Performing at your top game is the same no matter what your “game” is, and whether you “play” it on a court or in an office. The most devastating mistake any top performer can make is also the same regardless.
What is that mistake that no one ever wants to make, but frequently does?
Whether you are an office warrior or an elite athlete, to stay on top of your game, you must be careful to not over-train.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between over-reaching vs. over-training. It’s okay to over-reach. It’s not okay to over-train.
Over-reaching is a concept from sports performance. It is where athletes strive to be. When an athlete is over-reaching, they are growing, getting stronger, and–outperforming everyone else. Over-reaching athletes befuddle their competitors, who are left in the dust, wondering how that athlete is getting it done. It’s fun and exciting. The athlete is in the “zone”.
In contrast, over-training is not fun. The over-training athlete is exhausted, getting sick, in pain, and struggling. That athlete probably isn’t sleeping, and is most likely just pushing through the day. The athlete is slowly breaking down, with no recovery in sight. They mistakenly think, “No pain, no gain. Right?”
Over-trainers frequently find themselves in the place they don’t want to be: the bench.
There is a very fine line between over-reaching and over-training, and that line is different for everyone. However, there are some basic principles you can practice that will keep you off the sidelines.
How You Know You Are Over-Training
1) You get sick or injured. Hopefully this never happens to you, but unfortunately it happens A LOT. High achievers who get cancer, debilitating illnesses, or break bones are almost always out of touch with how their work is affecting their life.
2) You don’t sleep well. Sleep is important. Just because you wake up at 3 am and are bouncing with ideas and energy, doesn’t mean you are one of the few people in the world that only need 3-4 hours of sleep. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis increases your risk for heart attack by over 60%. There is a reason your body is waking you up at night.
3) You’re not excited anymore. Even if you’re not in your “dream job” you should still be somewhat excited to go to work or do what you do. If you used to be and now you’ve “lost that lovin’ feeling” and you’ve been going non-stop, you are in over-training mode. Overall sadness is another red flag.
How To Get Your Mojo Back
1) Listen to your body. When we have a lot on our plates we tend to ignore the subtle ways our body “speaks” to us. Indigestion, random persistent pain, headaches, and waking at night are a few common ones.
2) Breathe. When you are in survival mode your breathing cycle is different. Breath is an incredible resource we can all tap into any time to literally get more oxygen to the body, which changes the brain’s response from reactive to proactive.
(Quick sidebar: What would your meetings look like if a breathing exercise was the first item on the agenda?)
3) Cross 1-2 things off your calendar. If you are over-training, you are doing too much. This may seem impossible, but it’s not, especially if you look at the big picture. Ask yourself: “What events or tasks are going to be important to me in 5 years?” Also ask, “Is this event/task more important than my personal sustainability?”
How To Stay In Over-Reaching Mode
1) Cross train. Just like cross training helps an athlete avoid injuries and get stronger, cross training your brain improves how you problem solve, focus, and your perspective. Reserve time in your day and week to get creative, go for a nature hike, listen to different music or tune out completely.
2) Rest. This seems counter-intuitive and maybe even unrealistic, but if you don’t rest it WILL catch up with you. All elite athletes know that when the body is in rest after hard work it is in the process of getting stronger. Simply put, you have to rest to be at your best.
3) Drink water. You would think this is so easy, but most people are dehydrated. If you have chapped lips you are really dehydrated. You need to hydrate like an athlete. That doesn’t mean down large amounts of sports drinks. Rather, add a small amount to your water (like 2-4 oz of electrolyte drink to 20-24 oz of water.) That will help your body hydrate more effectively. This will help your entire body function better, especially your brain.
Staying out of over-training can stave off burnout and mean the difference between being an effective leader over a sustained period of time. As a high achiever, you want to make a big impact. Do you want your sloppy self-care to get in the way of your potential? That’s basically what it comes down to. Just like a devastating injury or lack of focus can end an athlete’s career, so too can sickness and depression kill an effective leader.
If you feel burned out, need help creating boundaries with work, or want accountability for leading sustainably, contact Elyse for a free conversation.