Underperforming? Try Sleep.

August 28, 2020

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No one feels quite their best, physically or mentally, after a restless night. Falling out of the routine set by our body’s circadian rhythm makes exhaustion more than a nuisance… it becomes an impediment. Simple tasks become difficult, as lack of sleep impairs concentration levels and decision-making skills. Productivity plummets when employees are generally not getting enough sleep. In 2016, the RAND Corporation found that sleep deprivation cost the U.S. economy $411 billion dollars in a year alongside over 1 million lost workdays, either from oversleeping or skipping due to an illness they were more vulnerable to due to lack of sleep. On an individual level, an employee could be losing up to 11 days in productivity and $2280 in wages per year. What is crazier is that even sleeping just 30 extra minutes per night could make the difference!

The common consensus is that adults need about 8 hours of sleep per day to achieve their maximum capacity of productivity the following day. However, on average, adults get around 6.5 hours of sleep. Most people dismiss this 1.5 hour difference, as they have a warped understanding of what sleep is. Rather than simply a passive ‘recharge,’ sleep is a period of mental maintenance, during which countless activities are taking place. Memories are consolidated and stored, glucose and chemical levels are replenished to provide fuel for the brain on the following day, neuroplastic synaptic connections are adjusted, and beta-amyloid plaque build-up is removed.

The effects extend far beyond cognitive function; sleep is integral to athletic and physical performance. Deep sleep is responsible for much of the muscle and tissue restoration and repair, and without sufficient rest, athletes tire 11% faster than their well-rested counterparts, leading to submaximal performance. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute studied the performance of athletes across various sports, and found that well-rested athletes experience increased exercise abilities as a result. More specifically, tennis players have a 4.2% increase in their hitting accuracy, and basketball players shoot 9% more accurately from both the three-point and free throw lines. In addition, reaction times, motivation and focus are aided by sleep, improving performance. 

Even among non-athletes, the physical impacts of losing sleep are serious. Consistent sleep deprivation has been linked to several health issues, including diabetes (Type 2), obesity, and cardiovascular disease, and risk of stroke. Immune function may decrease, leaving one’s systems susceptible to infection or common illnesses, possibly affecting personal and professional life.

In the office, sleep can be the distinguishing factor between an effective leader and workforce, and one that’s unproductive. Studies have found that leaders who arrive sleep-deprived are likely to lose patience and be viewed as less charismatic, which diminishes the experiences of their employees as well. Work environments idolizing sleep deprivation become unhealthy atmospheres in which subordinates become more likely to behave unethically, make incorrect decisions, and procrastinate their assignments. Quality sleep, in contrast, promotes creativity, cognitive skills, emotion management, and problem-solving ability, as well as better working relationships. Companies including Google and Aetna have begun to provide ‘nap pods’ where employees can recharge or cash incentives as encouragement to reach a certain amount of sleep.

Surprisingly, the effects of sleep can bleed into our social lives as well. Researchers at U.C. Berkeley found that sleep-deprived people feel less inclined to enter social interactions, avoiding contact as someone with social anxiety might. Furthermore, those who are unrested are perceived by others as socially repulsive, exacerbating the social-isolation sleep loss fosters in this cyclical manner. Fatigue can hinder emotion regulation and recognition, resulting in this ‘daytime interference’ of our social skills when tired. 

In order to conquer the unhealthy cycle of sleep deprivation, experts suggest 15-20 minute ‘power naps,’ establishing a night-time routine, and turning down bright lights and devices about an hour before bed. However, the most important requirement is to stick with your new and improved 8-hour sleep schedule; only then can you reap the many benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Questions? Here’s a TedEd video about what would happen if we didn’t sleep! 

Sources:

  1. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2017/press-release/
  2. https://www.lifetothefullest.abbott/en_in/articles/finding-a-good-night-s-sleep-and-inner-peace.html
  3. https://www.vpppa.org/connect/blog/sleep-and-its-impact-on-the-modern-day-workplace
  4. https://www.tuck.com/productivity-and-sleep/
  5. https://hbr.org/2018/09/sleep-well-lead-better
  6. https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2016/08/31/sleep-affects-performance%E2%80%8A-%E2%80%8Aand-companies-can/
  7. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/performance/good-nights-sleep-helps-job-performance
  8. https://www.hult.edu/blog/how-sleep-deprivation-affects-work-and-performance/
  9. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-167-sleep-and-athletes 
  10. https://www.thorne.com/take-5-daily/article/the-importance-of-sleep-in-athletic-performance
  11. https://www.fatiguescience.com/blog/5-ways-sleep-impacts-peak-athletic-performance/
  12. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201710/how-lack-sleep-affects-your-social-life
  13. https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/poor-sleep-can-literally-kill-your-social-life

 

Step Outside!

August 14, 2020

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There is a sense of calm everyone associates with nature. Whether it is hiking amongst vibrant layers of fall foliage or watching a waterfall striking the stream below, spending time interacting with nature provides peace and a much-needed break from life’s daily sprint. 

In the age of technology, though, people rarely spend enough time outside and instead get tangled up in high-stress work situations even outside of their 9-5 job. This issue has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, as many feel unsafe leaving quarantine, and the clear temporal boundaries have grayed and bled into what’s typically “alone-” or “family time.” However, it is increasingly important that in uncertain and anxiety-ridden times like these, we find ways to escape and de-stress. 

Doctors throughout the United States are increasingly prescribing time outdoors to their patients. Regularly interacting with nature has been described as, “one of the best self-improvement tools,” and, “a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and maybe even improve your memory.” ‘Regular interaction’ can mean anything from 20 to 30 minutes, 3 days a week, but a goal of at least 120 minutes per week will provide the most benefit. 

Taking this valuable couple of hours to spend in nature has upsides stretching beyond mental health as well. A stressful environment can elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension while suppressing your immune system, but calming nature sounds and a more pleasing environment can reverse those effects. Recently, the scientific fields of ecotherapy and ecopsychology, which aim to positively shape minds with nature, have been growing as nature has been credited for improving mental health, mood, physical health, and vitality.

Upon returning from a moment in nature, many take on a more positive and relaxed mood, feeling energized and refreshed. Nature provides a respite for overactive minds, and time in nature may increase productivity in the new tasks that follow. Dr. David Strayer, who is currently researching the correlation between time in nature and changes in the brain, believes being in nature, “restores depleted attention circuits, which can then help us be more open to creativity and problem-solving.” 

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Picture taken in Central Park. Even in cities, nature provides health benefits… and happiness.

Furthermore, forest-bathing, a practice within ecotherapy, has been shown to improve executive functioning skills such as completing tasks, planning, prioritizing, and managing emotions. These increases in productivity, efficiency, and creativity suggest that time in nature could foster better performance in the workplace. 

Though less studied, nature may also have an impact on one’s social wellbeing and tendencies. Some scientists believe that nature inspires feelings that make us feel connected not only to the environment, but also to others. Nature can strengthen relationships, as being outdoors influences willingness to be trusting, generous, and helpful toward others. A study by University College London found that children’s experiences in the natural world fostered better relationships with teachers and classmates. 

Additionally, a separate study observing a group of Canadian elementary school children found that regular contact with nature over 8 months had profound benefits on children’s pro-social behaviors, including social, language, and communication skills. Though the effect on the social behaviors of adults may not be as drastic, nature can influence our ability to connect with other people nonetheless. Individuals connected to nature tend to be conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, and open, which promotes engagement and sociability. Given that research, don’t you want to mobilize yourself and enjoy some time in nature?

 

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature 
  2. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing 
  3. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_nature_makes_you_kinder_happier_more_creative
  4. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-11-nature-children-confidence.html
  5. https://nebocompany.com/forest-bathing-benefits/ 
  6. http://www.washington.edu/admin/hr/publications/email/pod/convio/leadingedge/su14/leadingedge-nature.html 
  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976/full
  8. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02942/full
  9. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494418307102 

Pro Sports Without Fans: A Psychological Game Changer

July 31, 2020
IMG_1171.jpegA shot from the 7/30/2020 Bruins v. Blue Jackets exhibition game, held with almost no spectators.

As economies start to re-open in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the landscape is shifting drastically for one of the businesses hit hardest by the virus: professional sports. Social-distancing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 means large venues, including stadiums and arenas, are almost entirely closed to fans. Though athletes will be returning to their positions on the field, ice, and court, their dynamic fans won’t be coming to cheer, presenting players with an unfamiliar mental obstacle on game day. Those used to the cheers and jeers of the big stage will be forced to adjust to echoing silence as they compete, and many are worried about the psychological impact the lack of present fans might have on performance. Popular sports lore holds that the relationship between the fans and the athletes is mutually beneficial; the valor of the players generates cheers from the crowd, and those cheers inspire further valor (3).

Without the present support of fans, home-field advantage may virtually be eliminated, and the energy during competition could plummet. Jonathan Fader, former team psychologist for the New York Mets, views energy deficiency as one of the biggest obstacles athletes will face as they return to peak performance under unfamiliar circumstances (2). Comparing the arena to the workplace, he states, “We all require community… If you were at a meeting with your co-workers and only one showed up, you’d have a different energy level.” Fans provide supplemental energy when athletes are approaching exhaustion, giving an extra shot of adrenaline to spark vitality. 

As a result, crowds have proven especially beneficial in events that go on long enough for athletes to become quite tired, producing an effect referred to as ‘social facilitation’ by sports psychologists (7). Carrie Wicks, a sports psychologist who works with a few MLB players said one of her clients recently told her, “the audience is the drug (2) .” She also mentions, “It’s not just competition. It’s a performance. 

Many athletes have a schtick that brings them to peak performance, and that is brought out by the audience (2). ” For instance, some long jumpers and pole vaulters will encourage rhythmic clapping from fans before their pass in order to psyche themselves up, “[using] the energy of the crowds to feed themselves and push themselves,” explains psychologist Kay Porter (7). In other words, the fans’ energy acts as the athletes’ fuel. The presence of fans also pushes athletes toward their ‘flow state’, leading some psychologists to wonder whether athletes can reach their peak performance without the ‘collective unconscious’ backing them. 

In the upcoming months, players will have to learn how to maintain sufficient energy without the natural activation the fanbase supplies. Ultimately it will come down to which athletes are able to successfully strive for meaning, purpose, fuel, and motivation from within themselves.

However, for other professional athletes, a lack of fans and the background noise these raucous onlookers bring with them, could possibly lead to heightened concentration among players in empty stadiums. Fans present a distraction as the competition rages, and without distraction, pro athletes may be able to tap into a deeper focus. Porter states, “accomplished players who are skilled at blocking out noise might not notice a difference at all, while less experienced players might find it easier to concentrate in an empty stadium, especially as the game progresses and the initial weirdness of the situation fades away.” This suggests that ultimately, though an empty venue may not benefit business, it may aid the performance of players, especially inexperienced ones (4). 

Those who are more prone to anxiety under the eyes of a watchful crowd might also benefit from the silence, relieved from the pressure of the physically looming audience. Behavioral scientist Aaron Jeckell believes that the current circumstances will differentiate the player with mental resilience from those who only possess mental toughness (5). The players who can integrate this novel environment into their performance are the ones who will prove mentally resilient. Some expect that the athletes who already devoted time to honing their mental skills pre-pandemic will have an advantage over other players as they head into the upcoming matches.

Typically associated with turnout from fans, ‘home-field advantage’ might also be nullified by the new coronavirus precautions being taken by professional sports leagues around the world. Brain Scalabrine, former NBA player and Celtics broadcaster for NBC Sports Boston, thinks that for players who are rattled by lively road environments or emboldened by the support at home, performance may shift, especially in high stakes games like the playoffs (6). He expects a re-evaluation of each team based on how they play without fans to ensue, implying there may be a dynamic change among teams within each league. 

However, economist and Yale professor of finance Tobias Moskowitz argues otherwise. He believes home-court advantage’s combination of familiar location and zealous crowds has less of an effect on the athletes’ performance, but more on the game-time decisions of referees (6). Under the desire to relieve social pressure as masses of fans toss targeted outbursts, the referee is goaded into viewing plays from the lens of the home team. However, with no fans berating officials, calls may change; home-field advantage will essentially disappear along with the removal of this variable, ultimately affecting the outcome of each game held in an empty stadium.

It is difficult to determine how the lack of turnout for professional sports will generally affect the athletes’ performance. Adjustment periods and performance levels will likely vary among individuals based on experience, mental flexibility, and other factors. As the NHL and MLB are holding games flanked by completely empty seats, questions as to how the organizations might move forward with their seasons are arising, and marketers are hastily refining their creative ideas on how to cultivate a stadium environment similar to the one before COVID-19! 

Sources:

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-18/gaming-tech-replaces-soccer-crowds-to-cheer-on-real-barcelona?utm_campaign=likeshopme&utm_medium=instagram&utm_source=dash%20hudson&utm_content=www.instagram.com/p/CDEH8cQnNfv/
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2020/05/31/sports-return-without-fans-how-athletes-react/5274410002/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/magazine/the-eerie-sound-of-sports-without-fans.html
  4. https://www.thecut.com/2015/04/how-playing-in-an-empty-stadium-affects-athletes.html
  5. https://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/2020/06/14/pro-sports-coronavirus-impact-atmosphere-no-fans-players-reaction/5338591002/
  6. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/05/24/sports/what-will-it-be-like-bostons-athletes-play-front-empty-stands-uncharted-territory/
  7. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-aug-23-he-crowds23-story.html

 

Grief and Acceptance During the Coronavirus

May 11, 2020

The world as we knew it has been flipped upside down and may not return back to “normal” for a long time, if ever. This is upsetting for most of us. We feel as if we have been deprived of our day-to-day lives and privileges for reasons we are not responsible for. It’s ok to not know what you are exactly sad about because of the uncertainty that lies ahead, but what can be acknowledged in this moment is that we are experiencing grief.

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As we sit in quarantine, chewing on the idea of what life has become, because quite frankly we’re too bored to do much else, we reflect on our previous lives, and mourn them. We don’t know what is happening and when it will end. There are so many terrible and sad things in the headlines that it can be hard to keep your chin up and proceed through the day and muster a smile. It feels as though there are more reasons to be sad than happy, which is valid. We are separated from our friends and loved ones, we cannot enjoy our normal routines, and millions of Americans are experiencing the economic damage to top it off. While this may all sound negative, there can be hope. We all know that the last stage of grief is Acceptance, and there are ways to get there. Acknowledging our current situation is a part of the process. As Scott Berinato from the Harvard Business Review shares in his article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”,

Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

Berinato writes that seeing the stages of grief is a crucial part to managing the distress we are experiencing. Each stage of grief can be applied to the situations we are living through the coronavirus. Berinato outlines some examples, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.” It is within acceptance that we can begin to manage our lives while acknowledging the circumstances. We begin to find ways to fill our time or prevent getting the virus and being innovative with ways to stay connected with the people in our lives. And it is in this stage that we build resilience.

Staying grounded can help us be present and not stuck wallowing in the past. Journaling after each day forces us to reflect on what today was and what its presence means. The days can blend together, but every day should mean something different, should be a step towards acceptance whether that be a day where you are navigating virtual work with a good attitude, or mourning the Cinco de Mayo plans you had. Keep in mind how much power our attitudes to the present have on our mindset.

Sometimes we suppress our feelings of sadness because there are people in the world who have it much worse off than we do. That way of thinking can diminish the validity of our emotions. Affirm to yourself that there are many experiencing pain…and you are also feeling a type of pain that it is completely legitimate. Don’t diminish your feelings; you can feel a certain way while also having compassion. Compassion and giving can make us feel better too. If you are feeling lost and as though you don’t have much to contribute to humanity, help out. Donate, write letters to health care workers, order a pizza to be delivered to your local fire station. While I can’t promise it will make life go back to normal, it will give you some meaning, help others, and maybe inspire some hope and acceptance.

Respond With Leadership During Crisis

April 23, 2020

The first step in a pandemic is to assure the health and safety of the affected population, which we are experiencing now in quarantine. But, it is hard to gloss over the economic repercussions we will be seeing at the same time. Just as public health officials and government leaders need to respond to this crisis; business owners and those leading others also need to formulate a plan and communicate it with their people.

Here is a great article by Martin Reeves, Nikolaus Lang, and Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak from the Harvard Business Review that provides tips on navigating your business through the pandemic.

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Working For the… {Insert Reward Here}

April 15, 2020

The 1980’s rock band Loverboy’s one-hit wonder has become a sentiment to the nine-to-fivers in the American workforce. “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” has rung true for a lot of us over the years. You work hard so when Friday afternoon comes along, you can play hard (or Netflix hard). We as a society live under a personal reward system, and a lot of it has to do with how our brains are wired.

Among the necessities for human survival- food, sleep, etc- rewards drive human action. Rewards make us learn as well as bring pleasurable feelings. When we expect a reward, different areas of your brain communicate to our neurons to release dopamine. The reward itself does not do not elicit these responses, but instead the expectation of a reward. Think about when you teach your dog to roll over, enticing them with a treat. It is not eating the dog treat itself that teaches your dog to be motivated to do that action and then store that memory, it is the dopamine release when your dog is expecting the treat. So, now that many people around the world are working from home, in some cases not leaving at all, many feel a lack of motivation. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to this newfound sluggishness. For one, people are not in their normal environment that is designated for the work they do. Also, people are not having in-person contact with their coworkers.

Besides the physical shifts people are experiencing at this moment, there is also a psychological fluctuation occurring.  We can predict that an overwhelming tendency to not complete work as thoroughly as normal is happening due to the lack of our trusty reward system that allows us to persist. Luckily, this disruption can be fixed by implementing incentives to keep us going. Here are a few examples that will be sure to get your reward system activated and release that dopamine.

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1. Make a List

List your activities and tasks for the day, ranging from how much you enjoy the task as well as the time/effort required to complete each. It can help to complete your most challenging task first. During this unprecedented time, we are finding that the morning is most conducive to completing tasks. If you enjoy reading, implement that into your daily routine. Having small rewards throughout your day will make those bigger tasks seem less daunting and you’ll be more inclined to complete them.

2. Plan Your Weekends

Start planning at-home activities for your weekend. Planning theme nights or cooking favorite meals with your family or whoever you’re quarantining with will create some stress-free fun. We tend to feel lost and inactive when we don’t have an agenda of even things we enjoy. Bigger events on your weekend calendar will keep you plugging through the workdays.

3. Look Ahead

In a time when we are all yearning for normalcy, it can be beneficial to reflect on the aspects of your daily life that you took for granted now that they’re put on pause. It is important to look towards the future of post-quarantine and plan for what you want to accomplish or experience, but for the meantime, try and make a list of goals for quarantine. Have you always wanted to try yoga? Or, has the daunting stacks of clothes in your closet been hanging over your head? Now is the perfect time to complete these at-home ambitions. Then, when normal life resumes, you can go into it with all your spring cleaning in the rear-view.

We as a world are being given a very rare opportunity of time. Yes, this is a time where we are grieving the loss of lives and our past-lives, but we can also use this pause to do just that: pause. Becoming aware of our surroundings and those out of our environment can open doors of acknowledging and appreciating the world for what it is and what our place in it may be and how we can change it for the better. We all have the option to come out of this pandemic with personal growth. Now is the time to research that topic you’ve always been interested in, start exercising, or become more involved in your community. No more excuses, it’s our time to do what needs to be done for ourselves and those around us.

Your Focus

August 10, 2018

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Drive Your Performance

July 12, 2018

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Setting Goals for Success

June 14, 2018

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Give Yourself a Mental Edge

May 14, 2018

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