Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1)

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Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1 – avoiding burnout)
By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology
  

As a mental skills coach at SPINw, I help athletes attain a consistent high performance mindset through sport psychology techniques like focus, goal setting, visualization.  A high performance mindset is not something that is turned on one minute and off the next.  It is more consistent than that.  Therefore, I help athletes dedicate everyday to a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.  Lifestyle can be defined as “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.” It’s basically your habits – how you do things under pressure.

Some of my athletes are professionals, who make a living at playing sports.  But most are only part-time athletes, who are also students, parents, performing artists, doctors, teachers, etc., and often many of these.  It’s good to bring your “A-Game” everyday – not necessarily that you will win every time at everything, but that you consistently perform at a high level.  Anyone can benefit from developing a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.

This doesn’t mean perfection: that in every moment of your life, you are competing to be the best at everything you do, like being being the best student, athlete, or employee at all times.  This type of focus is not ideal because you are constantly comparing yourself to others.  This type of focus is out of your control. If you are too focused on comparing yourself to others, being the best, being perfect, you are not focusing on the necessary skills and strategies to effectively perform the task at hand.  To achieve a high performance mindset each day, it is important to focus on the little things that help you in the present moment or on the things that you are able to control right now.

As a professional ___________________(fill in your job here), it is easy to move from one task to the next without stopping or taking a break.  There can be a tendency to concentrate and stay focused on things till we become mentally and physically exhausted.  As a result, habit becomes “work till I can’t work anymore” or work till my body forces me to take a break, like when you just fall asleep doing a simple task.  The more this happens, the more risk of experiencing burnout. To prevent this, I work with athletes on comprehensive goal setting plans that include “planned breaks” as an essential part of high performance over the long run.

Burnout can cause us to react with negative emotional responses.  For example, a director of a non-profit that I work with recognized she was experiencing burnout and decided it was time to talk to someone about it.  For purposes of confidentiality, I will call this person Josie.  Josie was a former collegiate athlete and still liked to play sports as a means to stay active.  For the past four months, Josie had not been able to play sports or even find time to exercise due to the demands she had at work.  Her goal was to find a way to get back into playing sports and exercising.

When we met, she mentioned that she was experiencing emotional highs and lows that would result in her snapping at employees when they did not perform a task to her expectations, or making sarcastic remarks to customers that she felt were being rude and obnoxious.  She was also feeling angry and sad because she did not feel supported by her boss and others in her life, like family and friends.  She knew she was experiencing burnout, but did not know how to change things.

During one of our sessions, Josie came in feeling really angry.  She stated that she really hated her co-workers that smoked.  She felt as though they were always leaving the office to go outside and take a smoke break.  Even worse, she hated the fact that there were two or three of them that would always leave together to have a cigarette.  In that discussion, she recognized that she wasn’t mad at them, she was actually jealous of them because they were able to take time, be it every hour or every few hours to take a break, talk with colleagues, and just get out of the office to get some fresh air.  While she had no desire to start smoking cigarettes, she decided it was time that she started taking “Cigarettes Breaks” of her own.  She made it an expectation to take a 10-15 minute break every few hours, and do something active like take a walk in the building or outside depending on the weather, or just go talk to a colleague and keep the conversation to things not related to work.  She also made it a point to physically leave her desk to eat lunch.  She found that leaving her mobile phone at her desk, as well, made it more of an enjoyable lunchtime because she could either eat peacefully by herself or spend time with co-workers, just talking to them rather than texting or looking at things on her phone.

Josie admits that forcing herself to take a lunch break and frequent breaks throughout the day was extremely challenging.  But, once she was able to do it, she started to feel less stressed and more energetic at work.  This small shift to her daily routine also helped motivate her to leave work at a reasonable time so that she could start playing sports again.  In the end, Josie realized that making small changes to her day helped her to find more balance in her life, which in turn, allowed her to develop her high performance lifestyle.

Like Josie, you can also take a step toward developing a high performance lifestyle by identify things that you can different each day, like getting more sleep at night, eating better, taking breaks, and finding a life balance of work, exercise, personal relationships, recreational activities, and just taking time to unplug from technology so that you can enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  Taking the first step is always challenging, so if you need some extra support, find a buddy that you can start doing things with, or schedule a session with us at SPINw!

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