by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE
“To survive, a man needs food, water, and a sharp mind.” Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II veteran and POW
This isn’t a just another blog about how to hone your mental acuity so you can boost your workplace productivity. There are plenty of those out there, and I’ve done one or two myself. No, this article is about the why, not the how. You may think the why is obvious, but is it? Most people only have a nebulous idea that mental fitness is a good thing—and, of course, they’re correct. But it’s important to know why it’s a good thing in detail, because this makes its value easier to pin down and focus on.
There are always the basic arguments for keeping your mind sharp. It may help you live longer and avoid Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and often aids your memory. It also keeps you centered and protects you in several environmental senses, ranging from shielding you from physical harm to expanding your common sense. But it also offers more immediate benefits to your entire life, of which your work life is a significant part. These reasons include, but are not limited to:
- It helps you plan. It’s easier to care about what’s next when your mind is sharp. Furthermore, you can more easily consider all options, obstacles, and milestones pertaining to a project, and visualize your ultimate goals in all their glory. While you can’t account for all contingencies, it’s simpler to address them when you can think clearly.
- It makes you more mindful. When your mind is dull, you float through life on automatic. You may get by, but your efficiency and effectiveness are minimal. You’re more likely to miss important things or make mistakes that require repair, thereby wasting time and energy. Mental acuity, when properly applied, makes you more alert to what’s happening right now. Such mindfulness helps you navigate the present with greater ease. Your attention focuses more fully on what you’re doing and taking part in, not only allowing you to boost your efficiency, but also to retain more of what you’re experiencing and learning.
- It enhances creativity. Mental sharpness not only helps you plan the future and navigate the present, but it helps you leverage your past with greater facility. Now, you won’t experience many “eureka” moments just by increasing mental acuity unless you deliberately let it loose, free-associating and purposely shuffling through your experience, education, readings, and other learning as you cogitate on a problem. Ideally, it can also bridge the way into the fertile fields of your subconscious mind, where potential ideas cross-fertilize and accumulate.
- It contributes to mental flexibility. When your mind is unclouded, it’s more likely to let you see farther into your memories and experience; it may also help you see when other people’s ideas make good sense. When this happens, you become less reactionary, more willing to consider new ways of doing things as the world changes. It also allows you to deal better with daily stresses and to survive painful blows, allowing you to learn from them and move forward more easily.
- It simplifies decision-making. In allowing you to “see” farther, mental acuity presents a wider variety of options when you’re trying to decide on a course of action. Clearly understanding your goals, as well as consciously putting to use well-established decision-making processes in combination. Recognizing the benefits of all the options makes decision-making easier in the long run.
- It helps build an optimal mindset. Overall, higher mental acuity contributes to your general well-being, providing you with another tool that helps you become your best self. When your mind is sharp, it allows you the flexibility and mindfulness to make the best decisions possible. You’ll also be able to think more creatively, so you increase your chances of surviving anything life or work throws at you.
The sharpest tool in the shed
While physical health is vital and contributes to your mental health, cerebral sharpness is what really matters in your workplace. How fast you can run or how much you can bench-press pales in comparison to your ability to assimilate data, perform rapidly, integrate well with your team, and create new opportunities for the organization. Sharpening your mental tools will benefit your career—whether that means lots of reading, doing more Sudoku puzzles, untangling brainteasers, or all the above.
© 2021 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.