A few years ago, Chris Bailey was in the midst of an anxiety attack — on stage and in front of an audience. This was the first (and thankfully last) time something like this has ever happened to him. “To this day,” Chris says, “I’m so glad to have rehearsed that talk so much that I could give it on autopilot!”
This experience was a wake-up call for Chris. After the talk, he paused to try and pick up the pieces and deconstruct what had just happened. As a productivity and performance expert, he already invested a substantial amount of time into self-care — regularly meditating, doing yoga, and having frequent spa dates with his wife. But these tactics obviously weren’t working. He was still anxious; something was missing.
Already the bestselling author of two books, The Productivity Project and Hyperfocus, Chris released his newest book, How to Calm Your Mind, in December 2022. It’s a result of Chris’ own research into anxiety, burnout, productivity, and dopamine to help himself find calm in our modern, anxious world. In it, he deconstructs why we’re so anxious in the first place while providing accessible, science-backed strategies that reveal the path to a less anxious life, and even greater productivity, runs directly through calm. In an anxious world, he says, achieving calm is the best life hack around.
We recently caught up with Chris to learn more about the power of calm and how we can channel it to improve our mental health and find balance in an uncertain world. He also explores this in his new keynote “How to Calm Your Mind”, contact us to learn more.
Why do you call “calm” the best life hack? What has it brought to your life?
Calm isn’t sexy, and it’s not something we seek out by default. It’s usually only during especially anxious periods that we try to invest in calm — or at least that’s what I’ve found in my own life.
Yet calm can make us more productive than almost anything else. The calmer our mind, the easier it becomes to focus — including on things we’ve been procrastinating. A calm mind means we are less reactive to the work that comes our way. We interrupt ourselves less. And we adapt better as conditions change around us.
Our work even takes less time when we have a calm mind. In my new book (and of course in my new keynote based on the book!), I break down how the average workday takes around two hours longer when we have an anxious mind. The less anxious (and calmer) we become, the more productive we are. Calm saves us time.
What was your favourite discovery when researching the science behind calm?
Discovering the research field of “savouring.” Simply put, savouring is the practice of converting positive experiences into positive emotions — it’s the science behind how we enjoy the good things in our life.
Curiously, wealthy people report a diminished ability to savour — and so do men. Fortunately, research shows that savoring is a skill we can improve on. Better yet, the practice sharpens our focus because it makes us more present in everyday situations. In other words, similar to calm, we make back much of our time spent savouring in added productivity — especially over the long arc of time.
One strategy you can implement immediately is to create a “savour list” of the experiences you enjoy most. Pick one item a day to fully immerse yourself in and enjoy. This has fast become one of my favourite rituals.
What do you think are the biggest factors impacting our ability to focus and be productive today?
I truly believe that anxiety is one of the biggest factors limiting our focus and performance, whether it’s at work or in our personal life. In an anxious world, the path to productivity runs through calm. This is because anxiety shrinks cognitive performance by almost every measure.
One simple illustration: let’s say you’re answering an email on a plane when you hit a patch of heavy turbulence. Chances are that once the turbulence resides, you’ll need to reread whatever email you were writing. This is the effect anxiety has on our mind and our performance. It disrupts and disturbs, making it difficult to focus in the moment. Many of us experience a similar effect, only all day long.
Even after writing a book on the science of focus, it still amazes me the extent to which a calm mind can sharpen our focus and cognition.
In moments of stress and/or anxiety, what is your favourite strategy to bring yourself back to a state of calm?
There are many ways to alleviate anxiety in the moment. One of my favourites is to stimulate the “vagus nerve,” which is part of our body’s calming parasympathetic nervous system. A few ways of doing this:
- Slow breathing, especially when you breathe through your belly and exhale for longer than you inhale.
- Forcing yourself to yawn, which is easier than you’d think — even reading the word “yawn” makes you more likely to do it.
- Soften your gaze so you aren’t focused on anything in particular. For example, how your eyes soften as you look at a sweeping panorama, like the ocean or the stars.
These simple techniques can help provide instant relief of anxiety.
Is there something people can do daily to enhance their ability to find calm and remain more present in their day-to-day lives?
One idea that works remarkably well for me is to start the day as slowly as possible. The more we stimulate our mind — especially by distracting ourselves in the digital world — the more stimulation our mind craves throughout the day.
A big reason we’re more anxious than usual today is because of how we start our days. One day this week, resist the urge to provide your brain with hits of stimulation as soon as you wake up. For example, try not checking email or social media while in bed — and maybe not even before you sit down to work. You’ll likely be surprised by how much more clearly you can think and focus throughout the day. Slow mornings lead to deliberate days.
Remember: in an anxious, automatic world, deliberateness not only keeps us calm — it also keeps us productive.
Chris Bailey provides audiences with practical and tactical advice for becoming more productive. Called “the most productive man you’d ever hope to meet” by TED Talks, he will transform how you and your audience think about productivity in the workplace and beyond.
Contact us to learn more about Chris and what he can bring to your next event as a productivity mastermind.