Businesses that put minds first will do better.
The business benefits of people being in the best possible state of mind for their work are obvious, even before we count the costs of mental illness and burn out. Calm, energetic, positive staff do better work, and make better decisions. In fact, new legislation making leaders accountable for their decisions is making senior leaders in even the most numbers-driven sectors like banking take their mental state seriously
Shift your mindset
This may mean a shift of mindset that many businesses aren’t ready to face. Take decision-making, for instance. Decisions are unavoidably emotional: in fact, people who suffer brain damage and lose their emotional responses also lose their ability to make choices. Without the instinctive impulse to stop thinking, we would never take action. Your emotional state also affects how you see the world. Stress and negative moods narrow your focus whilst positive ones broaden it out, affecting the factors you consider and influencing your choices. So whether you admit it or not, your emotions are constantly affecting your judgement.
Decision-making is also tiring, so the more choices you make, the worse they get. A famous study of judges – which Barack Obama applied to his presidency – showed that as they got more tired over the day, they became less lenient. Go before the judge first thing, and you have a two-thirds chance of going free; see them when they are tired or hungry, and your chance of freedom drops to nearly zero. As their mental resources dropped, their decisions became more biased and less considered.
This and other similar findings challenge what it means to be “professional”. Rather than suppressing our emotions and working long hours, we need to tune into our minds and understand when and how we work best. CEOs should be taking key decisions first, and being humble about their ability to be insightful later in the day. Recruitment decisions should happen when everyone is rested and well fed, not at the end of a day of interviews. Most of all, workplace stress should be seen not just as a threat to our health, but a threat to our judgement. Stressed, tired people miss opportunities, take irrational risks, and cost businesses money – and worst of all, they don’t even enjoy themselves in the process.
Look after the tools of your trade.
So to really succeed in business, you need to learn to look after the key tool of your trade, you mind. Many of us already know this, and gather knowledge from books and talks about how to get the most from our minds. It’s time this conversation went mainstream, into Boardrooms and business schools. Everyone working in today’s knowledge economy must be equipped with a basic working knowledge of their minds, from mood management to motivation theory, creativity to collaboration. This is a challenge to business leaders to train their staff in practical psychology, and a challenge to educators to equip young people entering the job market with the knowledge they need to thrive.
Change starts with each of us acting differently, so if you want to change the world, change your mind. The basics are straightforward: get plenty of sleep, sunlight, water, good food and exercise. Make time for breathers and restorers to give your mind energy and help keep yourself calm. Make important decisions first, and double-check your thinking when you’re tired or stressed. Most of all, try to remember that you are not a robot, and that what you do to your mind affects it.
Give yourself permission to manage your mind, and you will notice the benefits. Looking after your mind isn’t a luxury, something to be done once the work is complete; it is a key component in getting things done. And best of all, you may even have more fun along the way.
Watch my A Mind for Business, is out now.at the RSA. My new book,