Step Back to Boost Your PerformanceTake time to relax, rebound, recover and continue stronger than before.
My Recent Reflection
As I have been reflecting on my life, priorities, my mindset and habits over the period of the last week I came to the realization, that I had trouble relaxing my mind, the exercise and my diet.
Until the last week, I had been pushing myself non-stop since January 2017. Later, I started pushing myself besides sports also mentally, sticking to a strict schedule that would allow me to be productive, write, create, get things done. My life was essentially training, eating, work and sleep with little to no time to rest or to be in touch with people.
I always advocate focusing on sustainable approach in whatever you do and that is when it hit me. My efforts were not sustainable long-term. From the perspective of balance, it is normal to have times of high and low intensity. These twelve months were intense for me, especially when it came to training.
I started analyzing and thinking about taking a week or two off but I could not. My mind was preventing me from releasing the tension. The decision to continue training despite what logic says was driven by fear of losing fitness, getting out of the habit and the fear of not being able to stick to my previous pattern after I relax it even for a single day.
That leads me to an injury, which prevents me to run. My immediate thought was “What a blessing! Perfectly at the right time. Now I have no other choice but to focus on recovery.”. But there was still some anxiety accompanying the idea of not training at all.
Full of anxiety I woke up the next day to realize I was still alive. Understanding how anxious I really was, I decided to take a week to listen to my body. That means to eat, sleep, and exercise as I feel like and observe.
My performance was going down…
The tricky part was, I was not aware that my performance, mental and physical, was deteriorating. When I stopped, my energy went up, my motivation went up, my productivity went up although I spent less time training or producing (or rather trying to produce). Six days in I am still not a fat, lazy, spoiled person. Quite the opposite. I am getting the energy to get back even stronger…
“It is the moment to stop acting. Come out from the maelstrom of your life and make a space in which to meditate.
Stay immovable, quieten your spirit.Look for the solitude. Only by doing so will you be able to see clearly. There has been too much movement until now. The horses are runaway, the whirl of your life has turned endlessly around. Set your spine upright, concentrate on the lower abdomen, relax your body, observe your breathing. Close your eyes and make silence. Connect with the earth, feeling the umbilical cord that unites you. Take shelter in your mother’s womb. Repose, rest, meditate. Then go and take action if it is required.”
~Schultz E. L. (1998), Path of the warrior (1st edition). New York. St. Martin’s Press
We Follow a Natural Cycle
Our bodies and mind, just like nature, follow cycles – micro, meso, and macro. Summer is filled with energy, we crave more fruit and cold meals and beverages. As the season changes and the weather get colder, we start craving more and more warm food, we tend to sleep more and look for more rest. The winter season is all about calming down, regaining energy and rebounding, essentially giving your body and mind a break. You might find yourself have a tendency to sleep more, eat less, or be generally slower. All the energy we regain during winter can be expressed during spring as we start becoming more active.
Some people don’t feel like there is a difference between the season and how they feel, however, take into account, that we are detached from nature. Things like unnatural light, drinking stimulants like tea or coffee, eating food at odd times (like late at night) throw our circadian rhythm off. Therefore, our connection with nature and yourself is dampened. Just recall the last time you spent sleeping in a tent, away from civilization. I am sure you got sleepy much sooner and woke up sooner than usual.
Just like nature, our bodies need a time of rest, with lighter activity and focused on recovery. Our mind needs time to recover and relax as well. The biggest mistake I found myself slipping into is trying to perform all the time and as I am exploring the optimal ways of functioning for peak performance, both mental and physical, I came to the conclusion that cycles of high activity need to be followed by a low activity. Intense sessions followed by relaxed sessions. One of the examples is the pomodoro technique when you focus on work for 25 minutes and then rest for 5 and repeat this cycle several times. This is a microcycle. From the mesocycle perspective, we can simply extend this to the course of one year when we take a week or two completely off, once or twice a year. From the macrocycle perspective, we can do the same over the course of several years.
Suggestions to Perform Optimally Long-Term
My call here is simple. If you have been pushing yourself for an extended period of time, give yourself time to recover. Your muscles grow during the rest. You are the most creative in the shower or a walk.
What’s more, high performing people like athletes and entrepreneurs are at higher risk of burning out. Here are the warning signs of a burnout (link opens in a new window), that you might want to check.
Some of us might have a problem to relax for whatever reason. In my case, it was driven by fear of losing fitness, which led to an injury. In that case, consider changing the way you think about it. If you feel like you are not being productive when you relax, consider it to be a self-exploration time. You will have an opportunity to notice your cravings, see how your body and mind runs naturally. When do you wake up without an alarm? How active are you? How much do you eat? Don’t judge it, be a silent observer.
If you have trouble to relax intuitively, like me, schedule it. It is a simple mind trick that works for the A-type personalities. You want to perform as best as you can and when you schedule it, your identity will want to follow here as well, i.e. relax to the fullest.
A good way to reconnect with yourself and clear your mind is by taking up meditation or walks in nature. If you don’t do it regularly, experiment with it. Some people consider it to be a waste of time but I found out for myself that after a morning walk I am all hyped up for creating and have a great day. Some research even suggests that mediation results in 5 times the productive time in return. That is a good R.O.I., isn’t it?
Take time to calm down and reflect. Maybe, through the mindfulness, you will find out that you do some things in a sub-optimal way. Figure out how to optimize them to re-start strong. Winter months are ideal for that as our natural tendency is to slow down. It is natural for us to take a step back and listen, plan ahead.
Think of yourself like an arrow being drawn by an archer to be released…
Learn how to best fuel your body
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