Are you often exhausted when you get home after work?
If your answer is yes, you may need a reframe.
Research Highlight:of the most successful 10% of people, only 2% scored “I am exhausted when I get home/after work” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. In other words they experience little fatigue.
Question:What is your relationship with fatigue
Condition:Control, own and master your energy
Discipline:Actively and skilfully combat the experience of fatigue
Caution:Prioritise your sleep, recovery and relaxation
Life is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). We are juggling far too much information and far too many tasks. Most of us do not rest, recover and sleep like professionals. The consequence that most clearly differentiates success and failure is fatigue.
54% of the least resilient people answer that they are exhausted when they get home “very often” or “nearly always”. Unfortunately they often tell others how tired they are.
Our super-skill series examined what the most successful people do. Reframing targets the top five habits that can undermine you. Fatigue is the first.
A CEO had been up all night organising a recognition of 2000 people’s excellent work. A colleague said: “you must be tired?” His answer: “I don’t do tired. It has been a great night.” Unsurprisingly, his resilience score was very high.
You may be thinking ‘what a jerk, he should be more honest.’ Our data shows that successful people do not indulge in the experience of fatigue. They find more skilful ways to reframe the situation. What if the response is: “Sure, it has been a long night but what fun. I will sleep well tonight.”
True fatigue is a very real and important signal that you need rest, recovery and sleep. Successful people know that life is demanding so they prioritise rejuvenation. There will be times when you have to work hard. When you tell others you are tired, can you really expect them to trust and respect you?
To reframe fatigue, think deeply on your relationship with fatigue. Do you experience it frequently? Do you advertise it to others? Do you take immediate action to remedy the signal?
Reframe skills for fatigue?
Be alert for the fatigue signal. Check your body, emotions and thoughts. Assess it carefully and identify the level of risk. Act deliberately to remedy the situation.
If you aretruly exhausted, take time out for recovery and sleep. If your life and job are important to you this is your priority. Learn the lesson and establish excellent recovery disciplines. Few do this well.
If you must work through fatigue here is a reframe:
Lengthen your posture and lift your chin
Breathe diaphragmatically and slow through the nose
Concentrate on the energy and life force in your being
Focus your mind and work in short, engaged bursts
Never think or say: “I am tired/exhausted/fatigued/wiped out”
Imagine you are surprised by an unexpected reward at your end-of-year function. You are asked to step up to the stage. With a trained vagus nerve, you notice surprise and weakness in your limbs but within milliseconds you become calm, control the anxiety and connect to the occasion with pleasure and gratitude. Your acceptance speech resonates.
With a neglected vagus nerve, you panic. Your mouth is dry, vision blurs, you feel too weak to move, your heart is thumping, and you can barely make it up the stairs. When you try to say thanks, your mind freezes, and nothing comes out. Embarrassing for all of us.
Best you understand how to work with your vagus nerve.
First introduced in 2012 by StephenPorges, Polyvagal Theory has become a powerful concept with a range of practical applications.
What you will learn:
The vagus nerve: what it is and how it works in your life
The physical mechanisms of freeze, fight and flight
The learned skills of relaxation, connecting and finding flow
How you might recover from confusing adversities in life
How vagus training can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure,
What you can do to increase the power (tone) of your vagus nerve
How Vagal Tone underpins mental health, wellbeing and resilience
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve which exits low in the skull, runs down both sides of the neck and into the lungs and heart before diving down into the abdomen. It is a very long and critically important nerve for life. For a deeper dive, please follow the references.
The vagus nerve works with other cranial nerves to influence and modulate our facial expressions, head movement and tracking, hearing and voice. In the chest it influences breathing and controls heart rate – speed and variability. In the abdomen it influences peristalsis (food movement), gut neurology, bacteria, inflammation. Further, it is a key element of urination, bowel movements and sex. It works in synchrony with your sympathetic system or causes chaos.
The dorsal vagus fibres are ancient (reptiles) and slow. The ventral vagus fibres are much newer in evolution (mammals) and can be trained. Polyvagal theory dissolves confusing concepts like PTSD, autism, anxiety and psychological safety into a clear and testable biological reality. This leads to a set of practices to be safe, well and effective in life.
The Vagus Nerve and Sympathetic System in Action
Each of these reactions or responses are possible and available to us. Consider some of the more challenging situations you might face and see if you can recognise the pattern.
Freeze (old or dorsal vagus) reactions:
Old reptilian reflexes to extreme threat (play dead)
Blood pressure drops, bowels and bladder can void
Can be a feint, collapse or tears
Poses risk to human brain as blood flow drops
Executed by the body to protect the body
May leave us with confusion, regret or even guilt
Experienced in extreme threat such as war, natural disaster or abuse
Application: when we are truly overwhelmed this is the best option. We collapse, look dead and lose feeling. Those suffering PTSD may find comfort and healing by understanding their reaction was the body’s reaction rather than their failure to fight. Aspects of depression such as loss of energy, fatigue, confusion, self doubt and reduced motivation might be linked.
Fight (sympathetic system and anger) reactions:
Body floods with adrenaline increasing blood pressure and pulse
Blood flows to combat muscles – face, jaw, neck, shoulders and chest
Associated with a flare of inflammation
Narrow vision and focus on threat can lead to poor risk assessment
Can leave us with impaired memory and regret
Experienced when violence or force may help you counter a threat
Application: When we see anger this way, it is a destructive force to entertain in your body. The inflammation, immune system compromise and heart damage is well documented. It must be used sparingly if at all.
Flight (sympathetic system and fear) reactions:
Adrenaline charges the heart and lungs
Blood shunts to the large muscles of lower limbs
Thinking is disabled but may still lead to regret
Underpins phobia reactions (fear of heights, spiders, etc.)
Usually the best of a bad choice
Application: flight, fear, anxiety and worry are all linked. In PTSD, phobias, panic and generalised anxiety, we cannot contain the flight reaction. Our bodies have ‘run away’. This is the most common form of suffering experienced today. If we can see it we can train as below.
The Vagus Nerve has three trainable levels
The human vagus nerve can be trained to work better. Firstly, we learn how to fire the ventral fibres. These relax and rejuvenate us restoring peace after freeze, fight and flight. Second, with repeated practice such as with rehearsal practices, breath training or meditation, the vagal nerve becomes myelinated. A fatty sheath enfolds the ventral fibres accelerating their action on the body – specifically heart, lungs, inflammation and gut.
Once we calm and control the primal reactions, now the vagus connections to the face, ears and voice become active. Heart rate variability increases. We actively seek connection. Myelination of the vagus is more advanced.
Finally, feeling safe and connected we have a strong platform for play, curiosity and performance. Now we have high functioning vagus nerve which is well myelinated and we have rehearsed and practiced tricky situations so much we actually look forward to challenges.
Let’s explore those three levels:
Calm and Control:
Ventral fibres of the vagus activate and initiate calm and control
Heart rate slows and heart rate variability increase
Lungs relax, diaphragm engages, and inflammation clears
Hearing improves and voice softens
Head movement, tracking and balance improve
Awareness of body, emotion and thought sharpens
Thinking, idea-generation and decision-making improves
Application: Calm and control is the foundation of safety and wellbeing. Without it, we increase the risk of ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, PTSD and Depression. Basic breathing techniques, neck massage, meditation and cold water can help. A supportive person with kind eyes and a melodic voice can help some activate this response. Sleep improves and health improves.
Control and Connect:
Now calm and safe, our attention focuses on the situation
We can hear voices of those who matter more clearly
Our voice becomes mellow and prosodic
We establish a relaxed and enjoyable eye contact
Facial expressions around eyes increase
Empathy increases – physical, emotional and mental signals
Honesty, intimacy and respectful sharing come naturally
Application: As we power up our capacity to connect through eye contact, voice and touch, we heal autism, loneliness, depression and anxiety. We are establishing the foundations for high trust, collaborative relationships. Happiness, enjoyment of life and vitality flourish.
Connect, Play and Flow:
Feeling safe, energised and connected the impulse to play arises
Laughter, provocation, chase and evade emerge
The sympathetic system is engaged with vagal tone high
Play is how all young mammals learn to survive
Physical interactive play trains us to perform (sport, drama, combat)
Eye contact, prosodic voice, facial expressions and respect sustain it
This is how we develop the capacity for Flow
Application: when thinking stops, time pauses, and grace unfolds we are in play or flow. Your vagus nerve is a force for joy, success and meaning in life. You have put the time into practice. You have done your drills and had plenty of failures. Your ability to be relaxed, flexible, connected and effective is established.
Once can imagine your vagus nerve is thick and glistening. It works really quickly now. In the beginning you lay awake in anxiety and hyperventilated for hours. Now your vagus detects your body’s freeze, fight and flight reactions before you do. It has already restored calm, control and reconnected you to what really matters.
Practical tools to increase vagal tone
Breathe out long and slow followed by a pause
Establish and train your diaphragmatic breathing (8 min/day)
Learn a contemplative practice – meditation, yoga, kindness
Splash cold water on your face or swim underwater
Whole body, foot or neck massage
Gargling water and fasting
Listening to prosodic music (Abba, Johnny Mathis)
Laughter and singing
Face-to-face connection (and yes, less device time)
Unstructured play and structured practice or rehearsal
Sunshine and vitamin D collaborate with the vagus nerve effects
Stephen Porges, Polyvagal Theory, 2012
Stephen Porges, The Pocketguide to Polyvagal Theory, 2018
Elizabeth Williams, Daily Vagus Nerve Exercise, 2019
By Katrien Audenaert Partner, The Resilience Institute Europe, November 28th 2019
MY KEY TAKE-AWAYS FROM WOBI 2019, Superminds.
WOBI – the world of business ideas- is a leading global business content hub. Their goal is to produce and distribute the best management media content to help companies and their top executives improve the way they manage their organizations. They strongly believe that knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage. Organized in cities across the world, WOBI’s events gather thousands of senior executives to learn from the most influential business thought leaders and practitioners.
The speakers at the WOBI Forum NYC 2019 – Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Dr. Janet L. Yellen, Guy Hamel, Marcus Buckingham, Zoë Chance, Kory Kogon, Randi Zuckerberg, Hal Gregersen and Ian Williamson- delivered excellent keynotes, full of interesting and often challenging ideas.
I went back home with 5 major take-aways:
– Greatness or excellence is not luck or personality: it is a matter of conscious choice and discipline. It involves disciplined people, who combine humility with will and put themselves at the service of others. Take care of your people instead of your career and they will take care of you (Jim Collins).
– When you operate in an age of uncertainty, in a VUCA world, there are no real answers. If we are stuck, questions are the answers. We need to compose conditions and wait for catalytic questioning: build daily disciplines to surface the right questions. Ask questions that make you feel uncomfortable, quiet, wrong, … Build good questioning patterns. If you have a challenge, instead of looking for answers, start with questions and your challenge will become much clearer and sharper. Try these question bursts with a buddy or with your team and you will be surprised! (Hal Gregersen)
– Stephen Covey’s urgent-important matrix is not only about personal time management. Leaders should help their teams to getting things done with quality, by rewarding Quadrant 2 (important-not urgent) behaviors and keeping them out of Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) when possible (Kory Kogon).
– Simon Sinek showed us how to live a life with an infinite mindset, even though our lives are finite. The goal is not to win the competition but to outlast the competition. It is a conscious choice based on the following principles. Advance a just cause: a vision that is so beautiful that we are willing to sacrifice for. Build trusting teams. Study your rivals because their strengths reveal your weaknesses. Build existential flexibility, this capacity to make a profound strategic shift. Have the courage to lead because the pressure to play the finite game is very high. Take care of each other: we have a lot of matrixes to measure performance but so little to measure trust.
– Marcus Buckingham showed us that excellence has its own configuration. We cannot learn about it by studying its opposite. He blew me away with his ‘9 lies about work’. Using the example of Messi’s extraordinary dribble with his left foot in the Copa Del Rei in 2015, he showed us how learning comes from within and is done with passion, joy and love. Ask yourself: ‘what is my left foot?’ What am I really good at?’. Your strength is your opportunity: focus on what you are best at. Practice it. Know what you love and spend a week in love with your job. What are the current activities in my job that I love? What strengthens you?
The statement “I enjoy vibrant, good health and high energy” separates the most successful 10% from the rest.*
What is vitality?
Vitality is both an output and an input. Those who wait for vitality to come from doctors, public services and luck will suffer. Those who fail to invest in the foundations or take the decision to be vital fall to fatigue, illness and suffering.
Only 9% of theleastresilient people score vitality with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:What does vitality look and feel like right now?
Condition:Be fit, sleep well, relax and eat well
Discipline:Open and lengthen your posture to let energy flow
Caution:Be sure to rest, sleep and recover enough to revitalise
What you can do right now?
Resist fatigue and apathy. Commit to the pursuit of vitality
Lengthen your posture and exhale fully – head back and chin up
As you inhale imagine energy flowing up through your body in a spiral
95% of the most successful 10% of people scored “I think and communicate with optimism” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’ (in a sample of 21,000).
The human mind is Velcro for the negative. Based on a high threat environment, a negative and threatening explanation might have been advantageous. Today, pessimism disables you.
Only 9% of the least resilient people score optimism with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:How can I explain this adversity in one enabling sentence?
Condition:Notice but reject the easy negative self-talk
Discipline:Think and express yourself with positive language
Caution:Our times are testing. This will take courage.
What you can do right now?
Ask someone close if you are optimistic or pessimistic. Explore an example
Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”
Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently” Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
Be alert for positive news. Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.
In the background:
Fatigue, isolation and distress will reduce optimism
Sleep well, be social, relax and play
Nurture your positive emotions – joy, gratitude, appreciation, hope, kindness
Note: With the current social instability, political malaise and climate risk, the value and importance of optimism will increase. It is well proven that optimism can be learned and has wide ranging personal and economic benefits. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven an effective solution to depression. We use the term situational agility to describe the healthy and adaptive use of the optimism in key situations.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 91% scored “I am contented, joyous and fulfilled” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Sadness (disappointment), fear (anxiety) and anger (frustration) are easy emotional traps to fall into. Far too many indulge in these destructive reactions. They will leave you in perpetual freeze, flight and fight states. This is deep suffering and ineffective.
Only 4% of the least resilient people score fulfilment with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:What is the constructive emotion for this moment?
Condition:Be intolerant of complaint, frustration and blame
Caution:When necessary, tell your truth with courage and empathy
What you can do right now?
In every moment – even the darkest – there is a positive response. In sadness there is learning and growth. In fear there is courage and calm. In anger there is tolerance and altruism. Be assertive in searching and expressing the positive response.
Complaint spreads discomfort. Reject it. Frustration disables you. Reject it. Blame steals your power. Reject it. Respect, experience and name these negative reactions. They are real. Use the signal to say “NO”. Seek the positive angle.
Learn to strengthen your positive emotions. If sad, seek the lesson learned. Be grateful. If afraid, seek calm presence. Be content. If angry, seek kindness. Be compassionate. If fatigued, seek energy. Be resilient.
Positive emotions are like muscles. If you work on them, they will get stronger. Even the toughest moments can be fulfilling. Enjoy your discomfort. Appreciate the moment. Strengthen your joy.