I’ve been writing a lot recently
about reducing stress and how this ties into one of my strategic lines of defense against stress, Reduce. I try to be mindful of how being overbooked and over-committed plays out in my own life. Lately I’ve been feeling a little overbooked and overwhelmed by fun, stimulating activities, that I am passionate about.
As you might recall from my other posts, the goal of Reduce, one of my Five R’s of Conquering Stress, is to find your optimal level of stimulation and demand, that point where you get the most out of what you choose to do without becoming overloaded and therefore stressed. This is the point where you are operating at peak performance. Operating at peak performance means that you are getting the most out of your life and fulfilling your potential.
To find your personal level of peak performance you have to push past it and then be mindful of the effects. In other words, you have to keep taking on more stimulating activities and demands until you go past your peak performance level and notice a drop off in your efficiency.
I wish there was an easier way to do this; a chart or table you could go to and look up your gender, height and weight. You could get the exact level and say, “Ah ha, here is what I have to do to operate at peak efficiency.”
Unfortunately, no such chart exists because we all differ in terms of how much stimulation (fun activities we love to do) and demand (work and other time and energy-intensive activities) we require to operate at peak performance. On top of this, your requirements will change over time as the context of your life changes. I call this a cycle in your life.
This is what I have experienced the past year. I reached a point in my life cycle where I was finally living a truly balanced and holistic life. Each day was filled with stimulating activities and focused demands. I honestly feel that I was getting the most out of every 24 hour period of my life.
I had made a conscious decision to integrate fun activities (kayaking, running on the beach, meditating, reading, spending intimate time with my wife etc.) and demands (serving as a Board Member for two associations, taking online business and social marketing courses, hiring a business coach etc.) into my new semi-retired life.
I did this willingly and intentionally, and managed to integrate stimulating activities and demands into all seven dimensions of my health (physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and occupational).
All year long I was very mindful of the results of this plan.
For the most part I felt challenged, not stressed. There were days and weeks where I felt that I had taken on too much and needed to back off from an activity or demand.
The other thing I have noticed is that I could reduce the intensity or effort I put forth but still be engaged. For example, some mornings it was harder than others to lace up my sneakers, get out of the house at 5:50am, and bicycle down to the beach for my sunrise run. Instead of not going at all, I just cut back on the activity; ran slower or went a shorter distance, etc. I also realized that I could serve on a Board of Directors without having to be involved with every committee, activity, or discussion.
The constant ebb and flow of my life and the adjustments it created was a fascinating thing to observe.
You’ve also probably seen that at different periods in your life you required different levels and types of stimulating activities and demands to operate at peak performance. In addition, these variables changed within those periods (as my sunrise runs demonstrate).
This is why mindfulness is so important in conquering stress. We need to be aware of the signals that our bodies and minds tell us about our performance.
The past few months saw that happen to me. My body ( a little more tired and achy than in past months) and my mind (a little more frazzled than normal) had been telling me , “Rich, you need to cut back a little. You need to do a little less and rest a little more.”
I had taken on a few new demands (including buying a building lot and signing a contract to build a house) that started to put me over the edge. I knew that my contract with my business coach would be running out (freeing up more time and energy) but I still needed to cut back more to compensate for the new house demands. I had to resign from both of my Board positions to get back to balance.
The cutting back involved saying no to people who had expectations of me and tried to persuade me to change my mind. It also involved admitting to myself that I was not superman and needed to simply do less to feel better.
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