often when we are tired

When we get tired, which can happen when we expose ourselves to too many impressions through social media, replying to too many e-mails or by go many meetings, then something we all have in common is that our thoughts can start to become negative: “you could be more comfortable with the harness” and “you’re not performing good enough”. Here it is system 2 that is at stake and if you’re not mentally trained and rested, then you may catch yourself using negative self-talk more frequently, but if you are mentally rested and trained, then you can explain and rationalize the negative self-talk and prevent it.

If we are tired it can be hard to shut down the negative self-talk and here cognitive training, the constructive pause and mental health processes are a very efficient tools to become a focused high-performer.

 

 

Holiday Reflection

Holiday reflection

We are slowing all getting back from summer holiday and back to our daily routines. Personally, before I took off on holiday, I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for a management team on mental health as a performance tool. The summer holiday was right around the corner, so it was natural to talk about their e-mail culture now that the summer holiday was right there. It was quickly that an unhealthy pattern appeared when we started talking about their e-mail culture from a mental health perspective.

In a modern everyday life where we are all so used to being connected to the online universe it can be hard to totally turn it off and go offline – even when you are on holidays.

Why take a break?

But why is it so important for the brain that we take time to have both long and short breaks? With this blog post I would really like to try and explain why it is so important to take breaks – so that you can keep your performance high!

It all started as a “holiday reflection” and it came to mind when I had been totally “offline” with my family in the beautiful Tuscan highlands. During the holiday my 2-year old had learned to say “ugh” when he was not allowed to have an ice cream. My 5-year old demonstrated her almost perfectly developed temper at all imaginable and unthinkable ways and nnow my 8-year old, and this is where the point is, had used a lot of time on asking:

 

“Are you ready?”

“Try to count to…”

“Are you looking?”

“How many seconds was that?”

In addition to the quotes above something very interesting happened with the stories my 8-year old told me and THIS is exactly where the point is to be found! First he spoke to me about the dolphin-week, then he told me about soccer practice and after this something interesting happened: he began to speak about everyday things that happened way back in the past and in his memories, and it was at this moment that I realized something very interesting.

What happens inside the brain?

The point is closely related to the brain’s way of thinking and processing knowledge. We mainly talk about the brain having to ways of thinking – a fast and a slow way of thinking – system 1 and system 2. For example, you use system 1 when you have to answer what two plus two equals and in other words you do not need to use very much conscious consideration which system 2 in contrast requires. System 2 takes a lot of effort to use but it is where we make big decisions and solve complex tasks. A deciding factor in how efficiently you can use system 2 is how many breaks you give your brain.

In order for you to benefit from all your knowledge and experience in life, it requires breaks in everyday life and during the holidays! Put differently? If you are to have full value of the knowledge that you have spent many years and energy gathering, then it is important that you give yourself breaks.

A break can be an abstract concept, because does that mean that you just have to look up and stare out of the window? It works differently for people, but at WeFocus we have developed the constructive pause which is an effective tool for giving you brain time off in order for it to perform its best.

Is being present the new black?

Is our presence drowning in technology and is it just how it is going to be from now on? Yes, technology has changed the society and ways of life, and the consequence is often that you sit at the annual employee party and Instagram how cool it is instead of actually being present and having fun. But is this really just the way it is going to be?

You have a choice

As with everything else i life, we are often so privileged to be able to make our own choices and decisions. You may already have come to the conclusion that you would like to be more present with your children, friends, husband, wife or colleagues – or perhaps your online presence has become that integrated a part of your life that you may have difficulty even identifying that your presence is suffering.

 

To connect and disconnect 

Today we are all to a greater or lesser extent connected to the large online universe, but at the same time it disconnects us from the human presence. In the past, people were pausing in the canteen and conversing with the colleagues, but today we are rather stuck with our heads down in our smartphones.

We don’t want to miss out

We expect the hotels to have WIFI when we are travelling, and we want to have the feeling of being “on” 24/7. Being constantly connected, however, comes with consequences. We lose our presence we are not mentally present in the present moment and it affects our mental resources and our focus when we for example have to execute on our knowledge and experience.

Make time for being present

But how do you do that in practice? How do you get your focus and presence back at work and at home? At WeFocus we focus on the fact that it does not actually have to be that hard after all. Here are two tips to more presence in your life.

1. The constructive pause

At WeFocus we have developed and designed the constructive pause. All experts agree that the best thing you can do for your brain is to take a break. It gives you both peace, an overview and increased focus. With the constructive break you can get sorted, recognize and prioritize your thoughts that are top of mind for you.

2. Be aware

Make a decision and go actively after achieving it. It is necessary to spend time prioritizing your time and effort when making a decision, otherwise, it will turn into nothing. Space for presence does not come by itself during a busy day. It is one piece of advice that we at WeFocus support the employees in through the tool itself and during the workshop and coaching sessions. By doing this, the participants experience success with their decisions and experience better results both at work and in their private life.

 

 

Do you know your biggest performance opponent?

Disturbances... Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, SnapChat – the list is endless. Social media, e-mails, phone call and even colleagues who demand your attention in the middle of a work assignment can seem very disruptive. It makes it hard to find your focus and come back to your workflow and concentration ability, when the battle for your attention comes creeping into everyday life…

This is how disruptions affect you

You may need to think twice the next time you are on your way to pat a concentrated colleague on the shoulder. You have probably experienced it yourself, several times a day, over and over again, someone will ask you something, talk to you or complain… And if it is not a colleague, it’s your phone and the endless stream of e-mails and notifications that you receive through the day. But is this happening without consequences? During a busy day, the interruptions can be extremely disruptive says Kim Steen Nielsen, who has a master’s in psychology.

Your mental performance is suffering

It puts the brain on overtime when we are bombarded with information and it starts from the first glance at your smartphone in the morning. Not only does it affect your working time to use energy on disruption, but a study by an Americans scientist Gloria Mark showed that employees on average switched between different overall tasks approx. every 12 minutes and more often – approx. every 3 minutes employees switched between e.g. checking e-mails, writing in Word, talking on the phone, talking to a colleague etc.

In the study, it took a total of between 2 and 40 minutes before the observed employees were back to their prior focus on the task they were doing before they got interrupted. Many studies, however, point to the fact that it takes 15 minutes to get back to your focus if you are solving a work task on your computer and suddenly read and e-mail or text. In other words, it is very costly for your mental performance and concentration when you get disturbed.

How does it affect you?

But how do the interruptions affect you outside of work? Even when we are off work, we experience being constantly interrupted and disturbed by social media and digital devices. Kim Steen Nielsen points out that there are countless influences that are constantly fighting for our attention. This is due to the fact that our brain processes all inputs that it gets exposed to and is easy to lure when constantly tempted. The price that you pay is that we disappear from the present and the presence of our fellow human beings. If you do not consciously maintain a good mental health and performance both in your work- and private life, then we have a better feeling of stress, our concentration ability suffers, mental performance is declining, and our presence disappears.

What can you do? – 3 tips for controlling disturbances

  1. Identify your disruptions

What really bothers you the most in your everyday life? Is it your phone? Facebook? A colleague? E-mails? Spend some time thinking about what is creating the most disruptions in your everyday life, both at work and outside work.

 

  1. Define what disruption you can do something about and which ones that are out of your control

For example, put your phone on silent and go in and turn off notifications on the apps that bother you during your work hours. This is an example of a disturbance that you can act on easily, but there will also be disruptions that are out of your control. Identify them and write them down.

 

  1. Accept uncontrollable interruptions and avoid frustration

For example, if you work in an open office landscape, it is about getting used to and learning to accept noise from your surroundings. In contrast, if you feel that a colleague is disturbing you often, then it is important to talk to your colleague about changing their behavior. By accepting and expressing disruptions, it is easier for you to accept them in your everyday life and thereby avoiding using your energy on being frustrated.

Why you should exercise your emotional intelligence (EQ)

For a long time, it is has been a popular assumption that IQ tests played a crucial role in our personal ability and success. Research over several decades now indicate that emotional intelligence (EQ) plays an even greater role in how successful and good performers we can become. In fact, emotional intelligence plays such a big role that 90% of all top performers are characterized by having a high EQ.

 

What is emotional intelligence?

The emotional intelligence is intangible and is “something” we have within ourselves. EQ can influence the way we behave, how we navigate in social interactions, or how we make decisions in our work and personal lives. You can probably not recognize that we have reached a point where it is crucial that you have top motivated and sharp employees, which is why it is important that you focus on the emotional intelligence in your business.

 

EQ and understanding your customers

Emotional intelligence is important in your business because employees with a high EQ are easier to socialize with and understand. For example, it is crucial in a meeting with a customer where it is crucial how quickly you can understand the customer’s world and adapt to both the situation and the solution that the customer wants. With a high EQ, you are good at understanding other people and their actions, making you good at meetings and understanding your customer’s needs.

 

Did you know that highly emotional intelligent people…

  • Are flexible and good at adapting to change
  • Can distinguish and identify own strengths and weaknesses
  • Are less stressed
  • Listens to and understands their body’s and its limits

Motivation can increase productivity

The company’s productivity depends on the degree to which employees feel motivated. Motivated employees are up to four times as productive as employees that are not motivated. The Danish Knowledge Center links six key concepts to workplace motivation: satisfaction, rewards, involvement, meaning, influence and development. WeFocus is easy to implement in the everyday life and is an efficient tool to ensures continuous high motivation and the effect can be seen in the results.

 

Motivation in practice

It is individually determined what drives the individual. In cooperation with your immediate manager, you can define action points that give you an understanding of what drives you. In that way, you can become the best version of yourself. Action points creates the basis for personal development and high motivation, where involvement, influence and development are important factors in this.

 

Strengthen your ability to execute your knowledge

Image a meeting situation where you are holding back with knowledge that you would like to contribute with but failed to come out with it. Knowledge about cognitive capital explains why executing and bringing our knowledge and experience into play may be a challenge. When we succeed in translating our own knowledge into the present and can form a part of a strong professional community where we feel that our inputs make a difference – here our motivation will increase.

 

Be successful with motivation

WeFocus provides your customer with a strategic tool that with is different functionalities makes it possible to increase motivation through action points and cognitive training. 5 minutes of cognitive training daily makes it possible to strengthen the ability to execute on your knowledge and experience in the present. An effective ability to execute, means that you perform better and can optimally bring your knowledge and experience intro play and by this come up with solutions to complex problems. The tool also includes surveys which makes it possible to track the development of the individual employee and team. This insight makes it possible to respond quickly if an employee’s motivation drops and helps him or her to the right path of becoming a high performer.

Exercise your brain and get more time to do what you love

 

What is your passion in your work? You have probably struggled to get to where you are today, where you feel that you are doing something valuable and important. But you have probably also tried to deal with a heavy administrative task or experienced attending in an unconstructive meeting. The list is long and the extra time to nurture our passion rarely comes by itself. If you want to spend more time on something you like, then you can spend more time on what you love.

 

Find your passion

Engaged employees outperform unengaged employees by 25 %. This means that the well-being of your employees has an impact on the success of the company. But how can you create increased work-satisfaction in your business and give your employees and yourself more energy to do what you love?

 

From brain training to passion

Often we become time optimists and think that we can achieve it all. This is often due to a misjudgment of the time available and often causes us to prioritize the time to cultivate our passion. With brain training you strengthen your cognitive capacity, which means that you will continuously be able to do your best and can be well-suited to do your daily tasks. WeFocus trains the employee to make a bigger profit that you and you employees can use for whatever that drives your passion and gives you more energy.

 

Focus on work-satisfaction

If you, as a manager, do not have the right focus on your employees as people, this can have an impact on the bottom line in the long run. With WeFocus you create a positive foundation for motivating your employees and creating the profit and energy needed to grow your passion! With WeFocus you can take the step together with your customer to create the time for success and at the same time increase work-satisfaction and joy in everyday life.