Stress, anxiety, and pressure are no longer fleeting feelings we flirt with while working on a stressful project or stuck in a traffic jam. They have become permanent fixtures in our lives. We have let them creep into our psyche and strangle our well-being. The American Medical Association purports that stress is the basic cause of more than 60 percent of all human illness and disease. They also state that stress is the number one proxy killer disease today. Whether we mean to or not, stress often dominates our thinking and decision-making process. Some may say pressure and stress are motivators. To a certain extent, yes, but at what overall cost? What is the cumulative effect of all this stress, and what is happening to us collectively as a result?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I know one thing. The world needs a pause, a reset. We can actually improve productivity and boost creativity. It’s as simple as implementing a new take on a familiar phrase that we all learned as children: ready, set, pause.
As founder and CEO of Digital Royalty, I am no stranger to stress, anxiety, and pressure. In fact, they are old friends of mine. One fateful day about a year ago in New York City, I was drowning in meetings. I had 15 of them back to back. Just as I was about to hit my point of over-capacity, yet another meeting popped up. It was an 8-minute meeting put on my calendar by my friend and colleague entitled, "Ready, Set, Pause." My friend knew about my hectic day and after seeing a little window in my schedule, she encouraged me to put on my headphones and use that 8 minutes to listen to a couple of songs from a Spotify playlist we had created. It’s amazing how little things can make big changes. I took her advice and relaxed as I listened to the music. To my surprise, after the two songs were over I felt calm, energized, and ready to tackle the rest of my day. That quick pause allowed me to release the tension that had been building with each meeting and to take a hiatus from my buddies, stress and anxiety.
From that day on, an 8-minute "Ready, Set, Pause" has held a permanent spot in my daily agenda. This little trick fascinated me so much that my team and I wanted to learn more.
We took the concept to Dr. Mark Guadagnoli, who holds a dual PhD in Cognitive Psychology and Human Performance. He has taught at Harvard, Arizona State, UCLA, USC, and UNLV. Since introducing this Ready, Set, Pause concept to Dr. Guadagnoli, my team and I have been working with all types of individuals, of all ages, to study its effects.
In one setting, Dr. Guadagnoli gave a group of college students little instruction, other than to make sure to take a dedicated pause every day. The results were incredible. Using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a metric, the students gave the Ready, Set, Pause concept an over 90% approval score (of out 100). The NPS is a metric commonly used by companies to gauge the strength of a company’s customer relationships. The higher the number, the more likely they are to share their opinion with family and friends. This number is powerful—people don’t typically recommend unsatisfying experiences to their loved ones. These results inspired my team and I to include the Ready, Set, Pause concept in our Digital Royalty University classes. We’ve found people retain new things better if they take a few moments to digest what they’ve learned and aren’t overwhelmed by information overload.
Another fascinating area of our research with Dr. Guadagnoli involves younger-aged children and the effect that taking a regular Ready, Set, Pause has on their behavior. One creative kindergarten teacher whom we’re working with explained the concept to her class by using a familiar phrase: "ready, set, go," which all the kids recognized and understood. Then she asked them if they knew what "pause" meant, and yelled "stop!" Now, the teacher reports that whenever she says the words "ready, set, pause," the kids immediately stop what they are doing, put their head down, and remain quiet for several moments. The important thing here, according to Dr. Guadagnoli, is that if children can learn to "disrupt the patterns of continuous stress" from an early age, they will reap huge health benefits throughout their lives. Stress can cause weight gain, obesity, diabetes type I and II, hypertension, and digestive disorders, among many others. Teaching children to stop for a moment or two and reassess a stressful situation before acting will cause them to create patterns of good decision-making.
Our brains don’t know the difference between big and small stress. Every time we experience stress, our brains release chemicals that impair cognitive function. Allowing stress to build and falsely believing a long weekend or run at the gym will fix everything is one of the worst things we can do. The most effective technique is to manage it throughout the day. Like a muscle, we can train our brains to react to stress differently.
Dr. Guadagnoli is confident that with practice, a full 8-minute pause is not necessary (although you may just want to take it anyway). In fact, the same stress-relieving effect can be achieved in as little as 30 seconds, but with full focus and attention on the present moment.
In today’s world of nonstop distractions, the present is highly underrated. In a recent Harvard study, researchers found that people spend approximately 47% of their lives lost in thought. We spend our days pondering the past and worrying about the future, not cherishing the moment we are currently experiencing.
Taking a daily Ready, Set, Pause encourages mindfulness and instantly decreases stress levels. It can be as easy as listening to a few songs, or going for a walk. However you choose to take it, make sure there are no distractions. No phones, conversations, or computers.
Once you’re done, share your experiences with others by using the hashtag #ReadySetPause or tagging @ReadySetPause on Twitter. Social communication tools are a perfect for accountability and inspiration. Get acquainted with the present and cultivate a greater sense of focus, clarity, and calm. Don’t be afraid to make a small change. Innovate your day, because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
[Image: Flickr user phill.d]