This time of year provides a great opportunity to look back over the course of the past year and evaluate how well we did in accomplishing our goals (you did set some goals right?), and also to look forward to the upcoming year by setting new goals. Unfortunately, this process often leads to stress and anxiety when we’ve failed to meet goals or see monumental challenges in the future.
I’ve often said that the primary cause of stress in our lives comes from focusing too much on our past and future, and the solution lies in focusing more on the present since that is all we can control.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suggest we avoid thinking about what’s happened in our lives and what may happen, but one of the big lessons for me this year has been to focus more on now and less on my past and what will happen in the future.
Like many of you, I’m taking some time off over the next two weeks, which is the focus of this post-the value of resting that leads to improvement later.
It’s been a few years, but I used to compete as a cyclist (I hope to return to this sometime in the future), and one of the concepts that I used in developing my annual training plan is called periodization that I believe offers some lessons we can use in our personal and business lives.
The basic principle behind periodization is that as you are training for events your training plan should focus on workouts blocked into specific periods that lead to optimal performance, what is commonly referred to as a “peak”, for a targeted event.
For example, my typical training plan focused first on building a “base”, which was all about improving aerobic ability; essentially riding lots of miles to have a foundation to build on later when the more intensive stuff started. With a base to build on the next phase focused mostly on more intensive workouts and lower priority races.
For the most part this all makes sense, but one aspect of training I didn’t understand until I hired a coach was the importance of rest and recovery. What I discovered, and science supports, is that we make our biggest gains when we rest before we want to be at our peak performance. Once I discovered this “secret” my performance improved significantly.
To some degree I would argue the same philosophy / principles apply to our work life. We need to rest on occasion to get better at what we do, but without some thought to how we rest or what we do while resting I would argue we’ll miss out on the opportunity to peak later.
There’s a concept I’ve been reading a lot about lately called “deliberate practice” and it’s basically the idea that you’re doing something, like practice, with some deliberate purpose. I think the same can be said of rest, but how can one achieve deliberate rest?
The following are some of my random brainstormed thoughts on how I plan to find deliberate rest over the next few weeks. They are just a starting point to ideas on how to use this resting period to get better later.
1. Unplug from technology for a day.
This is almost a no-brainer in that much of my stress, and no doubt yours, comes from constantly being “plugged in” to technology. It’s hard to believe, but we did survive years ago without our smart phones. Take the day off from your phone, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and find some non-technology things to do.
2. Put down the remote.
There’s no question most of us spend more time watching TV than we’d like to. I can find a lot of my daily stress around what I watch on TV related to politics, and my overall dissatisfaction with how our country is being run, but what can I do about it? While it may be hard to go cold turkey on TV start by deliberately taking a day or two off from TV and see how it feels. The funny, or sad depending on how you look at it, is that the problems of the world will still be there when you tune back in!
3. Read fiction.
This is a hard one for me because I’m always focusing on learning something new, and I have a bias against fiction being one way to do that, however, I know there are lessons to be learned from fiction if we look deep enough. The other neat thing I’ve found about reading fiction is that I can put down my highlighter that is a constant reading companion, and just relax by getting into a story.
4. Find something to laugh at.
Humor is a great stress reliever. Have you ever tried to stay in a bad mood or be angry with someone who was making you laugh? It’s hard to do isn’t it? There’s all sorts of great sources of humor from YouTube videos, books, movies, etc. Another great sources is looking back on the previous year and identifying your funniest moments.
5. Do less-find something to say “no” to.
This is one of the goals I’m looking at for next year in that I tend to say “yes” to far too many requests that come my way, which leads to a lot of stress when I feel like I’ve failed to deliver as promised. Sometimes doing less leads to getting more done, and none of us has the ability to get time back, but we all have the ability to choose how we spend our time.
6. Minimize your distractions.
I really feel sorry for people I encounter who can’t seem to ignore their smartphones when they buzz, beep, jingle, etc. I’m not saying I’m perfect to any degree, but one tactic I’ve found is to turn off all alarms, updates, notifications, etc. on all the apps on my phone to keep me focused on the task at hand. This may seem like a minor issue, but when we’re getting texted and notified to death every time there’s some “breaking news” happening it just pulls us away from other more important things.
7. Quit multitasking.
There’s plenty of research if you Google multitasking that suggests it’s a myth that we have the capacity to effectively do more than one thing at a time. This is a big challenge for me, but one tactic I’ve found beneficial is what I call “micro tasking” where I do a little of this and that over a period of time instead of doing a bunch of things at the same time. For example, today I’m spending 30 minutes on this blog post, then grading some homework for 30 minutes, before coming back to the blog for another 30 minutes to finish this post.
8. Help someone in need.
This is the time of year we tend to think of others more than any other time of year. What did you learn this year that would help others? Find someone to mentor. Spend some time posting online in various forums to help others. If you are plugged into a local church look for opportunities to serve others. What you do isn’t so much as important as just doing something for someone who needs help.
9. Recognize those who have helped you this year.
Nothing feels better than someone telling me I’ve made a difference in their life. Look back on the past year and identify those who have helped you succeed. Who’s gone out of their way to help you? Write them a handwritten thank you to tell them how much you appreciate what they have done. Take then out for coffee or dinner to thank them. There’s a ton of ways to say thank you; just find one and do it!
10. Write yourself a “future” email.
This is something I did last year when I was sick and laying in a hospital bed feeling sorry for myself. The way it works is you can use a number of sites (I use http://futureemailer.com/) to write an email that will be sent in the future. I wrote about what I was feeling then and how I saw the future playing out in a positive way. When I actually received the email it was a nice surprise (I actually forgot I had written it) that gave me a little “high” knowing where I’d been and how much progress I’ve made since then.
Plant the seeds of rest now to reap the harvest of results later.
In some respects resting now is kind of like a planting process in that you’re sowing the seeds that lead to reaping a harvest later. It takes time for what you have planted to grow, but if you don’t plant anything you can’t expect a harvest.