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3 reasons to stop, think and sleep

Anna Johnston

Are you looking after your wellbeing? Richard Jolly shares why being mindful of three concepts could improve your work, and your life 



StopThinkSleep

Why don't we do the things we know we should be doing? It’s a question that Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School (LBS) asks executives daily. 

“In our complex, technology-enabled lives, one of the hardest challenges is protecting our thinking time. Most executives are connected to their smartphones from the moment they wake up until they are lying in bed checking their emails at night. We need to regain our focus to succeed.”


“As humans, we need a holistic approach to ourselves”


Jolly calls for calm, mindful thinking time. To achieve that, consider three wellbeing concepts: stop, think and sleep.


1. Stop


You’re busy. Are you prepared to put on the brakes? 

“There’s a great phrase in Florida: ‘When you’re fighting off the alligators, it's hard to remember you were trying to drain the swamp.’ We have become a generation of alligator fighters, so busy 'doing' that we struggle to focus on our key priorities.”

Jolly blames, in part, technology and a psychological condition he calls ‘technological arousal’: the idea that technology drives people to distraction. For example, posting photos on Instagram creates emotional, cognitive, or physiological arousal, but it also takes time and energy that could be allocated elsewhere. “We need to change our relationship with technology, we’ve become obsessed and addicted to it, so we’re on edge, in a state of heightened technological awareness,” he says. Which, of course, lowers awareness in our important human-to-human interactions. 

He puts it differently. Based on 10 years of executive interviews, he found that 95% of people suffer from 'hurry sickness'. It’s an understandable reaction to a world that’s increasingly complicated and chaotic, he accepts. 

“Getting things done feels good. And our brains reward us with a hit of dopamine. What busy executives don’t realise is that if they carry on like this, it’ll affect not just their career, but their health, too.” 

In January 2016, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said that people and technology had reached a crossroads. “We should not stay human; we should become better humans,” he said. He meant that artificial intelligence is beginning to occupy the work that can be programmed – forcing people to be more creative, self-aware and empathetic, in essence, more human. What makes people human comes from their brain chemistry, so people have to stop for the sake of their most important attribute in a digital world. 

And what are brains for? Thinking. 


2. Think 


The act of thinking is a lifestyle choice, and one that improves brain health. 

When people are thinking, they often take their hands to their temples. It’s the place that generates people’s thoughts, feelings and movements. It’s also the home of ideas. 

“Humans don’t like uncertainty. As the world gets more complex, the ability to generate new ideas and adapt rapidly, are vital skills. That’s why we need time to think about the critical things. As we get caught up in the short term, focusing on the long term gets harder, particularly with the distraction of technology.”

He suggests you carve out time to think. Not just in the shower, and not just for five minutes. “Figure out when you have your best ideas,” he says. “What time of the day is it? Is it before eating? Or after the gym? The time you have will only get more squeezed and the problems you need to solve will only get more complex, so you need to work out how to optimise your thinking time, now.” 

Jolly says that people need to become more resilient, coping with the demands of changing environments. Indeed, he says, everyone is capable of it. “Our brain has plasticity (neuroplasticity), an incredible ability to restructure itself by forming new connections between brain cells. As we become experts on topics, the areas in our brains that relate to those skills continue to grow. So change is possible.” 

Thinking time helps us survive, adapt and prosper. But no one can think without sleep.


3. Sleep


What’s good for the body is good for the brain, too. “We all need a good night’s sleep. But it’s hard to achieve,” he says.

Jolly proposes you prepare yourself physically for a challenging expeditious world, and to do so, you must take care of your wellbeing. Contemplate the fact that the amount of sleep you’re getting might simply not be enough. 

But how much sleep is enough to make you sharp? And how much is too much to make you slow and groggy? “It takes time to test,” he says.

Ariana Huffington is a prime example of someone who underslept and overworked,” he says. “But today, she’s an authority on sleep.” 

If sleep increases productivity and happiness, and supports smarter decisions, why are people still bragging about their terrible sleep habits? Because bad sleep supports the outdated idea that if you’re busy, you’re important. 

Jolly calls for senior executives to be role models of behaviour. “People aren't really listening to what you say, but they are mimicking your behaviours. Role models have an infectious passion for their work and live according to their true beliefs.”
 
So, don't get distracted by the thousands of things competing for your attention. Make sure you’re wide awake and ready to implement your best ideas by taking a holistic approach to yourself.

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About Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly is an Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.


He teaches on the following programmes:

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