In this unusual time, what are the biggest things affecting you right now?
I recently asked this question to 900 Mindvalley students in a live Zoom call, and out of eight answers they overwhelmingly chose two.
The first came as no surprise, with 29% reporting they were most impacted by fears about money, abundance, or losing their jobs.
However, the second caught my attention.
Interestingly, another 29% voted that their biggest concern was lack of focus and procrastination.
In the midst of a global recession, why were people equally concerned about procrastination?
I really wanted to understand it.
So I sat down with award-winning author and world-renowned performance expert Steven Kotler on the Mindvalley Podcast to help make sense out of all this.
According to Steven, right now concentration is low and procrastination is through the roof for two critical reasons:
“We’re facing too much fear and we don’t have enough energy to handle it.”
In other words, a global crisis quite literally sends your mind into a state of paralysis.
Heartbreaking headlines on the global death toll instantly flood your brain with norepinephrine and cortisol.
And when these chemicals overwhelm your system with anxiety, the part of the brain handling focus, creative flow, and problem solving becomes completely inaccessible.
However, this isn’t something you have to live with until this passes over.
Steven swears by these six daily practices to help manage your energy, mitigate fear, and accomplish even more under mounting pressure.
1. Social Support
At a time when face-to-face communication is a rare commodity, Steven urges:
“We should be practicing physical distancing, not social distancing.”
As human beings, we’re biologically wired for connection as part of a greater tribe or community.
In other words, the wider our social circle, the safer we feel.
Now more than ever, daily check-ins with loved ones are essential ingredients to your well-being.
However, this doesn’t have to be an invitation to run through a global news recap.
At least once or twice a day Steven calls up friends and family to say:
“I love you, I miss you… This is a COVID-free conversation.”
Unless they have a health crisis that requires your immediate attention, you are in no way obligated to talk about the coronavirus.
In his own life, Steven lets his loved ones know that while he does want to hear about their life, he’s doing this to take a break from that and try to get his head right.
Because the truth is, your peace of mind is precious.
So if a conversation about the current crisis is draining your joy, it’s okay to change the subject.
On a side note: Steven also highly recommends media fasts if you’re having trouble focusing.
As he puts it,
“Unless you have a direct crisis you’re dealing with, shut yourself off from all news outlets for 24-48 hours, THEN try working and see how that feels.”
We’ve all been told: be grateful, count your blessings, and appreciate what you have.
But why is this so important?
There are several concrete neurological benefits you receive from giving thanks.
Conscious gratitude practices completely change the way your brain processes fear, anxiety, and even depression.
In a UC Berkeley study, 300 students being counseled for various mental health problems were asked to journal every day.
One group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts, and the other wrote letters about what they’re most grateful for.
Then, nearly three months AFTER the study ended, the gratitude journaling group reported significantly higher levels of well-being.
And let’s be honest, we could all use more of that right now.
Steven suggests to write down three things you’re grateful for every morning and dive deep into one of the points.
You can also write a list of 10 things you’re grateful for if you make sure you feel that gratitude fully.
However you decide to do this, know that writing in a gratitude journal for five minutes a day will give you all the emotional benefits you need.
Whether you practice breathwork, meditation, or another practice entirely, one thing is certain: your body and mind need space to breathe.
Steven says you should block out at least 11-20 minutes of conscious mindfulness a day for one simple reason: Fear lives in the future, in the unknown.
When you focus on the present, you will train your brain to be less anxious, overwhelmed, and reactive in general.
This is because on a biological level, mindfulness quite literally changes how your brain works.
Meditation and breathwork lower cortisol and norepinephrine in the brain which cause anxiety— this allows you to respond thoughtfully to a new danger or challenge, and not just react.
To increase his own performance, Steven sits in an infrared sauna and practices breathwork for 20 minutes every day.
And if you’re looking for a breathwork technique for a stronger sense of calm and focus, Wim Hof breathing is one of his personal favorites.
This method helps you relax, build resilience, and vastly improves your cardiovascular health.
Along with its health benefits, exercise is essential to building focus and creative flow.
You know the moment when…
Your mind is overloaded.
You’re on the brink of losing it.
That means you’ve officially reached “the struggle phase” of flow.
And the only way to reach phase two is to take your mind off of the problem entirely.
According to Steven, you need to work out 20-40 minutes a day until it “gets quiet upstairs.”
In other words, you work out until your inner critic, worrier, or over-thinker shuts down.
And once the brain is relaxed, all those feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are released.
Focus returns, creativity kicks back in, and you can work through problems you were stuck on for hours.
Because you’re finally giving your mind a chance to rest, replenish and come back stronger.
5. Nutrition and Hydration
In many ways, two of the key ingredients that help you get into flow are learned in kindergarten: Drink water and practice healthy eating habits.
In order to have enough energy to focus on the task at hand, a balanced diet of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats is crucial.
Besides boosting your immunity and clearing away toxins, water also carries nutrients to your cells. That’s why you’re hit with a wave of fatigue at the first sign of dehydration.
Similarly, afternoon brain fog sets in if you’ve eaten a heavy meal, or haven’t eaten for a few hours at all.
The brain needs nourishment every couple hours to process information and perform at its highest level. That’s one reason why it’s often recommended to have several small meals throughout the day.
So if you’re losing focus fast, have a glass of water and / or a light snack before jumping back into that big project.
By now, everyone should know that, in order to perform at your best, you need at least seven to eight hours of sleep at night. There are occasionally exceptions to this rule, but not many.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that a lack of sleep can actually stimulate an anxiety disorder.
A full night sleep recharges your brain, improves your focus, boosts your mood, and heightens concentration. However, when you haven’t slept enough, you don’t have enough energy reserves.
And when you’re facing a difficult task, your fear level shoots up because your body isn’t prepared to handle it.
So if you don’t manage to get around eight hours in, schedule an afternoon nap.
Your body and your mind will pay you back in spades.
Steven advises everyone he trains to become a peak performer to do two or three of these practices every day.
However, in a time of crisis, he says that you really shouldn’t skip any of them, and you need all the energy you can get.
This is the time to double-down on practices that bring you focus, clarity and peace.
When all is said and done, and the world wakes up from its momentary slumber, you will walk into your new life ready for any challenges or disasters that cross your path.
As they say, you should never let a good crisis go to waste. And as Steven puts it:
“Crisis is a phenomenal opportunity for growth.”
Let’s use this chaos to show the world and ourselves that we can rise to the occasion and become better for it.