Five ways to build your true potential

Last week Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian Government announced the National Innovation and Science agenda, emphasising its importance for economic prosperity and growth.

It's been a long time coming, so big cheers for Malcolm (seriously). As an entrepreneur, I love seeing the government shift its focus from commodities like paddocks of grain and livestock towards supporting innovation through education, science, research and infrastructure.

While wheat and wagyu have their place in our economic success, innovation will lead the way forward for Australia. We need to shift our approach to competing on the world stage.

Brains over brawn

Harvesting the land and cashing in on commodities have been easy fallbacks for decades, so it's exciting to see we're finally acknowledging and rewarding not just bodies for doing hard work (physical labour), but brains and how they will mould and impact our future (knowledge workers).

The recent listing of Atlassian on the US Stock Exchange is now valued at more than $US8 billion ($11.1 billion), which shows Australian companies they can compete on the global platform.

Turnbull has definitely opened up more opportunities for collaboration and creativity, but I wonder if all of these incentives are enough? Is Big Mal's plan perhaps missing something?

It's easy to focus purely on the big picture when government releases its grand plans, but what can we all do to maximise creativity, innovation and stimulate our minds? What can you do without extra funding? What can you do if you are reading this blog right now and want to start making a real difference?

Potential difficulties

Having studied both the body (a degree in Exercise Physiology), and the brain (a Masters in Coaching Psychology), I am convinced that you will never reach anywhere near your full potential if, like the average worker in the western world, you are overloaded (too much to do and not enough time to do it in), fatigued (tired due to minimal recovery and not managing stress effectively) and distracted (controlled by technology and pulled in every direction from sunrise to sunset).

My job puts me in contact with  thousands of employees from a range of different industries every year and we constantly get feedback on how our programs make people 'smarter, more creative, innovative, and a whole lot more productive'.

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Our so-called secret ingredient? Sticking to the basics and giving people three of the most valued gifts in this modern day and age – more time, energy and attention (TEA).

Giving you more TEA

If you are overloaded, fatigued and distracted (the opposite of TEA), going on a training program or adding a process to help make you more innovative is like trying to pour water into a glass that is already full. First you need to strip back.

The approach my company takes is to build extra capacity and help people save time (working smarter), improve energy (physical activity, nutrition, stress management) and sharpen attention (minimising distractions and training mindfulness).

All of which put you in a much better position to access your brain and use it how it was originally designed: to think, create, innovate, implement and decide.

Maybe the second instalment of the National Innovation and Science agenda can include an addendum that says we cannot pass GO, or collect $200 until you also:

  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night
  • Take brain breaks throughout the day
  • Do interval training three times a week
  • Drink lots of water, and
  • Turn off your pop-up email alert (because multi-tasking is making you stupid)

As you read this, I can already hear you saying "What the? Come on Big Mal, we want to be innovative, not focus on all of this fluffy health and lifestyle stuff. Just give us the innovation incentives and then let us get on with it".

Five ways to build more capacity 

Science, and years of practical experience tells me that to get on with it' you need to first put the building blocks of the body and brain together properly, including:

1. Get more sleep

Quality sleep improves memory and is crucial for storing information in the brain. During sleep, brain regions such as the hippocampus and the neocortex are literally at the same wavelength, resulting in better connectivity between the two allowing new experiences made throughout the day to be integrated into our existing knowledge and stored as long-term memory.

2. Take brain breaks every 90 mins to two hours

Regular breaks during the working day allows the brain to temporarily pull back and integrate new information with existing knowledge. This helps to make novel connections and come up with new ideas.

3. Do interval training three times a week

Cardiovascular training prevents cognitive decline as we get older by ensuring the survival of existing neurons as well as enhancing the growth of new neurons and synapses in the brain.

4. Drink lots of water

Bobby Boucher from The Water Boy was correct, you need lots of "hiiiiigh quality H2O".

Drinking water throughout the working day ensures good cognition such as enhanced working memory, which is absolutely crucial for problem solving or planning.

5. Turn off email alerts

I see lots of smart people, paid a lot of money, doing really dumb things when it comes to allowing email to control their time, energy and attention. Check you email periodically and break the ludicrous email chain. Multi-tasking results in a fragmenting of attention. Structuring periods where you focus on one task increases cognition and uses less energy.

How do you increase your capacity and harness your true potential? Let us know in the comments section.

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 - plus a few of the pitfalls - along the way.

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