As a personal trainer I found myself in an interesting position. As clients I have a lot of lawyers and anyone who has experienced lawyers know this; they work long hours and they work hard because they have to account for their time, typically recording every 6 minutes.
I have as clients both partners of firms who are on the tail end of their careers and new lawyers who are just starting. What I get to map out is a timeline of deterioration that has come from a career of long hours, sitting down a lot and high stress levels.
The common effects I see are:
: Physically – Tight shoulders, incredibly tight hips, lower back pain, high blood pressure, joint injuries
:Psychologically – Food issues, constant stress, sleep deprivation.
Falling Apart When You Stop
It was not uncommon for them to come back from holiday to say they “caught the flu” whilst away. This phenomena of getting ill once you slow down bared similar resemblance to what is common in sport where the athlete ‘falls apart’ once retired;
“Bending over at the waist is difficult bordering on impossible some days” – Rich Clementi (14yr veteran of Mixed martial Arts)
The physical & mental deterioration can happen in any profession whether you are a corporation with targets or a small start up working all hours to gain momentum.
I hear it all the time about GenY being lazy and don’t know the meaning of hard work. I don’t agree, it is more the case we are acutely motivated with finding out how technology can make work more efficient. After all, I can imagine the last remaining amazon tribe would look at us weirdly if we told them we get our fish from a ‘supermarket’ rather than throwing spears into the open water!
GenY Wants Balance
However it is true that whilst our older colleagues thought work-life balance was a nice idea, we actually want it! In a recent PWC survey of over 1000 GenY participants they found a large portion would be willing to take less pay and slow promotion progress in return for working fewer hours. Some firms are recognising this and adopting practices like flexi hours and working from home.
Yet, whilst it is great you may not find yourself spending 10 hours in a cubicle with stale coffee, staring at a picture of a man on a mountain declaring the corporate values, this doesn’t mean anything if a proficient recovery process isn’t in place.
In a number of studies GenY‘s have reported having the highest levels of stress compared to other generations, averaging 5.4 on scale 1(lowest) – 10(highest) on stress scale. Another study found that half of those asked said stress keeps them up at night.
Not quite the conditions to be a consistent top performer in your workplace!
This is a problem considering that sleep is a powerful way of repairing your mind and body. Our body is regulated by what is known as the cardcadian rhythm. Processes are happening at certain parts of the day. For example at 6am your body releases a jolt of cortisol to wake you up.
At 9pm it begins to release melatonin which is a hormone that initiates the shut down process for repair. The main repair happens between 2-5am but only works efficiently if you have been asleep for at least two hours already. If you are constantly waking up your body (and mind) are not able to complete the repair process. Think of it like having a cleaner cleaning your house but constantly interrupting them throughout. Do you think they’ll be able to get all their jobs done?!
What do you worry about most?
There are 3 common concerns and in a way it hasn’t changed over time; job security , health & self care, money . When there is concerns it is easy to go into survival mode, where we go 100 mile an hour, eating if we’re lucky and working till we drop.
When I trained in hypnotherapy I was introduced to a model called the stress bucket. To explain the model, every time you experience something your body deem as a threat whether physical (intense exercise, stress, violence) or psychological (targets, demands, recurring thoughts) the bucket fills up with water a little bit more. Now if the water is dealt with it is ok, yet if it doesn’t and the bucket rises then eventually the bucket will overflow. The overflow can be burnout, the flu that ‘never seems to shift’ or more extreme, road rage when someone cuts you up.
What is more important to you?
The fact you are reading this suggests to me at least two things are important to you: performing at your best at work to increase your potential for career progression & making best use of your free time without being run down by worry & exhaustion.
So what can you do to ensure you are consistently in a cycle of repair & in the right state to perform efficiently at work. I’d like you to focus on 3 types of activities that have to regularly feature;
1. Those that make you calm
Operating within you right now is your autonomic nervous system. Part of the system is your sympathetic, which initiates in times of threat for fight or flight, and the parasympathetic which is labelled the ‘rest & digest’ system. When one is activated the other diminishes, they can’t operate at the same time. When you are continually stressed, your sympathetic nervous systems is constantly being initiated. To counteract this, it is important to do activities that provide you with a sense of calm.
For me, it is doing a 5-10 minutes breathing meditation in the morning. What is it for you?
2. Those that make you laugh
If you have Netflix there are a whole array of stand up comedy shows. Frankie Boyle I find is hilarious and you will probably have a comedy TV series that gets you every time. Scientists have shown that “laughter is the best medicine” when they found the release of endorphins during episodes of witty encounters can reduces stress and have people feel less pain
3. Those that you consider fun
In a New York Times article called “The island where people forgot to die” the author encountered the Island of Ikaria, where scientists have discovered that men in particular are 4 times more likely to reach 90 years old than their American counterparts. On the Island, the elderly residents were frequently being social and having fun with the other residents. When compared with the other areas that has high proportion of healthy elderly people, labelled ‘the blue zones’, social interaction & play featured frequently.
Unfortunately it is easy in the modern way of living to sacrifice play & fun just to keep up with ongoing demands.
So how can you look to integrate this into a regular routine. I would suggest you do this simple task:
1. Get a piece of paper and draw two lines down it.
2. Make 3 lists labelling at top calm – laugh – fun
3. Write between 5 – 10 activities in each of the list. Things that make you calm, activities that make you laugh & activities that you find fun.
4. Aim to do 1-2 off each of the list a week.
5. Add to the lists on an ongoing basis.
To grow a muscle requires you to lift weight, but the growth happens when you rest. In order to perform in an optimal way ay work is not just about what you do at work, its also about how you spend your time outside of work.
[…] best, I present to you the other side of the coin. In a previous essay I talked about how, to be a top performer it is important to look at what you do outside of the […]
Interesting and informative post 🙂 thanks for sharing!
I think more and more, it’s getting difficult to live a life-work balanced life. Especially with our newer generations. Stress is one thing, but I’m quite surprised to read that some people would rather take a cut on their salaries/promotions in order to work less hours! It reminds me of a quote saying that “you’re successful when you’ve blurred the lines between work and life.” (somewhat along those lines anyway).
Stress is obviously a killer in our society. Stress actually makes our body activate the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) which in turn stops all processes in our bodies that are dedicated towards rest and digest. Like mentioned on the post, it’s crucial that we learn the ways of relaxing, avoiding stress and achieving serenity, in order to restore the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest).
Thank you for this article – it’s so true and we have to take time for the whole person. Top performers, A players, have a tendency to be one dimensional in striving for “success” – however they personally define it. I see it too often where unfortunately it is very poorly defined, and not holistic, and in time inherently unhealthy in many aspects, from relationships to health all suffer.
As coaches and mentors we have to help them find a way to whole person success.