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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Want to Get Better at Storytelling or Collaborating? Play Dungeons & Dragons.

Designed by Derek Palladino for the Noun Project

Designed by Derek Palladino for the Noun Project

Now in its 40th anniversary, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has emerged as an initial force behind many creatives’ success. As a piece in the New York Times explains:

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play. . .

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

 But the skills learned through play go deeper than narrative writing:

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

 (Relevant side-note: Community devoted not one but two whole episodes to it.)

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How to (Politely) Dodge Job Recommendations

Elephant in the Room designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

Elephant in the Room designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

If an acquaintance, or someone you’re just not that close enough to, asks for a job recommendation that you feel uncomfortable giving, New York Magazine suggests you try one of the following “humanely disingenuous” approaches:

1. Respond enthusiastically with information of limited value: “Would it help if I gave you the name of the human-resources person? I think I might even have his e-mail!”

2. Issue a self-deprecating disclaimer of helplessness: “I don’t know how much my word counts on this one . . . ”

3. Technically do the favor, but warn off the prospective employer either explicitly or between the lines: “An acquaintance of mine is looking for something. I’ve known him ever since we went to Bennington! He dropped out though.”

If they take the next step in asking you why they didn’t get picked or why you won’t personally recommend them, remember that no one can get better without feedback — just make sure you give them criticism without being critical.

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Richard Feynman: What Counts as “Worthwhile” Work?

Problem Solving designed by Rob Maslin from the Noun Project

Problem Solving designed by Rob Maslin from the Noun Project

How can we know which projects are worthwhile for us and which are trivial? At Hotel Genius, a letter from the late quantum physicist Richard Feynman explains why the humbler projects are also some of the most important for us to work on:

The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to…

I would advise you to take even simpler, or as you say, humbler, problems until you find some you can really solve easily, no matter how trivial. You will get the pleasure of success, and of helping your fellow man, even if it is only to answer a question in the mind of a colleague less able than you. You must not take away from yourself these pleasures because you have some erroneous idea of what is worthwhile…No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.

The advice Feynman gives is simple enough, yet how often do we feel like we need to work on something colossal in order to feel validated and purpose-driven?

While you may feel pressure to revolutionize the race to mars, to write a #1 best-selling novel, or to start a business and sell it for billions of dollars, the real worthwhile work to be done is any work that you can realistically do now. The problems you solve and the work you do now may not be work “close to the gods” (to use Feynman’s words), but that doesn’t make it any less important.

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Avoid Playing Email Ping Pong With “If…Then” Statements

Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Ping Pong by Janina Reinhard from The Noun Project

Scheduling meetings over email is like playing ping pong, where a simple “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” could easily turn into an endless volley of back-and-forth replies. 

In The 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferris suggests a simple strategy to streamline things:

Email communication should be streamlined to prevent needless back-and-forth. Thus, an email with “Can you meet at 4:00 pm?” would become “Can you meet at 4:00 pm? If not, please advise three other times that work for you.”

Get into the habit of considering what “if … then” actions can be proposed in any e-mail where you ask a question.

The “if…then” statement preempts follow-up questions and prevents them altogether. By avoiding separate dialogues, you dramatically reduce emails sent. Let the other person give you some options while you get back to doing real work.

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Weekend Reads: Should We Only Work 4 Days a Week?

Calendar designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

Calendar designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our best stuff from the past week for your weekend reading pleasure.

What We’re Reading

The 2nd richest man in the world thinks you should only work 3-4 days a week (and his employees are testing it out for us).

How creative hobbies make us better at, well, basically everything.

If we constantly think “failure is good” what does that make the CEO who cuts over 10,000 jobs?

From 99U

In the “Information Age” everything gets measured. So how can we stay sane? “The real work,” Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova says, “is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on numbers.” Read the rest of our conversation with the internet’s hardest working curator.

Post-its made for your phone, a Stay Home Club tee, and the best headphones for those 12-hour days. Every now and then we round up our favorite tools that make us want to get to work. Get your wallets ready, kids.

Catch more links like these by signing up for our weekly newsletter below, which features our best content, delivered fresh every Sunday.


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Headphones Are Shortening Your Career

Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

It’s said that the average “prime” of a creative career is just 10 years. After that, the ideas dry up and with them the motivation to work outside the box. How can we extend our creative potential to last 20, 30, or even 50 years? Over at Wired UK, John Hegarty shares his insights on the matter:

Remove the headphones. Inspiration is everywhere — you just have to see it. If you accept that creative people are “transmitters” — they absorb all kinds of stimuli, thoughts and ideas and they reinterpret them and send them back to the world as pieces of inspiration — then it’s obvious that the more you see, connect and juxtapose, the more interesting your work will be.

The more you stay connected and stimulated, the greater the relevance of your work. By walking around in a digital cocoon you push the world away; great creative people constantly embrace it. You need to nourish your soul and your imagination.

Headphones—whether metaphorical or literal—block out the very stimulus that keeps us inspired as creatives.

While blocking out the world and focusing on our work allows us to accomplish more, it also hinders our ability to receive new input and utilize the world around us for generating even more creative ideas.

Hegarty explains how taking off your headphones isn’t the only way to strengthen (and lengthen) your creative career though. If you want to have a long and productive career as a creative, you need to avoid cynicism and its ability to undermine belief in your work, Hegarty explains. It’s also important to mix with the best creatives around us, to not hide our work or ideas.

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