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The Psychology Behind Why Every Day In Lockdown Feels Like ‘Groundhog Day’

They say variety is the spice of life, and for those trying to thrive in lockdown, the age-old adage couldn’t be more important. No matter how mentally strong and resilient you usually are, it’s tough to shake a sinking feeling when you’re facing health-mandated restrictions on what you can do, who you can see, and how you usually shape your weekly schedule. It’s tempting to build a routine and churn through it while waiting “it” out, but a recent study suggests you’ll need to do more to fight the lockdown Groundhog Day effect to make sure it doesn’t muddle your focus, impair your memory, and wreak havoc on other cognitive processes.

Working from home might be de rigueur moving forward, even when we’re no longer trapped in a cycle of lockdowns, but if you don’t figure out how to nail the dramatic change in context for the better, you won’t be very effective in, well, anything.

recent study on people in Italy, who were locked down for months last year, suggests that the insidious effects of lockdown are lingering memory problems, which would range from forgetting small things like where you left your smartphone, to trouble with attention when trying to read a book or stream a show. If you find your mind wandering a bit more than usual, it seems you’re far from alone.

Out of 4,000 respondents in the study, 30% had reported some degree of change in their everyday cognition. This is obviously going to be accentuated in people with underlying emotional issues like depression and anxiety, but even for those without any such conditions, these cognitive issues were very common.

The implications for productivity are dire, which is why you should be across the more granular details when it comes to this so-called lockdown memory fog. You can’t fight something effectively if you don’t know how it works.

The Groundhog Day Effect

The above study suggests that the reason our everyday memory is on the fritz is that we are living through a kind of Groundhog Day, and this makes it harder for our brains to properly encode memories, not only make them more difficult to retrieve later on, but messing with our sense of time.

Attempting to explain the results of the study, Professor Brett Hayes from UNSW’s School of Psychology references the recently refined contextual-binding theory of memory. This basically states that memories form by linking experience to context.

“What we know about human memory is that the context is really important”, said Professor Hayes. “You might be doing a job at home, chatting to a friend, or watching a movie…. when we have those experiences, we might be focused on the main part of the experience, but our brain is actually encoding a lot of other things just incidentally, like where that’s happening, the location, where and when it’s taking place”.

Our brain is hyper-sensitive to these contextual cues, and it’s what helps us better lay down memories in a way that’s easily retrieved later on. Lockdown strips away much of the variety in our weekly contexts; we’re no longer having dinner out with friends at different restaurants, trying new outdoor activities, working with spaces that allow for variety, and so on. Sleeping on different sides of the bed each night, or working out in different rooms of the house. doesn’t count.

Most of us have then sunk into a cycle that allows for very little repetition outside of incremental variations on the same ol’ shit. Even Bill Murray had more freedom than this in Groundhog Day, and when we’re limited to very few contexts between days, that’s when time can blur and those memory and attentional issues come to the fore.

Of course, most of this may be obvious to a lot of you. But knowing there’s increasing experimental evidence sitting behind this should at least make you feel a bit more… normal. I know I’ve been making far more spelling mistakes than usual lately, and while having too many tabs (web browser tabs, open) usually overwhelms me, this time it’s straight-up murder to my mind.

Routine, Variety, & Socialising

Having a routine – especially a morning one – is always going to be important. Your personal rituals are crucial for daily structure, and just about every successful person in the world will tell you that. But mixing them up and balancing them with variety should hold equal importance, especially now that your range of contexts is severely limited.

Maintaining a level of social interaction is important, beyond whoever you happen to be locking down with.

Another study on a two-month lockdown in Scotland last year required respondents to test their memory via a number of online tasks across memory, decision making, and selective attention. Results suggest that performance was not only poorer during lockdown, but people who were able to maintain their online interaction during those lockdowns did better at all tasks.

People, particularly blokes, don’t like to admit when they’re feeling lonely, whether it’s due to a fear of being seen as weak and emotionally unstable, or being a burden to others. That should stop, if even for the sake of productivity in other areas of your life.

While keeping up social interactions and changing contexts wherever you can is important, it’s a bit harder to put it into practice. This goes beyond just changing your Zoom background every time your mates host a virtual poker sesh, that need for variety should extend to your exercise as well.

“From a memory point of view, if you are able to exercise outside the house, vary those exercise paths from day to day to just allow a different context for your brain to encode those different days, if you want to be able to remember what you did from day to day a bit better,” suggests Prof. Hayes.

“Variations on exercises and activities in your house or apartment will also help you avoid the memory fog”.

From nutrition to sex, variety just leads to better overall experiences and performance. You don’t need an article to tell you that (I would hope), so bring a little bit of that thinking into more areas of your locked-down life. You might be limited to the same context each day, but it helps if you play around with the space between those boundaries to try and switch things up. Trust the process and you’ll see results.

Although if you’re worried this lockdown Groundhog Day effect might bring about some permanent changes, you shouldn’t get too stressed. The above studies also found that once restrictions were eased, particularly the social isolation, and people started experiencing different events in different places, the memory fog effect dissipated quickly.

Hang in there, you’ve got this.

This article was originally published by Chris Singh on Boss Hunting


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Posted in The world @work

From little things… Easter, a time for renewal

It was while waiting to cross at the lights on Spring Street last week, standing (suitably) apart from a couple on my walk home, when I overheard one say, “Things will really get bad when Bunnings closes.”

I wanted to step closer and join that conversation. Unable to, I’m thinking aloud, privileged to share with you my own Bunnings – to Easter – to renewal – to growth story.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in this Easter; overworked, underworked or out of work, my hope is that we can use these four days to pause, to see them as an opportunity to consider new beginnings.

In the Northern Hemisphere, from where many of our ancestors originated, Easter was a Spring celebration – a time for renewal and new life. They planted in Spring, partied hard after the back-breaking work, prayed for a good season of growth, welcomed spring rains and looked forward to a bountiful harvest in five to six months.

Which brings me back to my Spring Street eavesdropping moment. The things we work on now give us a sense of accomplishment, and hope for the future. How much would we miss Bunnings if its doors had to close at this time – painting, repairing, refreshing our homes, feeding our soil, new plantings for our pots or plots and gardens.

In the Southern Hemisphere, particularly in temperate and cool climate regions, we go into Autumn and look towards winter. We have more thinking and planning time, but also seek out the plants that will grow into a bountiful harvest as we come through into Spring. We can clean out and clean up our homes and nurture personal relationships. None of it need cost a cent, but we can look back and be proud to have turned ‘the worst of times’ into ‘the best of times’. We can indulge in personal passions (so long as they don’t involve travel), sharpen our skills and improve on every day…

The theme of ‘Renewal’ marked the Pagan’s Springtime celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere. Every faith has its festivities and I’m wishing you all a Northern Hemisphere-like Easter this year, a time for renewal.

I’d love to hear what you will plant, nurture and begin to grow this Easter.

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

Perspective on pandemic panic requires hope and resilience

Yes, we indeed live in unprecedented times – but haven’t there always been unprecedented times in human history?

There is no room for corona complacency during this current medical and economic crisis. Yet, in spite of cancelled travel, cancelled conferences and investment losses, I find myself safely at home, extremely concerned but relatively calm… possibly because of my work to help others be more resilient in times of change; and probably because I’m old enough – and lucky enough – to have survived previous stock market crashes, job losses, airline closures, toilet paper shortages, Ebola outbreaks and being stranded in third world hospitals, war zones and countries with border closures.

Shock disruption also happened with the tragedy of 9/11. On that fateful day, I happened to be the keynote speaker at the World Airline Conference in Brisbane. The topic: ‘Change is inevitable – Learning from change is optional’. You can imagine the mood among the 1600 delegates from around the world…

That same week, Ansett Airlines collapsed which made headlines, but many suppliers and event businesses also went under with horrendous fallout, including unreported suicides. Conferences were cancelled and the gaping hole in my busy schedule (and cash flow) prompted me to write a book, Hope Happens! – words of encouragement for tough times. As the title suggests, it’s the opposite of S%#T happens.

Fear is the thief of time, kindness and courage. There is no vaccine for the trauma of life; whether a bushfire, pandemic or loss of a loved one by tragic or natural causes. Yet knowledge and perspective may sometimes serve as a mild antidote to anxiety. 

And although admittedly not feeling particularly ‘motivated’ as a ‘motivational’ speaker, I learned a long time ago to focus on what I can do as an individual; and not waste excessive energy on what I am unable to change. So, although somewhat lengthy, here are some thoughts and lessons learned on my own journey that might help keep your spirits up, as the dollar and share market go down.

Read the full article

Until next time, I encourage you to stockpile… on resilience, optimism and kindness!

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Posted in The world @work

How everyone can develop resilience: 3 things you can do right now.

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Or in my words: “Being able to take a hit, and get back up and keep fighting.”

Recently relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, let’s just say I appreciate the differences between the two!  Coming from a retail background, not only did I have to adjust to a different work style in the corporate world, but there were the challenges of moving to a new city, making new friends and starting a new job that anyone who has ever been an ‘expat’ will relate to.

Any major life change can be daunting. While I knew there was a chance my move might not be successful, I also knew that if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone to make the move, then I would never know.

In all aspects of life, we need resilience. It builds strength of character, enhances relationships and most importantly, helps us to be at peace with ourselves.

Monique Slade from Springfox and The Resilience Institute shared her personal experience with our team in a training session this week. Speaking about her role model for resilience, Monique told us about her mother, who at the age of 50, unexpectedly lost her husband to illness. With young kids and no financial security, she found herself at a crossroad. Instead of spiralling downwards into distress, she chose to master the stressful situation, engage her emotions and spirit into action. It was a lesson in resilience for herself, and for her children.

Hearing Monique’s story was extremely empowering. It made me realise that we all make choices. While life rarely goes the way we planned it, we choose our mindset, have control of our actions and can model the person we want to be.

As for me, going from being a Sydneysider to a Melburnian wasn’t all smooth sailing.  There are some noticeable cultural differences (Melbourne cafes, pretty hard to beat – Sydney, you got the weather) and comparing a corporate culture to a retail environment – so many processes and procedures to learn, but so little stock!

Here are three take outs from our resilience training that have helped me, which you can use right now:

  1. Give yourself credit – You have the resources within you to be more resilient. Think about the times in your personal or professional life where you may have struggled, survived and bounced back.
  2. Stop ruminating – Focus on the here and now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future. Learn mindfulness or focusing techniques to train your brain to stop creating its own stress.
  3. Take a deep breath – I volunteered to be hooked up to a heart rate monitor at our training session to see how a few deep breaths could lower my stress level. Breathing is now part of my morning routine.

Taking risks to strive for the things we want in life helps us to recognise our achievements. Don’t get hung up on What if? Just give it a go. I now know that I am capable of great things. Whatever life throws at me, I’m a little bit more prepared to deal with it. I am resilient.

How have you learned to overcome adversity and become more resilient in the world @work? What are some of the strategies you use to maintain your grace and control?

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Posted in Education, The world @work

I get knocked down, I get up again…

Resilience
noun
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Organisations want people who aren’t afraid to tackle difficult tasks – problem solvers who learn from a challenge, not folk who say “that’s too hard” and pack it in.

It has been one of those weeks for me. Everything that could go wrong… did!  What appeared disastrous, was of course, in a life or death context, no more than a hiccup. Supported and sorted, and I’m up again for the next challenge.

This made me think: How do we gauge resilience without having actually worked alongside a person?

I actively screen for resilience in candidates. During the recruitment process, we need to find out if a candidate has been tested in tough times and how they manage through tricky situations.  Psychometric testing is also useful to get a good grasp on work style and character attributes.

Two of my favourite behavioural questions that I think give me the most insight are:

How have you dealt with failure? How did it make you feel, and what did you learn?  

We are all familiar with the old adage ‘sink or swim’ and there is a reason for this. Work can be tough; and each role has its own pressure points. You will make mistakes, you may miss a deadline and sometimes you could flat out fail. Listening to candidates answer this question gives me some insight into how reflective they are about their fallibilities, if they can learn from mistakes and bounce back.

Describe a time when you kept your eye on the big picture, through a challenging situation?

Why do I like this question? It allows me to see where a person’s focus lies. It is so easy to get side-tracked with a current disaster/issue/problem and assume that it’s all too hard. I know sometimes it may feel that the end of the road is nigh, but let me tell you, after 20 years in the workforce, it’s not. Maintaining perspective provides a way forward, so I want to find candidates who can keep their eye on the ball, get knocked down… get up again, to win the prize at the end of the race.

Our fast-paced contingent workforce at The Interchange Bench regularly attend jobs in new environments. Once we’re briefed on an assignment we match the role with our ‘bench of talent ensuring capability and culture fit are closely aligned. For our candidates going out on assignment, it’s a case of getting on with the show. That is why resilience is key whether it’s a months’ long assignment or just for a day.

Often in our working lives we get knocked down. Sometimes it’s not a little stumble, but a great big fall. We get up, we dust ourselves off and we get on with it. If we are lucky, we are able to learn from the experience and we become hardier in preparation for similar situations in the future.

It certainly helps to have a supportive team to get you through tough times at work

How do you measure resilience in your world @work?

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work