The well-being and mental stamina of many of us have been challenged over the past three years. The good news is that research into neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire and function differently) shows we never stop learning. When enabled to succeed, our brains can build new and lasting behaviours that improve well-being and performance, regardless of age.

The key to enabling your brain is to carve out space for daily check-ins, even when you have a lot on. This allows you to better face known and unknown obstacles and let go of behaviours that no longer serve your purpose.

Good diet, movement, sleep, social connections, gratitude, relaxation and mindfulness are important to provide the ’fuel’ your brain needs.

Social connections are important regardless of whether we have introverted or extroverted personalities. We are emotionally and cognitively hardwired for connection and belonging.

Receiving affirmation is a powerful way to achieve personal growth and transformation, particularly if it comes in the form of stories describing moments when we are at our best. There are ways you can activate your best self at work every day. Here are five practices for noticing and capitalising on everyday opportunities for development based on your best self:

  1. Noticing positive feedback
  2. Reviewing your successes
  3. Accepting gratitude
  4. Organising your day based on when you do your best thinking
  5. Practising self-care

Noticing positive feedback

Most people are well-attuned to critical feedback. It can be jarring, threatening and emotional and, as a result, quite memorable. In contrast, it is often easy to let positive feedback on your actions slip by. It might sometimes seem immodest to bask in the sunshine of praise. Therefore, it takes practice to savour moments of positivity and to hold them in your memory. Our brains are more sensitive to a threat or something bad than to a reward or something positive.

Tip 1: Capture these moments by creating a place (digital or written diary/folder) where you can preserve any good comments you receive. Thank you letters, social media testimonials and allusions to your work in email threads are all examples of such comments. Capturing this information over the year is useful for performance reviews, for sharing during team updates and/or in meetings with your manager.

Tip 2: Consciously identify a couple of key affirmation words you can use to give positive feedback to your inner self and help you focus on what is important to you. My key affirmation words in 2022 helped me focus on gratefulness, being in the present moment, letting go of the past and being in my precious now. They enhanced my listening skills and allowed me to make the most of precious moments. 2022 was one of the best years for my relationship with my husband, for helping our son successfully complete his HSC to get into his first-choice course at his preferred university, and for achieving my work goals. 

What could you use as key affirmation words to help you reach your intentions and goals?

Reviewing your successes

Conduct after-action reviews of your work to set benchmarks and identify best practices based on key learnings for future work. 

If you receive positive feedback, take some time to write reflectively about the experience and create a short narrative about what you did and the impact it achieved. Journaling is a powerful practice to help you see ways to bring out your best self. 

Tip 1: Reflect on how you can do more of this type of work, considering your business environment and the value and outcomes of your strengths. 

Tip 2: Celebrate your wins and milestones along the journey. Identify who you want to celebrate with and how you want to celebrate. We are often so busy moving on to the next task that we do not take time to ‘smell the roses’, which is important for self-motivation and motivating others we work with. What does your milestone for the next 30 days look like, and how would you like to celebrate it?

Accepting gratitude

Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people experience positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong connections. When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions: they make us feel ‘good’. 

They enhance our mood immediately. When you feel grateful, you experience synchronised activation of many parts of your brain, giving you positive effects.

Some of my clients and I have incorporated gratefulness into our way of life for a few key reasons. It allows us to reflect on what is important to us, and it enables the good things in our lives to shine bright, regardless of how the day turned out. 

Gratefulness allows us to be present and enjoy the positive things in our busy day rather than them being lost. Another benefit of sharing your gratitude with others is that it helps you connect with and appreciate others. You can stimulate the release of dopamine (the brain’s natural feel-good drug) in someone else.

During a recent online high-performance training program, one of the attendees shared how grateful she was to be working and to have the option of working from home or the office and how much she valued autonomy and choice. 

Tip 1: Keep a journal to reflect on the three things you are grateful for each day. Share your gratefulness with others where and when possible. Research by Dr Joe Dispenza shows that four days of gratitude strengthen our immune system by almost 50 per cent.

Tip 2: Personalised and handwritten thank you cards can make a difference when showing gratitude. Such effort and thought can brighten and add value to those you work and collaborate with and help take your connection to the next level.

Organise your day based on when you do your best thinking

For decades, work was mostly done in an office between 9 am and 5 pm. But then COVID-19 forced us to work remotely, and many people discovered they could be more productive outside traditional work hours. 

Others noticed they were most efficient working in small increments of time. There is an optimal way to work for everyone, but when and how they do their best work is different for every person.

Tip 1: Identify where and when you do your best thinking (morning, afternoon, evening or a combination). Protect this deep-thinking time from internal and external distractions to maximise your productive time and effort.

Tip 2: Allocate 5-15 minute brain breaks to increase your oxygen level between tasks and projects and help you reset, refocus and energise.

Practising self-care

To optimise the workings of your brain, it is vital to maximising energy throughout your day. The brain is a very hungry organ that can be likened to a mobile phone; if you have many apps and windows open, it slows down, shuts down or needs rebooting and charging. Your brain needs the right balance of fuel throughout the day and night to recharge. Back-to-back meetings, continual emails and multitasking are some of the things that drain its energy resources.

I liken self-care practices to the ‘plane oxygen mask’ rule. Every time I am on an aeroplane, flight attendants explain the oxygen mask rule: put on your mask before helping others. Prioritising your self-care is an important health tip. If you run out of fuel/energy, you cannot fully help and connect with those you serve.

Tip: Consider what activities you can do throughout your day and week to increase your oxygen level and refuel your brain, including activities like mindfulness brain breaks.

My self-care practices consist of yoga (In my experience, having the right teacher makes a huge difference), paddle boarding in calm waters, taking a bath on the weekend with candles and relaxing music, using a five-minute mindfulness app in the morning, stretching and reading a book before going to sleep. Write down your self-care practice ideas and schedule the top three in your diary.

Your brain is your supercomputer and the biggest asset you own. How you set it up for success will impact not only yourself but also how you emotionally connect with and influence others. Ask yourself these questions every day: Who do I want to be? How do I want to show up for myself and others? What fuels do I need, and when do I operate at my best? Why is this important?

About Vannessa McCamley

Vannessa McCamley is a leadership and performance expert specialising in neuroscience practices that help individuals, teams and businesses grow in meaningful ways whilst delivering measurable results in healthy ways.

She is passionate about helping people and businesses overcome obstacles and enabling them to reach their strategic goals. She brings a strong background in IT security and more than 20 years of business experience collaborating with individuals at all levels and from several industries.

She is the author of Rewire for Success, an easy guide to using neuroscience to improve work, life and wellbeing choices. 

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