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Pushing yourself in sport increases endurance and performance – the same can be said of business, but the challenge for those in business is to factor in recovery time between periods of high exertion to optimise the final outcome, says former England cricketer Jeremy Snape. 

In the corporate world, rest is underrated from a psychological as well as physical standpoint. We underestimate how vital it is in fuelling the creativity, problem solving and decision making which underpin our success.

Many executives view holidays at best as a luxury and at worst as a weakness. This trap is an easy one to understand with scrutiny around our performance and financial rewards for results. In truth, this downward spiral of chasing results can have counter-productive consequences both to our performance and to our health. 

There are many parallels between the highly competitive worlds of professional sport and business, with important lessons for the corporate environment, whether they are a finance director, managing partner or part of the graduate intake.

In fact, in the world of professional sport the new frontiers of study are not focussed on how to get fitter, they are exploring how to recover better from the stress of competition. So without investing in a period of recovery, you could become more vulnerable than you think.

Scientific view

Sporting Edge interviewed three leaders from sport and neuroscience to get their insights.

Advances in neuroscience show us that when it comes to developing resilience the way we build emotional resilience has parallels with building physical resilience.

By pushing our muscles in the gym, we stress the fibres to the point of damage and the subsequent recovery process repairs these fibres to give us increased strength.

The same can be said for emotional stress. When we combine periods of acute stress with recovery, then acute stress and recovery, we see an increase in emotional resilience. The challenge in business is creating the gaps in an overflowing diary.   

Dr Tara Swart, a guest lecturer at MIT and Stanford explains the value of going unplugged when on holiday.

‘Your brain just isn’t set up to be always ‘on’. I’m a big proponent of a digital detox for at least once a year for a week. Literally no emails, text, not using WIFI not using any screens – it’s amazing how much more time and space you seem to have when you are not responding to electronic messages of all different types.’

Vin Walsh, professor of Human Brain Research at UCL warns that relentless hard work doesn’t always help you find the right answer.

‘The Eureka moment always comes when you’re not thinking about the problem. It always comes when you are either relaxing, or perhaps just taking time out to make a cup of coffee.  Sometimes it is even when you’re taking a nap.

‘It’s called offline processing. The brain desperately needs that in order to make new connections between all the information you’ve been putting into it. You have to have the courage for people to have downtime.’

As ever, turning the theory into behaviour is the key to high performance and the final insight from England Rugby Head Coach Stuart Lancaster shows that the best leaders measure themselves by their impact and not by their busyness.

‘Sometimes you need to find your own space to recharge your emotional battery as opposed to your physical one. There have been times when I’ve known I’ve been tired. And I can recognise it and I’ll go for a walk or find the space that I’ll need.”

The challenge for busy executives come when we correlate our busyness with importance. The more we are involved in the machine, the more vital and industrious we see ourselves.

High performers think differently. Rather than creating a ‘to do’ list, they translate their thinking into scalable systems and templates that other people can use in their absence. This ensures the quality of their work is cascaded but frees them up to take a well-deserved break or to invest time in strategic initiatives.

Seeing yourself as too important to take a break could be a confession rather than a boast.

In fact, with more and more emphasis on creating innovative solutions for clients, the best performers will be those who are mentally alert with a creative mind.

Being in this position requires rest and perspective: will you be brave enough to get the break this summer that will allow you to deliver your very best performance?

This article was first published by our partner Sporting Edge. Click here to read the original article in full. 

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