Conquering Mental Fatigue
If you haven't read the previous article about "The myth of mental fatigue", check it out before continuing onto this one.
You've been putting in the hours and doing the grind. You're starting to feel drained and exhausted, and maintaining focus feels like an impossible task. The only issue is that you're not done what you need to have completed for the day. The big question now is: how do I push past the barrier?
Mental Fatigue can be debilitating since it affects your attention control and emotion regulation, increases the likelihood of making mistakes, and makes it more difficult to adapt to situations. But it doesn't have to dominate your life either. Let's go over a few techniques which will help delay or even eliminate the feelings of fatigue.
As I mentioned in my previous post, mental fatigue is largely a motivation problem. As such, one of the most effective ways at maintaining high motivation for the grind is to become mindful of it. Mindfulness is a term you've probably heard of. In fact, it's one of the buzzwords in the performance world - but for good reason. Quite frequently we have a goal we want to achieve, then we plug away at it without much conscious thought. Your goals may still be there but the awareness of them has diminished over time. This is where the evaluation process kicks in, which I previously discussed. The lack of awareness guides the process to deciding that the work you are doing right now has little purpose and, ultimately, considering it a waste of time. Now, your brain is attempting to persuade you into stopping by making you feel tired, reducing your attention, and causing you to make more errors. The solution? Simple. Make sure to bring your goals into the forefront of your mind everyday. Do not passively engage in your work for the day just because it's routine; make sure you are fully and completely aware of WHY you are doing what you're doing. With this kind of mindfulness towards what you are doing, the brain doesn't evaluate the work as a waste of time because it has a purpose.
The second technique I want to talk about is reframing. Reframing is a therapeutic technique, which turns a negative thought pattern into a positive one. When mental fatigue sets in, negative thoughts - such as "this is a waste of time" - begin to emerge as a way of stopping you from continuing whatever you're doing. An example of reframing would be to shift that sentence into something like "this is awful but I am doing it because ____" and assign some type of purpose. The negative mindset is a cognitive tactic to stop your work; putting a positive spin on it helps to reduce the mental fatigue. The tricky part of reframing is that when it's time to reframe, you're already in a negative headspace, making it difficult to engage in positive-style interventions. But if you're aware and prepared for the negative thought patterns, then you'll be able to handle them when they start.
The final technique is rest. Yep. Easy as that. Rest helps to reset the evaluation process. If you've been working on the same thing for hours, you're going to begin entering all the stages of "STOP DOING THIS" due to the effects of mental fatigue. Being proactive in your breaks resets your brain's evaluation of the work you're doing. A 20 or 30 minute break will allow you to re-approach the work without the same degree of fatigue. However, rest does NOT always mean passive rest. In fact, rest is often an active technique. Physical exercise, cooking, talking to friends, playing a game, or anything that engages you. As stated in the previous blog, your brain cannot run out of energy - that's not what mental fatigue is. Doing something active will not drain you further. Being active in your rest actually keeps your brain engaged while restoring your ability to focus.
To sum it all up, the three things you need to remember are:
1) Become mindful of the goals you have and the work you're doing.
2) Reframe the negative thoughts that emerge from fatigue into positive ones.
3) Active rest. Not rest in the traditional sense of the word but an activity that engages you in a different area than what you were working on.
There is much more to conquering mental fatigue but these three techniques will begin to help you have longer, more productive work days.
Have a good one,