My daughter plays a sport in college, and summer conditioning is required for the team to be ready for the upcoming season. One of her teammates was visiting her this past August, and I went with them for a morning workout. I watched as they conducted timed sprints. There were 25 fairly long sprints, each having a timed goal. In between each sprint, there was an allotted time of “recovery.” This consisted of resting time to catch their breath, as well as to send blood and oxygen to their muscles. Then they would sprint again. This went on forever.
One of the techniques they used, which is common in other fitness arenas, is to shorten the recovery. While this makes the practice harder, over time it allows for the building of lung capacity. The same is true with weightlifting and the supercompensation of muscles. Essential to all these “fitness” processes is the dynamic and tension between exertion and recovery. That got me thinking about my clients, most of whom want to increase their performance, as well as that of their teams and their organizations.
When I observe business leaders, I notice that they rarely – or never – take the recovery. Most leaders I know are in back-to-back meetings, with barely enough time to grab a water. Without recovery, they’re exhausting their energy supplies and running on reserves. If Division 1 athletes, as well as Olympic athletes, are trained with recovery embedded in their demanding workouts, why should business leaders be different?
What to do?
Ask yourself: what recovery are you creating in your day to help you be stronger, more balanced, more fulfilled, and ready for the next challenge, opportunity or meeting?
Recovery can be simple. It can be that two-minute break you spend consciously breathing and elongating your breath. This simple exercise restores the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These should be in balance to allow for a state of relaxed alertness where our best can flow. When hit with stress, we move into our sympathetic nervous systems, which generates a whole series of physiological effects. These include increased cortisol and lower DHEA levels, as well as blood flow to the gross motor muscles and away from the rational part of the brain. These together create a five-hour impact on our bodies and behaviors. By using a breathing recovery practice, we can restore our balance.
You can also create two-hour blocks a few times a week on your calendar. This is not for emailing. Rather, it’s for “getting on the balcony.” “The balcony” is that perspective you get by pulling away from the moment-to-moment action of leading to see what’s at play, from a broader viewpoint. This practice can enrich your ability to notice what’s happening with you and around you, and allow you to identify adjustments. It can enable you to find hidden patterns, or note a new possibility that you didn’t see before. It’s the equivalent of “seeing the field” in sports and not just seeing the ball in the moment. It’s the ability to see the lie on the putting green and envision the next shot. Every 90 minutes, our bodies and minds need a break. This is the rest and recovery all leaders should look to practice. The Making of a Corporate Athlete” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review, January 2001, HBR.org.