High performance without burnout

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Working harder does not necessarily equal high performance and may actually be contributing to burnout says Next Evolution Performance CEO, Vanessa Bennett.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently described burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and updated its definition to, ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’.

“Many people equate high performance with working harder,” Ms Bennett says. “This can create a great deal of workplace stress, which can ultimately lead to burnout. We believe that high performance is not about working harder, but about making the most efficient use of personal energy. It is about taking a neural, mental and physical approach that combines neuroscience, psychology and sports training principles.”

A neural approach is about using brain science to perform in the most efficient way possible. “Every brain functions in its own unique way and once you understand a bit more about how your own works, you can start working with rather than against what’s natural for you.”

She says part of this is understanding personal pace. “Working at your natural pace allows you to be as productive as possible with as little effort as possible. It includes working to your natural attention span and using your personal energy efficiently, which is likely to reduce stress.

“Attention spans vary. Fast-pace people, those who naturally operate quickly, tend to focus for quite short periods of time. People who naturally operate at a slower pace tend to focus for longer periods of time. One is not necessarily better than the other and, interestingly, one is not necessarily more productive than the other. It’s just the natural attention an individual needs to apply to a task in order to produce results.”

Ms Bennett says working at a natural pace also involves understanding when you are most productive, so that you can use your personal energy effectively. “It could be as simple as reserving low energy tasks – for example, sorting emails – when your personal energy is low and tackling more complex tasks when your energy level is higher. This translates to a better use of energy, because you are working at a pace that suits you.”

While she recognises that in a work environment this it is not always possible, all of the time, she says people often have more control over it than they think they do. “If you can work in this way, even for as little as an hour or two a day, it can make a big difference because it will mean you won’t be spending energy unnecessarily.”

The mental approach is about having a mind set for high performance and this, Ms Bennett says, boils down to three things

  • Personal accountability
  • Deciding what you are going to change, accept and remove from your life
  • Making sure that your beliefs are aligned to your goals

“Taking personal accountability may mean using neuroscience to build new neural pathways to short-circuit negative pathways that have become a habit.”

The Queensland Government recently became the first in the world to use neuroscience to help stop people speeding. The campaign was designed by a behavioural neuroscientist and includes exercises which are aimed at changing driver behaviour by helping them to focus their attention on their driving rather than operating on auto-pilot.

“Sustaining high performance is also about being physically fit and healthy. This means not only paying attention to things like eating well and training, but also self-care; treating yourself as a priority, spending time doing things that make you happy and renew your energy and – much underrated but very important – getting enough sleep.

“Avoiding burnout is possible – but it requires a willingness to use our brains and our bodies to work for us, rather than against us.”

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