Seek Out "Just-Manageable Challenges" in Areas of Your Life in Which You Want to Grow2 of 10
Just manageable challenges are those that barely exceed your current abilities. If you feel fully in control, make the next challenge a bit harder; If you feel anxious or so aroused that you can't focus, dial things down a notch. (If you want to add challenges to your training, work on your strength with the New IronStrength Workout from Runner's World.)
Cultivate Deep Focus and Perfect Practice3 of 10
Define a purpose and concrete objectives each time you set out to do meaningful work, focus and concentrate deeply, even if doing so isn't always enjoyable, and remove distractions such as smartphones (remember that out of sight is truly out of mind). Do only one thing at a time, and next time you feel like multitasking, remind yourself that research shows it's not effective. Remember that quality trumps quantity.
Work in Discrete Blocks4 of 10
Divide your work into blocks of 50 to 90 minutes (this may vary by task). Start even smaller if you find yourself struggling to maintain attention. If deep-focus work is new to you, start with blocks as short as 10 to 15 minutes. As you cultivate a deep-focus practice, gradually increase the duration in which you go deep. For almost all activities, 2 hours should be the uppermost limit for a working block.
Nurture a Growth or Challenge Mindset5 of 10
Keep in mind that how you view something fundamentally changes how your body responds to it. In situations when you feel the sensation of stress, remind yourself that this is your body's natural way of preparing for a challenge. Take a deep breath and channel the heightened arousal and sharper perception into the task at hand. Push yourself to view stress productively, and even to welcome it. You'll not only perform better but also improve your health.
Grow Your Mindful Muscle With Meditation So that You Can More Easily Choose Rest6 of 10
Find a time when other distractions are minimized, such as first thing in the morning, after brushing your teeth, or before going to bed. Sit in a comfortable position and, ideally, in a quiet space. Set a timer so you aren't distracted by thoughts about the passage of time and begin breathing deeply, in and out through your nose. Focus on nothing but your breath; when thoughts arise, notice them, but then let them go. Direct your focus back to the sensation of your breath. Start with just one minute and gradually increase duration, adding 30 to 45 seconds every few days. Frequency trumps duration, so it's best to meditate daily, even if that means keeping individual sessions short.
Apply your growing mindful muscle in everyday life7 of 10
Have "calm conversations" during stressful periods; remember that you are separate from the emotions and sensations that you are experiencing. Realize when you want to "turn it off" and then choose to leave stress behind. Taking a few deep breaths helps because it activates the prefrontal cortex, your brain's command-and-control center.
Take Smart Breaks and Let Your Subconscious Go to Work8 of 10
When you are working on a strenuous task and hit an impasse, have the courage to step away. The more stressful the task, the longer your break should be. Sometimes it's best to step away until the next morning. During breaks, perform activities that demand little to no focus. Go on a short walk, sit in nature, meditate, recover socially, listen to music, take a shower or do the dishes. You may have an "aha" moment of insight during your break. If you do, great. If you don't have an "aha" moment during your break, your subconscious mind is still at work. When you return to whatever it is you were doing, you'll be more likely to make progress.
Prioritize Sleep9 of 10
Reframe sleep as something that is productive. You should be aiming for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and for those doing intense physical activity, 10 hours is not too much. The best way to figure out the right amount of sleep for you is to spend 10 to 14 days going to sleep when you are tired and waking up without an alarm clock. Take the average sleep time; that's what you need.
There's a lot you can do to set yourself up for better sleep, such as ensuring you're exposed to natural (i.e., non-electric) light throughout the day, exercising (but not too close to bedtime), limiting caffeine intake, using your bed only for sleep and sex, and keeping your smartphone OUT of the bedroom entirely.
Take Extended Time Off10 of 10
Regardless of the work you do, take at least one off-day every week. Even better, time your off-days and vacations strategically to follow periods of accumulated stress; the more you stress, the more you should rest. On both single off-days and extended vacations, truly disconnect from work. Unplug both physically and mentally and engage in activities that you find relaxing and restorative.
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