I’m not the poster child for managing stress. If I charted my weight it’d resemble the fluctuation of the stock market. Six-shot lattes and inconsistent sleep probably don’t help. Searching for the elusive “balance,” I read the work of Dr. Srini Pillay which struck a chord with me.
Srini is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and he’s authored multiple books on human behavior. His most recent one, Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, cites that planned periods of unfocus in your day can be the catalyst to jumpstart productivity. Srini draws on his two decades of brain research when he coaches high performing executives. His superpower is the ability to distill complex human behavior into actionable Tony Robbins-like advice, backed by science.
In my recent interview with Srini we discussed how the most successful people manage stress and anxiety. Srini was also able to draw on his experience leading the Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program at the renowned McLean Hosptial.
Srini explained an idea he calls existential confidence. “In the face of uncertainty — have a deep sense of trust in yourself and a commitment to the idea that you are sufficient to deliver on the promises that you want to deliver on — and that there’s a possibility that has not yet manifested in reality that you can be committed to.”
Meaning that you don’t always have to know your destination, and if you make a wrong turn on your journey it’s ok to recognize it and move on. At the same time because you live with a deep level of trust you’re not distracted by despair looming around every corner.
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Tips To Recharge Your Brain
Srini warns that working a full day with intense focus is a recipe for fatigue and emptying your brain energy by the afternoon. He says in order to keep the brain in cognitive rhythm, learn to refuel your brain to keep more gas in the tank.
5-15 minutes of napping can provide 1-3 hours of clarity. Srini suggests building in 20 minutes into your lunch break.
Doodling on a notepad (even in team meetings) can help with focus and improve memory by 29%.
Positive constructive daydreaming — Popularized by Jerome Singer, Srini suggests to select a low-key activity like gardening or walking. “Begin to imagine something playful like lying on a yacht or the beach and then just let your mind go. This mind wandering can be helpful to your brain put puzzle pieces together — which is why many people get their best ideas in the shower,” he explains.
Not every recommendation may work for everyone, but it’s worth giving them a shot to see what works for you. Studies have shown self-talk to make a significant impact and it’s easy for it to unconsciously impact you because you may be unaware you’re doing it. Srini shared a handful of techniques to help make self-talk work in your favor:
Frame things in the positive (ironic process theory) — if we frame goals by using the word “not” we’re likely to do the thing we don’t want to do. If you tell yourself not kick the ball to the right, studies have shown that you’re more likely to kick the ball to the right. For example, tell yourself “I want to be calm at this meeting.”
Name the emotion — If you call it out it can decrease activation of the emotion processor in your brain, the amygdala, and therefore help you feel less anxious and more confident.
Speak in the third person — Ethan Kross has studied how speaking in third person can boost confidence and relieve stress. He says to call your name. “Omaid, you’re going to crush this!” You recognize there’s an anxious part of you but you’re not speaking to it directly.
Journaling or expressive writing — Has shone to decrease anxiety. In the 1960s Pierre Marty found that people who were not in touch with their preconscious often developed a form of what he called central depression. “When we lose synchronicity with our preconscious it correlates with having Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and systemic inflammation. Expressive writing is a form of being in touch with the preconscious to help you gain vitality,” Srini explained.
The book I gift to others most frequently is titled A Simple Act of Gratitude. The premise is about a guy who learns to notice the things in his life he should be thankful for and he sets out to write 365 thank you cards. Srini had a provocative approach to this subject.
“Gratitude is not good for the sake of virtue signaling. Sometimes you have a bad day and you don’t want to write down what you’re thankful for. Allow it to emerge through an awareness. If you try to be grateful and you come up with fake thank you messages it lacks authenticity and erodes your own self of being,” Srini explained.
I left my interview with Srini feeling like I had more tools to optimize my mental health. Next time I’m feeling overwhelmed I can reach for one of these strategies. More importantly, I can pro-actively apply some of them so I don’t get to the point of burnout.