It is a sobering realisation that your life is governed by a series of rituals and that the sum total of you as a professional both in business and life is a reflection of the quality of these rituals.
Because my initial professional focus was working with elite athletes and sports teams, I have always been fascinated by how performance can be improved. What does it take to increase an athlete’s ability to compete and win at the highest level?
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As with most things it is the ability to manipulate the many variables that go into”gold medal” performance…the right mix, with the right outcomes at the right time!
I, like most of the leading professionals in the field came to realise that the greatest success came to the athletes and teams that practiced the most effective rituals for their particular sport or competition.
To support my theory regarding the importance of rituals an interesting article was featured in the January 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review.
The article was called “The Corporate Athlete” and was written by Loehr and Schwartz. Both of these gentlemen had worked within the NFL system as conditioning coaches and had also recognised the significance of rituals in the performances of American footballers.
So what are these rituals and why do they have such a dramatic influence on performance?
The rituals fall into four basic areas:
- Physical rituals.
- Emotional rituals.
- Behavioural rituals.
- Spiritual rituals.
Each area has a number of behavioural components that contribute to your professional attitude and mindset.
Let’s look at what comprises the physical rituals first as they provide the basic foundation for the rest of the rituals.
Physical rituals pertain to how you manage food, fluid, activity, rest and sleep and the impact that these variables have on your performance in business and life.
The fundamental influence that food has on our performance is undeniable. I am going to outline a few of the essential strategies that must be followed to maximise the beneficial effects of food on performance.
- Eat 6-8 small meals/snacks throughout the day to maintain consistent blood sugar levels in the brain, which assists in maintaining concentration throughout the day.
- Eat foods that have low HI (Human Intervention) factor, which means that the foods are minimally processed and retain most of their nutritional value.
- Ensure that a variety of different food groups are eaten on a regular basis.
It is worth considering that water is absolutely essential in maintaining mental acuity and that one of the main causes of poor concentration is dehydration. When you consider that the human brain is approximately 90% fluid the importance of water to assist decision-making and concentration is undeniable. Here are some essential guidelines:
- Drink 20 mls – 35 mls of clean filtered water per kilogram of body weight 6-8 over the day on a consistent basis. 20 mls if you are relatively sedentary and up to 35 mls if you are involved in any competitive activity.
- Sip water throughout the day so that the water is replaced in the same manner that it is lost from the body.
- Drink clean, fresh water as often as possible…my personal belief is that filtered water is very beneficial and healthier to drink.
All successful sports athletes realise that to consistently perform at their peak they must be able to alternate between phases of activity and structured phases of rest. The rest periods allow them to recharge and replenish their energy and renew their focus. Business athletes are no different and need to ensure that they alternate between states of concentration and activity and states of rest and relaxation to maintain their peak “mental” performance state. Business athletes are paid for their decision making prowess as well as their initiative, planning, management and leadership skills so anything that allows them a chance to recover and recuperate and is a necessary life and business skill.
Strategies for incorporating rest periods into your life include:
Taking short breaks during the day to refocus and recharge with a quick relaxation break.
- Practice single point meditation technique for short periods by focusing on a chosen object and thinking only about it…and ushering out any extraneous thoughts.
The crucial premise surrounding activity is that it is fundamental to a healthy human state and also provides a valuable state change and recovery opportunity.
Due to the increasing demand to work longer hours by some organisations the ability to achieve adequate levels of activity is under threat.
- Build at least 5 sessions x 5 minutes of incidental activity into your day each day.
- Timetable 7 x 30 minute sessions per week of predominantly “aerobic” and “resistance” activity using the large muscle groups of the body.
- Vary the intensity over the week.
- Vary the type of activity so that it incorporates high impact, moderate impact and low impact.
It has been consistently documented that reliable sleep habits provide the most effective recovery opportunities for everyone including the Business Athlete.
One of the greatest challenges facing business and society in general is the ability to cope with the epidemic of sleep deprivation and its negative impact on productivity and efficiency within the workplace and community.
Interestingly, most of us begin our lives sleeping like babies…literally, and then progressively undergo a transformation over time that reduces our capacity to sleep peacefully.
Everybody needs to relearn how to master the basic sleep rituals that will ensure that you have a great sleep every time and be ready to go when you wake up. I have included some essential steps to practice so that you sleep peacefully night after night:
- Spend at least 15 minutes “uncluttering” your mind every evening by listing all “to do” items into your organiser or diary.
- Ensure that your bedroom is well ventilated and cool.
- Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose only.
- Train your mind to focus only on your breathing and to efficiently usher out any thoughts unrelated to your breathing cycle.
- Persist with this strategy every night so that you’re breathing ritual becomes automatically linked to your sleep state.
- With practice your brain will learn to focus only on your slow methodical breathing and nothing else.
- Be patient this process may take up to one month to become proactive habit.
Without this amazing system it is debatable that as a species we would have survived at all.
This incredible system, which is common to all human kind but specific in its communication and message to each individual, continually talks to us, either, warning or rewarding us about what is happening around us at any particular time.
The warning emotions such as anxiety, frustration, anger, impatience etc are neither healthy nor pleasant to experience long term and so must be dealt with quickly but they are valuable because they highlight potential situations that need your attention in either business or life.
The rewarding emotions are a cause for celebration and humility and providing they are achieved whilst respecting others, represent sources of increased self esteem, health and optimism.
The essential premise of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) requires the effective awareness, control and management of one’s own emotions, and those of other people.
The Emotional System and EQ embrace two aspects of intelligence:
- Understanding yourself, your goals, intentions, responses, behaviour and all.
- Understanding others, and their feelings.
Daniel Goleman identified the five ‘domains’ of EQ as:
- Knowing your emotions.
- Managing your own emotions.
- Motivating yourself.
- Recognising and understanding other people’s emotions.
All of these skills and abilities stem from the functions of the emotional system.
Every successful business or sports athlete relies heavily on the quality of behaviours that they possess in order to establish themselves as true professionals.
The acid test of any behaviour is whether or not the behaviour adds to the self-esteem and positive attitude of the individual on a daily basis. If it does and it respects others in the process then it is deemed growth behaviour and should be retained and utilised as much as possible.
Obviously, if a behaviour results in a warning response then the behaviour is of questionable benefit to the individual with the only exception being when their is an opportunity to grow as a result of the outcome (e.g. nervousness when being asked to speak in public and the lessons to be learnt from the experience for next time).
Whilst the word spiritual still has religious connotations amongst some people the term as it is referred to in this document more accurately describes the ability for both businesses and individuals to understand and know the answers to the following four questions that are crucial to the success of their journey in both business and life.
The questions are simple in their structure yet potentially complex and confronting if you do not know the answers. Quite simply the answers to these questions identify whether you are living your life according to you unique skills and abilities and thus maximising who you are and the extent of your influence both within life and business.
Who am I?
Without complicating things this question is asking what my personal strengths are and what are my specific challenges that detract from my potential to achieve in life?
As you can imagine it is crucial to understand these things so that you can become proactive in your management of them.
What am I capable of? What are my interferences?
There is a saying amongst sports conditioning specialists: “There are physical limits but there are no mental limitations.” It is very true and has special significance to athletes who believe that they will be “world champions” yet do not possess the necessary physiological attributes to make the dream reality. An example of this would be a “white” athlete wanting to be the 100 metre champion of the world yet not possessing the necessary genetic blueprint for fast twitch muscle fibres that certain black athletes have to be able to run fast enough to actually do it.
As business athletes however this statement regarding no mental limitations is especially important because it actually means that because “business athletes” are rarely limited by their physical attributes the sky is the limit from a mental performance perspective due to the unlimited power of the human mind. So get to it and utilise the amazing power of the human mind to prove to yourself and others just what you are capable of.
Where am I going?
I am sure you are familiar with the quotation: “If you do not know where you are going any road will take you there”.
As I trust everyone appreciates it becomes crucially important to understand what your purpose in life and business actually is?
Intelligent, pro-active self-leaders recognise that the skills, abilities and preferences that they demonstrate also serve to indicate what direction they should be heading in to maximise these talents and make the greatest impact for who they really are?
So I believe that direction in life is more specifically linked to the ability to utilise your skills and talents in realms that maximise your enjoyment and satisfaction of both the outcomes and the processes.
In short recognise what you are passionate about and follow that passion.
How do I get there?
You get there by consistently fine-tuning your emotional system so that you stay in tune with its inner promptings of happiness and contentment and by doing so your journey and direction becomes clear.
As you can appreciate from understanding the power of the rituals discussed here your success is intrinsically linked into your behaviours and habits.
Better ensure that they are valuable enough to warrant being there in the first place!