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Posted by on Aug 21, 2020

How to Avoid COVID-19 Brain Fog and Thrive!

How to Avoid COVID-19 Brain Fog and Thrive!

Volatility, complexity, unrelenting change at an unprecedented speed with increased levels of stress and anxiety; this is the environment that leaders face in the era of COVID-19. An environment that can negatively impact the ability to think creatively at a time when it is most needed.

We may not have control over our challenges, but we can control our response to stress. How? Respond like Captain Sullenberger.

It was January 15, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 took off. Seconds later, the plane began losing altitude; a bird strike had damaged both engines. Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III, knew he had seconds to make critical decisions that would determine where and how the plane would land.

Instinctively Captain Sully knew that he had to slow down and focus. In less than four seconds, Sully asked his copilot, “Got any ideas?” and then recalled his water landing training as he made the most important announcement of his life. He “took four seconds to think, to reflect, to choose his words carefully.” He wanted to sound confident and use the fewest words to inform the passengers what was about to happen. “Brace for impact.” They did, and all 155 survived.

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman tells us that leaders who have the mental agility to pivot from fast to slow thinking under pressure can thrive under such conditions. They make better decisions, communicate more clearly with their teams, and avoid what has become known as COVID-19 Brain Fog.

Neuro Tip

The brain is an energy-conservation machine. It desperately wants to resolve the problem quickly. It absorbs what it can and searches the memory bank for anything that can be applied to the present. It wants us to believe that the information we have is sufficient to take action. So, we often make decisions without asking for help or reflecting on the quality of our data. That’s when errors occur, some of which can be catastrophic.

How do we resist the primal urge to act quickly under pressure? How can we train ourselves to think like Captain Sully?

In a crisis, no one has time to pull out a yoga mat or meditate for 20 minutes. Fortunately, neuroscientists have discovered that it takes only 60 seconds or less to reduce stress.

Try these strategies to aid critical decision-making while under pressure:

  • Mindful yawning. In NeuroWisdom, co-authors Mark Waldman and Chris Manning, Loyola Marymount Graduate School of Business, cite evidence that mindful yawning is the most efficient way to reduce mental stress. Sixty seconds or fewer increases cerebral blood flow which stimulates alertness improves cognitive function and lowers stress
  • Combine a mindful yawn with a super slow stretch and your brain will release approximately 1,200 stress-reducing neurochemicals without popping one pill
  • Ask questions to interrupt fast thinking and shift into slow thinking. What am I missing? Do I have sufficient information to act? Who else can help?

Use these simple techniques to elevate the quality of your decisions under extreme pressure. If Captain Sully can pause for four seconds before landing his plane in the Hudson River, you can apply these game-changing techniques and thrive.


Linda Cassell, M.Ed, CPCC, is an independent certified neuro leadership coach at Management Concepts and president and founder of Quantum Leap Coaching and Training, LLC. An expert in leadership development, crisis management, and culture transformation, Linda works with executives in the commercial, non-profit, and public sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees in Education from Kent State University and is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute. Linda also holds a Neuro Leadership Coach certification from Mark Waldman.

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