How to become a corporate athlete

Dr Linda Friedland

Dr. Linda Friedland is an authority on executive and corporate health, women’s wellbeing as well as stress management and performance. Linda is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) and a health board non-executive director.

If there is one quality that we seek for our organisations and ourselves, it is a sustained high performance in the face of ever-increasing stress and rapid change. Yet, personal exhaustion is at an all-time high. The constant expectations, demands and deadlines lead us to depletion and exhaustion.

Faster, bigger, more and more". This ethos of market economies over the last 100 years is grounded in a totally misguided notion. “The assumption that as humans we operate in a linear and sustainable fashion. The reality is that we are not designed to run like a computer or digital device; continuously at high speed for long periods of time. Humans are not linear”, explains Jim Loer and Tony Shwartz in the book, The Power of Full Engagement. Our bodies and our brains function rhythmically in a pulse-like fashion. Brief periods of recovery and restoration are essential for peak performance.

When the demands at work exceed our capacity, we default into a survival mode, as if we are in immediate danger, burning out from the extremely high levels of circulating stress hormones. Superior performance could be attained by assuming the mentality of a sprinter, who engages intensely in short bursts followed by sufficient recovery time.

But the executive culture makes no provision for recovery. Rather, it promotes sustained function. Unlike the athlete, the executive devotes almost no time to training and performs on demand many hours a day. He has no off- season. It is impossible to sustain 8-10 hours of continuous output day in and day out.We can learn about mental toughness and strategic recovery from our athletic elite.

Here are the top five tips to becoming an executive corporate athlete:

1. Get stressed

Stress itself, is not the enemy; it drives and motivates us. It is the lack of recovery that wears us down. Very short intervals of effective energy renewal are vital during the workday and longer periods outside of work. Focus in the most absorbed way possible when you are working and then take a break. You achieve much more by working intensely for short periods and then refueling, than you do by working continuously over a long period of time. This approach is effective for the same reason that interval training is a very efficient way to exercise.

2. Manage energy rather than time

Time is finite, but energy, the capacity to do work, can be expanded and regularly renewed. Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance and yet we misuse it badly. We eat highly processed, refined foods and high sugar instead of nourishing super-foods. We sit for long periods of time causing stasis of our blood flow and poor oxygenation of our body and brain. Not much positive comes from putting in extra time without devoting high quality focused energy.

3. Take a break at least every 90 minutes

It’s not how long you take off that matters most, but how skillfully you use these nvery short periods of renewal.Get up from your desk and stretch your muscles.Take a short walk. The simplest way to recharge is by breathing.

You can dramatically lower your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension in as little as thirty seconds. Learning to practice mindfulness and meditation are very effective ways to defuse stress, strengthen neural connections, and oxygenate the brain.So too is a short power nap.

4. Make sleep your number one priority

For far too long, sleep has not received the attention it deserves. It is undoubtedly the most powerful restorative tool we have at our disposal. In reality even small amounts of sleep deprivation undermine our capacity for analytic thinking, creativity and mental focus. We can no longer overlook the important research demonstrating the effects of improved sleep on cellular healing and optimal cognitive function.

5. Pump up adrenalin and then switch it off

Exercise is essential for reaching high-performance levels in demanding jobs.There is no better way to recharge your energy than by temporarily pumping up adrenalin levels. Use your lunch break to get to the gym, go for a run or if not possible take a brisk walk out of the office. Post exercise your adrenalin switches off automatically, facilitating energy renewal. The FIT principle is still a valuable guide: Frequency- at least 3 times a week, Intensity- moderate intensity Time-for at least 30-40 minutes. But in recent years HIIT or High intensity Interval has been shown to significantly enhance work performance.

Importantly, while athletic performance requires body and brain, the executive’s work is regarded as a “neck-up” activity, with little attention to the physical capacity on which it rests. Improved training, short power naps, longer sleep hours and regular power foods has been shown to significantly enhance memory and mental acuity.

Tags: leadership strategy

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