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The Science behind Relentless Breakthroughs

The Science behind Relentless Breakthroughs

Life isn’t supposed to be comfortable all the time. While most of us crave a degree of stability, a life without challenges robs you of your fighting spirit and motivation.

Without discomfort, there can be no growth. In a rapidly-changing world, stagnation is the first step towards obscurity and mediocrity. There’s a science behind experiencing the right amount of struggle to spur growth.

The best state: optimal anxiety

Your comfort zone exists so that you have a safe space from which to operate most of the time. In your comfort zone, you know what to do and how to behave, and there are routines and patterns that you follow to reduce stress. People in their comfort zone are generally happier than those who live in a state of heightened anxiety most of the time.

Clearly, stability is something to aspire to, but if things are too comfortable, people tend to become complacent. They may not work as hard to achieve their goals, and they may even lose their ambition altogether.

If you can reach a state of optimal anxiety, then you can enjoy some time in your comfort zone while still feeling pressure to succeed. Optimal anxiety allows you to experience the burst of energy and heightened state of awareness that you need to take on a challenge.

The Harvard experiment on stress levels

We’ve known this for over a century. In 1908, two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, sought to explain different levels of performance. People in a state of comfort could often maintain a steady performance level, but those with high-stress levels experienced decreased productivity. People who wanted to experience growth had to endure some anxiety.[1]

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When our stress levels elevate slightly, we enter into a state of optimal anxiety. This sweet spot, just outside of our comfort zone, is the place where we can improve our performance and make greater gains in our work.

How to reach a state of optimal anxiety

Choose things that are 50% familiar to you

Things that are too commonplace, and things that are way beyond your current understanding won’t keep your attention. Without a doubt, your eyes have glazed over as you listened to someone give a technical lecture on a subject with which you are unfamiliar. You’d be equally disinterested listening to someone repeat the same story over and over. When something is 50% familiar and 50% new, it is more likely to keep you interested.

Educators think about striking this balance between familiar and novel all the time. Developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, calls this area in which we are challenged to learn but not overwhelmed as the “Zone of Proximal Development.”[2] In the Zone of Proximal Development, you have enough context to understand the basics, but you also have room to grow.

Think about when you had to learn math in elementary school. If your teachers tried to teach you trigonometry in pre-school, you would not have been successful. Trigonometry is too difficult to complete without understanding basic math concepts first. It is more likely that they taught you the words and symbols associated with numbers and left the discussion of trig for your high school years.

Break things into baby steps

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You might wonder how you’ll ever learn anything if you are stuck choosing things that are about 50% familiar to you because there are a lot of things that you don’t know. True, when you are trying to learn things, there are more unknowns than knowns, but narrowing the scope of your question can help.

Writers encounter this overwhelm all the time. Imagine that you want to write a book, but you’ve never written before. The concept of writing a book is so foreign that you may not even know where to begin. There’s a lot that you don’t know, and it’s going to obstruct your ability to see what you do know.

If you’ve hardly written more than a few paragraphs since high school, it is unreasonable to think that you can accomplish the Herculean task of writing a book without some steps in between. Break it down by focusing on writing one paragraph, a chapter, or a page. The more you practice, the more you can expect from yourself each day.

Make it a continuous process: Scare yourself every day

Learning must be gradual and continuous. Choose something that exists just outside of your comfort zone every day, and work to understand it. Whatever that unfamiliar thing is, keep breaking it down until you find something you are 50% familiar with. At that point, you can work to tackle the project.

Perhaps you want to be able to host a group of friends at your home for dinner, but you are afraid you’ll ruin their evening. Instead of embarassing yourself or causing too much stress by inviting over ten of your best friends, break the task down into smaller steps.

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Start by trying out the recipes you want to make for your friends. Chances are, you already have some idea about how to cook, and you just need to build confidence and experiment with cooking times and menus. Then, practice by having one or two of your closest friends over. When you feel good about this step, you could invite others over for a dinner party.

People have to tackle big goals all the time. Learning to drive a car, understanding a complex concept in school, and giving speeches can all be accomplished by breaking the goal into smaller steps.

Mark down your worries during the process and review them later

When you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, your brain is going to try to protect you by giving you lots of things to worry about. The torrent of “what ifs” can hold you back from making real progress.

Instead of letting those thoughts own you, write them down. After you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone for the day, review what you wrote. You’ll find that most of the things you worried about didn’t happen. In the future, you’ll be able to recognize that most of your fears are unfounded.

Keep track of your tiny achievements every day

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Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to achieve the end result that we forget to recognize the small accomplishments we make every day. Any accomplishment–regardless of how great or small it is–activates the reward centers in our brains.

If your goal is to exercise five days per week, keep track of your work outs every day. When you see how much you’re doing, it can motivate you to do more. When work seems so overwhelming that you are prone to procrastination, try taking note of each time you begin a project early instead of waiting until the deadline.

Every time you catalog a success, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine.[3] Dopamine triggers that feeling of achievement and pride and energizes us to keep moving forward with our goals. Since your brain loves to be rewarded with a hit of dopamine, it will motivate you to replicate your actions.

Make room to grow every day

Busting out of your comfort zone is more than just a means to achieve your dreams. Finding your optimal level of anxiety affects everything from the amount of motivation that you feel to the neurotransmitters in your brain. A fear of the unknown is just an opportunity to break what you need to learn into accessible steps.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neale Donald Walsch

Reference

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

4 Simple Ways to Make Boring Work Become Interesting

4 Simple Ways to Make Boring Work Become Interesting

Are you bored at work right now?

Sitting at your desk, wishing you could be anywhere other than here, doing anything else…?

You’re not alone.

Even when you have a job you love, it’s easy to get bored. And if your job isn’t something you’re passionate about, it’s even easier for boredom to creep in.

Did you know it’s actually possible to make any job more interesting?

That’s right.

Whether it’s data entry or shelf stacking, even the most mind-numbing of jobs can be made more fun.

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Understanding the science behind boredom is the first step to beating it.

Read on to learn the truth about boredom, and what you can do to stop feeling bored at work for good.

VIDEO SUMMARY

I’m bored – as you’re watching the same film over and over again, even though it’s your favorite one

When you experience something new, your brain releases opioids – chemicals which make you feel good. [1]

It’s the feeling you might get when you taste a new food for the first time, watch a cool new film, or meet a new person.

However, the next time you have the same experience, the brain processes it in a different way, without releasing so many feel-good chemicals.

That’s why you won’t get the same thrill when you eat that delicious meal for the tenth time, rewatch that film again, or spend time with the same friend.

So, in a nutshell, we get bored when we aren’t having any new experiences.

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Now, new experiences don’t have to be huge life changes – they could be as simple as taking a different route to work, or picking a different sandwich shop for lunch.

We’re going to apply this theory to your boring job.

Keep reading find out how to make subtle changes to the way you work to defeat boredom and have more fun.

Your work can be much more interesting if you learn these little tricks.

Ready to learn how to stop feeling so bored at work?

We’ve listed some simple suggestions below – you can start implementing these right now.

Let’s do this.

Make routine tasks more interesting by adding something new

Sometimes one new element is all it takes to turn routine tasks from dull to interesting.

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Maybe there’s a long drive you have to make every single week. You get so bored, going the same old route to make the same old deliveries.

Why not make it a routine to create a playlist of new music each Sunday, to listen to on your boring drive during the week?

Just like that, something you dread can be turned into the highlight of your day.

For other routine tasks, you could try setting a timer and trying to beat your record, moving to a new location to complete the task, or trying out a new technique for getting the work done – you might even improve your productivity, too.

Combine repetitive tasks to get them out of the way

Certain tasks are difficult to make interesting, no matter how hard you try.

Get these yawn-inducing chores out of the way ASAP by combining them into one quick, focused batch.

For example, if you hate listening to meeting recordings, and dislike tidying your desk, do them both at the same time. You’ll halve the time you spend bored out of your mind, and can move onto more interesting tasks as soon as you’re done.

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Break large tasks into small pieces and plan breaks between them

Feeling overwhelmed can lead you to procrastinate and get bored. Try breaking up large tasks into lots of small pieces to keep things manageable and fun.

Try breaking up a 10,000 word report into 1000-word sections. Reward yourself at the end of each section, and you’ll get 10 mini mood boosts, instead of just one at the end.

You can also plan short breaks between each section, which will help to prevent boredom and keep you focused.

Give yourself regular rewards, it can be anything that makes you feel good

Make sure you reward yourself for achievements, even if they feel small.

Rewards could include:

  • Eating your favourite snack.
  • Taking a walk in a natural area.
  • Spending a few minutes on a fun online game.
  • Buying yourself a small treat.
  • Visiting a new place.
  • Spending time on a favourite hobby.

Your brain will come to associate work with fun rewards, and you’ll soon feel less bored and more motivated.

Boredom doesn’t have to be a fact of life.

Make your working life feel a thousand times more fun by following the simple tips above.

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: Why People Get Bored

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