Getting your act together - three tips to get an effective 'head plan'

Author: | Date: 23 Jul 2013

Dennis Hoiberg,

Lessons Learnt Consulting Pty Ltd

Keywords: resilience, mind control, brain power, challenging times

Take Home Messages:

  • Got your machinery all ready for this season? – Check!
  • Got all the material you need for this busy season?– Check!
  • Got the workers all organised? – Check!
  • Got your mind sorted to use your brain – HUH???


I was coaching a client in my office recently listening to him outline his challenges. Certainly, there was a lot on his plate. He appeared almost overwhelmed by the numerous priorities, concerns and worries. I asked him, after about 40 minutes, ‘OK – What’s your plan?’

 The response I got back was akin to that kangaroo I hit just outside Jamestown at about 5.40 pm one evening.  Regardless of what I did, all I got back was a startled, unblinking stare.

This reaction is something I have seen so many times in the work I do with people around emotional resilience strategies. People not having, even not believing it was possible to develop a plan as to how they will cope with the challenging times when (not if) they occur.

I find so many of my clients, especially in regional and remote areas, an absolute paradox when it comes to planning. I observe people will spend days planning how they will approach the coming season. I see computer projections and project plans as to what is going to happen when and at what time. I see things timed to virtually the very minute.

Some of the people in this sector are the best planners I have been exposed to in my professional life. Not only are they good planners, but they are also excellent contingency planners.  They have more plans B, C, D, etc than Port Power Football Club have avenues to score!

So why don’t we spend time getting the mind ready to use the brain! Think of the ‘mind is to the brain’ as ‘diesel is to the header’! Both are interdependent on each other to work!

All I ask is that people in this sector apply the same skills and thinking to themselves as they apply to their farming and business activities.

Have a resilience plan, or in other words have a ‘head plan’.

Regardless of what will happen to you in life, if you have a plan and a strategy to implement the plan, than most times you will come out of the situation, probably stronger, happier and more resilient.  More importantly you will know that you will cope and thrive.  So next time you are challenged, you will have a life experience.  Remember, you will never know where the edge of the envelope is until you give a real crack at pushing it!

To follow is a discussion, which I frequently use with my clients in assisting them develop a ‘head plan’.

It’s quite simple. For every stimulus in this world, there is a response. If you are resilient and have the strategies to respond to the stimulus, you will display problem solving behaviour. Your response will be, when you are challenged by the stimulus ‘the resilience response’. ‘OK, this has happened, so now I am going to do this’. Another version of this response is ‘OK so this has happened, and while I don’t know precisely what I am going to do YET, I know some strategies that will get me through the uncertainty and allow me to bounce forward’.

However, if you lack this resilience and lack the strategies to appropriately respond to the challenge, you will display flight or fight behaviours (or freeze – you don’t know what to do!).

Flight behaviour is avoiding it, not talking about it, denying the nature of it, even lying to yourself and others about the seriousness of it.

Fight behaviour is best summarised as shooting the messenger as opposed to addressing the message.

What’s your strategy?  

Before suggesting some strategies, we need to understand the brain and how it works.

We are learning more about how the brain works through recently released books such as “The Brain that Changes Itself” (Norman Doidge) and “How to Take Control of Your Brain” (George Lee Sye).

We accept the fact that most of us make use of less than 1/6th of the potential power of our brain.

We also accept the fact that most of us work our brain on autopilot. We also know that our brain tries to hard-wire everything, to make things predictable. So one of the strategies we need to adopt to improve our own productivity is to start to work with emotions, thinking and habits.

We know that our brain has a very acute threat detection system. The brain loves certainty and adores absolute certainty. When it doesn’t have this, the brain feels under threat and the mind creates this flight or fight response. As a self defence mechanism, the brain initiates a chemical release that creates all sorts of in-balances between cortisol, melatonin, serotonin and insulin chemicals!

So in developing your brain plan, apply three rules:

  • A rule for “Concentration”.
  • A rule for “Creating Certainty”.
  • A rule for staying “Cool under Pressure”.

If you can apply these three rules, you will thrive under the pressure that comes with working and living in this rural environment.

Here are some practical activities you can do to use your mind to release some of the awesome power of the brain.

There is a simple law to apply to achieve concentration of the mind and it is: “To effectively tackle tasks that require serious thinking, you must develop a disciplined habit of removing distractions to get quicker and better results”.

The brain loves clarity which is achieved through focus. So DO the following ten things to achieve clarity:

  • Develop a work plan;
  • Create and use “To Do” lists;
  • Tick off achievements (as well as focus, the brain loves achievements);
  • Remove clutter from your workplace and at home;
  • Remove all distractions;
  • Ensure other people understand and agree with the focus;
  • Get adequate and good quality sleep;
  • Apply 90 minute “energy chunks” to your work.  Have your mind tell your brain that for the next 90 minutes, you are going to focus on this task (then have a 10 minutes break and do the same again);
  • Develop and stick with healthy habits, and,
  • If possible schedule short breaks – maximum of four days during your busy period but minimum of four days in the ‘down” period.

The brain seeks clarity. More critically, lack of certainty is a threat! Look for certainty. That’s why habits are so important.

To create certainty, do these ten things;

  • Ensure there is a plan;
  • Use powerful and positive language – eg “I am going to do… “as opposed to “Maybe, I will…”
  • Ensure all people know what is going to happen when, who will do what, etc. (This is especially true for members of the family – especially children. We know young people need structure so outline schedules, time lines , who is picking them up from sport, school etc.)  In a period of prolonged absences, ensure people around you know how long you will be involved in the work, when it will be finalized and what sort of celebration will occur after the work load ceases (this answers the “what’s in it for me question?”);
  • Monitor your self talk.  Remember how you feel about yourself will influence your words which will drive your behavior;
  • See change as a positive opportunity (as opposed to a threat);
  • Tick off achievements on your “To-do” lists;
  • Engage with people and where possible give control through delegation;
  • Be open to new ideas;
  • Be open to cooperation and collaboration; and,
  • Where possible engage in team work – but ensure the “Powergrams” of effective teamwork are clarified and public.

When you need to stay cool under pressure, you need to get above the drama, detail and emotion, and focus on the outcome you want and the next step to take you forward. So, to stay calm under pressure, do these ten things;

  • Keep reminding yourself of why you are doing what you are doing?  Why the price of the pain is worth the effect?;
  • Remind yourself of the steps you are taking to achieve the goal;
  • Remind yourself of the progress that you are making (hence the value of to do lists and project plans);
  • Remember the value of deep breathing and the positive effect this has on your mental health;
  • Go for a walk to calm down, refocus and re-energize;
  • Look after your most valuable asset - your health!
  • Keep connected with your family, your friends and your community, this brings perspective to your life;
  • Keep the brain “fresh” through challenging yourself mentally– read, do cross words, Sudoku, etc;
  • Get quality sleep, keep hydrated (monitor the colour of your urine to ensure you are drinking enough water), monitor alcohol free days (maybe two-three a week and cut down/out smoking); and,
  • Seek external health if you feel that you may be “going under”.

If you apply these 30 tips, your mind will manage your brain, allowing you to be focused, effective and happy through even the most challenging times.

Contact details

Dennis Hoiberg

1300 365 119