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How Mentally Strong People Manage Their Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

How Mentally Strong People Manage Their Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

The only things we can control in life are our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we can manage those, we can achieve our goals and gain success in life. To have this level of control, we need to learn about the science-based patterns behind our emotions and thoughts and how to manage them. If we know how our minds work, we can be intentional about influencing our thinking and feeling patterns. We can evaluate reality more clearly, make better decisions, and improve our ability to achieve our goals. Thus, we gain greater agency and the quality of living intentionally.

How do our minds work?

Intuitively, our mind feels like a cohesive whole. We perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet, cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is similar to a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions.

Roughly speaking, we have two thinking systems. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on behavioral economics, calls them “System 1” and “System 2.” However, I think the terms “autopilot system” and “intentional system” describe them more clearly and intuitively.

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The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions. Its cognitive processes take place mainly in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that developed early in our evolution. This system guides our daily habits, helps us make snap decisions, and reacts instantly to dangerous life-and-death situations (such as saber-toothed tigers) through the freeze, fight-or-flight stress response. While it helped us survive in the past, the fight-or-flight response is not a great fit for modern life.

We have many small stresses that are not life-threatening, but the autopilot system treats them like tigers. This produces an unnecessarily stressful everyday life experience that undermines our mental and physical wellbeing. Moreover, while the snap judgments resulting from intuitions and emotions might feel true because they are fast and powerful, they sometimes lead us in the wrong direction, in systemic and predictable ways.

The intentional system reflects our rational thinking and centers around the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that evolved more recently). According to recent research, it developed as humans started to live within larger social groups. This thinking system helps us handle more complex mental activities, such as managing individual and group relationships, logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, as well as learning new information alongside patterns of thinking and behavior.

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While the automatic system requires no conscious effort to function, the intentional system takes deliberate effort to turn on, and it is mentally tiring. Fortunately, with enough motivation and appropriate training, the intentional system can turn on in situations where the autopilot system is prone to make errors, especially costly ones.

Comparing The Systems

The autopilot system is like an elephant. It’s by far the more powerful and predominant of the two systems.

Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thinking. Moreover, our intuitions and habits determine the large majority of our lives, which we spend on autopilot mode. That’s not a bad thing at all, since it would be mentally exhausting to think intentionally about every action and decision.

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The intentional system is like the elephant rider. We can guide the elephant deliberately to go in the direction that matches that of our actual goals.

Certainly, the elephant part of the brain is huge and unwieldy. It is slow to turn and change, and it stampedes at threats. However, we can train the elephant. Your rider can be an elephant whisperer. Over time, you can use the intentional system to change your automatic thinking, feeling, and behavioral patterns. In this way, you will become a better agent in terms of taking charge of your life and reaching your goals.

I hope this information fills you with optimism. You can use these strategies to get what you want and achieve success in life!

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Featured photo credit: Naser Khan/Flickr via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on November 3, 2020

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

It takes being productive to get things done correctly and on time. So how do you know which tasks are essential and which can wait? The answer is in the Prioritization Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The matrix took its name after Dwight David Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a general in the US army and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. As a five-star general and a Supreme Commander in the US Army, he drafted the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.[1]

Eisenhower had to make tough decisions every time about which tasks to prioritize out of many he needed to focus on daily. So, he came up with the famous Eisenhower Matrix, or the Prioritization Matrix.

What Is the Prioritization Matrix?

The Prioritization Matrix is a tool for rating your tasks based on urgency. It helps you know the critical activities and those tasks that you should bypass and can be useful in project management, small businesses, or personal tasks.

Eisenhower famously said of the matrix:

“Most tasks that are urgent are not important, and most tasks that are important are not urgent.”

This quote became the maxim for Eisenhower in managing his time.

There are four quadrants in the Prioritization Matrix, which help in comparing choices of what to do first and last, allowing you to prioritize projects and create strategic plan[2].

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Eisenhower Matrix Template

    The quadrants are:

    • Do
    • Schedule
    • Delegate
    • Eliminate

    Do

    Do is the first quadrant in the Prioritization Matrix, and it incorporates important activities. That is, those tasks you need to carry out urgently — crises, deadlines, and issues that need your urgent attention and are highly relevant to your life mission.

    Hw do you know which task falls into this quadrant?

    Start by analyzing your priorities, and then establish if it falls within the ‘do it now’ criteria. If the task is achievable within a day, or within 24 to 48 hours, it’s urgent.

    Another approach you can adopt in prioritizing tasks in this category is to adopt the “eat the frog” principle by Mark Twain. This principle recommends that you do the most urgent activities as soon as you wake up.

    Here’s a practical example.

    Let’s say you need to draft a content strategy and submit a report to your manager. It’s Saturday, and the deadline for submission is Monday. Can we say the activity is urgent? Definitely!

    Schedule

    The second quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Schedule. The Prioritization Matrix classifies tasks in this category as important but not that urgent.

    They are long-term objectives and tasks with no immediate deadline. Those tasks could include meditation, journaling, studying, family time, and exercising.

    You can plan out activities in this quadrant for some other period. For instance, you should exercise for good health, but you can allocate time to do it.

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    Schedule these activities in such a way that they don’t transfer to the “Do” or “Urgent” quadrant. Ensure you have sufficient time to carry them out.

    Delegate

    The third quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Delegate.

    These tasks are not important to you but are quite urgent for others. This is where teamwork comes into play.

    You can technically perform tasks in this category, but it makes sense to delegate them. Delegating tasks will ensure you have more time to pursue activities in your first two quadrants.

    You should also monitor the tasks you have delegated. It will only amount to a sheer waste of time if you don’t have a tracking system for delegated tasks.

    Eliminate

    The last quadrant highlights your productivity killers. They are tasks that are not important to your goals and not urgent. The only way to boost your productivity is to eliminate them.

    Some examples are constantly checking your phone, watching movies, or playing video games.

    They could also be bad habits that you need to identify and delete from your daily and weekly schedule.

    Successful people have learned how to prioritize and stick to what’s important. They have learned to find a better person for a task or eliminate less significant tasks.

    Let’s consider two inspiring personalities that have designed their prioritization system.

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    Warren Buffet developed a two-list prioritization model to determine which task deserves his best attention. The bottom line is bypassing things that are important and useful but not top of the priorities.

    Mark Ford, a business advisor, marketer, self-made millionaire, and author devised his strategy:

    “Start work on the most crucial priority, take a break, work on the second most important task, take a break, then sort out the less important activities and any tasks he received from other individuals by afternoon.” [3]

    How to Use The Prioritization Matrix

    Using the Prioritization Matrix can be tricky if you’re new at it, but by following a few simple steps, you can learn to utilize it in the best way possible.

    1. List and Rank Your Priorities

    Highlight all the tasks you need to carry out in a day. Then, classify them with weighted criteria based on urgency and importance.

    Identify any activity that requires prompt action. I’m referring to a task that if you don’t complete that day, it could produce a grave consequence. For instance, if you don’t submit your content strategy, other content writers cannot work. It means you need to check for high-priority dependencies.

    2. Define the Value

    The next step is to examine the importance and assess which of them impacts your business or organization the most. As a rule of thumb, you can check which tasks possess higher priority over others. For instance, you need to attend to client’s requirements before you take care of any internal work.

    You can also estimate value by examining how the task impacts the people and customers in the organization. In a nutshell, the more impact a task has on people or the organization, the higher the priority.

    3. Take out the Most Challenging Task

    Procrastination is not a symptom of laziness, but avoidance is. The truth is that you will typically avoid tasks you don’t want to do. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, once said he would take out the most dreaded task first thing when he got to the office.

    Brian Tracy called these tasks the frogs you need to eat. That will remove the nagging dread, which mounts pressure on you when you postpone necessary tasks[4]. This is where the Prioritization Matrix can help; eat the “Do” frogs immediately.

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    If you need help overcoming procrastination, check out this article.

    4. Know What’s Important to You

    As long as you are in this cosmos, you will always encounter different choices that may be contradictory to your goals. For instance, a fantastic promotion that requires excessive travel will isolate you from important relationships. If you are not priority-conscious, you may accept it, even though your family is your priority.

    Therefore, it makes sense to identify what is important to you and to prepare yourself not to compromise those important things for immediate pleasure or gain.

    Yogi Berra captioned it this way:

    “If you do not know your destination, you might end up somewhere else.”

    5. Establish Regular “No Work” Time

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki established a rule not to check her emails between 6 pm and 9 pm. According to a CNN Business report, she was the first woman to request maternity leave when Google just got started. She prioritizes dinner time with her family despite being the CEO of YouTube[5].

    Is it possible to cut out time for our relationships and interests outside of work?

    Of course, and that’s why you need to set out your “no work” time. This approach will enable you to renew your energy levels for the next task. Also, you will be in the best position to introspect as you are not in your usual work zone.

    6. Know When to Stop

    You can achieve everything on your list sometimes. After you have prioritized your workload and assessed your estimates, remove the remaining tasks from your priority list and focus on your most urgent and important tasks.

    Conclusion

    It’s not enough to be successful at work. Ensure you make out time for your family and an important relationship in your life.

    Getting started and finding time may be tricky, but with some practice using the Prioritization Matrix, you’ll find that you are more productive and better able to divide your time between the things that are important to you.

    More Tips on Prioritizing

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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