Insights from the author
We all encounter storms in our life (work and home) when things are difficult, we feel like we are pushing against the wind, and things are unpredictable, uncertain, and hard. During these storms, we push hard, and, too often, we see these storms as burdens that make us weaker. We may even make assumptions that these storms, and the hard pushes that come with them, will surely lead to burnout. But is this true? Do the hard pushes in a storm have to make us weaker? Is there a way to actually get stronger in the storm?
At TIGNUM, we study human performance - not just in the smooth and easily manageable times (which are occurring at a much lower frequency), but in the heat of the moment, in the pain of the grind, and in the crunch time when failure is not an option. We partner with and support our clients to change the paradigm from where these storms leave you 10% worse to where these storms can leave you 10% stronger. Most importantly, you go from being 75% of your best when it matters most in the storm - to being 100% when the greatest challenges require your best.
While our latest book, BeMore, goes into more detail, we thought that during the current storms, we would share a few buckets of best practices we have used to help clients get stronger in their storms. If you’re thinking, “I can’t do any more,” keep in mind, that you are not alone, and we understand. The fact is that in the storm, you are already doing more. When we say BeMore, we mean follow the best practices to help you show up more focused, more present, more prepared, more energized, and more resilient. These are key to making more of an impact.
The first bucket, and probably the most critical, is your mindset. It all starts with a focus on your mindset, driven by your self-talk and inner stories. As soon as you allow your mind to start telling you thoughts like: “Here we go again, I am so tired of this,” or “If I’m this tired now, how will I make it for another three months of this,” or “I don’t think any of this matters, so why should I care,” you are getting weaker and becoming defeated. Don’t get us wrong, these thoughts are normal, and we only shared the tame ones.
The point is that during these pushes, you have to direct your brain with purposeful, productive, guided thoughts - and not listen to the drama and victim-filled thoughts your brain will create. Some pre-framed thoughts our clients have used to replace these thoughts are: “Break it down - I don’t have to make it three months, I just need to tackle this morning,” or “This is a tough push, but I’m tougher, so as long as I approach this from a Sustainable Human Performance way, I will win,” or “I’ll be my best for this next meeting and then worry about what comes next.” The common element of these reframes is that they take control and, therefore, put the brain back in control.
Another key mindset strategy is to embrace the suck. Not from a cheeky angle, but from a scientifically-proven approach that starts with labeling the emotions you are feeling. This emotion labeling step helps your brain identify exactly what you are feeling, which is critical to developing emotional agility. Next, apply specific breathing techniques in the critical moment to stop the cascade of cortisol and adrenaline (stress response hormones). Don’t do this to find your happy place; do this to quickly pitstop and identify the choices that the storm has presented to you. This will put your brain back in control by consistently making the best choice possible. This helps stop the sensation of feeling overwhelmed and helps you lean into the next challenge of the day.
The second bucket is your own energy and resilience. You need to invest in these, no matter how hard the push. Start your day strong with the right movement, priming the brain with the right thoughts and images, feeding the brain with the right performance foods and nutrients, and identifying where your opportunities are to multiply your impact today. Most importantly, become diligent about your sleep. There is no doubt that sleep during the storm can be challenging as the brain creates so many ruminating thoughts (this would take a separate blog to cover), but being sure to increase the amount of your sleep by 10% always pays huge dividends.
Apply micro-recovery breaks throughout every day and create longer breaks wherever you can. Micro-recovery breaks work best when they are part of the transition between events so they can double the benefits. These transitions with recovery built in will prepare you for what is coming and, at the same time, refill your performance energy tanks so you can bring your best. We have written so much about great examples of this before, so we will leave this to you. But the kiss of death is the thought, “I’m too busy to do my micro-recovery breaks.” The longer breaks like an afternoon off, or a 3-day weekend, are also critical but often missed. These slightly longer breaks provide you a quick reset, and they also give you a chance to check in and see what is working for you, what isn’t working for you, and how you will attack the next chunk of work in a smarter way.
The third bucket is breaking down the heavy loads during the storm. This is called chunking, and it works even if you only do it in your mind. The brain does well with small challenges but struggles when it can’t see the end and doesn’t have a benchmark to see if it is making progress. Breaking the day into four chunks like your morning prep, your morning work, your afternoon work, and your evening can make the busiest day manageable. Sometimes, breaking it down into even smaller chunks like these two meetings, then this work time, then these three meetings, etc., can be helpful. Other times, breaking down the work into chunks like research time, compilation time, writing time, refinement time, etc., can help your brain realize that each type of work is unique and, therefore, the Sustainable Human Performance strategies you implement should adjust so you can bring your best work to each phase.
Finally (just for this blog because there is much more that can be done), and this is created by all three buckets - constantly check in with, and feed, your self-belief. Fatigue and grinding have a way of chipping away at self-belief, and when self-belief falters, the boat is getting ready to sink in the middle of the storm. We have written about this previously, but one great technique we use is a daily reflection we call the 3-2-1 reflection. Write down 3 things you did well today that mattered, 2 things you wish you could have done better and what that would have looked like, and 1 thing you learned. This reflection helps you see the impact you have made, the benefits of your choices, and the learning and growth you have achieved.
Human beings are incredible, and, therefore, you are incredible. It is amazing the amount of pain, suffering, setbacks, and grind we can endure when we feel in control, when we feel the benefits, when we feel the growth, and when we overcome challenges. These feelings don’t come by chance; they come by choice and by approaching the push like a Sustainable Human Performer.
As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and hear how we can best support you.