4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 1 of 2

You have to be able to reset properly on a daily basis.

Otherwise you’ll turn up to work the next time running on fumes.

Works takes away a lot from you; it drains your resources (e.g. energy, mood etc.)

You need to replenish and be able to build up those resources through the right types of activities so that you’ve properly recovered during your free time.

It’s important, not just because recovering from work properly translates into better productivity (at work and at home), but also translates into better psychological health and overall well-being

As recovery becomes increasingly elusive, some become so depleted that they suffer from burnout.

This is the first of a two part series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work during your free time.

1. Identify activities that replenish your resources

According to Sonnentag (2001), general resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

Resource-replenishing activities are called recovery experiences.

Physical exercise is great because it has huge stress-management potential and changes the chemistry of your body, not to mention other help benefits that are worth bearing in mind.

Social activities are great too, although there are notable exceptions when socialising fails.

Resource-replenishing activities can include those that require different sensory activation.

So if you’ve been reading all day at work, try cooking as part of your recovery from the workplace.

If you’ve been staring at a monitor all day, smelling and tasting some good food will surely restore you.

2. Remember what makes a great recovery experience

The best resource-replenishing recovery experiences are those that incorporate the following:

  • Psychological detachment from work 

This means “switching off” and completely forgetting about work during leisure time.

It’s not enough to physically distance yourself from work.

You need to mentally distance yourself in equal measure and think about something else entirely – other than work. 

You can read all about psychological detachment here.

  • Mastery

Mastery can be gained from seeking out and experiencing intellectual or physical challenges; doing something that will broaden your horizons.

This is where low-effort activities fall short. 

There’s no mastery in low-effort activities.

There’s no greater meaning to them, no greater sense of progress or accomplishment.

For me, I gain a sense of mastery from writing this blog, discovering the secrets of human psychology by reading books, or cooking, to name a few examples.

But I also experience mastery in my swimming and cycling, striving to improve every time I hit the pool or hop on the bike.

  • Control

A sense of control (or autonomy) in whatever it is that we do is a fundamental human need. 

We experience a lot of autonomy from deciding our schedule in the sense that we get to choose how we spend our time.

Filling out your taxes after work may theoretically be classified as recovery, but it’s not necessarily something you’d like to be spending your leisure time doing.

In fact, quite often is the case that people procrastinate on filling out their taxes to such an extent that little choice is involved in actually choosing to do this particular activity.

It is a fundamental need to have a choice in what we want to voluntarily spend our leisure time on, a sense of autonomy in choosing what activity we want to participate in.

  • Relaxation

Your activity needs to relax you.

It needs to help you kick back and chill.

Whether this is hitting the pool, reading, or chilling with friends while listening to some tunes, it’s all good if it’s relaxing.

3. Try to avoid low-effort activities if you’re stressed

Low-effort activities aren’t always great for recovery.

If physical activity is the healthy, nutritious meal of all recovery experiences, then you could say that low-effort activities can sometimes be thought of as the junk food of them all.

You might feel you’re recovering while chilling on the sofa, but if you’re still thinking about work or are worrying about a job-related task while doing so – you’re not recovering from the workplace properly.

In such a scenario, you’re still activating the same job-related functional systems and you’re still experiencing prolonged activation – it’s as if you’ve never left the office.

Low-effort activities can backfire on your recovery this way.

Be done with work the moment you are done with it.

Be done when you’re done.

4. Learn to disentangle from worry

Worry is a future-focused emotion.

You think of an uncertain event in the future and imagine the anxiety stemming from an outcome that hasn’t materialised and doesn’t simply exist.

By worrying about a future event, you are not living in the present moment.

Don’t let worry poison your leisure time.

Instead, learn to relate to it differently.

One effective way to do that would be to practice mindfulness so that the worry has less of an impact on you, both emotionally and behaviourally).

“It [mindfulness] is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of the experience moment-by-moment”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

The mindfulness approach encourages people to accept their difficult thoughts and feelings rather than working against them.

“Anxiety is an emotion. It is an emotion that disempowers you and accomplishes nothing. So when you learn how to get into the moment and how to engage in active meditation, you no longer feel anxiety and you get into a state of flow.”

-Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset and the popular blog Danger and Play

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, be sure to check out part 2 of this series. Feel free to sign up to the whatmybrosaid email list for more posts like this.

Why Mistakes Are Good and How to Feel Better About Making Them

Mistakes are good.

As James Victore, author, designer, filmmaker, and educator writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights – so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.”

Mistakes can show you possibility, an alternative perspective.

But mistakes have to be made if you or I are to learn and grow.

Mistakes open up a world that can facilitate unapologetic self-improvement.

According to Grayson Perry, the amount of mistakes you make can be treated as a gauge of how much effort you are putting into your work:

“You have to make mistakes, this is how you learn. If you’re not making many mistakes, I hate to worry you but you’re not working hard enough.”
If it weren’t for mistakes, the microwave wouldn’t have been invented.

The Microwave

Percy LeBaron Spencer loved nature.

He would always carry a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to break up and feed squirrels and chipmunks during lunch.

It’s funny how this bar would aid Percy in discovering the microwave.

How?

Here’s what Scott Belsky writes in Making Ideas Happen about the accidental discovery:

“One of the most famous examples of discovery by mistake is the invention of the microwave oven by Raytheon scientist Percy LeBaron Spencer during World War II.

While working on the development of a radar system to assist the Allied armies in the detection of Nazi warplanes, Spencer stood in front of an operating magnetron.

Later, the unassuming scientist realised that the candy bar that had been in his pocket had melted. Further experimentation to understand this accident created an entire industry.”

How to feel better about making mistakes

We live in a society that celebrates mistakes and glorifies failures.

Indeed, the mistakes don’t have to be yours as you can learn by observing others.

After all, we as humans are – as author of Mastery Robert Greene notes – primed for observational learning.

By learning through the mistakes of others, you are de factor cutting your learning curve into a fraction of the time it would take you to learn by yourself – through trial and error.

However, there is no better education than making your own mistakes and having to learn from them.

Making mistakes can be stressful though.

That’s why people are generally averse to making any sort of them.

They are afraid they might be ridiculed, reprimanded, scolded by others.

Above all however – they simply just feel bad about making them in the first place.

Indeed, areas of the brain related to avoidance are activated when mistakes are made.

So how can we feel better about making them?

It turns out there is a simple psychological answer to this question.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications by neuroscientists Stefano Palminteri and colleagues suggests that if people are given the chance to review and reflect upon their mistakes, they could feel good about making them.

This could also make them become less averse to making future mistakes and better embrace the lessons that ultimately come from them.

Palminteri and colleagues also found that making mistakes could be experienced as rewarding as reward circuits of the brain were activated upon reflection in participants.

Closing thoughts

With mistakes, you either win or you learn.

Microwave inventor Percy LeBaron Spencer won.

But most times, you simply learn.

Heed the lessons from these mistakes and you’ll be golden.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to the email list for more posts like this.

What Is Your Circle of Competence?

Warren Buffet refers to the Circle of Competence as the useful knowledge we’ve accumulated throughout our life.

Through the experiences we’ve gone through, we’ve picked up wisdom and various life lessons, factual knowledge.

But we’ve also developed, as Charlie Munger says, our own skill-sets and areas of expertise.

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Warren Buffet’s “Circle of Competence”

But I also wanted draw a comparison of the Circle of Competence to Anthony Robbins’ idea of the Comfort Zone.

The Comfort Zone

In his book “Unlimited Power”, Robbins talks about our comfort zone being a circle.

Very much like the most inner circle of our Circle of Competence.

We are perfectly comfortable in and familiar with everything in our comfort zone.

In life, we will encounter various problems – challenges or obstacles.

Robbins conceptualises these as “X’s”. In other words, if there is a problem, an X will stick to the outer rim of your comfort zone.

If you don’t overcome the obstacles and challenges, your comfort zone will shrink

If you successfully overcome that obstacle and get rid of the problem, your comfort zone “eats” the X, and it grows bigger.

Essentially – the more X’s your comfort zone “eats”, the more you grow.

The nuanced point

Through life, you will run into obstacles and confront challenges.

Whether you’re going through life actively or passively, you will inevitably run into these.

But if you navigate life with a bias to action, you will run into obstacles far more often.

Because you are actively looking to expand your comfort zone, the universe will fight back and throw all these X’s and challenges at you.

Because the universe doesn’t care if you grow or don’t grow.

All the universe wants is for you to find your mate, spread your seed, and let someone pump out a vehicle that contains 50% of your genes.

So if you’re actively making life happen for you and not happen to you, you’ll have more challenges to overcome.

“Those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” – Nicolo Machiavelli

And as you jump over the hurdles that life throws you’re way, you’re comfort zone will widen, you’ll become more adept at overcoming these obstacles, and you’ll become more competent.

Because you’ll learn valuable, hard-earned truths and wisdom as you expose yourself to this growth-promoting experiences.

And you’ll grow as a result.

So if you live with a bias to action, your growth over time will behave like compound interest.

The intersection between the comfort zone and the Circle of Competence

Is the Circle of Competence analogous to Robbins’ concept of the comfort zone?

Doesn’t your Circle of Competence increase in size as you navigate life with a bias to action?

Warren Buffet mentions that though our Circle of Competence can expand slowly over time, you should stick to what you know, to what you’re competent at because if you don’t, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes.

But as a culture, we condemn failure and glorify success.

Are mistakes really that bad?

After all, you’ll grow if you properly heed the lessons from them.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Why Facebook is Junk Food

Facebook appeals to basic, biological needs.

Yes, to some extent these social needs are tended to when you go on Facebook.

But there is a glass ceiling to how much Facebook can fill up your ‘social bar’ (like in The Sims.)

Going on Facebook gives you the impression, the illusion that these needs are being met.

And this, in large part, is thought to contribute to lower self-esteem levels and higher depression rates among the Millenial generation.

I think this is because Facebook is becoming the centrepiece of their social lives rather than a supplement.

Facebook alone can’t feed the need for social connectedness and the need to form strong, meaningful relationships with other people.

It doesn’t completely feed the need of social connectedness; it just gives you the impression that it does.

Facebook is (social) junk food.

You feel like you’ve eaten, but you haven’t eaten well.

After a while, you’re undernourished but all you’re feeding yourself with is crap.

It is a 100% parallel with diet. If you eat junk food all the time, obviously your health will deteriorate.

And there’s this question that keeps floating about:

Does Facebook cause depression? Is it cause or effect?

There is no clear cut answer but one way of looking at it would be to say that it’s a vicious cycle.

Perfectly healthy teenagers will substitute going out for FB and will start to become depressed in the same manner that they would become malnourished on a diet of junk food.

By the same token, a depressed person will go on FB to improve his mood and feel social, but will over time realise that the baseline for being social won’t be met through these means.

What do you think?

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Lead and Be Strong In Your Decision-making

Being strong and firm in your choices and decisions is a valuable skill to master.

It is a skill because in a world that is abundant with options, it can be really difficult to a) choose in the first place, b) be confident that the choice you made is the right one, and c) stick with your decision once you’ve made it and not “flake” on it.

Perhaps more importantly, an opportunity cost of deciding is time and there’s always another option where you could spend it better, spend it elsewhere, or simply to save it.

Because time is indeed a precious resource.

You have probably noticed how the importance of time trickles into and manifests itself in everyday language.

You spend time with people.

You try to find time.

People who would like some of your time ask politely whether you have a moment to spare?

There is no time like the present, so why waste it on trying to decide?

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice puts it:

“Time spent dealing with a choice is time taken away from being a good friend, a good spouse, a good parent, and a good congregant.”

You also expend precious mental resources when trying to decide.

In my earlier posts on willpower, you will realise that using up your willpower and decision-making capabilities on one decision means you will have less to use for the other decision.

That’s why Barry urges us to:

“learn to be selective in exercising our choices. We must decide, individually when choice really matters and focus our energies there, even if it means letting many other opportunities pass us by. The choice of when to be a chooser may be the most important choice we have to make.”

And it’s not just trying to make a decision that uses up your willpower, merely thinking about making the decision will have the same effect.

The problem of abundant choice in the world rears its ugly head in the most inconspicuous of situations.

Like on a night out.

In his book Behavioral Economics Saved My Dog, behavioural economist Dan Ariely tackles this topic and comes up with a decent solution.

“When someone asks what do you want to do tonight?, what they are implicitly saying is: What is the most exciting thing we can do tonight, given all the options and all the people involved?

The problem is that figuring out the absolute best solution (the optimal solution) is very difficult.

First, we need to bring to mind all the possible alternatives; next we need to work out our preferences and the preferences of all the people in the group.

Then we have to find the one activity that will maximise this set of constraints and preferences.”

Okay so once you’ve gone through these motions – what’s next?

Ariely suggests:

“To overcome this problem, I would set a rule that limits the amount of time you are allowed to spend searching for a solution, and I would choose a default activity in case you fail to come up with a better option.

For example, take an acceptable good activity (going to drink at X, playing football at Y) and announce to your friends that, unless someone else comes up with a better alternative, in ten minutes you are all heading out to X or Y.

I would also set up a timer on your phone to make it clear that you mean business and to make sure that the time limit is honoured.

Once the buzzer sounds, just start heading out to X or Y, asking everyone to come with you and tell the people who do not join you immediately that you will meet them there. 

After repeating this tactic a few times, your friends will get used to it and you should experience an end to this wasteful habit.”

What you can do

It’s tough making decisions.

But sometimes, among all the options that you’re considering, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you choose.

Dan Ariely explains why:

“The larger point is that once we have spent a substantial amount of time on a decision, and we still can’t work out which option is the best, it must mean that the overall value of the competing options is more or less the same. It is not that the options are identical, but that the difference in their overall quality is hard to distinguish.” 

So if – on a night out for example – you’re having trouble deciding between option A, B, and C which are identical in value then save yourself the trouble and just choose any option.

You’d be surprised to notice that once you’ve confidently made the decision to go to place A and lead the group, that option somehow becomes more valuable because it’s moved the interaction forward.

And your unwavering confidence in your decision and you’re enthusiasm about your choice rubs off on your group of friends.

And more often than not, the choice you made turns out to be the right one.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my email list.

Build Your Own Empire

I understand when someone talks about their struggles in trying to escape.

In trying to escape both the physical poverty they were born in to…

And the paralysing self-doubt and debilitating mental poverty that continues to stifle their growth and self-development way into their 20’s and beyond.

In a banned MTV interview with Tupac Shakur, 2Pac shares a powerful message:

When you’re born, usually you’re born into a dynasty or an empire (…) following in your father’s, grandfather’s footsteps. You’re always told “oh your father, your grandfather did this” so we got this, the family heirlooms…

There’s none of that in the outer city. I call it the outer city ’cause we left out. There’s no nothin’.

We didn’t get any family heirlooms, the family crest…all of that stuff that you would think was so important was meaningless. I mean come on – our family crest was cotton (…)

The only thing we could leave behind is culture, is music, dignity, and determination. That’s all we had.

I feel as though I’m cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one. Instead of doing a good job and carrying on an empire, I have to build one. 

And that’s a helluva’ job for a twenty-one year old. That’s a helluva’ job for any youngster, male or female, to have to build an empire for your family.

Especially when the odds are that you know that somebody else who lives in the inner city – the real inner city, suburbia – who, when he’s born at 16 he gets a car, [it’s] automatic. There’s money in the bank for college, for Christmas you go for vacation somewhere…”

Skip to 3:17-4:43 to watch the bit of the interview relevant to this post, but I urge you to watch the whole thing. It’s illuminating.

Build an empire

It’s easy to get bitter about not getting the springboard to an awesome life that you deserve or to whine and complain about how easy others have it while for you it’s always been an uphill battle.

You can wallow in self-pity, be bitter or angry about the fact that others get things handed to them with no resistance while you’re constantly struggling – but that’s life.

The gazelle can complain about the lion until it goes blue in the face.

Ain’t nothing gonna change.

Accept it.

Own who you are and where you come from.

Adjust your beliefs to enable you to function in the objective world – not in the idealised, fantasy world of how you wish the world to be.

Because you are not entitled to anything and the world owes you nothing.

If you want something – you have to go to get it.

Though you may have escaped or are still yet to escape the physical poverty you might be living in, you also have the job of having to de-programme yourself from the mental poverty that you were conditioned into from a very young age.

Because you can’t build an empire on shaky foundations.

Develop an inner directness whereby you yourself decide how to live and develop the necessary metal support structures to help you along your way like a strong self-confidence, self-assuredness, and high self-esteem.

Those things don’t come from reading only.

You need action; what you do will change how you think.

And you need to win small victories to climb the mountain.

But it’s definitely possible – you can still build an empire.

You’ll just have to work harder for it.

But the best thing about is that it’ll be your very own.

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Build on Your Strengths (Don’t Waste Time on Your Weaknesses)

This is what Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s right-hand man and investment partner, has to say about building on your strengths.

“You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.

If you want to be the best tennis player in the world, you may start out trying and soon find out that it’s hopeless—that other people blow right by you. However, if you want to become the best plumbing contractor in Bemidji, that is probably doable by two-thirds of you. It takes a will. It takes the intelligence.

But after a while, you’d gradually know all about the plumbing business in Bemidji and master the art. That is an attainable objective, given enough discipline.

And people who could never win a chess tournament or stand in center court in a respectable tennis tournament can rise quite high in life by slowly developing a circle of competence—which results partly from what they were born with and partly from what they slowly develop through work.”

Working on your weaknesses can be a waste of time.

It’s more work than it’s worth. If you don’t have a natural talent for it, why force it?

So:

“Double down on your strengths” – Gary Vaynerchuk

But be careful with how you interpret this advice. 

Some would use it as an excuse not to focus on things they’re just not good at.

For instance, in high school you can’t just forget about studying maths.

You have to be self-aware in assessing how much effort you have to put in to bring that area up to some respectable level.

Sure, this comes at the expense of focusing your energies on your strengths.

But once you don’t need maths (e.g. because you’re going to studying English literature at university), you’ll be able to shift your focus to the qualities you think make you stand out most.

And if you build on your aptitudes enough, your weaknesses won’t matter.

You will have compensated for them.

Build on your strengths because that will yield the most results.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.