Improving your performance

Improving your performance

This is the first part of a 3 part series I will be publishing over the coming weeks. This series is inspired by a talk I recently gave on the common themes around achieving success in business and sport. I realised that there was also a lot of interesting content we can use as individuals too, so I have turned it into a 3 part mini-series for you.

Part 1 : The Person

One of the single most common mistakes athletes make is overtraining and not resting enough. As an athlete, training hard, pushing yourself to the limit, feeling sore muscles and striving hard are the times when you feel like you are really making some headway towards your goals. As well as that, the release of endorphins can create a natural high which increases their sense of doing something great and worthwhile.

But the real good work in a training programme does not come when an athlete is pushing themselves to their limits. Surprisingly the good work happens after that – in the rest and recovery time. It is then that the body starts to refuel and repair itself in response to the hard training. The body rebuilds itself stronger than it was before the training session. However this takes some time. To the athlete rest and recovery seem counter intuitive. They feel like they are wasting time. If they train again too soon the muscles will not be fully repaired and the body not fully recovered. So they train on already damaged muscles and a depleted system. This causes further damage which takes longer to repair. The athlete, rather than noticing an increase in performance, starts to notice a decline in performance. As competitive sorts, they often respond to this by training even harder, causing more damage and increasing the rate of decline. This can lead to a downward spiral, potentially resulting in illness, injury, and demotivation.

It takes a disciplined athlete and a wise coach to allow sufficient recovery before commencing training again.

There is a startling parallel here to modern life. Today the demands on our time both at work and at outside of work seem to be increasing. Pressures in the workplace today seem to be mounting at an alarming rate as more and more is expected of us. If you work for yourself the pressure to run your own business and be successful can be huge. The tendency is to work harder, to try and catch up or keep up. And with working harder and longer we often resort to fuelling ourselves with things that sustain us through, such as caffeine, sugary snacks, fast or processed foods. When we get home in the evening, maybe we then need help to relax quicker, so alcohol is often used to speed up the relaxation process.

Alcohol affects how we sleep so we awake the next morning feeling tired and possibly dehydrated. It’s tricky for you to perform at your best if your brain and body are dehydrated.

And so we can find ourselves in a gradually declining performance situation. We become less effective and have to work harder to catch up or keep up. We continue to fuel ourselves to survive and endure the day and starve ourselves of the rest and recovery time.

Just as athletes need the rest and recovery time, lack of sleep is one of the single biggest factors to how you perform during the day. Getting enough sleep is perhaps the single biggest improvement boost you can give yourself. It is during sleep time that your body rebuilds itself and your brain processes what it needs to. If you are waking up to an alarm in the morning, hitting the snooze button 3 or 4 times before you can drag yourself out of bed, chances are you are not getting enough sleep! Even if you don’t feel tired during the day, that may well be due to the effects of caffeine and sugar etc.   In the past, measuring the quality of your sleep required you going into hospital and being hooked up to all sorts of scary looking machines. These days you can monitor your sleep quality easily with affordable gadgets and apps on smart phones. And if you find your alarm clock is waking you from your deep sleep cycle you are denying yourself the most valuable part of the sleep and recovery process.

Improving your sleep, getting enough and getting quality sleep, really can make a big difference to you.

If you can get enough sleep, your body will be repairing better and your brain more prepared for the following day. Chances are you won’t be so reliant on caffeine and sugar to get you through the day and you will be able to relax easier as well.

So if you are looking to improve your performance, firstly take a look at your sleep. Ensure you are getting enough. It is the single biggest win if you want to improve your own performance and wellbeing.

After that you could start looking at a few simple changes to make to your daily life. I’m going to suggest a few here, but don’t try and change everything at once, that will lead to overwhelm. Instead try changing one a week and making it stick and become a new habit for you.

Here are some ideas
1. Drink more water. Have a bottle or glass beside you throughout the day – take regular sips
2. Try taking stairs instead of the lift or escalator
3. If you are sitting at a desk all day, get up and move around and stretch your body every 20-30 minutes
4. Try snacking on fruit when you get hungry instead of chocolates or biscuits
5. Introduce a 10 minute daily meditation practice – there are plenty of free guided sessions on line (you could try some of these http://www.freemindfulness.org/download Lots of people like the Headspace App as well. Just 10 minutes a day can make a big difference to your mental health and resilience
6. Walk or cycle to work. If you have to drive, park further away so you have to walk the last part.
7. Make  us of your gym membership.
8. If you are too busy to exercise in your day, just take 2 minutes to stand outside and beathe in lung fulls of fresh air

By making some very small changes to your habits you can very quickly become healthier, more alert, more creative and effective.

Give it a go see what effect it has on your performance!