Prac­tis­ing self-care

Top ath­letes and sports­peo­ple recog­nise that it is not pos­si­ble to main­tain per­for­mance at the high­est level over a sus­tained pe­riod of time with­out al­low­ing for re­cov­ery time. So why do busi­ness lead­ers think they can? By Dou­glas Lang.

NZ Business - - INSIGHT -

IN a re­cent coach­ing ses­sion, my client ‘ Michael’ ex­plained that he was feel­ing ex­tremely stressed; there was too much go­ing on; a num­ber of changes were be­ing made in his busi­ness area which he was hav­ing dif­fi­culty ac­cept­ing.

The net re­sult was that he was at the point of ‘check­ing out’ – start­ing to think about mov­ing else­where. He was keen to ex­plore what he might do to im­prove his sit­u­a­tion.

Through some brain­storm­ing, Michael and I iden­ti­fied a num­ber of pos­si­ble ac­tions. Many of these were very sen­si­ble, prac­ti­cal ideas around or­gan­is­ing his time bet­ter; be­ing more assertive in say­ing ‘ no’ to meet­ings; putting to­gether a well- con­structed ar­gu­ment about his con­cerns with the changes etc. How­ever, it was ac­tu­ally some­thing else that Michael latched onto.

He re­alised that many of the is­sues he iden­ti­fied as the cause of his stress were things that, when he was in his best ‘state‘, he would deal with rel­a­tively eas­ily.

He re­alised that he had let slip some of the dis­ci­plines that, when present, gave him the men­tal for­ti­tude to deal with the stresses and strains of a busy role.

The con­ver­sa­tion with Michael re­minded me of points made in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s sem­i­nal HBR pa­per – The Mak­ing of a Cor­po­rate Ath­lete. In the pa­per they point out that top ath­letes and sports­peo­ple recog­nise that it is not pos­si­ble to main­tain per­for­mance at the high­est level over a sus­tained pe­riod of time with­out al­low­ing for re­cov­ery time. So they train hard but also al­low their bod­ies (and minds) to come off their peak lev­els in or­der to re­cover.

For some rea­son, as busi­ness lead­ers we seem to think we should be able to per­form at a peak level in­def­i­nitely, do­ing long hours, with lim­ited (or no) ex­er­cise, less than great nu­tri­tion and dis­turbed sleep.

In their re­search for the pa­per, Loehr and Schwartz found that in sports, what gets in the way of high per­for­mance is ac­tu­ally not stress, which ac­tu­ally stim­u­lates growth. The main thing that gets in the way is the ‘ lack of dis­ci­plined, in­ter­mit­tent re­cov­ery’.

Of­ten the re­sponse I see in lead­ers with ‘too much to do’ is to keep ex­tend­ing their work­ing day to try and cram more work hours in. While this might work for a short pe­riod it is not a sus­tain­able strat­egy.

The an­swer is ac­tu­ally the op­po­site – to put the ex­tra time and ef­fort into dis­ci­plined re­cov­ery (ex­er­cise; re­lax­ation; eat­ing well).

This was what Michael re­alised through the course of our con­ver­sa­tion. When he thought about how he op­er­ated when he was prac­tis­ing more self- care, he re­alised that he was still busy but he felt more able to cope.

He left the ses­sion hav­ing made a com­mit­ment to prac­tise some ‘ex­treme self- care’ around ex­er­cise, nu­tri­tion and sleep.

I’m see­ing him again in a cou­ple of weeks. My ex­pec­ta­tion is, if he has given him­self per­mis­sion to take more care of him­self, he will be in a much bet­ter place next time I see him. Dou­glas Lang is the di­rec­tor of Al­tris Ltd (www.al­tris.co.nz) spe­cial­is­ing in lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment and coach­ing.

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