When it comes to Work / Life Balance there’s no more important exchange than the energy exchange. When too much energy goes out, without replenishment, we burn out. When too much stays put, without engagement, we rust out. Striking the perfect balance between effort and rest, stress and recovery, is the secret to sustained satisfaction and performance in life and work. Fortunately, making this balance a habit is not as hard as it sounds. Read on to learn how!
If there is one thing we should expect from our ideal Work / Life Balance, it is better performance. The kind of performance that gives us that satisfied, productive, job-well-done, ready-for-the-next-challenge feeling.
In past issues, we have considered how our performance can be enhanced by things like: discarding old mindsets that hold us back; finding passion and purpose by naming what we want; clearing things that weigh us down; and choosing what is really important by balancing our “Yeses” and “No’s”. In this issue, we consider how to enhance our performance by balancing our energy.
In The Making of a Corporate Athlete, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz discuss how their work with world-class athletes was applied to corporate executives. In today’s world of rapid change and unprecedented demands, they called top performing executives “corporate athletes”. Their approach applies to all of us whether or not we are corporate executives, because our performance stands to benefit.
Loehr and Schwartz suggest that if we want to perform at our highest levels over the long-term, we need to train in the same systematic way that world-class athletes do. Their ideas were tested on thousands of people resulting in dramatic improvements to their performance in work and life generally.
They did this by helping individuals increase their capacity for endurance, strength, flexibility, self-control, and focus. Increasing capacity in these areas allows us to fully engage our talents and skills to create sustained high performance over the long-term, creating what Loehr and Schwartz call the Ideal Performance State.
Unlike athletes, many of us can still perform successfully if we are unfit, eat poorly, or lack self-control and balance in our rest and focus. However, we cannot perform at our full potential. And eventually we will incur a cost to ourselves, our families and to the organisations or people we serve.
Further to this, most of us ask more of ourselves than Athletes do. Professional athletes spend most of their time practicing and only a small percentage of their time competing. In contrast, most of us spend almost no time training and most of our time performing for long periods, on demand and without many breaks.
Through their research in sports science, Loehr and Schwartz make the case that reaching and maintaining our Ideal Performance State requires an ability to mobilise energy on demand. This requires us to enter a rhythm of expenditure and renewal. They explain that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, as this can actually cause growth. The problem is a shortfall in disciplined and regular recovery.
Most of us can recognise that stress without recovery reduces our energy reserves and leads to burnout, but how do we handle the natural urge to work harder and faster? We can start by consciously creating new habits that get us into the rhythm of alternating between stress and recovery. Many of us are creatures of habit and the great thing about habits is that they work automatically, either for us or against us. With a bit of practice upfront, we can create habits that automatically work for us to balance our energy.
By engaging in habits that alternate between stress and recovery, we discover the secret to sustained high performance, even under pressure. We can operate at our highest levels of performance and be stronger, more satisfied, healthier, and more excited about the next challenge we face.
Most professional athletes use habits like these to sustain high performance while under pressure. Tiger Woods often tugs at the shoulder of his polo shirt to shift his focus. Tiger’s shirts are all custom-made, so it’s unlikely they are a bad fit • he does it intentionally to renew his focus. Tennis players adjust their strings between points as a habit to induce brief recovery. Loehr and Schwartz hooked players up to heart-rate monitors and were astonished to find a drop in heat-rate while performing habits of recovery in between points.
In contrast players who lacked consistent recovery habits tended to expend too much energy without recovery. Regardless of their talent, they became more frustrated, anxious, and distracted from their ability to generate high levels of performance.
The same is true for each of us. We can all benefit from developing our own version of adjusting the strings on our tennis racquet between points. The common element is to balance energy expenditure and recovery. To enter the professional league, the idea is to build automatic recovery habits in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual areas as they are all interdependent.
Creating physical habits of recovery builds our physical endurance. Without this we cannot operate at our peak mental and emotional levels. We can start by doing the basic things we already know like choosing to eat well, maintaining good sleep patterns, taking regular breaks every 90 minutes, and keeping fit. There is an abundance of fresh ideas in this area that we can choose from to start developing some new habits.
To create new habits on the mental and emotional levels, we can start by recognising when we are engaging in obsessive thinking and worrying. By taking a break from these engagements, before coming back to them, we often find solutions to frustrating problems.
One way of shifting out of obsessive thinking and worrying is to simply step back and observe ourself doing it without applying any judgement. Ruminating on negative emotions can be hard work, whereas engaging positive emotions has the opposite effect. Our close relationships can be great sources of positive emotions • increasing rather than cutting back here is a great renewal habit. Recovery of the mental and emotional levels gives us greater ability to focus.
Creating spiritual habits of recovery can be as simple as taking time out to reflect and see the bigger picture. We might take a walk, not thinking about anything in particular, or enjoy taking a slow, deep breath by noticing how it feels. Other activities might include meditation or Yoga, or just taking a few seconds to notice something in nature like a tree outside the office window. The idea is to create automatic habits that break the constant need to react to the most pressing demand. Spiritual recovery connects us with our source of inspiration, clarity, great ideas, and renewed endurance.
We must give ourselves permission to renew our energy, regardless of our roles in life. At work for example, one way to balance energy is to focus on results not hours. Many companies are throwing out the clock and having people sign on for results. They don’t expect people to hang around so they can be seen, but they do expect results. And getting results requires consistent recovery habits, just like professional athletes use.
It can be challenging to create new habits, especially for busy people or top performers, but then who doesn’t like a challenge if they stand to benefit? Try enlisting the help of someone else like a personal trainer, a professional coach, a friend, or a family member until it becomes habit. Give yourself permission and then add a healthy dose of commitment.
Having the athlete-like self-control and discipline to balance our energy is at the core of achieving our ideal Work / Life Balance. It turns hard work into meaningful achievement, and is the secret to sustained satisfaction and performance.
Loehr and Schwartz’s Corporate Athlete ideas give us good reason to create such habits, “When people feel strong and resilient • physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually • they perform better, with more passion, for longer. They win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.”
Coaching Inquiries: How often do you expend too much energy without recovery? Would you like help creating habits that balance your energy? How could you renew and recover your vital energy more often? What habits could you create to work automatically for you? How could you start balancing your energy more regularly?
This Provision, and each Provision in our series on Work / Life Balance, is written by Michael J. Alafaci of www.SolutionMaps.com • Copyright Solution Maps 2005. All rights reserved. You can contact Mike by email or phone, in Australia, at 61-7-3311-5361.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, Email Bob or use our online Feedback Form..
I was writing to another reader of LifeTrek Provisions this weekend and he commented that he thought Mike was writing to him, all the way from Australia! “Yes” and “No” • two so simple words, but such deep rooted feelings. I used to be really (and I mean really) involved with several charities. Charitable organizations can really suck you in and before you know it, that’s all you spend your time doing. I was even doing charity work (phone calls, fliers, plans, etc) at work.
For me, learning to say “no” when I really wanted to say “yes” was a big turning point and one that allowed me to reclaim a greater balance in my life. I also found that there are variations to “No.” Saying “No,” for example, may be the simple difference between being head coach and assistant coach; being fund raising chairman or leading a sub-group; taking the most demanding part in a play or a simple supporting / non-speaking role. Sometimes, I would make the tough call and say “no”, indicating that now was just not a good time, maybe next year. Less guilt and I’m still in the game.
Mike’s Provision on balancing your ballast was a great piece on the importance of clearing clutter as a source of inspiration. As we get into the “back to school” spirit, it’s a great time to help our clients clean up some clutter in their lives, and to do the same for ourselves. I have forwarded this Provision to all the coaches I know. Thanks!
Your Pathway on Wellness Resources Click made me think of a free, weekly nutrition and health e-letter from the Washington Post called “The Lean Plate Club.” The weekly email includes lots of other related links as well. To sign up, just go to www.LeanPlateClub.com and click on the link to Sign Up Now for Email Newsletter. Note: interested users will have to register (for free) the first time with The Washington Post.
As a reader of LifeTrek Provisions in Nigeria, I have no doubt that I and some of your other subscribers in the ‘third world’ countries would be interested in responding to the needs of those directly and indirectly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Please kindly urge the American Red Cross to include the names of, at least all the countries (about 149 as of now) in their ‘appeal for donations format’ in which you have subscribers and their lives are being enriched through your write-ups. Thanks. (Ed. Note: You might try donating through the link at Amazon.com.)
I feel for those touched by the devastation that hit the Gulf Coast region and the entire USA. All of us are touched with feelings of being connected as Americans with feelings for fellow Americans. Your email mentioned a way to email LifeTrek Coaching for free coaching. Please, consider my offer to coach anyone within the USA. I have nationwide calling on my phone service, so I could make the calls. I graduated from the Coach U program and am a member of ICF, CoachVille, and IAC. Let me know, if I can be of service in your efforts to reach those needing or wanting coaching. I am not rich financially, but I can offer pro bono coaching with those you feel need/want/qualify for/ coaching around “Katrina” and the aftermath of current situations that exist. (Ed. Note: Thanks for the note. We will keep you in mind.)
I am trying to find my family. They lived in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. How can I find out if they are alive or dead? Please respond, thank you. (Ed. Note: I suggest that you visit the Family News Network maintained by the International Red Cross Click. Let us know if there are other ways we can be of assistance.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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