Your muscles don’t get stronger while you’re stressing them. Exercise, which pushes your muscle past what it easily accommodates, creates micro-tears and damage. Your muscle-repair process makes the muscles bigger and stronger. Muscle repair happens when you are recovering, and when you sleep. Doing bicep curls with a barbell to the point of muscle exhaustion doesn’t make your muscles stronger, but the repair process while you rest and sleep does.
The same is true for our mental capabilities–there are stressors, and then we need recovery. Chronic stress without recovery leads to burnout. I believe this is one of the top reasons people who have been successful in the past “suddenly” begin to fail, and fail badly. They have been “productive” for seasons without sufficient recovery, and it’s not sustainable.
Let’s be clear: if you don’t push yourself outside your comfort zone, you’ll never get better. But you need a rhythm of working in the stress zone, and then recovery.
Recommended “recovery” habits:
- Engineer genuine vacation times when you are relaxing and enjoying yourself for days at a stretch.
- Absolutely take one day a week when you don’t even think about work stuff. You need a Sabbath break. There’s a logic to good recreation–it’s re-creation of what’s best in you.
- Get quality sleep. Sleep should be enjoyable. There are many good articles available now about how to get better sleep.
- Create space every day where your mind is free to be unfocused. Doodle, walk, listen to familiar music, whatever works for you. This is demonstrably good for you. There’s a growing body of neuroscience experimentation which shows that the non-directed, creatively connecting and synthesizing parts of your brain are much more active when your mind is unfocused.
- Pay attention to your rhythms. Find your unique patterns of when you have the energy and will to easily focus, and when you are better in recovery. Most people operate in ultradian rhythms about 90 minutes long, but individuals do vary. Work with the way your mind and body work.
Never give up your self-discipline. None of the above is license for laziness or sloth. Be intentional with recovery habits as a leadership practice.
Finally, model these recovery habits for others. Your organization will be better for it.