Dr Boon Lim : Top morning tips for increasing focus and energy, and dialling down that flight or fright response
Time is a relative concept – do you have enough of it in a day? Perhaps the way to think of it is not whether you have enough or not enough time, but rather what you are giving your attention to.
The more attention you put into something, the more it is worth it. Attention is energy and the more energy that goes into something, the more powerful it becomes.
When don’t know what matters to you, or what deserves your attention on mind space, then those seemingly-innocuous things that you were going to do like: responding to emails, shopping for groceries, doing the dishes, thinking about lunch are going to be your attention-vampires and time-wasting exercises.
We should realize that we have a limited amount of energy in a day. And whatever you focus on, you become. These include worrying. About things that may not matter in the context of you and what you are, and who you want to become, and your real needs (health, self -development, and contentment/happiness)
The following are steps to help in this process for shifting attention to the things that matter. Let’s call this the ideal morning routine, to set your attention up for the prime function.
- Wake up and instead of thinking of your to-do list, think about what I already have a list, and express gratitude for that! A great start to the day is not to grab your phone and check on the emails and missed messages – which will certainly put some of us in an immediate mode of panic and hurry with a job-list building from the get-go.Instead, when the alarm clock goes off, shut it off, and put your phone away. Spend just 3-5 minutes in bed, or sat up thinking about what you already have and express deep gratitude for the wonder of your life and what brings you joy.It could be as simple as “having a good night’s sleep, waking up with your other half who loves you, having wonderful children/colleagues/parents, being in good health, living in a city without pollution, being able to walk in a park/field”.Anything that is positive, can raise a positive emotion, which will set you up for the day. Gratitude is one of the strongest positive emotions that has been shown countless times to improve happiness, health, and wellbeing, and the best time to notice this is first thing in the morning – setting you in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day!
- After feeling gratitude, focus on what you would really like to achieve this day. I’d suggest one strong deep-seated empowering goal that puts you slightly outside your comfort zone – something like improving health by starting to exercise, focus on food/diet, being outdoors with nature, focus on relationships, such as reaching out to someone in a personal way to connect strongly and improving a skill by learning or reading or listening to a motivational podcast.Of course, there are other more mundane goals that will come to mind, such as checking the weather, commuting traffic, what to have for breakfast, emails, etc – but what we should try to focus on is that make-me-a-better-person daily goal! If you don’t think of it, it may not penetrate the automaticity of your regular “groundhog” another day in the office.
- Not necessarily in a Buddhist or yoga meditation like manner, but just slowing the breath to a rate that is comfortable, taking some in and out breaths for 2 minutes, and setting your intention to focus on nothing more than the breath during this time. There is a powerful untapped physiological variable termed respiratory sinus arrhythmia or more commonly known as heart rate variability – HRV, and the main detectable difference on HRV comes with steady slow breathing pace and detectable variations in heart rate can be felt! My favorite personal breath pattern is an 8sec in and 8sec out steady breath cycle – although you can start with just 4sec in and 4sec out.If you know how to detect your heart rate, then you can “experiment” by placing your finger on your neck or your radial wrist pulse and “feel” the immediate impact of your breathing on your heart rate. This method is a powerful method to still the mind, and exert some more calming influence on your heart rate (and Blood Pressure), and dial down the fight or flight (sympathetic or panic response).If you have a BP monitor – try this experiment at home! Take your BP once, then breath at a steady pace for 2 minutes, then take it again! The BP will invariably show a consistent reduction in the 2nd reading. Start with 2 minutes, but of course, the more attention given to breathing in this manner, the better it is to achieve coherence between your breath, heart, and mind! I use an app and great biofeedback tool: the Inner Balance from Heart Math (use code STOPFAINTING10 for a 10% discount) to help guide my own breathing for 10 minutes every morning. Instead of thinking of these as “wasted minutes” – what my old self would have thought, it has become the most powerful part of my daily routine, setting me up for a fulfilling and productive day.
Image of heart rate variability pattern with focussed breathing and feeling or appreciation and gratitude (lower panel in blue) versus stress and frustration (upper panel in red). Adapted from www.heartmath.com/science/
So there you go, my top 3 tips, which takes a grand total of 5 minutes of attention every morning. The more attention you spend on these steps, the more valuable it becomes!
- 2 minutes: Gratitude!
- 1 minute: What one or more self-improvement goals do I want to achieve today?
- 2 minutes: Breathe and focus on breath (and nothing else) – this dials down the fight or flight response and sets you in the right physiological state for the day.
Dr Boon Lim is a consultant cardiologist, who is researching the role of the autonomic nervous system in promoting heart rhythm disturbances. He has extensively published on heart rate variability and is an expert of autonomic disturbances which cause conditions such as syncope and atrial fibrillation (AF), and other arrhythmias.
To make an appointment to see Dr. Lim discuss your condition, please call: 0208 187 9888 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org