To improve performance, you are likely to apply some sort of challenge to “stress” yourself physically and psychologically, followed by a period of recovery and rest.
Too much stress without enough rest and you get injured, sick, and burnout. Meanwhile, training that is too easy and too much rest leads to complacency, boredom, and stagnation.
Authors of Peak Performance – Brad Strudel and Steve Magness found one thing in common with the most successful and enduring performers in sport and other domains: they oscillate between periods of stress and rest.
Stress + Recovery = Growth.
This is a simple, but not necessarily easy equation to follow. For a start, many athletes are very intentional when planning for training but regard recovery (especially psychological recovery) as a good to have, rather than a priority. This is especially so when they are under pressure to perform.
As ironic as it sounds, recovery happens when we stop paying attention to our goals. Taking a break is not intuitive especially when we are under pressure but that’s when we MUST step away (and step back in thereafter).
So, what can we do to help ourselves recover both physically and psychologically?
For a start, we should make sure that we get enough sleep, schedule intermittent breaks (e.g., walks, meditation, tea, naps), have weekly recreational and social activities that do not relate to our sporting pursuit, and even take a couple of weeks off after a major competition.
Does this equation only work for sports performance?
Of course not!
When I’m coaching non-athlete clients who are striving to excel professionally, I start by asking them what their career or business goals are, and what they are doing to get there. In my experience, people at work – including myself, tend to fall into either of two traps: either they get stuck in a rut where they are just going through the motions, or they take on too much work at once and become completely overwhelmed. Both are not conducive to long-term progress.
I encourage my clients to systematically challenge—to stress—themselves in the direction they want to grow. And then I ask them to follow those challenges with rest and simple questions for reflection such as, “What went well?”, “What could I do differently?” and “What would I do now?”
Career or business development is generally more complex
. It is harder to calculate the right amount of “stress” to drive progress. What I’d often do would be to ask my clients to rate tasks on a scale of one to ten with one being “I could do this with my eyes closed”, and ten being “this is going to give me sleepless nights man…”
I would encourage them to take on projects that they would rate a seven. These tasks or assignments would be in the “Goldilocks Zone” where it’s neither too easy nor overly challenging.
Another way to think about stress in the context of career growth is to ask yourself, ‘What’s the next logical step?’ And then do that.” For example, if you’re currently servicing five customers, take actionable steps to increase this number and/or the revenue from these existing customers. If you manage a team of five, discuss with your supervisor the possibility of expanding that to seven or eight.
Make the equation work for you
Most of you reading this are probably coaches and athletes. This post is also a good reminder for us to give ourselves some time to catch our breath as we go from one challenge to another, and respect the need to rest, recover, and reflect in between challenging sessions and projects.
Magness, S., Stulberg, B. (2017) Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. Rodale Books