“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” – George Bernard Shaw

We all experience difficult emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations that can act as powerful deterrents to performing at our optimal levels of alertness, creativity, and productivity. There is little use trying to pretend that we will never again experience anxiety, sadness, lethargy, or anger. Unpleasant internal states of being are inevitable. The difference between being able to bounce back in the face of adversity – be resilient – versus fall to pieces, lies in our ability to mindfully tune into our internal states and respond to them with emotional intelligence.

It is possible to experience the aforementioned unpleasant states of being and return to a general state of calm and focused presence with relative ease. If you tend to struggle with identifying, managing, and responding to your emotions, this may seem like a somewhat daunting task. Try to take a moment to rest in a peaceful place of acceptance that you will experience unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations from time to time (perhaps even a few times everyday). Allow this to be. Recognize that these difficult states of being may be unpleasant in the short-term, but they have the capacity to provide you with incredibly useful information about how you are truly feeling, your goals, and that actions you need to take to move toward those goals.

If you are like most people, you could benefit from some useful tools to integrate into your regular routine that can help enhance your alertness, creativity, and productivity. Even if you feel like you generally have it “together” in these arenas, there is always room for improvement and growth to make toward actualizing into your fullest potential. Try reading through the following 7 ways to get more alert, creative, and productive and pick one that you can commit to practicing or beginning to investigate this week.

(1) Attention Training

Attention training involves actively cultivating high levels of consistently sustained focus. The idea behind attention training is to increase your levels of mental flexibility. This technique can help focus and sustain attention, acting as a form of “exercise” for your mind. It is meditative in nature, in the sense that this technique encourages you to actively notice, accept, and release thoughts as they unfold in conscious awareness.

(2) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This practice combines a variety of mindfulness meditation practices and physical mindfulness practices (yoga). As a result of this daily mindfulness program, you can expect to notice positive changes in a variety of physical and psychological disturbances (see MBSR outcome research data for more information). If you are willing to make the 45-minute per day commitment required of an official MBSR program, it could be well worth the time and effort.

(3) Insight Training / Meditation

Insight training / meditation is a specialized form of meditation and attention training that tends to reduce “attentional blink.” This is really a form meditation that arises out of the Buddhist tradition and focuses on using and strengthening mindful awareness to more clearly witness the true nature of the mind.

(4) Biofeedback

Biofeedback involves increasing awareness of a wide variety of physiological functions, with the goal of reducing stress and anxiety. This approach can deliver relatively immediate feedback on brainwave patterns, heart rate, galvanic skin response, and temperature. Small and somewhat inexpensive personal biofeedback devices can be purchased to increase awareness of your physiological responses and learn to reduce stress at home.

(5) Classical Meditation

Meditation takes a wide variety of forms, but in its most basic form, meditation just involves paying attention to just one thing at a time with an attitude of mindfulness (i.e., without judgment and with openness, curiosity, and acceptance). You can learn to train your attention through classical meditation by setting aside a few minutes (or longer) each day to focus on one thing with full mindful awareness. This might mean focusing on your breath as it enters and leaves your lungs, on thoughts as they pass through consciousness, or on a personal mantra.

(6) Psychoacoustics

During the 1970s, neuroscientists engineered a technology that delivered somewhat different and almost inaudible tones that were to be delivered to each ear simultaneously. They discovered that through manipulation of these tones, they could manipulate brain waves into specific states. The Centerpointe Research Institute offers more information.

(7) Integrative Mind Body Training

Integrative mind body training is a form of attention training that involves a variety of mind-body techniques to increase focus and promote relaxation, including: body relaxation, breath adjustment, mental imagery, and mindfulness training. It may even be the most widely adopted form of attention training in the U.S. at this time.

What strategies do you typically adopt to increase your daily levels of focus, creativity, and productivity? For some people, their daily routine may be as simple as taking a shower upon awakening, making breakfast and a cup of coffee, and sitting down at the computer. For others, their daily routine may involve a couple of brief power naps in the afternoon or perhaps a jog or yoga class. Take the time to assess how you currently take care of yourself and your ability to perform at your optimum level. If you find yourself in a bit of rut or struggling to maintain the focused creative energy that you desire, consider implementing a new mindfulness meditation or mind-body wellness program into your routine.

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Fields, J. (2010, May 10). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/awake-the-wheel/201005/7-ways-enhance-focus-creativity-productivity-and-performance

Featured image: Insomnia. by sleepyjeanie / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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