The Brain Hack to optimize work performance and life balance Legend has it, a falling apple struck Issac Newton on the head before he had his “aha moment” on the laws of gravity. While that’s not exactly how his big discovery went down; it took a hard hit to the head before my own personal discovery. How It Began 2016 was off to a hell of a start. I proposed to my best friend and long time girlfriend. I traveled Europe, jumped at a great new opportunity that landed me in Vancouver, and had learned I was shortlisted for Marketing Magazine Top 30 under 30.

Riding this rollercoaster of life, it doesn’t take much to knock you out of your seat and in late July, 3 months after arriving to Vancouver, things came to screeching halt. I had been playing in a rec league basketball game when I got struck. Not an apple, but a hard hit to the head. I went down, but like every time before it – I got up. I got up, I continued. I suffered a concussion but I choose to continue. There is no pause button on life and when you constantly live in fast forward, it’s hard to know when you need to stop. It took constant caution from friends, family, coworkers and multiple physicians to get me to stop, and after a month of struggling, I finally gave in. My road to recovery was tough, but eye opening. I had to learn to be okay in the quite, turn off the screen, slow down and like any physical recovery process – treat my injury.

Re-establishing my metric for success During my recovery, I narrowed in on why I had such a hard time taking time off. I came to the conclusion that my metric for success was off. Way off in fact. Through several years of working in the industry, it seemed I had formed the idea that the key metric for success came down to one thing; how busy you were. Optically it appeared that people were talking more about how busy they were than the actual work they were putting out. Ask anyone how work is going and 9 times out of 10 they will say busy. We wear it like a badge of honor; happy to talk about all the meetings we attend, make work projects or how little sleep we are running on. In the past, coming back from vacation, I was even proud to boast about the 400+ emails I received while gone instead of talking about how I enjoyed my time off. There had to be a shift. I needed to shift. My newly freed time led me to hold a mirror to myself. This, in combination with wanting to accelerate my recovery, led me to something that genuinely transformed my life.

Mindfulness. The Turning Point

As someone who is an admitted phone addict and avid multi tasker, the sensation of doing absolutely nothing, though scary at first, was exactly what the doctor ordered (literally). Once I became aware of the science behind practicing mindfulness, I was hooked.

When I returned to work, I volunteered to present at the next installation of The Find. The Find gives employees of Cossette, 45 minutes to share something they are passionate about to the entire staff. I decided I would talk about my journey to mindfulness. At first I was weary. Here’s a guy who is considered one protein shake away from being a bro, and he’s going to talk mindfulness to a bunch of people in advertising? But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The reception and curiosity it sparked was hand on heart one of the most humbling experiences I have had. Not only were they receptive but it sparked a mindful culture at Cossette with more and more employees practicing. Backed by science, let me share with you the benefits of practising mindfulness and how it will make you more optimal at work, while driving a stronger work life balance, in as little as ten minutes a day.

Who Doesn’t Want to be Happy? A Harvard study found people are lost in thought 47% of the time which showed a direct correlation with being unhappy. Lost in thought = unhappy? I didn’t get it at first but after delving in further, it made total sense. If you are lost in thought, you are not in the moment. If you’re not in the moment, you’re appreciative. Without being appreciative it is difficult to be happy with what you have. Practicing mindfulness will allow you to become more present in the moment, thus allowing you to be grateful for all the little everyday blessings.

Mindfulness is Contagious: 

We spend more time with coworkers than we do our families and how we act affects those around us. Just like stress and negativity are contagious within a team, mindfulness can have the same effect. Things like paying attention, learning and comprehending all have a positive effect when practicing mindfulness. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, what you say and do matters. It rubs off on the people around you. When you are calm and centred, it can indirectly urge everyone to behave the same, and that eventually can infuse within the culture around you.

Improves your focus

There have been recent studies that show mindfulness has an effect on the parts of our brain that control our self-regulation. When you enhance this part of your brain it can be immensely helpful to avoid multi-tasking and productivity killers like mindless web browsing or constant check-ins with social media. The University of Washington tested the effects of mindfulness based meditation on multi-tasking and the result were conclusive. “We found that only those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative emotion after task performance, as compared with the other two groups. In addition, both the meditation and the relaxation groups showed improved memory for the tasks they performed.”

Be a better listener

Two sayings I love: 1) “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus 2) “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey For a lot of us our jobs depend on being able to be present in the moment and digest the flow of information that is being given to us.

Our job performance is predicated on our ability to be focused & connected with industry, brand and category trends and the ever changing consumer. Think of mindfulness as a filter for your mind, straining out what doesn’t matter and allowing you to focus at the real task at hand. Mindfulness is about doing only one thing at a time. Look at it as a catalyst for a purified version of your attention and thoughts. Let’s also not forget, if you notice when people aren’t listening to you, that means people notice when you’re listening to them.

Stronger Relationship Skills

Another recent study from Harvard Medical School shows that mindfulness increases the grey matter in your brain. This is the region of the brain that is associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. These are foundational aspects to building productive relationships at home and in a professional capacity. If you continue to refine your approach to mindfulness and making it habit, you’re not only going to be much more in tune with your own feelings, but also those around you.

Reduce Stress

Want to know something scary? Continued stress can actually change our brain structure, from the size to how it functions down to a gene level. Continuous stress increases the activity in the fear part of your brain. When this part is activated it will actually weaken the part of your brain responsible for learning, memory and stress control. Fewer new brain cells being made, means continued stress at work will actually be hindering your performance by crippling your ability to learn and retain new information. Strangely, stress is actually addictive and despite a smorgasbord of evidence that stress can wreak havoc on your body physically and mentally, it is still a major issue in our industry. Mindfulness is a tool to help out in a massive way. It can be as simple as closing your eyes and counting your breathes. The great news is our brains are amazing. Not only can you stop the negative effects of stress, but you can actually reverse it through mindful practice in a relatively short amount of time.

A Shift in Culture Major companies aren’t treating mindfulness like a fad. They are using it as building blocks for their employee growth and ultimately their bottom line. More and more companies are becoming interested in training programs for practising mindfulness. Some companies leading the way are P&G, General Mills and Huffington Post. Google has had a mindfulness class since 2007 that had a 6 month wait list in 2016. The shift has started. While it is common to praise someone for working out 3-5 times a week for their physical health, we need to continue to change the stigma around working on your mental health and make it as big or bigger priority than we do our bodies. I am proud to say I work at an agency that has adopted this philosophy, but it needs to go industry wide.

At Cossette we have pioneered Mindful Monday, where as a group we sit and mediate for 10 minutes to kick off our week. We venture on digital detox hikes, where we break free from technology for a day to reengage with nature and ourselves. So if you happen to be reading this, don’t wait for something to happen to your brain before you decide to take care of it. In as little as 10 minutes a day you can reap substantial benefits in both work and play.

Mindfulness isn’t just a tool that has helped me recover from a concussion but guided me to becoming a better employee, friend and fiancé because of it. Looking to get a jump start into mediation? Like everything else, there’s an app for that. I personally use the app Headspace but there are several you can try out. See what works for you. In closing, I will leave you with this quote from Eckhart Tolle – “In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Cheers to the present and a Mindful 2017.

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