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You Are Unique and so is Your Sustainable Human Performance

TIGNUM Thoughts

October 2nd, 2021

Insights from the author

By Angela Walker and Laura Penhaul

Have you ever felt you were odd because what works for someone else doesn’t work for you? Whether it’s a nutritional strategy, an exercise regime, tips on leadership style, or managing your team, what works for one person often doesn't work for others.


We see people get super fit with one type of workout routine and falsely believe that if it worked for them, it must be good for everyone. Similarly, this same thing happens with personal growth, leadership, and so many other things. The problem is, we are all unique, and one size never fits all. Propagating this misconception even more, when we collect data on a group, the myth is that the average describes everyone in that group. As Harvard professor Todd Ross describes in his book The End of Average, not one person actually fits the average.


Many factors influence our individuality. First, we have our genetic makeup (our DNA coding) and our epigenetic factors (which genes are turned on). And then there are all of the things that impact our billions of experiences that make up our life (culture, family, society, social media, education, etc.).


In many ways, our individuality is both in and out of our control.

Recently, I (Laura) was working with a female tennis player who was experiencing repeated low-grade injuries that were taking much longer to return to play than expected to heal. Her mood was constantly up and down, she found it difficult to make decisions in key moments, and she would report times of low energy, diminished motivation, and a sense of ‘brain fog’.


On the surface, the player appeared to be doing all the right things regarding her training and recovery balance. She appeared to be eating all the right foods and was naturally frustrated with the constant injuries stopping her from playing.


The performance team was perplexed, but through an insatiable curiosity, we kept trying to figure out why this was happening. What could be hindering recovery and causing all of these nagging injuries?


After turning over every stone, we noticed the player only having episodic menstrual cycles, which made us look at her hormone profile. Interestingly, two key hormones, estrogen and progesterone, were not at the levels they should be. Again we asked, "Why?" Knowing that what an athlete eats can influence their hormone profile, we assessed her energy expenditure and energy consumption. The findings were fascinating – she was at a 1,000-calorie deficit both during her training and competition days. In sports, this is known as Relative Energy Deficiency (RED-S). After addressing her energy balance through increasing how much and how often she ate, she started to feel more energized. As her hormone profile normalized, her mood, cognitive ability, motivation, and injury status all improved over time. Finally, she was experiencing the performance she deserved.


For us, there were many learnings. It took a lot of digging to understand her individual issues and needs, but, once again, we were reminded about just how different we all are. This experience reminded us of how crucial the sex hormones, male and female, are to our performance, both physically and cognitively. Interestingly, “normal” hormones levels can differ from person to person and differ within daily and monthly cycles.


Sex hormones are an aspect of human performance that is often overlooked, especially in the corporate world. Estrogen promotes the growth and repair of our neurons. Progesterone is involved in calming the nervous system and promoting deep sleep phases. Testosterone is key for motivation and energy, as well as bone health and muscle repair. Sometimes, when you are doing everything right (according to what is working for others), but you aren't feeling the energy and performance you want, it may be time to go deeper.


Is there a perfect audit to discover your own unique bio-individuality? Probably not, but increasing your awareness and asking more questions is a great way to help understand your own physiology. Looking at your performance from all angles can require experts from many different fields, but ultimately, what feels right to you is critical.


At TIGNUM, we are embarking on a journey to better understand the impact of sex hormones on the brain and physiology. Our experience shows the huge impact they have on our personal readiness, and ultimately, on our Sustainable Human Performance.


If you are feeling below optimal in any area of your performance, these questions can help initiate an individuality audit:

  1. Is this my normal?
  2. Are there patterns (daily, weekly, monthly, annual) to how I feel?
  3. Why is this happening?
  4. Where can I seek more information that will help me understand this?


By being curious about what works and doesn't work for you and taking ownership of your bio-individuality, you can positively impact your personal readiness.


So, is our individuality in our control? Yes, it is. Our habits play a big role in how that is expressed. Taking ownership is key if we are to fully step into our potential. Our hormones are a prime example of this. Over the coming months, we will continue to explore how our habits influence hormones in relation to our human performance. Stay tuned.

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