How to Actually Keep Calm and Carry On

Crown designed by Marie Ringeard from The Noun Project

Crown designed by Marie Ringeard from The Noun Project

Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmartand author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and, recently wrote a piece on how successful people stay calm. The key takeaways are to:

Appreciate What You Have – Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.

Avoid Asking “What If?” – The more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control.

Stay Positive – Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free.

Disconnect – When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline gives your body a break from a constant source of stress.

Limit Your Caffeine Intake – The fight-or-flight mechanism [amplified by caffeine] sidesteps rational thinking in favour of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email.

Sleep – When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed.

Squash Negative Self-Talk – When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, “It’s time to stop and write them down.” Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking.

Reframe Your Perspective – You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective.

Breathe – The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back.

Use Your Support System – Recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.

Hormesis is the term used to describe generally positive biological responses to low exposures of toxins and other stressors (which if administered in large doses, would prove dangerous). In order to break plateaus and grow as creative professionals, we must intermittently stress ourselves out. But that should never come at the cost of burning out. Working hard on challenging projects, in conjunction with Bradberry’s principles, will yield creative and professional hormesis.

Read Bradberry’s full article on how to keep calm and carry on over at Forbes.

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Embrace JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)

Balloon by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Balloon by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) often leads you to reluctantly accept invitations to things that ultimately drain your time and energy. And while there are many benefits of being alone, unfortunately solitude gets the short end of the stick in a society that tends to favor extroverts and put the power of social interaction on a pedestal. 

Anil Dash proposes that we instead embrace JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out:

Increasingly, my default answer to invitations is “no.” No, I’m not going to go. And when well-intentioned hosts inevitably point out, “You’re going to regret not coming!” I won’t say it out loud, but I’ll probably think, “No, I really won’t.”

Tom Ford said it right:  “time and silence are the most luxurious things today.” Guard your time from things that don’t warrant your immediate attention or leave you feeling drained. Go out on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

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Dwight Knowlton: Choose Your Perfect

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As creatives, we want everything designed to precision. However, when your time is limited, you need to decide where to focus your energy. When Bulbstorm visual director Dwight Knowlton decided to self publish his children’s book The Little Red Racing Car, he learned that you need to focus your perfection on the products that are going to last:

One of the most important lessons that I’ve had to learn is to “choose my perfect.” I have to be willing to let imperfect work out the door if it’s disposable or can be updated.

For Knowlton, things like a book cover mock up and email newsletter serve their purpose, but will ultimately be discarded. By letting imperfect work that is a little bit more utilitarian out the door, Knowlton can save his “best attempts at ‘perfect’ for the products themselves.”

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Manage Your Energy: Are You Engaged or Unengaged?

Pulse by im icons from The Noun Project

Pulse by im icons from The Noun Project

As we free up more time and increase our per-hour output, we can easily exhaust our physical, mental and emotional energy by working longer and harder. To help manage our energy, blogger Penelope Trunk suggests re-imagining our time by splicing it into engaged time vs. unengaged time:

People actually don’t mind working long hours when they are engaged. Burnout is not a result of how much work you’re doing but what type of work you’re doing. So instead of organizing time into work time and personal time, you could organize it into time when you like what you’re doing and time when you don’t like what you’re doing. This is actually my big gripe with Tim Ferriss. He says he only works a 4 -hour week, but he really means he only does four hours a week of work that is not engaging to him.

And as the gray area between work and life becomes ever murkier, this can be a great mindset to help find your balance. If you have high-pressure life events that can’t be avoided, it might be a good idea to reschedule that big presentation or huge project deadline for another day (or vice versa).

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How to Be a Happier Entrepreneur

Castle designed by James Christopher for the Noun Project

Castle designed by James Christopher for the Noun Project

Being an entrepreneur can mean a demanding, unpredictable schedule; spreading oneself way too thin; and trying to pull off tremendous, seemingly impossible feats. This sometimes leads to burnout, and even if we don’t want to admit it, unhappiness. Matthew Toren penned a piece for Entrepreneur about habits of healthy, happy, and wise entrepreneurs. One of the best practices that leads to happiness? Setting and enforcing boundaries. Sounds obvious, but definitely easier said than done when you’re trying to please everyone from employees to spouses. Toren recommends:

For example, if you commit to your partner that Friday night is date night, you have to enforce the boundaries of your business creeping into your Friday nights. If you set the boundary that every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. you’re at the gym, you can’t let your staff infringe on that boundary with early morning meetings.

Boundaries are really about discipline. Exercising our power to stick to our word and values helps to minimize conflict, guilt, and that doing-too-much mentality.

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Find New Clients the Creative Way

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:

10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.

15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.

32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.

34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.

We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?

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10 Science-Backed Ways to Spark Creativity

Child designed by Joey Edwards from the Noun Project

Child designed by Joey Edwards from the Noun Project

Research over the last decade has shown that there are proven methods for sparking creative insights. If you want to be more creative, author and researcher Jonah Lehrer explains at The Wall Street Journal, you’ll simply need to coax your brain into it. Lehrer gives us 10 tips on how to do just that, here are some of our favorites:

Get Groggy: According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day—think of a night person early in the morning—performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%.

Daydream Away: Research led by Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that people who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.

Think Like A Child: When subjects are told to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds, they score significantly higher on tests of divergent thinking, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire.

Laugh It Up: When people are exposed to a short video of stand-up comedy, they solve about 20% more insight puzzles.

While creativity has been viewed as magical concept for centuries, research like that Lehrer points to shows that it’s little more than a series of cognitive tools our brains use to solve problems. Learning how to hone those skills (as Lehrer explains) means we can spark it in ourselves and our work whenever we need it most.

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