professional development

Managing the mind: How to change gears

Myriam Robin /

A few years ago, Dr Adam Fraser found out his best friend had been killed just as he was about to address an audience of 5000 people. He didn’t know what to do.

“I had to decide whether to cancel – to leave 5000 people disappointed – or to step up and do this,” he says.

He gave his talk minutes later.

“I didn’t want to disappoint them,” he says.

After his speech, Fraser developed a fascination with how he did it. How he was able to quickly get himself in the appropriate mindframe.

Through research – his own and others’ – he developed an appreciation for the importance of something he calls ‘the third space’: the mindset between moving from situation A to situation B. He thinks what we do in these transitions is crucial to how well we manage our busy lives.

“The reality is we spend our lives transitioning from one thing to the next,” he says. “My research has looked at how we do this in a business context.”

Fraser teamed up with Deakin University to look at the idea in more detail. The results of their study are published in a book written by Fraser, released today, called The Third Space.

“One thing our research worked really well around is work-life balance,” Fraser says. “We wanted to see if this concept of transitioning applied there too.”

The researchers found, unsurprisingly, that people take their negative days home with them, leading to bad interactions in the home.

They then looked at what factors made this more – or less – likely. They found how people went home – whether they caught public transport, walked or drove – made no difference to the quality of their interactions when they walked in the door.

What did make a difference was whether people did something between work and home. Those who exercised, went grocery shopping, or had a social interaction had a better experience when they walked through their front door. When people didn’t go straight from thinking about work to being home, they transitioned better.

“Our next step was figuring out how to drive and facilitate this,” Fraser said. The team got together a group of business owners and people who worked in large corporations. They asked them to practice three steps between work and home.

They taught people to reflect: to spend a few moments thinking about what just happened to them. What went well, what didn’t, what they would have changed. Once this step was completed, the test subjects were told to relax. To try and clear their mind for a few moments. Then, they were told to actively think about what would happen in the next activity they were doing (in this case, going home). What their goals were, and how they would achieve them.

Only after completing the three steps would the test subjects step through their front door.

The research team measured their behaviour in the home. They saw a 41% improvement in the period of the study.

The reason for this? Ultimately, as Fraser says in the book, it’s about self-awareness. His three-step solution is one way to increase it.

Fraser’s research fits into a broader body of work about how our success in one activity bleeds into the next.

Studies have shown that salespeople carry rejection into the next couple of calls, making them less likely to perform effectively unless they take a breather. Leaders have a bad meeting and go into the next meeting still thinking about it, making them distracted and frustrated.

How long does the three-step process take?

“It’s incredibly personal,” Fraser says. “And it really depends on the environment. You might be going from one meeting to another, and the transition might need to last a minute.”

It’s not hard, but we don’t think about it enough, Fraser says.

“If you’re a CEO who’s making really important decisions, who is sealing million-dollar deals, it’s hard to go home and cuddle your kids.”

CEOs aren’t the only ones affected. Fraser’s book is full of unnervingly familiar examples of people he has interviewed and coached: professionals in many fields who feel they have no control, or who are trapped in the 24/7 cycle.

Fraser’s solution is practical, and informed by a broader truth.

“Ultimately, people need to actively manage their mindframe,” he says.

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Myriam Robin

Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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