In my last post, I introduced this series on living and working sustainably to prevent burnout. I experienced a burnout a while back. Since then I’ve encountered many people and organizations who seem to think toxic workplace practices are the norm – the way things are and the way things will always be.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Human learning and performance professionals, in particular, should know better. In fact, we’re actually in a key position to communicate to business leaders (most of which genuinely care about their people) about caustic workplaces which negatively affect morale and employee wellbeing. That is, we can communicate these issues if we’re focused on improving human performance. Thus, anyone involved in the human learning and performance communities should have a fundamental grasp on what humans need in order to be our best.
In their book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness recommend we “systematically grow by alternating between stress and rest.” To express this concept, they have a formula.
STRESS + REST = GROWTH
In order to optimally perform at our best, we need cycles of stress and rest.
Most of us want to avoid stress entirely. If we do this to our bodies, we don’t exercise, and this atrophies our muscles. We get fat and lazy. The results are obvious to see.
On the other hand, if we exercise strenuously every day (“Bring it on, stress!), eventually we injure ourselves.
We need to stress ourselves, and we need to rest ourselves, so we can grow to be our best selves.
“SEEK OUT JUST-MANAGEABLE CHALLENGES”
Start by seeking out challenges that cause those butterflies to fly around in your stomach, but are still “just manageable.” In other words, the challenges are the ones that cause you to stretch yourself just a bit, but you still feel you can handle it.
If your goal is to be a better eLearning designer and developer, push yourself to complete tasks that are outside your current level of comfort. If you’ve mastered Articulate Storyline, move on to Rise or the other 360 offerings. Perhaps you can do some of those same challenges but apply them to other eLearning authoring tools, such as Adobe Captivate or Lectora Inspire.
If you feel a little nervous, that’s great! If you feel too nervous, or completely out of your depth, dial it back a notch. Start simple and small; build from there.
“CULTIVATE DEEP FOCUS AND PERFECT PRACTICE”
When you begin work, set a specific purpose and write down what you want to accomplish so that you can do meaningful work. To help me with this, this year I’ve been using Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner.
Speaking of focus, remove as many distractions as possible from your work. And “do only one thing at a time. Next time you feel like multitasking, remind yourself that research shows it’s not effective.” Focus on outputting quality that adds value to whatever your goal is.
“WORK IN DISCRETE BLOCKS”
Design your workday into blocks of no more than two-hour periods. Fully focus on work activities for 50 to 90 minutes, and then give yourself a break.
You may wish to start by using the famous Pomodoro technique, where you only work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break.
“NURTURE A GROWTH MINDSET”
In my experience, it’s rare to find people with a growth mindset. Life tends to beat it out of people.
Yet, science shows that the way you look at your experiences and the stresses you encounter matter a great deal.
Peak Performance is filled with stories of what celebrities and top performers do when they encounter situations of stress. When you feel stress coming on, when you start to sweat and your heart starts to beat faster, “remind yourself that this is your body’s natural way of preparing for a challenge.”
People with a growth mindset don’t look at challenges and stressors as things to be avoided. Instead, people with a growth mindset look at how to make the most of the challenges they face. In the process they get stronger.
HAVE THE COURAGE TO REST
One of the things I found the most amazing in reading Peak Performance was how many other people who were elite performers found it difficult to rest. It’s hard. It’s work – hard work – to rest.
“GROW YOUR MINDFUL MUSCLE WITH MEDITATION SO THAT YOU CAN MORE EASILY CHOOSE REST”
To help me with this, I’ve been practicing a discipline called “mindfulness meditation.” I encourage you to do the same. One of the books I’ve read recently which I’ve found helpful on this topic is Love 2.0, by Barbara Fredirickson. Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook. The guided meditations are of great value to those just starting out on this journey.
Meditations feel very strange at first, and they are difficult to do. But the rewards are ample.
“APPLY YOUR MINDFUL MUSCLE IN EVERYDAY LIFE”
I’ve learned to speak gently with and regarding myself and others. I used to do a lot of what Kim Scott, in her book, Radical Candor, calls “fundamental attribution errors”. That is, when someone would cut me off on the highway, I would simply call them an idiot or insane (or worse). Yet I have no idea what that person is going through, and I quite easily forget that I have also been a jerk on the highway.
So, instead, I talk to myself and others gently – even when they can’t hear me. When I feel stress or anger start to rise, I take deep breaths and calm myself. Or I remove myself from the negative source of stress.
Take breaks. As I write this, one of my challenges for this week, given to me by Jamie Robins and his “League of Extraordinary People” is to go and take a 30 minute break in nature doing absolutely nothing. I look forward to my breaks, and do my best to make them peaceful and enjoyable.
Make sure you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. One of the many things I love about Peak Performance is it gives a very practical set of rules to follow (such as limiting blue light exposure in the evening prior to sleep) in order to prepare for and sustain sleep.
Take at least one day off a week. The sabbath is important for many reasons, whether you are religious or not. And, as I’ve said before, take real vacations.
When you consciously apply cycles of stress and rest, you can grow in sustainable ways. People often say, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” but few people actually live that way.
Competing in a marathon – or even running in one – is certainly not on my bucket list, but stories like those shared in Peak Performance of Deena Kastor show that it’s not just stress (no pain, no gain!) that yields performance. It’s also intelligent, disciplined, wonderful rest.
It’s time we start applying these basic principles to our own lives so we can grow to be our best.
Remember, STRESS + REST = GROWTH.
What are you challenging yourself with now? What do you do in order to rest? Let me know in the comments below.