Six practices that will transform you into a corporate athlete
In our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, delivering consistent high performance is becoming more important and more difficult than ever before.
In fact, rapid change and chronic stress has left many organisations facing burnout. The signs are easy to spot: Physical and emotional exhaustion, and a general feeling of cynicism and ineffectiveness.
High performance doesn’t just depend on how we dispense our energy, it depends on how we renew and recover it.
Burnout usually happens when organisations and their people have too many demands, too few resources and too little recovery, both in and outside of work, for an extended period of time.
It can cause people to turn towards harmful coping mechanisms such as alcohol, drugs, bad diets and gambling, all of which can have a devastating effect on the individual, their family and the organisations they work for.
Even high-achievers experience burnout. Too often, they overload their lives and brush aside warning signs, like stress and exhaustion, as the price to be paid for success. Eventually, their bodies deliver a devastating reminder of its need to be cared for and abruptly give way to debilitating physical and mental conditions.
Suddenly, organisations start to see a rapid rise in absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover, and a steep fall in performance, productivity and engagement. In an effort to address this, they introduce development programs that they think will make their people more productive.
But only too often, those development programs are ineffective. Why? Because they don’t address the whole problem. They focus on cognitive capabilities, but widely ignore physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
The reality is, high performance doesn’t just depend on how we dispense our energy, it depends on how we renew and recover it. To consistently deliver a high performance, we need to not only manage our work effectively, we need to manage our lives effectively.
When we feel physically, mentally and spiritually strong, we are more committed and more productive for longer periods of time. And as a result, we succeed (personally and professionally), our teams succeed, and the organisations that employ us succeed.
When we feel physically, mentally and spiritually strong, we are more committed and more productive for longer periods of time.
As an organisational development professional, I spend a lot of time working with business leaders. When they ask me how to create and sustain positive energy in themselves and their teams, I always share with them the practices of elite athletes.
Elite athletes take a disciplined and holistic approach to their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. They aim for optimal living in all areas of their life. Which means, the business of them is their most important priority—and everyone else benefits from that.
It’s important to remember that elite athletes don’t run marathons or perform at an elite level every single day. They spend most of their time preparing themselves for their big moment. They practice kicking goals so that when the time comes, they score.
On top of training, they also understand the importance of recovery. To perform at their absolute best, athletes know they must take time to recover from the increased stress they put their bodies under while training.
With that in mind, here are six ways you can create and sustain positive energy like an elite athlete:
1. Play to your strengths
If you feel a strong urge or push towards a particular vocation, follow it. Find your calling. Do something that you truly believe in. Choose a role that leverages your strengths.
Elite athletes know that to be successful they need to choose a sport that plays to their strengths. Similarly, if you feel a strong urge or push towards a particular vocation, follow it. Find your calling. Do something that you truly believe in. Choose a role that leverages your strengths. For example, if you’re an extrovert, think about working in a team or client-facing role. Or, if you’re an introvert, consider working in a role that gives you space to recharge.
Believe it or not, the right role can provide you with a sense of spirituality. Spirituality is about finding inspiration, fulfilment and a sense of meaning in life. It’s about experiencing a connection with a power greater than oneself—this could be through positive engagements with ourselves, others or our environments.
So, at the very least, try to work for an organisation with a mission that truly resonates with you and pick a role that complements your individual strengths. As the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once said, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
2. Find your crowd
Elite athletes know that the key to success is to surround themselves with people who uplift them, people whose presence calls forth their best. To be your best, you’ll need to cultivate relationships and social support networks that are made up of friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.
At work, it’s important to make the effort to build meaningful relationships and friendships. Most of us spend around forty hours a week with our colleagues, so it makes sense to find a crowd that’s pleasant to be around and that shares our values.
If you’re not sure what your values are, take some time to define them. Ask yourself, what really matters to you? What ideas and beliefs do you deem important in life? Family happiness? Health? Wealth? Personal development? Self-respect? Creativity? The answer will be different for each of us. But, the best day of your life will be the day on which you decide to own your set of values and live by them. If you can surround yourself with other people who share those values—even better.
Above all, make sure your relationships are positive, supportive, nurturing and healthy. Communicate with these people on a regular basis. Because they will become a community of people that you will trust and rely upon. They will provide you with a huge amount of support and emotional resilience in challenging times.
Likewise, try to limit the amount of time you spend with individuals who are negative or who constantly drain your energy levels. Make sure you hold yourself to the same standards you expect from your crowd. Strive to bring a positive mood to a room and reciprocate the support you receive from your network. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you’re struggling to feel a sense of social belonging or inclusion, look for special interest groups, volunteering programs or multicultural events in or outside of your workplace. Starting a hobby or getting involved with company charities and community programs can be extremely rewarding. Not only will you meet diverse individuals, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn, interpret and express arts, history, heritage and traditions.
“We are human beings, not human doings—let’s start acting like it.”
3. Book a holiday
Elite athletes make time to simply be. As business magnate, Richard Branson, once said, “We are human beings, not human doings—let’s start acting like it.” We all need time to relax, unwind and get out of our usual routines. We need periods without meetings, demands or to-do lists.
So, make sure you regularly schedule quality time or holidays with your partner, family or friends. Remember, a holiday doesn’t need to be an expensive or lengthy overseas trip. Even just a couple of days someplace new can radically improve your mental health. And don’t forget, the joy of a holiday goes far beyond the holiday itself. Just anticipating a holiday can be a powerful, positive emotion that helps us to live happier lives. So, have a plan to relax, unwind and get into a holiday state of mind.
4. Balance your diet
Elite athletes believe that a healthy outside starts from a healthy inside. They eat to nourish their bodies. In fact, many athletes treat food like medicine. To be a corporate athlete, you’ll need to eat a balanced diet. This may include portions of food from each of the major food groups every day, such as vegetables, legumes and beans, and moderate portions of fruit, grains and protein.
Plus, you’ll need to avoid eating junk food. In general society, there’s been a worrying shift in dietary intakes. We’re seeing a marked increase in the consumption of sugary, snack and take-away foods. At the same time, we’re consuming fewer nutrient and fiber-rich foods.
As you’re probably aware, these dietary changes are having a negative impact on our immune systems and increasing the rate of physical illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. On top of that, poor diet and heavily-processed foods have been linked to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.
Elite athletes believe that a healthy outside starts from a healthy inside.
Enjoying food is important to sustaining healthy eating habits in the long term, so a healthy balanced diet can include the occasional treat. But, remember, the amount of treat foods you can include will depend on how active you are, your height, weight, gender and health goals.
Needless to say, to be a corporate athlete, you’ll also need to watch your alcohol intake. Like drugs, alcohol changes the way our brains and bodies work. It alters the balance of chemicals and can have a negative effect on the way we think, feel, create and make decisions.* So, again, remember, food is fuel, not therapy.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
Elite athletes know that regular, quality sleep improves their performance. But, over the past few decades, both our sleep quality and quantity has declined. What’s more, evidence suggests that poor sleep is causing us to experience a number of physical and mental health issues like weight gain, heart disease, stroke and depression.
We simply cannot achieve optimal performance without taking care of our sleep. So, if you want to be a corporate athlete, you’ll need to have a regular bedtime, limit caffeine and electronic devices before bed, and engage in regular physical activities. That way, you can fall asleep quickly, sleep much better and have more energy the next day.
The only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.
It’s no secret that elite athletes are incredibly disciplined with their physical activity and exercise routines. Exercise offers so many benefits. It tones and strengthens our bodies, gives us more energy, helps us to sleep better and even helps us to relax. Plus, it can be a fun way to meet people and make new friends. What’s more, being physically active is also good for your mind. In fact, exercise is known to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration and self-confidence, and reduce feelings of sadness.
So, to be a corporate athlete, you’ll need to engage in regular physical activities and exercise. To increase your general movement, you might take the stairs instead of the lift, go for a walk at lunch time or do some spring cleaning at home. To exercise, you might do yoga, swim, run or workout in the gym.
When it comes to exercising, try to choose an activity that you enjoy, that fits within your schedule and that is easily accessible. That way, you’ll be less likely to make excuses and more likely to stick with it in the long-term.
Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. So, make a start now and gradually build up to the recommended amount. Try to exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. Of course, if you have any health concerns, speak to your G.P. before undertaking a new routine. Just remember, the only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.
Start investing in you and your team’s physical, mental and spiritual health today—one healthy habit at a time.
So, those are the six important practices that will make you a corporate athlete. If you’re a leader, ask yourself, are you giving yourself and your team the space to create and sustain positive energy? Are you helping them to play to their strengths, find their crowd, book a holiday, balance their diet, get a good night’s sleep and exercise?
Because, to thrive in the future of extreme disruption, leaders will need to manage their own energy, and encourage, model and reward positive energy in others. So, start investing in you and your team’s physical, mental and spiritual health today—one healthy habit at a time.
As Olympic sprinter and champion, Usain Bolt, once said, “Training your mind is just as important as training body.” You are the driver, your thoughts are the steering wheel and your body is the car. It’s up to you how you control the direction of your life. So, train your mind, your spirit and your body every day.
*If you, or someone you know, needs help reducing their alcohol use, contact your General Practitioner (GP). They can offer information and recommend services for treatment, such as counselling or rehabilitation. For further information, you can also visit https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/drugs-alcohol-and-mental-health.
Nichol Hildebrand is a strategic organisational development professional who empowers leaders to create a better future. She has a proven track record of transforming the beliefs, attitudes and values of employees for individual and company growth. Nichol has an in-depth knowledge of how to design and deliver organisational development strategies that help companies to respond to industry and market changes. A passionate futurist, she believes that when great leadership is in place, success takes care of itself. Connect with Nichol on LinkedIn here.