What’s the most intense experience that stretched your endurance? What worked for you? Did you endure? And if not, what happened?
Endurance is the word that is on my mind this week, both in life and in business.
I am counting seven days and seven nights of taking care of my sick 17-months-old daughter and making sure the rest of my family is operating as close to a usual routine as possible. The 24/7 service is weighing on me, together with my ambition to juggle my job and other personal commitments. I am frustrated, as the original plan for my week, based on meticulous prioritization, has changed to a tiring marathon. The task list is getting longer, the vision of relaxation, more surreal. Just thinking about it makes me want to hire someone to be me for a day.
In the past, I unintentionally had the tendency to work the hardest, travel the furthest, work out every day, respond to all friends and, of course, have fun, too. I had a lot of amazing experiences, made great friends and learned lessons that allow me to be who I am now. I certainly also experienced the other side of my choices, the less pleasant side. Luckily, I was surrounded with amazing family and friends who came for my rescue when I had a dislocated hip, broken heart or was border lining exhaustion.
I loved every bit of it.
Maybe you don’t have the same need to expose yourself to everything this world offers. You may strive to hit a challenging revenue target in your business this year. Or perhaps you want to be the most successful female VP in your company, the best manager, the most present father, the best rated blogger, the most appreciated designer. No matter what drives you and what goals you have set for yourself, sometimes life brings unexpected challenges that don’t allow you to focus on what you’d like to achieve.
At least not without an extra effort and the skill to endure.
The word ENDURE bothers me.
What bothers me is the negativity I sense in the expression. It makes me feel like I am in prison or at least one of the contestants in the “Survivor” show. It makes me think of times and experiences in my life that I have intentionally put into the Pandora box in my mind and put a nice tag on it saying “don’t open unless you want to feel pain”. I can imagine you will have your own connotation with that word and it probably won’t be positive either.
I consciously choose to hold on to the word as a source of energy to persist; negativity is not allowed.
So, what is endurance, really?
By the Oxford dictionary, to endure is to “remain in existence, to last”.
Good, I do want to last.
My brother started running in September 2015 and ran his first full marathon in May the following year. I checked with him on how he managed to last, and he broke it down for me:
- “I split the goal into more manageable, smaller goals. I can’t think of running 42km, but I can run 4x 10km and then some.
- I consciously put on a smile on my face to block out barriers and distractions. At a certain point, that smile became natural.
- I never allowed myself to think I wouldn’t make it. How embarrassing would it have been to get the “not finished” tag?
- I made an agreement with my mind that it would carry me through the whole experience. I borrowed this technique from an extreme runner, Miso Stehlik. That’s how I overcame the pain so I could achieve happiness when I finish.”
I dug deeper and found out that there is something called “the runner’s high”. Runners experience a sense of euphoria that has been linked to the production of opioids, a neurochemical also released in response to pain.“ So while pain is not fun, it helps us to experience pleasure in an intensity that we would not know without it.
Independent of which type of pain you enjoy, I think there are some valid points here.
In business, it works the same way. We define a strategy, then we break it down to yearly priorities, which we split into goals, and those to activities. Every team member knows what their realistic target is and how they contribute by achieving it. This triggers engagement.
There is one key difference though – business is not an individual sport. As a leader, you have to ensure the endurance of everyone else in the team and your own. This may be extremely challenging today, when digitalization rules, change is the only constant and the resulting pressure is ever increasing.
German Valencia, my business mentor known for his high energy levels and ability to energize and mobilize people, introduced me to the idea of a “corporate athlete.” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe in “The Making of the Corporate Athlete” the importance of the balance among these four capacities:
German said that keeping balance among these areas is his secret. When it comes to his team members, he consciously shifts his work relationships from the perspective of manager and boss to that of an equal partner’s perspective. He wants to deal with everyone at a personal level first, and only then on work-related matters.
Loehr and Schwartz find that while seeking balance among the four areas is common for athletes, in the corporate world people put more focus on cognitive capacity. In simple words: your success in business is mainly attributed to how smart you are. The acknowledgement and development of our spiritual parts – or what really matters to us – is also gaining recognition, such as with the relationships my mentor, German, was so consciously nurturing.
From my experience as an executive and in executive coaching, only a minority of leaders focus on all four capacities. The emotional and physical capacity is almost completely forgotten or put into the bucket of “I don’t have time for this”. However by addressing exactly those areas, Loehr and Schwartz witnessed some amazing improvements as it is exactly these areas that form the foundation of high-performance.
Based on the “Corporate Athlete”, here are some practical tips for increasing your endurance:
- Take care of yourself on the physical level:
- Do the healthy stuff you know you need to do, such as eating healthy and exercising regularly. Your body is the foundation, so put it on your schedule!
- Go to bed early, wake up early and be consistent in your sleep cycle. You will be more refreshed.
- Build recovery breaks into your schedule every 90 – 120 min. This is aligned with your body’s natural stress-rest cycle. Eat, drink, move, or change what you are thinking about or focusing on.
- Manage your emotions – negative emotions consume your energy; positive emotions boost your performance. Build strong relationships as they are the best source of positive feelings and if negativity creeps in, it is relationships that will help you out of it.
- Practice meditation regularly, or simply learn to quiet your mind. Visualize what you’d like to achieve. That’s how you increase your mental capacity.
- Understand your deep motivators and your purpose – this is your spiritual connection to what you do. It will unleash the next level of your energy.
Thanks to years of self-awareness and related practices, I am relieved. All I need to do is to make my habits conscious especially during a week like the one I am experiencing. I am committed to picking up my Jillian Michaels high-impact exercise again as of tomorrow. I know that by taking 25 minutes away, I will be able to run this marathon.
With a smile, I lie on the floor next to my child, thinking that this experience, too, will end, and become just a memory of how we endured.
I wish you all a happy finish pain!