Thinking and performing better is connected to the quality of your decisions. Making decisions and being at the top of your game is easy when there isn’t pressure or stakes attached. But making decisions and staying cool under pressure is an entirely different story.
When it comes to keeping calm and managing your stress, a common recommendation is to “just breathe.” Breathing is unique as it’s both voluntary and involuntary. You can make your breathing shallow or deep, fast or slow, or you can hold your breath past a level of comfort (though I don’t recommend this option).
Most likely, you aren’t noticing the intricacies of your breath throughout the day. But, learning to address the flexibility of control you have with your breath is an untapped tool for you to use to boost your productivity–especially your decision making.
In fact, inside the May 2019 issue of the International Journal of Psychophysiology, a study was published that found just two minutes of deep, slow breathing engages the vagus nerve and increases HRV, which subsequently, improves your decision-making.
There were two parts to the study, but it was the second part that caught my eye the most.
The experimental group performed two minutes of the skewed vagal breathing, which is essentially exhaling longer than you’ll inhale. The control group was instructed to wait for two minutes before performing a 30-minute business challenging decision-making task with multiple choice answers. Stress levels were self-reported before and after the task.
While the control group reported elevations in stress levels, those in the experimental group did not. Most importantly, participants in the experimental group, who performed deep breathing exercises scored nearly 50 percent more correct answers in the decision-making task compared to the control group.
While deep slow breathing will certainly serve as an asset to use before walking into any high stakes meeting or to simply to calm yourself down–there’s a forgotten element that could lessen the benefit here.
That overlooked factor is your posture.
The majority of today’s work will most likely have some sort of screen involvement. And this is where not only your posture is affected, but also your breathing becomes compromised, which trickles down to affect your performance.
With poor posture, it’s a given that you’re increasing your chances of low back pain. But also, according to the late Dr. Rene Cailliet, a pioneer in the field of musculoskeletal medicine, leaning forward or slouching can also reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent.
When you reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your various body tissues, this affects various systems such as your brain, which leads to everyday decision making not being as optimal.
Improving your breathing and posture requires a conscious effort and often, rooting up not-so-ideal habits. Besides reminding yourself to stand up tall and sit-up straight, re-learning how to breathe is highly recommended. Sounds silly, but it’ll make a world of difference with your daily stress levels.
A great resource that I was referenced and now recommend to others is to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Here’s a general overview of how to go about this:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed. You can have your legs straight or bent with a pillow underneath.
- Let your chest open naturally, shoulder blades in contact with the floor, and place one hand on your abdomen just below your rib cage.
- Inhale slowly through your nose so that your abdomen rises up and presses against your hand. The other hand on your chest should be kept still.
- Exhale under control and tighten your abdominal muscles. The pressure on the hand that’s over the abdomen will decrease.
A good place to start is doing this a few times a day for five to 10 minutes.
When it comes to succeeding at the highest of levels, the difference lies in attention to detail of the margins.
All Rights Reserved for Julian Hayes II