Laura June and Ari Lahdekorpi RE/MAX Little Oak Realty

An Internet series called TED talks is a fascinating diversion these days. The series consist of experts in various fields sharing leading edge ideas and discoveries. The other evening I was scrolling through the latest of the TED talks and came across Russell Foster speaking on the subject of sleep. Foster is a circadian neuroscientist who studies the sleep cycles of the human brain.

While listening to Foster’s lecture, it occurred to me that having a successful career can be greatly aided by paying attention to one’s sleep habits and improving on them. This may seem contrary to the image of a hard-working agent who never rests, but research suggests that spending quality sleep time is actually time well spent.

Sleep is the single most important physiological activity of the human brain. A person living to the age of 90 will have spent 32 years asleep. Interestingly enough, the brain does not shut down during sleep, quite the contrary. There are some areas of the brain that are more active during sleep. Some genes are only turned on during memory consolidation periods of sleep.

However, sleep is complicated. Researchers have theories on what sleep is, but they don’t really know why we sleep.

The need for sleep is not restricted to humans. Other mammals and birds share with humans the two broad types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). However, the sleep process seems to have a greater impact on human brain activity in the areas of memory consolidation and the creative areas of the brain. An adult reaches the REM stage of sleep every 90 minutes, but the function of REM is uncertain. What is certain is that without proper REM sleep, the ability to learn and retain information is clearly impaired, according to scientific research into the subject.

Our society is sleep deprived. We live in an aura of artificial light that affects natural sleep cycles. As a result we keep strange hours. We suffer from jet lag, shift work, late-night computer addictions and various other factors that limit the time resting. Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Sleep is for wimps”. According to Foster and other neuroscientists, Thatcher couldn’t be more wrong.

So, what happens when we don’t get our eight hours of proper sleep? Lack of sleep has a real nasty downside. For starters, things like mood change, stress, anger, impulsive actions, chemical dependence, lack of concentration, poor memory and lack of creativity will result from sleep deprivation. Heart problems, obesity and even mental health problems such as bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia have been linked to lack of sleep. For a professional, any one of these side-effects of the lack of sleep can really impair the ability to fulfill the job description.

On the other side of the coin, getting proper sleep will give you many of the attributes for a successful career. Sleep increases concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, social skills, maintaining a healthy weight and overall cardiovascular health. A study conducted in 2007 by researchers Turner, Drummond and Brown showed that working memory was clearly reduced by 38 per cent when one was sleep deprived. Another University of California psychiatry study of more than one million adults found that people who live the longest reported a regular sleep habit of seven to eight hours. Having good regular sleeping habits pays big dividends in health and effectiveness.

Some cultures have the accepted practice of taking an afternoon nap after lunch. Despite stereotypes and social bias, this is not a sign of laziness. Studies have demonstrated that taking a short “power nap” actually helps in overall wellness. The “siesta” has been associated with a 37-per-cent reduction in heart disease.

The idea of the “power nap” is not new. Salvador Dali, the famous surrealist painter, would often sleep in a chair while holding a spoon. When he went into the sleep phase, his hand would loosen and the spoon would fall. The noise would awaken him, and he felt refreshed and ready to work again.

Recent studies have proven that short naps during the day can be as good for some types of memory tasks as a solid night of sleep. NASA has conducted numerous studies and research into the effects of sleep patterns as part of its interest in the effects of space travel. The research has confirmed the importance of naps for memory, alertness, response time and other cognitive skills.

This is a far better outcome than a sleep deprived individual having his brain shut down into the phenomenon known as micro-sleep. Many industrial accidents and traffic tragedies have been caused by micro-sleep. We have all experienced the uncontrollable experience of micro-sleep during a boring lecture, an overly long sermon or an early-morning sales meeting. It’s that feeling when your eyes begin to close and your head slowly begins to drop despite your best efforts to engage your attention.

So, how do we create the atmosphere conducive to healthy sleep? Foster suggests reducing exposure to light a good half an hour before sleep. Have a dark room with a slightly cool temperature and don’t drink coffee after 3 pm.

Perhaps brokerages should provide a quiet dark room for those who need a power nap in the mid-afternoon and remove the stigma of short rest periods during office hours. It might provide as much benefit as an in-house gym, or café-style office area. That being said, having a power nap during a quiet open house is not recommended practice!

The conclusion in all of this is; if you want to be your absolute best in business and achieve greater success through capitalizing on your full potential, remember that quality sleep is a scientifically proven, valuable and important tool in achieving your goals. The plus side of developing and maintaining good sleep habits far out-weigh the negative results of sleep deprivation, regardless of what our current social mores may be.

Writer and journalist Tim Butcher once wrote, “Sleep is God. Go worship.”

Rest well!

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If nothing else, Realtors® are skilled problem solvers. The one trait that glues together all of the successful agents across Canada, is the ability to work through the myriad of roadblocks that confront what seems like a simple task, that of bringing buyers and sellers together on a transaction within a given time frame.

Keeping a real estate deal together, and navigating through the increasingly complex minefield of laws, and restrictions that surround the real estate industry is not a task that can be accomplished effectively without logical and creative problem solving skills, along with a strong emotional foundation.

 I commented to one of our seasoned agents on how unflappable he seemed in the face of the activity that surrounds him. His response was a shrug of the shoulder and the comment, "If there is an obstacle, you just have to work around it, that's all." That sums up nicely one of the key skill sets to an effective long term real estate career.

It is so very true that although you can't control the circumstances around you, you can control their impact on you. There is nothing more valuable than clear headed thinking in the time of crisis. The ability to not throw up your hands in surrender, or run away when the bullets are flying around you can come only with experience, training, and mental attitude. The storybook and film maker image of the steady handed protagonist that guides the frightened hoards through a crisis is not entirely fictitious. The hero of the real estate deal is a real life agent who doesn’t allow emotional pressure to impact on their rational and logistical task of serving their client’s best interests through to the completion of the transaction.

 Problem solving is a mental process. Considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, problem solving has been defined as a higher-order cognitive process. It is a process that has been studied by psychologists over the last hundred years, as well as by computer programmers trying to perfect the latest artificial intelligence algorhythms. In fact the key to internet giant googles success is in the top secret A.I. code that they have perfected to solve the problem of searching the internet for information that is not tainted by spammer tricks. Make no mistake, problem solving is an intelligence marker of the highest order.

Early experimental work centered on simple tasks so that researchers could analyze and capture real-world problems by understanding the cognitive processes involved. In clinical psychology, researchers have focused on the role of emotions in problem solving.  D'Zurilla, Goldfried and Nezu published findings in the early seventies and eighties demonstrating that poor emotional control can disrupt focus on a target task and impede problem solving.

Human problem solving consists of two related processes: problem orientation, (the motivational/attitudinal/affective approach to problematic situations) and problem-solving skills,( the actual cognitive-behavioral steps, which, if successfully implemented, lead to effective problem resolution). Researchers in neuropsychology have found that frontal lobe injuries will cause deficiencies in emotional control and reasoning. Those findings have concluded that one’s emotional state can impact on the ability to solve problems.

Researchers have also learned that the problem solving process differs across domains and levels of expertise and emotional wellness. There can be no universal answer to why one can resolve problems under a crisis management mode more efficiently than another. It is clear however, that experience in problem solving in a given discipline helps to calm the emotional impact of confronting problems.

Difficult problems have some typical characteristics such as; lack of clarity of the situation, multiple objectives, decisions hierarchy, communication breakdown, and dynamic unpredictability. In all of these characteristics the resolution of difficult problems requires a direct attack on each that is encountered.

 Even more than the emotional steadiness and expertise that a skilled problem solver must have is the creative mental process of creating a solution to a problem. Creative problem solving is a special form of problem solving in which the solution is independently created rather than learned with assistance.

Creative problem solving always involves using the creative side of the brain. To qualify as creative problem solving the solution must either have value, clearly solve the stated problem, or be appreciated by someone for whom the situation improves. These are all traits that apply readily to the real estate trade. The situation prior to the solution might not even be recognized as a problem. Alternate labels for hidden problems include words like a “challenge, an opportunity, or room for improvement”.

A good REALTOR® knows from experience that one must be aware of the unintended consequences in any action or inaction. Sometimes a small detail can impact on many elements of a successful transaction with a ripple effect. This is pre-emptive problem solving that can only be done through experience or training.

The value of a real estate professional is much deeper than the average consumer sees on the surface of a problem free transaction. It could be stated that a good agent is a problem cognoscente in the best sense of the word.

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