“I’m just heading off for a swim.”
It was lunch time on a beautiful, sunny, winter’s day.
This was from one of the most experienced, senior executives I know.
For a long time, I’ve admired them in both their accomplishments and conduct. The decisions they’ve made, the organisation they’ve built and the impact they’d had on tens of thousands of lives (including mine) and organisations over decades of work.
But at the heart of the reason why I’ve sought their counsel over the years, is that they speak about their proudest achievement as being the relationship they have with their children. And all of this through accomplishments, curveballs and crucibles.
It struck me in this brief exchange that here was someone who’d created a habit of maintaining energy, health and wellbeing through it all.
But this conversation seemed in stark contrast to others I’ve had recently.
At work, the end of the financial year has been and gone, goals have been reset and the meaty, challenging projects are well underway.
In personal lives, the chaos seems to be mounting in the lead up to Christmas, squeezing in final plans and starting to decide what 2023 looks like.
“No more weekends free until next year.”
“Just got to make it through to the end of term/semester/year.”
“I thought we’d be post-covid by now.”
“I just have a mountain on my plate at the moment.”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy looking forward to the breaks and time off too and absolutely feel lost in a full schedule at times.
But recovery is a practice like many others, which means it’s best done before you really need it.
Why recover at all?
We’re drowning in a firehose of information about tactics and tools for rest, relaxation and recovery.
I’ve come to realise that the important question here is not “What can I do to recharge?”.
Instead, let’s go back to Simon Sinek’s model and start with why:
“Why do I want to recharge?”
“Why is recovery important to me at all?”
“My recovery is in service of …?”
For me, recovery is about being the best husband, father, brother, friend, son I can be. It’s about living my purpose of helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do. It’s about expressing my values of Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration and Contribution in as many moments as possible.
It’s the old “oxygen mask” theory – if I fit my own first, then I can help others.
From Why, I can then ask How?
“How can I architect a recovery practice that will last me a life time?”
“How can I do this in a way that is so valuable and important to me that I never miss it?”
“How will I start?”
I wrote recently about cold baths and how I use them but I thought I’d use this article to bring more structure to how to quickly develop a personalised recovery practice.
One that will “refill the cup” and be thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.
How will we do that?
Well, before we get to the principles and activity, I want to highlight a couple of points.
Recovery isn’t doing nothing
So often recovery gets misinterpreted as sitting on the couch eating Tim Tams and binging Netflix. (Or is this just my fantasy?)
But it turns out that the opposite is true. Sport calls it active recovery.
Counter-intuitively, I often need to do more. Not just more exercise, more massages or more retreats, but specifically more of the things that truly matter to me. (Use this 3 min Momentum exercise to explore what truly matters to you. You might find it useful further down this article.)
If I can combine what matters (people, places, experiences, values, purpose…) then that’s my recipe for getting energised.
More on exactly how to do that below.
Ambiguity is the enemy
Another thing to note is that very rarely are we lacking information. Anyone I talk to nearly always already knows what they should be doing.
So how can we architect recovery so we actually do it? How can we make it specific enough to take action? And how can we make it valuable enough to truly enjoy it?
That’s what the following principles and questions are for.
Principles and questions to build a recovery practice
Principle: You already know what works
Don’t let the learning curve get in the way of getting started. You can explore new things later.
Question: What activity has energised you in the past?
Let’s start with that.
Principle: Set the bar so low that you can’t fail.
The hardest part is getting started. We want to do the first rep rather than be discouraged by not living up to a thousand rep ambition immediately. We can get to those later.
Question: What is the smallest possible increment you can do of the activity above?
- Reading: read one page
- Strength: do one rep
- Running: walk around the block
- Swimming: do 1 lap
- Cryotherapy: do 3 mins
- Mindfulness: Notice 1 breath
- Time with friends: Send them a voice memo telling them you love them
- Music: Play one song
In my experience, if I just do a single rep, then I’m nearly always inclined to do more. But I’m also willing to accept that one might be enough on a given day and that it’s still infinitely better than none.
Principle: Design for fulfilment
Make the recovery activity so valuable that you truly want to do it, rather than seeing it as a chore. By combining the answers to the questions below, we enrich the experience so much that we’ll love it and prioritise it.
Question: Who is someone important that you could do it with?
Question: What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?
- Cold bath
Question: Could you give the activity an important focus?
- Listen to a podcast about a topic that matters to you.
- Talk about a book you love.
- Make a plan for an experience that excites you.
- Ponder a question you’ve been trying to solve.
Principle: Time is non-renewable
An intention to do something is not enough. Diarising or anchoring the activity to something you already do will increase your chances of success.
Question: When will you do it?
- Swimming at 11:30am on Tuesdays with mates has been brilliant for me. It’s been set as a recurring calendar appointment in my diary and one that I organise my week around.
- I try to do a minute of mindfulness and mobility drills before coffee in the morning. Nothing quite like using my caffeine addiction for an incentive!
- I’ve shared my cold bath example in depth, but basically 12:30pm every Wednesday is sacred time.
- Meditation at night before bed.
Principle: Play the long game
Once you’ve booked in the time or anchored the activity to something you already do, open up to the fact that life happens and you may not hit the mark every time.
You might – and that would be great!
But don’t expect it.
And if you falter, rather than beating yourself up, apply some love and kindness to the fallible person in the mirror and then start again.
Build your own practice in 3 mins
Here are the collated questions from the above principles:
- What activity has energised you in the past?
- What is the smallest possible increment you can do of the activity above?
- Who is someone important that you could do it with?
- What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?
- Could you give the activity an important focus?
- When will you do it?
Given we all have the same 24 hours in the day, how well we recover may be the difference in how we show up each day and the kind of energy we have for the things and people that are most important to us.
My hope is that you can fill your cup long before it hits empty.
But if it’s already pretty low, then I’d urge you to start the process of getting it back to where it could be in order to have the impact and contribution only you can make in the world.
If you’re interested in the exploration and application of this kind of thinking, I’d love you to come along to my Momentum Workshop Live on 12 Oct 22 in Brisbane.