This week I am talking to Dr. Heidi Hanna best-selling author to the book A Sharp Solution. A brain based approach for optimal performance. As a performance coach and keynote speaker. Heidi has trained thousands of individuals on practical ways to incorporate nutrition, exercise, and positive psychology strategies to improve their health, productivity and performance. Her vast coaching experience and passionate coaching style help to motivate individuals and teams to develop sustainable success at both the personal and professional level. Heidi is CEO and founder of Synergy, a coaching consulting company that specializes in customized health and wellness solutions for individuals and organizations.
P: Dr. Hanna it is so great to have you here.
H: thanks Penny it’s great to be here.
P: It’s funny how we got introduced. I would like to share the story. One of my clients was in one of your programs and he was listening to the program and said wow, you sound like you have similar philosophies around energy management. I was really surprised because not many people have that perspective and use the terminology energy management. I was so excited when he put me in touch with your book. After reading it, I felt like we were kindred spirits on the same path. I almost felt like I could have written this book first.
H: I feel that way hearing your introduction. I wanted to say Amen a couple times.
P: We have a lot in common. Your neurological approach you take to energy management and focus, I am interested in that. Can you tell us about it?
H: Sure. I have been practicing energy management for about 8 years. I worked for the company The Human Performance Institute. What I learned came from Jim Lairs, The Powerful Engagement. I had the chance to work with them. I found that I was doing a lot of what I was teaching. It’s important that we follow our own walk and talk the talk. I was working so hard and wearing myself thin. Even though I knew exactly what I should be doing, I found myself getting blocked. I had this wealth of knowledge, practice and experience, but yet couldn’t make the decisions. I think that is such a common thing that people struggle with. It’s really frustrating. Going through that experience myself, I wanted to learn how the brain works. The same time I was having this personal insight, I found out that my third grandparent was diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s disease. Thinking about the brain and performance and being healthy in the moment but also how the brain ages and what to do to slow down that progression. It’s really that perfect storm that pulled me away at just looking energy management but to a more physiological standpoint. I really started to look at the brain as the conductor of our energy. We need to treat our brain well so that it will move us in the direction of our goals.
P: I was thinking when you were saying that, the brain being the conductor of our energy, how does the physical aspect and psychological aspect come into that?
H: In the book, The Sharp Solution, I look at training the brain and the body to manage energy more efficiently and doing that from an inside approach. It still takes into account all of those pieces of the body. What I do first and foremost is look at the brain and balance of brain chemistry. A lot of us go wrong, because of high levels of stress, our system is constantly being flooded with cortisol and stress hormones that get in the way of our logical focusing. As a result, we get into a knee jerk reaction where we are really functioning out of survival instead of making choices that will help us thrive. The first step is the importance of balancing the brain chemistry by doing relaxation activities. They are so simple but yet, common sense is not so common. Its stuff that people know but yet we get into our busy chaotic routine and it totally falls to the wayside. Making that balancing brain chemistry priority number one, then we can move to engaging the heart on what’s most important to us. Focusing the mind so that we are clear on what we want to work on. Chunking that into small pieces. Energizing the body and engaging the communities. It’s an inside out training approach.
P: When you mentioned those 4 different energies there is a lot of synergy with my ten core elements and how it fits together. I know the brain to be in a form of muscle.
H: I love that analogy. Some people will say, not really. The brain is part of the body and if you don’t use it you will lose it.
P: Exactly. It’s an analogy that I use a lot and people can relate to. The black hole of unknown. Even though we are learning more about it, it is still quite mystical. I have learned from my trainer many things. I work on a special 30 minute workout that brings my muscles to exhaustion. He taught me to break down the muscle in order for it to rebuild even stronger. I also believe that is true about our comfort zone. I put the two together is when I was living in Switzerland, I did some extreme sports activities, mountain bike marathon, and I actually felt like these activities challenged me so much that mental and physically it broke everything down and built it back up even stronger. So now I am the bionic woman. It has made me mentally stronger and more flexible and it aided in balancing that brain chemistry so that I was able to think more clearly. Be more focused and take the emotions out of the equation in situations. I really related back to some of those extreme sports experiences. What is your experience on that?
H: A lot of the work I have done has been with athletes and elite athletes and looking at their training protocol. I was a softball pitcher in college. I relate back to that experience. You put yourself in a situation to be challenged mentally, emotionally, spiritually all at the same time. The one thing that most people are missing the recovery time. Just like your trainer says, you can’t do that routine every single day. You have to work different muscle groups because the muscles require an adequate amount of time to do the repair work. What I see happening with people is they are overtraining their brain in certain dimensions and undertraining in others. Focus would be one of those. It’s wearing down after time, so we find as the day goes on that we start multitasking more and getting pulled in different directions because we can’t sustain that strain of focus over time without rebuilding that recovery. With your trip and experiences, I am sure you knew that in order to perform your best, you needed some recovery or downtime that is planned into your agenda. That is what elite athletes do. We don’t do it enough in our daily lives. We blow it off because everyone else is blowing it off too. A lot of negative self-talk. Stress addiction that I talk so much about now.
P: The world health organization has declared stress as a worldwide epidemic. It has become part of our culture.
H: Stress is such an interesting thing, our perception of the stress. There are a couple of things going on. One is we have to have an energy system to handle stress. All stress good or bad requires energy. We have to have that recovery and the right mind set or perspective. I am sure as you know, two people can be in the same scenario, one person can break down and the other can be built up. It depends on the other things that are going on in their life. If they perceive that as a challenge or threat.
P: To get that adequate recovery, the point you just made is recovery could be very different for two different people. One of the things that I talk to people about is the concept of we can all wear ourselves down from too much focus. It’s looking at our transitions in our day where we can build in little pockets of recovery and understand what it is that would give us that recovery. Like taking a little walk, listening to some music, or whatever that is. What it adequate recovery for people who are working day to day in this environment that you talked about?
H: It’s different for everybody. Every day is different for everybody. It’s difficult to define stress or come up with stress solution. There is no one size fits all. We know that everyone needs recovery. It’s important for people to carve out time to think about what they do that does give them energy back. Again, you can look at this physically, emotionally, spiritually, across the dimensions. First and foremost is the simple balancing exercises of breathing. It’s simplistic and once again, common sense is not common.
P: Wasn’t it Jane Fonda that was famous for don’t forget to breathe, right?
H: Of course we know that. Again, stress zaps it out of us. We start short shallow breathing. That tells the brain that there is an emergency. Human beings are the only species out there that can perceive an imagined threat and have the same stress response. So we are having this response all day long. Just by simply taking some slower, calmer, cleansing breaths, we now trigger the relaxation response that causes that balancing effect. Even though it seems so basic, some of those things we think are so easy, we don’t do them. So what I started to do is to encourage people every hour to think about how much time they can dedicate to this practice. I try to give myself a solid 10 minutes each hour and just do something creative. Or talk to a friend. Or do deep breathing. I personally love doing short recharge breaks where I listen to some calming background noise or ocean waves. There are a lot of apps available if they want to use some sort of technology. I laugh using technology to get away from technology. We do what we need to have some sort of guide. Eventually it will come more naturally.
P: Before we go on break I want to point out that we have been talking to Dr. Heidi Hannah and the number one strategy to reducing stress, is breathing. People don’t forget to breathe!! Its time to take a break. Stay tuned.
P: Welcome back to Take Charge of Your Productivity. WE are speaking about multi-tasking and its erosion of our focus and productivity. We are with Dr. Heidi Hanna. Welcome back. One of the questions I like to ask everyone is about productivity. How do you define it? And why?
H: Such a good question. It’s one of those areas that we have so much synergy on. Being productive is being able to optimize our time and energy. It’s really bringing our best energy to the time we have. I think of this idea of full engagement and being able to bring your best physical emotional spiritual and mental self to the moment. You want to produce something. I think that often times we look at the quantity or how many things we can cross off of our to do list. I know working on my new book, I feel that way. How many pages or words did I get? I want to make sure the quality is there as well. Sometimes we have to slow down and do less in order to ultimately have more output. It’s a very tricky thing cuz we are also stuck into needing to get more done in less time. That can push us into making a lot of mistakes and transitioning into multi-tasking.
P: I do want to plug that book again, The Power of Full Engagement. When I read that book, it was a book that I totally connected with. I sent one to all of my friends. It made a huge difference in people’s lives. I encourage people out there who are listening, in addition to the Sharp Solution that Dr. Heidi Hanna written, to also look into reading the Power of Full Engagement written by Jim Loehr. It’s the energy that creates the quality in what we are producing. The question is it’s compared to what? The quality of what we produce needs to be judged on what we believe the quality to be. So often, we have bench marks around us that we are more often than not unhappy with our results because of the way someone else feels about it. Or how it comes across to the outside world as opposed to ourselves.
H: We are so good at comparing ourselves to the best of everyone else. We pick the most elite person and expect ourselves to be that way. Boy that is a lot of pressure and stress. Very energy draining.
P: We should compare ourselves to the very best of ourselves. You mentioned earlier four factors, what are the factors that you think have the greatest impact on productivity?
H: I look at overall energy. Bringing your best energy. There are many ways to look at this. Powerful Engagement looks at physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. For me, I look at it strategically so that it was a matter of what can we do. There were 5 different things: Balancing brain chemistry, engaging the heart (Knowing your passion, purpose), focusing the mind, energizing the body and engaging the community. Each one of those, that social element adds a big piece to it too because as human beings, we need support. One of the quickest ways to trigger survival mechanisms is to isolate us from a connection. What is funny about that is even though we are around people all the time, we are very social creatures, and it doesn’t mean we have a sense of deep connection that we need to function at our best. That’s one of those pieces I tell people I don’t want to put more on your plate, but being connected, having meaning conversations, and building strong friendships, etc. Water cooler time is not wasted time, it’s actually energizing to the human system. All of that ultimately helps with productivity.
P: These elements that you are talking about are about balance. They are so important. Balancing the brain chemistry, engaging the heart, focusing the mind, energizing the body and engaging the community. I want to bring those points to people because those are the elements of balance. I like what you said about community. That is one that people don’t think about and I have included that in a different context in my first element which is about purpose. When we add an element of contribution, when we get outside of ourselves, our purpose expands. It also is a real key factor in reducing stress. When speakers get up to speak. They say they are nervous and the best thing they can do is stop thinking about themselves and focus on the audience and the value they are delivering. That stress or nervousness goes away.
H: My focus on aging and Alzheimer’s disease, a great way to boost longevity is to have a sense of purpose. Looking at studies done across the globe, your reason for being can add up to seven years of your life span. When you look at thriving populations, they have in common that connectedness. As they age, they become more valuable to society as opposed to less. As people age in our society, they tend to lose their sense of purpose. We are not meant to be all or nothing and that is how many of us function. We work, work, work, and then we stop, and then we have that disconnect. If we can bring in purpose and meaning outside our work, it will keep us healthier and have a longer life span.
P: People sometimes die after six months of retirement because they lose their sense of purpose. Their self-definition revolves around what they do instead of something greater. What they do is just one vehicle in the way they express themselves. Larry Ackermann with The Identity Coat talks about finding your identity and defining it. Let’s get back to multi-tasking. People are waiting to hear about it. We have a lot of overachievers on the line. I am guessing there are people out there who spend a lot of time multi-tasking. In your book, you said that there are studies that show multitasking is counterproductive. Not only creates a decline in our performance but also stresses the brain.
H: I remember studying and teaching this for the last ten years. More and more studies come out. People know this by now, why do I keep preaching the same thing? It never fails, multitasking is still happening. People feel like it’s their only option. Their work environment is forcing them to multitask. We do have multiple priorities. That is different from multi-tasking. Yes, there are multiple things going on and we have to wear different hats. The important thing is when we do each task, we are fully engaged in that task. What so often happens is we start feeling the pressure or stress to get more done in less time. We shift out of energy focus and into time focus. Time focus tells us that if I do two things at once it’s better than doing one. The problem with two things, is we don’t do either of them well. There are studies that show this. We only have a limited amount of brain power at any given time. There is a measurement technique for that. There is a number for that. When we are trying to split that number up, it obviously decreases on each side. Also, parts of the brain are not able to be used simultaneously, even if we want to, it’s not able to. The piece of this I try to focus on is regardless of productivity, you are stressing the brain unnecessarily because it is not able to handle multiple things. Our brains are very primitive. If I was in a survival situation and I had to do multiple things in a deadline, that causes my brain to stress into a fight or flight or freeze response. That becomes toxic and causes an inflammatory response in the body and also interferes with communication channels in the brain. You can see clearly that the core of the brain, is fired up and it actually interferes with communication to the logical thoughtful part of the brain. So now you can see very clearly what the problem is. What is getting in the way? All of these sources competing for your time and energy causes an increase in stress. Which increases cortisol to the brain. It is the worst thing for you because it actually kills brain cells. I could go on and on and on. The story we tell ourselves that says I need to multi-task and get more done in less time. Even our heart believes that success comes from one thing at a time. But we ignore this. In the moment when we feel pressure, we slip back into autopilot that says do more do more. We need to train our brain like a muscle to single-task things. The more we do that the more comfortable we become with that. Multitasking will eventually become uncomfortable.
P: In this case practice makes perfect.
H: In this case, the practice creates focus. It gives us a chance to rewire our brains. That is the exciting part is that we are able to change if we want. We can train our brains to focus on one thing at a time. Allow recovery time and new pathways will be built and pull us in the right direction.
P: Getting a clear process together of doing consistent practice and also having that recovery in between. The most important thing is to support yourself within an environment that supports you in achieving that. I struggle with the root belief that says hey you will get more done if you multi task. I find that I need to set myself up with different structures with myself. Like setting objectives, timers, etc. What am I going to achieve in this 50 minute slot? That helps me to eliminate everything else. Shut down email, text and other stuff that can distract me. That supportive environment that I create to help me continue to do that. It starts and then builds into a ritual. If you have the right tools and support around you.
H: The basic steps of balancing brain chemistry is when we do our deep breathing or meditation, we are building a more resilient system to help us resist multitasking. My newest mantra mediation is mandatory. I start with 20 minutes of breathing and ending my day that way causes me to be a totally different person. I need to do this for my brain. It’s not just an immediate benefit, but more of resilience you build by doing it over time.
P: You made a mantra meditation mandatory. When we create rituals, we are making a choice that then become a part of who we are. It’s not a sporadic thing. It gives us the energy that we want to have and to be the person we want to be.
H: It’s about convincing yourself to create a new story of yourself. This is who I am and what I need to do my best.
P: I believe that is the crux to true behavioral change. You say in your book, it’s not a 30 day program to create change in your behavior. Is that why you wrote that? It’s more about changing who you are?
H: We have to change our story about who we are and what we need. That meditation one is such a good example. So many people say they can’t sit still and turn off their brains for five seconds. I was that person and I understand that. It’s frustrating to me because they try it once and it’s uncomfortable and they stop as opposed to making that commitment to a longer time frame. Once you see the benefit of it, you will change.
P: Thank you so much, it’s time for a short break. When we come back we are going to talk about her message on finding your focus and how to apply it to live a happier life.
Welcome Back. Today we are speaking about focus with Dr. Heidi Hanna.
P: The topic of habits and rituals. Habits save us energy as they are automatic. To me, rituals are a positive choice that we make as who we are. Habits have a presupposition to them in that they have negative patterns or thoughts. Like eating too much or smoking. What do you mean by saying habits save us energy but you also believe in rituals?
H: We have a negative bias when it comes to what we pay attention to. Our tendency is to focus on the things that might harm us. Not really pay attention to the little things like a stick breaking in the wood. You don’t think it’s some animal waiting for you. We are hard-wired to think about bad things. Bad habits and what we need to change and fix. We are always trying to make ourselves better. What’s important to recognize is we are creatures of habit. Studies show that 95% of human behavior is actually happening as a habit. It’s automated. Habits are our brains way of conserving resources because one something becomes ingrained into a habit, we don’t have to spend energy on it. We spend energy on rituals and save it on habits. We do need to create rituals but what’s important is we need to realize that we only have a limited amount of energy and brainpower on creating something new. Rituals are absolutely important. They are self-selected. Something that is going to require an energy expenditure. If that is going to become a habit, we need to invest in that for a while. Not take on so many things that we are running on fumes and then end up doing nothing.
P: I believe ritual comes after a habit. We go into automatic mode. That is who we are. We live in our own matrix. I believe that ritual is that part of our identity which is even more effortless than habit. Habit to me is there is a presupposition that there is resistance. Resistance then creates an expenditure of energy. That is just my definition. Once we get to ritual, we have dealt with that inner self talk. Sometimes I use religious examples because it’s easy to understand. A lot of religions have specific practices that they don’t even think about it. It’s a part of who they are. It’s just something they do all of the time. That’s how I see that. Just a different twist on that. My perspective.
H: No matter what you call the habits and rituals, it’s important to understand that willpower is so inconsistent and that it is a limited resource. Plenty of studies have shown that the more we use willpower we can start to weaken that. It’s important that recognizing that wanting to do something is not enough to engrain those habits or rituals. It’s the training process. It’s the training that allows us to remain consistent.
P: Do you have one or two tips to share?
H: My book!! Ha ha. The whole thing is about just that. How do we train our brain and our body to make these healthier choices more automatic pilot? We do that by having a system in place. Breathing and balancing our brain and getting the recovery we need throughout the day. Having 50 minutes of work with 10 minutes of break as part of your routine and as who you are is what I talk about to get your optimal performance. Then when you have to make those tough choices, you will have energy in the tank.
P: Being tired and wired seems to be representative of our culture.
H: I am working on a new project called “Stressaholic.” It’s a personal experience I am going through with some adrenal fatigue. When I speak, I see people in tears who are so fried and burnt out with the demands that are being placed on them. It’s not just demands on their time but their energy. They are so exhausted because they can’t turn their brains off at the end of the day.
P: That is exciting that you are working on another book. I can’t wait to see what comes across in that. The Sharp Solution is the book to get. Read through it carefully so you are ready for the next book. What else are you working on?
H: I am trying something new. I am working on one project at a time. I am still finishing up a book tour. I am hitting 80 different cities this year for the book tour. Meanwhile, I am trying not to do any writing for the next 6 weeks. We often teach what we most need to learn. The stress aholic process has been a challenge for me. I laugh because I know I am one. So what do I do? I write a book about it. How stressful!
P: I am glad that people are hearing that we are teaching from experience. We are running out of time. I need to close up and would love to have you back.
H: Sounds great.
P: In summary, focus is a combination of intention and attention. As we learned today, Dr. Heidi Hanna, there needs to be alignment between the two. The marriage of the heart and the logic of the brain. I challenge you to take that concept a step further to decide where you will put your energy and focus. To focus your attention with intension. Intention is what we focus on as a result of our vision or purpose. In order to manage your energy productively, we need to consider both forms of focus. What we pay attention to will have a dramatic influence on our lives. Where we put our attention will direct our thoughts and alter our perception of the world. You have the power to direct the creation of the energy. Choose to pay attention to your language, questions, meaning you assign to people places and things. Pay attention to what you want and why you want it. Focus your attention with intention and there is nothing you can’t achieve. Take charge of your time and energy. It’s a choice you can feel good about.