Here are 30 mental hacks to nudge your mind into a more positive state, prime yourself for your best work and avoid the next crash from happening.
1 Set Three Goals For The Day
If you set three attainable goals for each day, you build momentum. Ticking things off is an excellent counter-balance to inertia and will halt self-criticism in its tracks. It will reinforce a belief that you’re making progress.
Following this practice consistently will develop your self-belief and enable you to push on times when things are more difficult. J.D. Meier has some excellent advice on this topic here.
2 Know Your Best Time of Day
Some of us are larks, and some are owls. Which one are you?
Knowing your optimal time of day means you can time your most difficult decisions or most challenging work to coincide with when you are at your peak.
You are more likely to be successful at this time than any other.
3 Use a Decision-Making Tool
When you have a big decision to take, use a tool to help counteract your biases. For example, confirmation bias can blind you to critical counter-factual data.
So actively seek out contradictory information or intelligence before you decide. You could ask a team member to play this role, so they investigate and present the opposite argument.
4 Avoid Making Decisions When You’re Emotional Or Tired
Recognise when your emotions are running high. If you make decisions in this state, you may not consider all of the angles. Similarly, you become prone to adopting the line of least resistance when tired.
5 Break A Big Problem Into Smaller Parts
Trollope did this when writing novels. Instead of setting a goal to write a book or even a chapter, his goal was to write 250 words in fifteen minutes.
When you break a big problem down into smaller parts, you get a regular reward as you meet each new milestone.
Regularly hitting milestones creates a positive flow and boosts your self-confidence. James Clear wrote an excellent piece about Trollope’s approach which you can read here.
6 Get Some Sunshine
One of the causes of tiredness can be high levels of melatonin in your system. Make sure your body understands it’s daytime by exposing it to sunlight.
Step outside and get a breath of fresh air. Not looking at a blue computer screen before bed (switch to night shift on iPads and iPhones) will avoid your brain thinking you’re still in the daytime — which will also promote better sleep habits too.
7 Drink Water
If you’re feeling sluggish, this might be because you’re dehydrated. Keep yourself topped up with regular doses of water and your brain will perform at it’s best.
8 Take Frequent Breaks
Use a Pomodoro timer to break up your day into segments. Every twenty or thirty minutes, stand up and move around. You'll find your energy levels increase, and you will perform better if you do.
9 Get Out Of Your Head
If you’re feeling anxious, your thoughts might be looping around and around as you focus on the thing that's making you worried. Make an effort to engage with your environment.
- Look out of the window and see what’s there.
- Check what your colleagues are doing.
- Go and get a drink of water.
Taking yourself outside of your head will break into the loop and allow a bit of space to emerge for you to develop some new thoughts.
10 Keep A Well-Being Journal
I’ve written before about the benefits of journaling. Keeping a record of your well-being can help you look for correlations and patterns. Understanding what activities or situations can negatively affect you can enable you to make some new choices.
I use Exist to collect this information which summarises things for me in a dashboard. Reviewing the associations makes visualising possible correlations very simple to see.
11 Stop Constantly Checking Your Email
Nothing breaks up your focus like dipping in and out of email. Email is someone else’s to-do list aimed at you.
The more you look at it, the more jobs you’ll see. Your inbox will distract you from the essential task at hand.
Instead, make a time two or three times a day when you will look at email and remove all notifications for every device. You can read my post on email management here.
12 Drink Coffee
In addition to remaining hydrated, 100mg of caffeine has a measurable, positive impact on memory.
13 Keep Photos Of Loved Ones Close By
Keeping photos of your loved ones in happy moments nearby will ensure that you notice these scenes regularly.
Research has shown that this will help trick your brain into thinking that the happy scenes displayed in the photos are the norm, priming you to have a more joyful and optimistic disposition.
14 Make A List of What Makes You Happier
In a moment of downtime, compile a list of all the things that you enjoy and make you happy. The next time you are struggling with life, open up this file for some homemade remedies that you can immediately put into action to lift your mood.
15 Talk To Yourself
Bizarre though it sounds, verbalising your thoughts can have a significant effect on how you feel. If you can say out loud what is bothering you, it can be easier to understand what you need to do to fix it.
Equally, if you have an anxiety nagging away at you, locating it and saying what it is out loud can settle your mind down and allow you to focus on taking the next available action.
16 Face Your Fears
When you are worried about something, it helps if you can identify the worst case scenario.
When you’ve faced up to the worst thing that could happen and considered what you might do under these worst-case circumstances, your fear will naturally subside.
Equally, it is often the case that the dread you are feeling doesn’t stand up to close examination. So when you’re worried about something, don’t push it away. Allow yourself to identify the specific cause and then examine it.
17 Move Out Of Your Comfort Zone
If you always stay with what’s comfortable, you’re not going to have much confidence in dealing with some unusual event that requires you to step beyond your typical range.
The more often you push the envelope, the more familiar this will feel and the less stressful it will be when you are forced to do something beyond your usual self-imposed limitations.
By increasing your experience of successfully pushing out of your zone of comfort, you are normalising the sensation and so preparing yourself to cope better with the unexpected.
18 Learn To Breathe
OK so you know how to breathe — but do you know how to focus on your breath?
A mindfulness practice often centres on following the breath for a reason. When you focus in this way, you are staying in the present moment, and you will notice all of your thoughts rising and falling as you focus on your breath.
Stilling your mind in this way is a very healing activity and will create more room for happiness to develop in the moment as well as opening up your creativity and problem-solving capacity.
When you feel gripped by anxiety or stress, it pays to remember to breathe. Stop and take five deep breaths, focusing just on how that feels.
You’ll feel immediately calmer and more focused if you do.
19 Overcome Your Negativity Bias
Many people have a default setting that tends to respond to things negatively. ‘I won’t be able to do that’ might be more positively framed as ‘I don’t know if I can do this, but it might be fun/interesting to find out.’
Listen to your internal voice and see what kind of first reaction you’re getting. If it’s there's a negative tendency, consciously try to reframe it positively.
To begin with, this will feel awkward but it is possible to retrain your brain so that in future it will start in a positive place.
When your starting position is habitually positive, you’ll be happier and more optimistic which will allow you to access opportunities where once there were only problems.
20 Don’t Confuse Memory With Fact
We all tend to ruminate from time to time. When looking back, it’s sometimes easy to believe that things were worse than they were.
If you don’t think this is so, it’s easy to run an experiment. The next time you do something that you feel was really bad, ask for feedback from your colleagues.
The chances are that you will discover you have been way more critical of yourself than anyone else.
21 Practice Gratitude
I have written before about keeping a gratitude journal. I keep mine in Day One and fill it in each day.
Evidence shows that when you habitually look for things to be grateful for, your whole disposition becomes more open and confident. People who do this are far more likely to succeed at work than those who don’t.
Each evening, before you go to bed, find three things which you feel deserve some gratitude. Write them down and as you do, experience how it feels to be grateful, even for the small stuff.
22 Increase Your Curiosity
Cultivating curiosity is a path that will lead you to discover more about yourself and the people around you.
Edgar H. Schein has detailed the powerful impact of this in his excellent book The Gentle Art of Humble Inquiry. Increasing your curiosity will bring you closer to everyone you work with, reveal insights that you would never have otherwise seen and enrich your day.
Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling[footnote]Note about Amazon Affiliates links.If you click on the Amazon link I will get a small reward at no extra cost to you. Feel free to Google the link instead if you wish.[/footnote]
Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
With this mindset, you never stop believing there is more you can learn, and so you nurture a capacity to develop yourself and those around you.
Being open to learning something new is the polar opposite of having a closed mind. What kind of person would you rather have as a friend, someone with an open or closed mind?
24 Refuse To Accept Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
When you catch yourself thinking ‘I could never do that’ stop your train of thought and stay there for a while.
Why are you thinking this?
Maybe you couldn’t do it right now, but is there any reason why you couldn’t do it in time?
When something seems very far away and unattainable, a good response would be to see whether there is a plan available that could take you there. One thing is for sure, if you plan to fail, you’ll fail.
So don’t close down a possibility with a reflexive thought. If the goal is attractive, why not look at what it would take just to take the first small step?
25 Ask What Would Make Me Happier?
It’s amazing how many times we wake up each day and then continue to do the things which are making us unhappy.
If you’re in a rut, one outstanding practice is to clear your desk, get a blank piece of paper and just write down all the things that could make you happier right now.
The chances are that you’ll find something you can do that will immediately make you feel better. You could even file the list in your Positive Thoughts document and keep adding to it over time.
26 Ask Yourself What Your Intentions Are
It’s easy to let one day follow the next day in a pattern that feels like an unbreakable routine. Try this instead: once a week review what you’ve accomplished in the week and make a note of how you feel. Look at what you’ve written and challenge yourself to consider:
‘Is that how I intended to spend my time and did I how much of my time did I spend on taking action on my most important goals?’
Critically evaluating how you spend your time each week and comparing that to what you intend can shift you out of acceptance and into taking action. You can make your life better, one small step at a time.
27 Focus On Doing One Thing
When you’re busy, it can feel like things are coming at you from every direction.
The evidence shows that switching your attention continuously from one thing to another drains your brain’s resources. Multi-tasking is impossible — what you do is switch your attention very rapidly, so it feels like you are juggling many balls at once.
The truth is this constant task-switching drains your brain’s energy store and eventually degrades your cognitive capability.
If you want to do your best work, try to order your priorities and manage your time so that in any given moment or allocated period, you are entirely focused on only one thing at a time.
28 Do The Most Important Task First
Often the most important task is an ugly brute of a thing, and you will put it off. When you do this, your mind keeps that loop open — it knows it’s important and the knowledge will keep bothering you until you do it.
If you recall when you got round to do something you’ve been putting off, I bet more than often than not, you noticed two things.
First, it took a lot less energy to get it done than you were anticipating. Second, boy did it feel good to tick that box! So take aim at that critical task and get it done first thing.
29 Take Frequent Breaks
The resources at your disposal to complete any task or job are time, your energy and your attention.
Your energy is a renewable resource. Time is not.
So if you want to make the best of the time you have available, make good choices about what you choose to focus on and do everything you can to preserve and renew your energy.
Taking frequent breaks during the day isn’t a sign that you’re slacking. What you’re doing is re-fuelling and priming yourself for peak performance.
30 Tell Yourself That Being Successful Is Only Natural
In your life, you’ve reached the point that you’re now at through years of struggle and hard work.
From now on, tell yourself that you’ve earned whatever success you’ve obtained and that you can expect more good things to keep flowing, so long as you maintain good health and a positive outlook.
No-one is perfect, that’s what being a human being is all about. In the end, the one person who can define success for you is well, you.
You’ve done the things you’ve done, and no-one can take that away from you. With the right context, some self-management (see above) you can expect to keep developing and growing. Success — however you define it, will then surely follow.
I hope you’ll find something on this list that you can use. Our brains are very malleable — the neuroscientists call this plasticity. We can re-wire our brains over time. Why not redesign the way your brain works?
Which mental hacks do you use?