Some people thrive under pressure, others wane â€? why? Sustained high performance demands physical, emotional and mental strength. To keep all three in peak performing condition, executives need to learn what world class athletes already know: Recovering energy is as important as expending it.
In todayâ€™s corporate environment thatâ€™s changing at warp speed, pressure to perform is on the increase. Thereâ€™s a war for talent out there, and if you canâ€™t keep up, or produce the goods – youâ€™re history.
Most management theories that attempt to generate sustained peak performance in the face of greater pressures are aimed at intellectual capacity (more head room) and emotional intelligence (more heart room). Few stop to review the role of the engine room â€? your body. A successful approach to sustained high performance ropes in all three elements. Obviously, employees can perform successfully even if they smoke, drink and weigh too much, lack emotional skills or a higher purpose for working â€? but they cannot perform to their full potential or without a cost over time to themselves or their families.
Assuming that shipping out is no option in this â€šShape up or ship out economyâ€› – letâ€™s look at shaping up. Stress has gotten a bad rap in todayâ€™s workplace, being blamed for everything from baldness to blandness â€? the inability to perform. However, the real enemy of high performance is not stress (which is ironically the stimulus for growth) itâ€™s the absence of disciplined intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown and ultimately undermines performance. To illustrate, weightlifters stress a muscle to the point where its fibers break down. Given an adequate period of recovery, the muscle will not only heal, it will grow stronger. However, persist in stressing the muscle without rest and the result will be long-term damage. Conversely, failure to stress a muscle results in weakness (like an arm in a cast for several weeks) In both cases the enemy is not stress, itâ€™s the failure to fluctuate between energy expenditure and recovery.
Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist, states that: â€šThe foundation of Ideal Performance State is the capacity to mobilize energy on demand.â€› Energy is simply defined as the capacity to do work â€? and the body is our fundamental source of energy.
So the reason as to why some flounder and some flourish under pressure lies not an inability to beat stress, but in the ability to manage energy efficiently.
Effective energy management has two key components:
1.Rhythmic movement between energy expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recovery)
2.Rituals that promote the fluctuation between stress & recovery
Rituals? Most of Wimbledonâ€™s greatest tennis players all used rituals â€? some without realizing why. Their recovery rituals happened between points â€? a few seconds of staring at the strings on their racquets to avoid distraction whilst mentally preparing for the next point. Physically, those rituals dropped their heart rates by up to 20%, and the mental and emotional effects were equally significant. The same lesson applies to the individual â€? the problem is not that your life is increasingly stressful, but that you take no time to recover from that stress (everyone knows how to stress, not everyone knows how to recover from it.) So is the answer a 6 week vacation? Sure, but forget it- thatâ€™s shipping out, and besides youâ€™ve got far too much work to do. Shaping up requires a little more know how on energy recovery. Chronobiologists (what a title!) have discovered that the bodyâ€™s glucose and blood pressure levels drop every 90min or so â€? which is the bodyâ€™s natural stress-rest cycle. It makes sense then to adapt your work schedule to your physical schedule and every one and a half hours take a few minutes to eat or drink something, move a little and clear your head mentally. A study at the University of Waterloo in Ontario found that short-term leisure activities generate energy recovery (and reduce stress levels!) if (a) they’re easy to pick up and put down, and (b) they don’t trigger your competitive nature. Playing guitar for example, fits that definition perfectly… now all you need is one that folds up into a briefcase!
Sustaining your full potential requires clearly more than a few riffs at the office, but the principle rings true. Performance under pressure is not about the pace you work at, but the pauses you work around.