Leadership

High Performance Recovery: Step-By-Step Guide, Principles & Questions, Lower The Bar, Design For Fulfilment, The Long Game

 

“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?


Examples:

  • 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?

Examples:

  • Partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Friend
  • Colleague
  • Client

Question: What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?

Examples:

  • Beach
  • Forest
  • Mountain
  • Home
  • Backyard
  • Cold bath

Question: Could you give the activity an important focus?

Examples:

  • 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?

Examples:

  • 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.

Just start.

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:

  1. What activity has energised you in the past?

  2. What is the smallest possible increment you can do of the activity above?

  3. Who is someone important that you could do it with?

  4. What’s an environment you love that you could you do it in?

  5. Could you give the activity an important focus?

  6. When will you do it?

  7. Start

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.


Or if you’d like to explore any of these topics for yourself or your team you can book a 15 min call here or you can click this link to download my 5 Reflection Frameworks Template >>

Mindfulness For Performance – Importance, Definition, Practice, Examples, 19 Activities <1 min

 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is not sitting in lotus position on a mountain top.

Below is the often-cited definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn (author and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts).

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Why is it important?

I wrote recently about mindfulness being a critical practice in performance settings. In situations of stress and pressure, mindfulness is the scalpel that sits between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).

By connecting to the present moment, I can focus on doing what matters (task-focussed attention) and align my choices, decisions and behaviours with importance (values, people, goals, objectives, purpose, impact).

Modern science continues to validate the beneficial effects of millennia old mindfulness practices on attention, memory, executive function, and cognitive flexibility – all great things for both wellbeing and performance.

 

How to practice mindfulness

What does that definition of mindfulness actually mean in practice?

In simple terms there are three parts to mindfulness:

  1. Focus: We focus on something (eg breath or sound).
  2. Drift: We inevitably drift away from the focus with thoughts, feelings or sensations.
  3. Come back: We notice we’ve drifted and come back to our focus.

Focus, drift, come back, repeat.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it can’t be done “wrong”.

It’s the inevitable drifting and coming back that are the reps in the gym that, with practice, can lead to the benefits described earlier and even change the physical structures in your brain.

Daily mindfulness examples

There are a tonne of apps out there (Headspace, Calm etc) to practice mindfulness in 10 min blocks.

But the reality is that there’s no need for an app. Mindfulness can be practiced in literally every moment of a day.

There are plenty of times when I just slam a coffee down first thing in the morning to stave off the effect of a child-interrupted sleep.

When I’m more mindful though, I sit with my coffee and really try to appreciate it.

  • How does it truly smell?
  • How does it truly taste?
  • What is the temperature of the cup on the palm of my hands?

For just a couple of seconds, I’ve purposefully focussed my attention on a subject and in the present moment, tried to truly experience it non-judgementally.

That’s it.

It doesn’t take up more time. It doesn’t require a special place. It just takes a choice to really engage with that moment.

I do something similar with my first glass of water each morning.

I hold the glass with both hands, and as I drink the water, I recite my values to myself in my mind: Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration, Contribution.

Building a practice for yourself

In helping people develop a mindfulness practice, my first question is:

What is something you do everyday (or nearly everyday)?

Like the examples above, it could be your first glass of water, a shower or a coffee.

This becomes the anchor.

The next step is:

How can you really pay attention to this experience?

It might be through any or all of your senses sound, sensation, taste, smell, sight.

With these two questions you’ve built yourself a personalised mindfulness practice that slots perfectly into your existing patterns and habits.

[If you want to explore more about building positive habits check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.]

19 mindfulness activities that take less than 1 minute

Below is a list of mindfulness activities and practices that I’ve tried over the years that I find useful in all sorts of settings including work, leadership, parenting, home, health, fitness and difficult conversations.

I use them as a situation requires but as you’ll see, opportunities for mindfulness are as varied as I’d like to make them.

Most are framed as questions to help to purposefully bring my attention to the present moment.

Breath

  • 4-7-8 breath. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. Repeat three times. (Pioneered by Dr Andrew Weil.)
  • Breathe through my nose: Do I notice the difference in humidity on the inhale vs the exhale? How far down my throat can I follow my breath?
  • Am I breathing with my chest or diaphragm?
  • Am I breathing through my nose or mouth?

Outside

  • Can I feel the sensation of the wind or sun on my face?
  • What sounds can I notice close by? What sounds seem further away?

At work

  • Wiggle my toes in my shoes: what sensations do I notice?
  • Sitting down: What is the sensation of the chair on the back of my legs?
  • Air conditioning in a meeting room: Can I notice the sound of the air conditioning in the room I’m sitting in? Are there different tones?
  • Can I take a mindful sip of water to pause before I respond to a question or situation?

At home

  • Shower: Can I notice the droplets hitting my skin? Can I separate them individually?
  • Washing up: What does the water feel like on my hands? How does the scrubbing brush feel in the palm of my hand?
  • Parenting: Where in my body do I feel the frustration at the toys not being put away? What are the sensations in my thumb when my daughter holds it as she falls asleep?

Exercise

  • Strength work: Can I notice the contraction of my muscles? Can I notice each of the individual fibres?
  • Swimming: Are the tiles on the bottom of the pool in clear focus? Can I notice the different colours on the bottom of the pool as light refracts through the water?
  • Walking/running: Can I notice the sensations in my feet? The airflow on my face?

Food and Drink

  • Food: What does the meal actually taste like? Can I separate the flavours? Can I feel the different textures?
  • Water: Can I notice the temperature? The texture?
  • Coffee/Tea: Can I notice the smell, taste, temperature, the steam rising from the cup?

As Greek poet Archilochus says:

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

And this list is really just a prompt and reminder to me to explore how I might bring mindfulness into my day.

I want to practice it daily so that when the pressure is on, I can use mindfulness as a tool to notice my reaction and choose my response.

I’d love to hear about any other favourite mindfulness practices you’ve tried or that have worked for you in the comments below.

Is Perseverance Toxic?

A founder had an extraordinary business. By any external measure they were hugely “successful”.


And yet, they’d hit a low point. They’d driven out for dinner and drinks then woken up at home in the morning. They walked outside and saw their car parked in the drive. They couldn’t remember how it got there. Couldn’t remember driving it home.


They’d been persevering at work, despite not enjoying it, for years. It was costing them enormously – physically, emotionally and in their relationships. They’d had enough. They’d decided it was time to go, they just needed to figure out how.


We had conversations about it. Where had the enjoyment gone? How would they navigate the transition out? What would they do next?


One day, they mentioned generosity a few times.


“What does generosity mean to you?”


They leaned forward.


“That was the time I travelled overseas to help in a charity. 


And, now you mention it, we used to have monthly events in the business where we’d bring in a local charity and raise money. We haven’t done that for years.


If we were to do that again it would be a growth strategy for us.


It would also be a great defensive strategy. The landlord at one of our locations is trying to kick us out. It would be much harder for them to do that if we had the local community onboard.


Actually… Can we go for a walk?”


The energy shifted. For 90 minutes we walked by the river, revisiting very specific behaviours in their past that brought generosity to life. Could generosity be brought back into the business and their day moving forward?


That was the switch. From throwing it all in, to not just sticking with it, but growing the business to increase their impact. Big time.


There was the performance conversation scheduled for that afternoon, leading and managing hundreds of staff, challenging conversations required with business partners, figuring out a new org structure to handle the growth…


The challenge, the effort, the adversity – none of that had changed.


But their relationship to it had.


Quite suddenly, the perseverance was in service of something more.


Generosity
.

Broken Glass

Before we go further, there’s a hypothetical I’d like you to consider.


+++++++


I smash glass on the floor in front of you.


I ask: “Would you be willing to walk over the glass in bare feet?”


No thanks.


So I change just one condition – same smashed glass, same bare feet.


Now I ask you to bring to mind the person most important to you in the world. They are in distress on the other side of the glass and they need your help.


Then I ask: “Would you now be willing to walk over the glass in bare feet?”


Typically there is the opposite response.


++++++++


What does the change in response show?


It shows that humans are terrible at suffering pointless pain. But, when we are clear about the importance of what it is on the other side of the pain, we won’t just endure it, we’ll embrace it.


The pain doesn’t change, but our relationship to it does. We are now willing to accept it in service of doing what matters to us.


The broken glass is a great metaphor for the thoughts, feelings and physiological sensations that show up in tough situations like stay/leave decisions or sitting in the void of transitions, or asking a “dumb question”, or challenging a boss, or holding someone to account, or speaking up, or stepping in…


Very rarely do we lack information about what to do in these situations or even how to approach them.


Nearly always we need to understand the importance of why we would attempt them in the first place.

Themes of Importance

When I reflect on the specifics of the founder conversation, I see a few themes:

  1. They reconnected to a core value: Generosity.

  2. They were immediately able to reflect on their past and point to specific behaviours and events when they felt they were bringing that to life. These were times of high energy and high impact that truly nourished them.

  3. They could see Generosity play out across multiple areas of their life: work, giving, travel, relationships etc.

  4. It was not about changing who they were or adding something new. If anything it was a realisation that one of their core values had been buried. Now that it was uncovered, it was time to bring it back to guide behaviour.

  5. As such, they were immediately able to see how it might be consciously brought back into present and future contexts and exactly what that would look like as behaviours or words in a conversation.

Persevere or Not?

I was asked recently what percentage of people choose to stay and what choose to go in these kinds of situations. I don’t know. And I’m not sure it’s useful to know – everyone’s circumstances are different.


I’ve found the more useful questions to ask myself are:

  1. What is truly important here?

  2. What is the short term pain, long term benefit of this decision?

  3. What is the short term benefit, long term cost of this decision?

As the serenity prayer goes:


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.


I’ve felt the cost of persevering and have seen it in many others, regardless of how shiny the veneer or how many trophies in the cabinet.


I’ve seen people slowly lose themselves as they hung onto jobs, relationships, businesses, identities that buried their most important qualities and values.


I’ve grown up in a culture that said quitting was for losers.


I’ve grown up in a culture where the stories of perseverance in the face of adversity are celebrated and rightfully so. People are extraordinary.


But how often do we stop to consider the costs of perseverance? On ourselves, on our health, on the people around us, on what is truly important to us?


If perseverance is solely for its own sake or for the sake of ticking the next box, then I say hell yes. It’s toxic.


If perseverance is in service of values, of impact, of contribution, of something more important, then I’m all for it.