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Energy, Circardian Rhythms and Self Talk

Can tuning in to our circadian rhythm help us maintain high energy levels? It might, aligned with a bit of self talk.

Energy is the "X factor" in our industry. Qualitative research is about listening but also about feeling, observing and decoding the energy that people exude. We're always alert, always observant, looking for the detail that can unlock a fresh way of thinking.

This is fun, but it's pretty exhausting, too. Research, and agency life in particular, is not a chilled one. Each new brief, meeting, conversation is different from the last, so we don't have the luxury of working on autopilot. We need copious amounts of energy ourselves, too.

Entering the new year seems a good time to consider this, think about how we energise ourselves and find ways to maintain alertness in the face of an exhausting number of disparate tasks. Our old ways of coping, the cold viewing facility quiche, washed down with bottomless black coffees and a glass of wine before bed, are unsustainable solutions of an increasingly bygone age.

A group discussion (what else) with my Nursery colleagues revealed how much more conscious we have all become about cultivating energy in more healthy and sustainable ways. Undoubtedly this consciousness has been amplified by lockdowns and working from home, which have forced us to re-evaluate our working days.

The ideas and solutions we discussed were rich and varied and primarily focused on the power of movement and distraction; from early morning exercise to conversations with friends (and dogs). There were two thoughts which emerged though, that could be more consciously applied to all our working days: tuning into circadian rhythms and the power of inner dialogue.

Circadian rhythms are increasingly familiar in mainstream thinking. These are the processes that manage our daily cycles of sleeping and waking. They contribute to areas such as alertness, stress, metabolism and mood over 24-hour periods. My colleagues talked about tuning into their own internal clock and planning around it.

It turns out, however, that alertness peaks are fairly universal, occurring within an hour or so of noon and 6pm. Tuning into these rhythms dictate that our most important tasks should be conducted at or near these peaks with less important tasks scheduled for times when energy and alertness are lower (early morning, late afternoon and late evening). More conscious scheduling of meetings, groups and interviews could keep our energy levels high and leave us to nap, walk or do those timesheets in the afternoon.

Practising inner dialogues was another approach which happens naturally but one we could make more systematic. This is essentially the art of talking to ourselves and apparently involves many more systems of our brain than inner thoughts alone. When we talk to ourselves, our auditory system actively hears our own voice, and we can indulge in a back-and-forth conversation while shutting out external stimuli.

This allows us to debate thoughts and ideas from different "I" perspectives and we can give ourselves instructions such as "calm down", "think it through", "try again", etc. So, the simple art of talking to ourselves actually has rich rewards; it helps with motivation, working memory, analysing problems, organising tasks and planning a course of action. It's best to keep it positive though and not berate ourselves too much.

Of course, nothing beats movement, being outdoors, conversations with others and mini distractions to fuel our days. But we could also be more conscious of the daily circadian 12pm and 6pm peaks and remember that it's good to talk, even if it's to yourself.

 

Pauline McGowan
Senior Researcher, The Nursery Research & Planning Ltd

This article was first published in InBrief magazine, January 2022
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