How many times have you read a profile of someone’s success that details the extreme measures they take in pursuit of their goal? How few hours they sleep, how many years they’ve gone without vacation, how they subsisted on Velveeta and Spam sandwiches…
Welcome to the “no pain, no gain” bravado of Western culture, with high-achievers leading the charge, shifting into overdrive when the pressure is on. Often operating on sheer willpower, they push as hard as they can for as long as they can – sacrificing their health and any semblance of work-life balance – until inevitably, they crash and burn.
ADDICTED TO STRESS
Sure, the adrenaline high of pursuing a major goal is invigorating (and, in fact, studies show that some people literally get hooked on the rush of feeling stressed, which stimulates hormones like adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol). You may secretly get off on people marveling at your tolerance for the extreme : “You’re crazy, man. How do you do it?” Or you may think you have to push yourself to the limit to prove your worth. That “no pain, no gain” thing.
Much as you’d like to think you’re an exception, operating at your maximum – going full out – for an extended period of time is simply not sustainable.
Inevitably, the lack of sleep, poor nutrition and elevated cortisol levels lead to burnout, both physical and mental. And each time you hit empty, recovery takes longer and your maximum level diminishes.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE
“If you are going to be extraordinary, there have to be times when you put the pedal all the way to the floor. That’s when you get the greatest return on your energy investment. You’ve got to give 100 percent of your energy to get your genius to surface.”
To do that, however, you have to be operating at your optimum, setting a pace that’s sustainable for the longterm and most favorable to achieving the results you want.
That means you have to manage your most precious resource, your energy: to go full out when necessary but to do it on a full tank of gas and then take the time to rest and recover.
With the hyped-up expectations of the modern world breathing down your neck, choosing a sustainable pace requires discipline and conviction. It’s not easy to go against the tide. It takes discipline and self-awareness and sensitivity to your own needs.
WHAT TO DO
1. Sprint, not marathon. Every 90-120 minutes, take a break from what you’re doing. When you work in sprint mode, you build up your capacity for recovery and come back stronger. Stepping away from the computer screen is good, taking a few flights of stairs is even better and going for a walk in fresh air is best.
2. Get more sleep. Seven to eight hours is ideal but I’ll be realistic: start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier.
You’ve got one lesson left. Tomorrow I’ll be back with some tips on why you can’t take it all so seriously.
See you then,