Newsletter No.2

When we make decisions we make the best choice for us at that time and place. But what about consideration for our own state – both physical and mental. This newsletter will unpack one of the key elements that impacts our decisions and one that our decisions have significant impact on. 

Performance Influences

The question I asked at the end of Newsletter One was; Do you consider if you are ‘fit to fly’ before making a decision? The importance of recognising physical and mental state before making those big decisions cannot be undervalued.

Take a moment to consider how effective you are at making a simple choice as to what to wear or what to eat when you are tired, hungry, angry, annoyed and/or feeling low. For most of us, any decision in this state becomes so much more difficult. Even advertising agencies have recognised when we are hungry we behave differently. Check out any of the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” Snickers ads.

On the reverse when we are well rested, well nourished, and feeling positive making the choice is easier. We are calmer, feel like there is more time, we consider more of the potential outcomes and the impact resulting in more intentional skilful decisions. The physical component is well studied. There is a clear link to the impact of sleep on our cognitive function. This has been the subject of extensive studies and the most common example is the comparison between the physical and mental impacts of lack of sleep and blood alcohol content. Transport NSW even has “test your tired self” which is an assessment of memory, attention and physical reaction times. Try it yourself HERE.

You can take your pick of scholarly articles and public health information concerning the impact of good eating habits on our cognitive performance and hence decision-making. Think about how you feel after a moment of indulgence in fatty foods, and then how you feel after a rounded balanced meal. The quality and balance of what we consume have an impact on our digestion, our mood, our sleep and therefore our cognition and decision-making ability.

Finally, exercise and its impact on our physical and mental health is also extensively studied. The cognitive benefits of getting the blood pumping can be easily tested. If you have been sitting for a while reading newsletters and emails stand up now and do 5-10 star jumps or squats – how do you feel? The increase in heart rate improves the movement of oxygen around our bodies, it releases endorphins and serotonin, the chemicals that make us feel alive. It is one of the reasons that organisations that focus on improving mental health and suicide awareness focus on exercise in their engagement campaigns. For example March On for Soldier On (veteran suicide awareness) and The Push-up Challenge (mental health and suicide awareness). And exercise outside is even better Listen Here.

Good Sleep, nutrition and exercise lead to a clear mind.

Comparison between fitness and decision making

Once the foundations are set – sleep, food and exercise – the next thing that impacts performance is our engagement, focus or level of arousal. Back in 1908 psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson identified a relationship between arousal and performance. Not enough and we a disengaged and absent – decision making becomes hard or we make the wrong decision. For example, the crew sitting in the back of a helicopter cruising up the NSW coastline at 240km/hr with nothing to do but look out the window, when someone asks about opening a door the crew immediately get up and opens the door seemingly without thinking subsequently over stressing the door as it should only be opened below 150km/hr. They were inattentive with low arousal levels and disengaged. How many times have you driven a very familiar route, to arrive at your destination unable to recall the journey? Did you see the cyclist? Kangaroo?

On the opposite end of the spectrum when we are at high arousal, high stress we can miss key information, rush, that feeling of being overwhelmed, so much happening that you don’t know where to start.

 

Stress/ Arousal and performance

Ideally, we are in the middle, we are attentive and alert, have the right mix of nervousness and excitement, and are aware of the risks, and the possible outcomes. Decisions come easily, and confidently. Performance is at its peak. Every time I am preparing to stand on a stage there is something at stake, pressure to perform at my best. I feel that nervous and excited energy. It is the same feeling I get before I go flying. The same feeling you get before a competition. I am present. I focus on my breath and being calm, acknowledging my feelings, to ensure I don’t fall down the slope. I am ready.

Questions

Before you make a crucial decision ask yourself:

  1. How did I sleep?
  2. What have I eaten? Am I hydrated?
  3. How do I feel? Have I moved or been sedentary?
  4. I am attentive, overwhelmed, or just the right amount of nervous?

What can you do to change your state? Eat, Sleep, Move, Breathe

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