Sometimes the people that care for us the most hold a mirror up and highlight our flaws. Of course, they do it with love.
Not long ago I was working in my home office, up against some deadline or other. My son came into the office with a skipping rope in hand, hand-cuffed us together and led me out of the room. It seems I was working too much for his liking. Not long after, he and I were on a plane to spend a week off together – just the two of us. He seemed mildly suspicious of my capacity to do that and made me ‘pinky swear’ I wouldn’t work.
My son, it seems, was teaching me something about one of the very principles I talk about as critical to success – personal renewal. But if I’m honest, it can be a struggle.
The role of renewal
Renewal is about refuelling and re-energising. It’s also critical - just because I can put on a red cape, that doesn’t make me a superhero. Without renewal we not only get weak and tired (and we do), but we lose our creative edge. I strongly believe if we continue to discount the value of renewal in our lives, we won’t achieve the business or the life that we want.
It’s time to stop the madness.
There are many ways to refresh, recharge or renew. One thing is common among the most successful people I meet – they are intentional about how they renew. They also set big goals. When some take a week off, they take a month. When some go for a run, they train for a marathon.
In research I conducted among successful advisers, I uncovered something important. Those who are most successful are nearly two times as likely to take five or more weeks off each year. What’s also striking is they’re more likely to take multiple weeks off at a time. A quarter of these advisers had taken four weeks off at a time compared with 13 per cent of all others.
Of course, renewal might also involve something simple, like taking time to read, exercise, committing to time with friends or being present with your family. That leads us to the next point, which is all about managing our energy across different aspects of our lives.
Focus on energy
Performance psychologist Jim Loehr is the author of an extraordinary book called The Power of Full Engagement. He spent a good part of his career training elite athletes on how to improve their game.
What’s interesting is he didn’t train them on the technical aspects of their sport; instead he focused on how they manage their energy. Loehr says elite athletes spend 90 per cent of their time training for 10 per cent exertion. Yet we expect ourselves to be on top of our game for eight, nine or 10 hours a day.
Loehr makes an important point as it relates to how we manage our energy. It turns out that to renew and refresh we don’t need to plunk ourselves on the couch with a bag of crisps and the remote. In fact, he suggests, we need to create “stress”, but in a good way. Loehr points out that energy diminishes with both overuse and with underuse of any muscle. He applies that same theory beyond our physical energy and suggests we need to balance energy expenditure (stress) with renewal. He believes that holds true when it comes to almost every aspect of our lives – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Simply stated, Loehr is asking you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in all aspects of your life in order to create the energy you need for sustained performance and in order to refresh and renew.
Get some sleep
Research firm Rand Europe estimated in 2016 that sleep deprivation cost the UK economy £40bn a year. A Gallup poll suggested 40 per cent of Americans are sleep deprived, which is defined as routinely sleeping less than seven hours a night. I know - if that’s the standard then call me sleep deprived.
While many of us get less than the recommended number of hours, we’re generally ok with that and don’t believe more sleep would have a significant positive impact. We could be very wrong.
Arianna Huffington has become the self-declared ambassador of getting more sleep. What’s most striking in the approach that Huffington takes to sleep is how intentional she is about the process. In her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your Life One Night at a Time, she describes the ritual, the environment and the comfy jimjams – all designed to support a good night’s sleep.
Many of us grew up believing sleep is wasted time, something reserved for the lazy or unambitious. But Huffington argues “sleep time is not empty time. It involves intense neurological activity which we can think of as cognitive maintenance or personal sustainability”. She calls sleep the world’s best performance enhancer.
One of the clear outcomes of renewal is it helps us create meaningful boundaries in our lives. We love to be working and we love to return home. We’re energised and present in both situations.
Why is renewal so hard?
Renewal should be easy but that’s far from the truth.
It’s difficult because we have to battle demons that tell us to focus on others, to the exclusion of ourselves. For some this is a passing nuisance and can be easily overcome with some stern self-talk. For others, myself included, this runs far deeper.
In an interview on her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks openly about her own struggle. She said: “I trusted my professional self, but not my personal self." Many of you will understand what this means immediately - a lucky few will think I’m speaking a foreign language. We trust our professional selves and so we pour everything into perfecting that individual. That perfection comes at the cost of our personal selves because we don’t trust that person as worthy.
While I struggle with this step, I’m a researcher at heart and I believe the data. So I say this with all the humility that comes with past failures; we need renewal to succeed.