I’ve had an active time this last week: the industry of work, a couple of runs, a weekend of swimming and walks with the family. Now I sit here at the end of working day, conscious I have not written a blog for a while. But this time, it’s intentional. I’ve decided to ‘oscillate’. I will explain…
The blog is a weekly record, but I’ve become concerned that it was at risk of becoming a weekly grind. And there is nothing more damaging to enthusiasm and creative writing than the pressure of a grind. I think of those movies that show an author suffering from writer’s block that is only exacerbated by a deadline, a disregarding publisher, etc.
Prompted by a conversation with my boss and his topical introduction that drew comparisons between an Olympic athlete and a corporate one (corporate athleticism – I know, but please just bear with me for a second), I found myself reading ‘The making of a corporate athlete’ – Loehr and Schwartz’s article for the Harvard Business Review in 2001.
Some executives thrive under pressure. Others do not. Is there a secret? Loehr and Schwartz argue that there is and that a comparison to world-class athleticism is helpful rather than trite. An athlete knows that sustained high achievement demands intensity followed by recovery. They describe this rhythm as ‘oscillation’.
A body builder stresses a muscle to the point where fibres start to tear, but then allows for recovery that results in greater strength. So stress is not the problem in itself; in fact, it can actually be seen as the stimulus for growth. The problem is the lack of disciplined recovery and its absence is the real enemy of high performance.
The most competitive tennis players use disciplined recovery routines in the 15 or 20 seconds between points. They pull their shoulders back, concentrate on their racket, adjust a string by a millimetre, look dispassionate and emotionally detatched. Or from another perspective, one could say that they are assuming a confident winning posture, focusing on the racket to avoid distraction from visualizing the next point, and removing themsleves from the heat of the battle to get their heart rate down. They are oscillating.
This may all seem extreme, but to me a recovery period often has a purpose above and beyond allowing me to peak again. Have you ever had a creative ‘lightbulb moment’ while the mind rests during mindless jogging or gardening? I have. So perhaps the high-performing blog writer is the one that is able to put his journal away for a while, and then comes out fighting/writing with flashes of inspiration. So readers, expect a ultradian sprint of blog publishing in the ensuing days!
And then put this in the context of work. There is an inclination for executives to live in a perpetual state of triage, doing whatever seems most pressing while losing sight of any bigger picture. Blog writing gives me the opportunity to pause and reflect on the bigger picture. So while I reflect on corporate athletics, the more I think that any intention to act like a high performer is unlikely to be a misjudgement.
“Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” Aristotle said that.