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Brain circuits

Are you wasting your energy by scratting?

Published 25 October 2022 in Brain circuits • 4 min read

Have you ever looked out your window and watched as the squirrels scampered around, collecting their goods for the winter? Now, consider if you have ever seen a human at work that reminds you of our furry friends. While the squirrels are doing what they are meant to do, it seems a bit absurd to imagine people like this. But you can probably picture someone… Is it you?

In our world of busyness, we often consider doing a lot and moving fast to be an effective approach to reach our KPIs. We picture ourselves like cheetahs, hunting at 110km/h, fully focused on the impala. Often, however, our behavior looks more like Scrat the Squirrel from the children’s movie Ice Age: frantic and fretting to catch the ever-elusive acorn, while using a lot more energy than needed. If you aren’t familiar with Scrat, just watch this  (it’s okay, adults are allowed to laugh at these things too). As a matter of fact, for today’s exercise watch it now. One of the first things you need to do, in order to not look like this, is learn how to slow down, stop taking everything so seriously and relax. Are you able to do that, or are you too busy being busy?

I call this condition: “scratting”.

It is not a terminal condition for your career, although, if left untreated, it can undermine both your performance and your well-being. Trust me, I was born with it: I rushed around to reach one goal after the other, and despite successful outcomes, I felt drained and tired. Luckily, I self-diagnosed it and now I only suffer from occasional spells.

Common signs you are scratting

  • Barely present to the now… We are already thinking about the next task
  • Our ideas jump around like baby monkeys 
  • Shallow breathing          
  • Clumsy movements    
  • Talking much faster or hardly talking (while inside there is a shouting contest)    

More than 20 years as a coach has reassured me that we all occasionally go into this disconnected, hyper-active, hyper-aroused state when we are passionate and care about the results.

You may have signals of your own. Think about it – what are your unique signs?

Mine are a strong urge to do “something” and a remarkable loss of my sense of humor and perspective. I become a “She-Terminator” with a clear mission… Without a focused brain to accomplish it.

When you notice more than two signs it is time to act, before these compound like snowflakes into an avalanche.

Here the key shortcuts to prevent scratting and get back to a more productive state:

Assess where you are on the Scrat Continuum

 

Scattered Scrat ………..…………………………………………………………….………My Productive Self

When you feel that you are spinning out of control, visualize this continuum and ask yourself “Where am I now on this line?” If you notice more than two signs, and are heading to the left, apply the techniques below.

 Soothe your physiology

Our physiology (objective physical signs) shapes our psychology (how well we feel and think). Since scratting is an ungrounded, hyper-aroused and scattered state, to redirect our energy, we need to sloooooow down. Try these techniques:

  • Slow down your breathing a bit
  • Breathe out a bit longer and slower than usual
  • Move a bit slower, more deliberately
  • Talk a bit slower
  • Move your feet a bit and ground
  • Drink some water to feel your body and get out of your head

I insist on ‘a bit’ so the changes are subtle, and you still feel like yourself, rather than your slow-motion clone.

You might wonder “What if I go into ‘sloth mode’ instead and retreat into immobility when under pressure?” Watch out for the next brain circuit: the sloth’s wisdom is on its way!

Further reading: 

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing by Adam Grant (The New York Times) 

Authors

Francesca Giulia Mereu coaching corner

Francesca Giulia Mereu

Executive coach

An executive coach with more than 20 years’ experience, Francesca Giulia Mereu is also author of the book Recharge Your Batteries. She regularly works with Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators (CCHN) and at IMD with senior leaders of global organizations.

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