Mental Fatigue, Well Being and Confidence

How we process information has an impact on confidence and self-esteem

In my confidence building workshops and coaching I take a holistic approach. It’s not just about tips and tricks to appear confident. It’s about working from the inside-out too. It’s also about using basic human psychology to unlock inherent abilities.

One of the most visited posts on this blog is aimed at mental fatigue when studying. However the basic message doesn’t just apply to students. Feeling tired mentally will have an impact on how we all process information. This has a knock on effect in terms of confidence and self-esteem. The main ingredients for dealing with mental fatigue are: keep hydrated, exercise, breathing exercises, check your posture, eat healthily and build variety (and novelty) into your life and work schedule.

We’re All Water – Hydration and Mental Fatigue

Professional athletes know the importance of staying hydrated. It’s not just that we need water on a physical level but also at a psychological level. Even if we are dehydrated by a few percent this can have a negative impact on our ability to process information. So why make things more difficult when a humble glass of water can have a positive impact on our cognitive processing abilities? However, don’t over do it. A glass of water on your desk and a few sips might make all the difference. It’s a question of remaining hydrated not drowning in the stuff!

Health body, healthy mind

Tests on various brain training activities have found that the best way to boost memory is to spend just twenty minutes on a running machine rather than hours on a brain training machine. The mind needs time to recuperate and the increase in oxygen uptake is more effective than solving puzzles. Just a break away from your desk and go for a walk will have a positive impact. Perhaps a few sit-ups or squats in your breaks from study. Mental fatigue often occurs because we have created an imbalance by overdoing the mental activity. Taking a holistic approach helps to redress the balance. It’ll also help you get into better shape.

Take a deep breath and beat mental fatigue

Again top athletes know the value of breathing exercises. When stressed we breathe more shallowly. When relaxed we breathe more deeply. By practicing breathing exercises we take control of our stress response. When we are in a relaxed state we take ourselves out of survival mode. Being relaxed improves our ability to absorb information. By taking control of our breathing, our pattern-seeking brain assumes we are more relaxed too.

Check your posture – boost your attention

Having good posture is associated with confidence and other positive mental states. We we feel ‘down in the dumps’ we slump down in our chair. When something interests us we sit up and take notice! So check you posture for signs of tension. Are you carrying the proverbial weight of the world on your shoulders. Having a break, taking a deep breath, stretching and doing a bit of physical exercise can improve your posture. It will give you a confidence boost and once again send positive signals to the brain. The brain works with congruence and so adds to your positive state.

Food and mood – eat healthily and think healthily

When stressed we often reach for the junk food – the comfort food. This might temporarily give you an emotional boost. However it is more likely to create spikes in your blood sugar followed by the lows. During the lows you may be tempted to hit a bit more junk food. However this creates a vicious cycle. Instead, if you practice all of the things already discussed you are much more likely to boost your cognitive processing. The temptation, when facing a tough deadline, is to go for a quick fix. However it’s a false economy. Quick fixes actually slow us down in the long run.

It’s not just a cliché, variety really is the spice of life

In information terms, variety really is the spice of life and it’s also true that a change is as good as a rest. Fixating on one activity for too long can tire us out mentally. It’s as if we have little power sources attached to each of our senses. Students most commonly pick a strategy for exam revision and stick to it. All this achieves is that it depletes one of the power sources and so mental fatigue occurs. It becomes more of a struggle to retain information. The temptation is to embrace the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy and just press on with more of the same. You won’t break through a mental fatigue barrier. It will only make matters worse. So what do you do?

Instead, I advise students to switch tasks. This taps into different power sources and gives the depleted sources a change to recharge. Use mind maps, draw diagrams, use picture based cue cards. In short anything to create variety and interest in the task. Surprisingly human attention span is only about 20 minutes at full capacity. After that our ability to absorb information reduces quite dramatically. So sitting there for hours without a break is counterproductive. The answer is to take a break or switch task, or better still incorporate both. When I’m studying or writing, I usually do so in intensive 30 minute blocks with short breaks in between.  I also have a proper lunch away from my desk and make sure I go out for a walk in the fresh air.

Positive mental attitude and fatigue

Things are more tiring if we are met with resistance and this can be our own mental resistance. If we resent doing something it adds to the burden. It’s important to be philosophical. We can’t like everything we have to do in life but if we look carefully enough we will find at least something to like about it. It can be as simple as recognizing our own personal resilience and resolve in tackling a task we don’t like!

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodAll of these points taken together create a powerful mental fatigue prevention programme. The reason for the efficacy of these tips is that they work with human psychology rather than work against it thus building confidence in your own inherent abilities.


How to Say Sorry

Different ways of saying sorry?

Body Language Myth: The 55% 38% 7% Rule

I noticed that a search term that’s leading people to my blog – ‘how to say sorry with body language‘. Why not just ‘how to say sorry?

There is a suggestion – in this phrase – that saying ‘sorry with body language’ is different to ‘saying sorry with words’. Arguably this is perpetuated by the common body language myth that non-verbal signals are more important than words. It’s not true. The ‘words account for 7% of all communications’ myth is based on a distortion of the original research. So before considering the links between words and body language, let’s consider one of the most famous apologies in history.

Saying ‘sorry’ builds relationships, trust and esteem

Saying ‘sorry’ has a lot of benefits. Recognizing that you’ve made a mistake and quickly apologize for it can have the effect of boosting trust. People often use the phrase ‘that it takes guts to say sorry’. Apologizing can preserve and boost our self-esteem and our standing in the eyes of others, so it’s important to get it right. If you doubt this the recall one of the most famous apologies in history. Consider the unsuccessful ‘Bay of Pigs’ Invasion of Cuba by the USA in 1961. To put it mildly, the whole incident embarrassed the Kennedy administration. However, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco President Kennedy’s approval ratings increased substantially, leading to his comment ‘I hope I don’t have to keep doing stupid things like that to remain popular’.

There have been many public apologies by celebrities over a range of misdemeanors. As a rule the most successful apologies are where people appear genuine. A sign of this is that is a match between verbal and non-verbal aspects of the message. I say ‘appear genuine’ because we have no way of really knowing if someone is being genuine. Mostly it’s gut reaction. It’s only after the fact that ‘body language experts’ point out what everyone sensed anyway.

How to know if someone is genuinely sorry?

The phrase ‘how to say sorry with body language’ does imply that words may not be enough. The body language needs to act as a ‘convincer’. Being genuine is far easier than appearing genuine. If there is clash between verbal and non-verbal signals then the non-verbals (tone of voice and body language)

We do not need any special training to detect deceit. We process the ‘message’ both at a conscious level but also at a ‘gut reaction’ level. A mismatch between the verbal and non-verbal aspect of the messages triggers alarm signals that ‘something is not quite right. So, trying to emphasize an apology with the supposedly ‘right’ body language may end up backfiring, even if we are genuine. Disingenuousness will ‘leak out’. The best approach is to focus on the apology and letting the body language ‘take care of itself’. If you are being open then your body language will match. You will be using open gestures. You will also be taking a ‘one-down’ position. It’s not an apology if you’re towering over someone waving your hands and spit out the words or if you don’t make eye contact and have your arms folded and mumble. Open hands, palms up, nothing to hide!

Key parts of an apology

The first step is recognizing what you are apologizing for. Clearly identifying the behaviours that ‘wronged’ the other party is the first step. Next is to communicate that you understand how the other person felt. It’s basic empathy, that is, to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’. Including reference to how the other person’s feelings gives further indication that you understand the repercussions. It’s possible that the ‘injured party’ might want to fill in a bit more detail. Let them. Listen.

You may wish to add a reason but don’t make lots of excuses. Keep it short. Planning an apology offers you the opportunity to think about what really is important. When choosing the words, don’t think it needs to sound like a piece of Shakespeare. It can be short and simple.

When apologizing, don’t play with words

When people want to appear to apologize but still retain the upper hand they have a tendency to ‘play with words’. In one my first jobs there was a supervisor who seemed to be constantly on a quest for one-upmanship. Instead of saying ‘I agree’ he would say ‘I wouldn’t disagree with you’. Phrases like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry you have interpreted my words that way’ are not true apologies.

Focus on what you are sorry for. So for instance you may say ‘I’m sorry that my words hurt you’. You can then clarify that it was not your intention. Sometimes words don’t come out exactly as we had intended. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. Just focus on your part in the misunderstanding rather than your first thought being ‘how can I shift the blame?’

Sometimes an apology is not enough

Finally be prepared that the other person may not accept your apology. However, if it’s heartfelt and you’ve tried your best then give the other person some time to process it. It may take a while. It doesn’t mean that you have to keep apologizing for the rest of your life. Sometimes people have a greater need to hold on to the hurt rather than move on. Sometimes an apology is not enough. For some people an apology will never be enough. That’s their right and their responsibility and that doesn’t mean that you have to take responsibility for it. Be genuine, make your apology, learn from your mistakes and then move on.