Effective recovery builds a store of energy and determination to power us through our next peak performance. Being resilient opens our hearts to the softer, sweeter and subtler side of life, which can be just as delicious as our achievements. We must work hard to achieve our greatest goals, AND we must also schedule regular periods of downtime. Without adequate recovery, you will experience life-altering injuries, mental breakdowns, and broken relationships. Recover intelligently. Ensure your downtime allows for consistent uptime. Recover as hard as you work.
Management Consultant, Executive Coach, Olympic Gold Medalist
We’re often told that our potential is limitless; human capacity is imaginary and meant to be expanded. The most definite boundary I can think of is death. If we’re not dead, we can usually find a way to give a little bit more. If not more in strength, we can give more in spirit. We can always push a little bit harder.
The best inside all of us will push the limits to deliver on-time, on budget and above expectations. We’ll take the extra flight, and stay the extra night. We’ll work late at the office and get up early for the conference call.
We can always push a little bit harder.
Until we can’t.
Although I perform and deliver in the world of high-performance business, in my past life, I was a high-performance athlete. The lesson and metaphor below delivers a powerful insight into resilience.
Hitting the Olympic Training Wall
I returned to the national training centre in pursuit of my second Olympic Games, when my mind played a wicked trick on me. The last Olympic cycle had been a mixture of successes and failures – including an Olympic sized failure at the Athens Games. I was shooting for a gold medal the Beijing Olympics with optimism and hope. Yet, my clearest memories of the previous four years were of the hardest and toughest moments in training.
I remembered the struggle and then finding the strength to break through. The struggle is what gave my journey meaning. The struggle gave me confidence. I wanted more. More struggle, that is, because struggle would give me more confidence and meaning.
Just like the last Olympic cycle, we were training 5-7 hours per day and pushing our physical limits to the extreme. We believed that our training regime had the highest volume and was the most intense in the world. Yet, I would come home thinking “This should be harder. I should be working harder. I can do a little bit more.”
Instead of trusting the process, taking another inch, and recovering for tomorrow’s battle, I added more. I did extra weight routines. I spent more time on the bike.
“I can work harder. I can push harder. I can do better. I can be better.”
A bold virtue, for sure. But I reached a point where this virtue became my vice.
I hit my limit.
One day rowing, it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of my body. No matter how hard my mind commanded my body to push, I would feel no response. Normally, I could take a deep breath and will more power. My breath felt empty. No matter how deeply I inhaled, I could not find more. My body gave out. I visited doctor after doctor, to no effect. I found a struggle I did not want.
Sickness. Injury. Depression. Doubt.
I was knocked out from training for two weeks. This may seem like a short time, but when the Olympics are 40 weeks away, two weeks is an eternity. Races are won or lost by ½ an inch and two weeks can mean that difference or more. That’s also two weeks your teammates are getting better without you. That’s two weeks that your competitors are training and you are not. That’s two weeks where the guy who wants your spot on the team is getting faster, while you are recovering.
The stress and uncertainty were unbearable.
Why do we value hard work, over recovery, often at all costs? Why do we neglect our resilience when it’s essential to success? Why do we care about our business, our team, our family first, and place ourselves at the bottom of the list?
I’ve lost my resilience. I’ve neglected recovery as an athlete and suffered illness and injury. I’ve neglected recovery as a husband and a father, and have suffered an unhappy home. I have neglected recovery as a businessman and have suffered lost income, extreme exhaustion and burn-out.
But life is busy, especially when we’re running after our next Gold Medal Moment.
Sometimes, I believe high achievers conflate recovery with laziness. How can we identify the difference between being lazy and effective recovery? Let’s be more efficient, and drop the multitasking myth, that doing a ton of things is more effective than focusing at one at a time. Is it better to push through and work at ½ capacity when exhausted or could you grab more sleep, move more or use some other break strategy to allow you to work at full capacity?
Take A Break Before You Break
My training in elite sport nourished the character traits of persistence, perseverance, grit and joy in effort. As a management consultant and executive coach, these traits have been remarkably valuable – and sometimes dangerous.
Immersed in the world of business, I have found that many other high performing executives also find recovery to be incredibly difficult.
So, how do we know if it’s time to improve our resiliency game? Figuring out how to rest is pretty straightforward. Most people intuitively know what they need to do. Move more. Eat better. Sleep smarter. Manage stress effectively.
So, when do we rest?
As business owners and professionals we must periodize our rest in the same way an athlete periodizes their recovery. Yearly vacation. Weekly downtime. Daily regeneration rituals.
Do you have a daily resiliency ritual? Nutrition, movement and mindset rituals are key to keep your energy high and your emotions in a regular, positive state. One executive I coach runs or walks at lunch. Another chooses to journal in the mornings to plan for his day, and achieve his optimal energy mindset.
Do you have a weekly rest and recovery ritual? One executive I consult visits his personal trainer every Saturday morning, has brunch with his family, then spends some time every afternoon in a sensory deprivation float tank. Come Monday, he’s recharged for the week ahead.
Do you have a yearly resiliency ritual that you plan and look forward to? I run my own business, maintain a small staff and am on the constant hunt for new clients. I can miss my family. Every year, I block out at least a week where the entire family goes on vacation. I will also block off one long weekend a year for me to spend one-on-one time with each of my children. My wife and I schedule date nights. I look forward to these moments of recharge that allow me to reconnect with the reason I work so hard.
There are many other solutions to effective recovery including proper nutrition, smart movement, sleep hygiene, confronting addictions, talk therapy, embracing meditation, getting outdoors and shutting off electronic devices.
Fatigue is funny. Sometimes you know exactly where your exhaustion comes from – like working in the garden or helping a friend move all day. However, sometimes we feel tired, and cannot immediately identify the source of our low energy. Invisible fatigue can creep into our professional lives without warning. Identifying the sources of invisible fatigue takes more work.
The body is a complex system, and we can be influenced by our immune system fighting off a bug, changes in daylight or weather, pollution and background radiation, or even spending too much time in the oxygen-limited environment of an airplane.
Self-doubt and negative self-talk are both good signs that you are tired and in need of recovery. We are more grumpy, cynical and pessimistic when we are approaching burnout.
But be aware that negativity is not always a sign that you need recovery. Self-doubt and negative self-talk both come along for the ride if you attempt something difficult. A question I like to ask: “Am I feeling negative because I’m tired and need recovery, or am I feeling negative because I am simply doing something difficult?” Sometimes the answer is yes to both.
The challenge, and solution, to invisible fatigue, is to identify the sources of your exhaustion.
Two Types of Fatigue
Fatigue is often time delayed. The fatigue you are experiencing now is because of something that has happened earlier. When looking back, you may find it helpful to separate the different causes of your tiredness. Are you experiencing physical fatigue or emotional labour fatigue?
Physical fatigue can come from a myriad of sources. Medications, supplements, drinking alcohol at networking events, too much refined sugar and flour in your diet can all contribute to physical fatigue. Reduced or interrupted sleep patterns, travel or young children can push your sleep schedule off kilter. Moving your body too much, or not moving your body enough will also contribute to fatigue. Beware that exercise can be deceptive. When first starting an exercise program, you may feel like you have less energy for up to four to six weeks. Once your body adapts, your metabolism kicks into higher gear and gives you more power. Do you have a plan to keep your body in tip-top shape? People in your life to hold you accountable?
We endure emotional labour in our work and home. Common causes of emotional fatigue are change, fear, employee troubles, hard work with no results, negative people, drama, the achievement of a hard-earned goal, lack of team support, loss of a loved one, caregiver responsibilities. Are you acknowledging each emotional stressor that may be contributing to invisible fatigue? Are you taking action to fix them? One solution is to find a counsellor or a coach that can walk you through the steps of treating anxiety and depression while developing more assertiveness or reducing anger.
Do You Need to Recover Harder?
Most of us have our heads down grinding, hoping that harder work will get us there. Is this the path we need? To be a successful athlete, you MUST rest appropriately. The successful business owner must do the same.
Hopefully, reading this article has helped you decide if you need to up your resiliency game. If you made it this far, I’m guessing something needs to change. Try answering the following questions below:
Are you actively pushing yourself to your limits?
If no, would you have more energy to push harder if you recovered smarter?
If yes, are you still improving or are you dropping more balls than you can pick up?
Take a break right now and write in your journal. Record your present feelings and thoughts on recovery. Where is your fatigue coming from? Do you have regular periods of recovery?
Make a plan. You won’t get it right on your first try, but you will most certainly make forward progress. The worst case scenario? You find a recovery method that doesn’t work for you at this time.
Find a solution that will work for you.
This article is adapted from Adam Kreek’s upcoming book, Inches: 12 Steps to Achieving your next Gold Medal Moment
Kreek is a Management Consultant, Executive Coach and Keynote Speaker who lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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