All of us have experienced days when our productivity soared. It was like nothing could slow us down. Everything that we had planned for the day toppled like a row of dominoes. We were unstoppable. Then, the next day, we couldn’t buy a check on our next action list. We couldn’t make anything happen. If pressed, we couldn’t say what the difference was between the two days.
Several things came together this week to explain one cause of this phenomenon to me:
- Noting that I seemed to be more productive when I worked at a large counter where I could spread everything out and stand while I worked, I wondered if my being able to stand and work made the difference. The extra space didn’t seem to be a consideration as I have a 3 X 6 foot desk with plenty of room for materials and paperwork.
- I also remembered Tony Robbins and his connection with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Through his program, I know that one tactic that is useful in changing one’s state is changing one’s physiology (changing how one uses their body). I studied NLP and Robbins techniques in years past and I knew that it worked, as I noticed a difference in my state when I changed my breathing patterns, posture, and the way I carried my body.
- For Father’s Day, my 21–year old sons, who are finishing up pre-med and are applying to med schools, tied the two things together while teaching me about the central nervous system. They learned this in their studies as well as in MCAT prep courses and materials.
Our Nervous System
Our autonomic nervous system controls the systems of the body that we don’t think about, including our heart beat/rate, respiration, and digestion. The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active, it, among other things, increases blood flow to the digestive organs and slows the heart rate. This is known as the “rest and digest” reflexes. When the sympathetic is active, it dilates the pupils, increases the blood sugar, increases the heart rate, and increases the respiration. In short, it triggers the “fight or flight” response, enabling us to take action.
We Can Exploit Our Natural Responses
By mimicking the sympathetic reactions to a threatening environment (sitting up straight, standing, moving quickly, deeper breathing), it appears to be possible to activate the sympathetic system, which then takes over. We are ready to act, or in our case, be productive. We can also change our environment to one that causes the sympathetic system to activate, one that is more spartan, threatening, or simply uncomfortable. The result? We take action. We are more productive.
Strategies for Making Your Body Work for You
The next time you notice yourself struggling in one of those unproductive days, try activating your sympathetic nervous system by using some of these:
- Sit up straight.
- Go for a brisk walk.
- Breath deeply and forcefully.
- Change to a more physical activity.
- Work standing up.
- Move to a different work area where you are not as comfortable.
- Turn the lights up.
- Change to a more uncomfortable chair and desk.
- Turn the temperature down.
- Do some quick exercise.
- Take a break to play a sport (I’m envious of those of you whose employers provide a gym or exercise room and the time to use it).
- Go for a swim.
- Move to an unfamiliar office or area.
- Work in the library.