How athletes can teach us to be more productive in the boardroom
CEO of the Parker Practice, lifestyle coach Louise Parker knows how to help her clients reach their highest potential. She tells High Life how analysing the regimens of athletes helped her to structure her courses, and how businesspeople can use these findings to dominate the boardroom
When I study top, modern-day athletes, what always strikes me is how they spend as much time working on their mental performance as they do on their physical health. Sports psychologists are a constant in elite sports and they’re often the first person an athlete thanks after success. Think of Jonny Wilkinson and his mentor, coach and mental advisor Steve Black. Would Jonny have kicked that drop goal without a bulletproof mindset? I think not.
At Parker Practice we frequently coach elite ‘boardroom athletes’ and business execs and our approach is always performance-focused. We’re known for helping clients to look their best and achieve peak health, but with our execs it’s often the difference we make to their business performance that has the most noticeable outcome.
Numerous studies have shown that the link between physical and mental performance is absolutely hard-wired. The better your lifestyle, the healthier you are, the sharper your mind will be. If you’re looking for that extra one per cent to beat your competitor and win that pitch, prioritising your wellbeing might well be the secret sauce that gets you there. So how can you discover your edge?
If you want to perform like an athlete, live like one
If your plan is to work yourself to the bone and expect to be a high performer, you might not be as effective as you think. Athletes have a plan that involves training, prioritised rest, work on their mindset and great nutrition. If you’re going to be a boardroom athlete, then the ingredients are the same. I’m not saying you need the VO2 max of a professional rower, but you need to be fit enough to feel good and perform well. And here’s the key bit… you have to live like an athlete before you are one. The work comes first, the results are the consequence.
Know how to rest. Properly
In the boardroom the pressures to perform are huge, but there’s one big difference to sporting pressure – it’s constant. There’s no off season to rest and recover. If you want to be a top performer consistently, you need to prioritise rest in the same way you prioritise your workday.
There’s a brilliant book called Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, which I love. Sustained peak performance comes as a result of managing distractions, rest to offset periods of focus and crucially managing the number of decisions you make every day. So, if your plan is to work for five hours on a flight before that big conference, then you might not be as effective if you spent the same time resting.
Fuel for performance
If you often find yourself working ten- or 12-hour days, fuelling your body to meet these demands will give you a major boost. It’s almost like running an ultra-marathon every day! Make sure to eat a diet with regular protein, some low-GI carbs and healthy fats, and include snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Fuel yourself for short sharp bursts with processed carbs or sugary snacks, and you’re going to be on a daily sugar, hunger and mood rollercoaster. And, trust me, your performance will be much worse as a result.
Burn some rubber
My version of Moore’s Law – Parker’s Law, if you like – is that the more senior you become, the less you move. Get a promotion and, trust me, your steps will drop. Become the CEO, and you might rarely walk further than from your front door to your car. And don’t expect that your three spin classes a week will make up for only doing 1,500 steps a day. The steps are way more important.
Walking makes such a huge difference to your overall health. It’s a great form of exercise, burns lots of calories without you thinking about it, is almost the optimal way to reset your mind and is brilliant for your core.
Now, I don’t expect you to be able to find an hour in your day for a leisurely stroll, but how about swapping some meetings for walking meetings? This is especially good for calls, too. In other words: get up and walk whenever you can.
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