So, here we are at the final stop in our three part series.
In Daily Practices That Fuel Epic Journeys, we learned how powerful Building-In Space away from a challenge is in finding a breakout solutions. In part two, we discovered the power of Attentional Training, a tool that allows you to master stress, cultivate your professional edge and boost critical thinking and problem solving abilities. Now, it’s time for the final “A.”
Time to get “A”ctive!
Huh? That’s right. The final piece in the peak-performance puzzle is exercise…but, not for the reasons you might think.
Sure, we all know we’re supposed to be exercising for our health, to lose and keep of weight, to stop bone loss, to decrease risk of a host of life-limiting disease and to look better naked. But, what you may not know is that certain types of exercise actually have a profound impact on your cognitive and creative processes. One type even grows new brain cells, something thought impossible until just a few years ago.
Put another way, the right kinds of exercise can make you smarter and add to your ability to cultivate and maintain your business edge. But, before we get there, lets take a quick look at two often missed professional benefit of exercise.
Exercise lets you work longer and harder than your competition
The ancient sages of Aristotle’s time knew the impact of exercise on intellect. In fact, back then, a critical element of your training as a scholar was intense daily exercise. Why? Because thinking critically and solving problems, pondering complex mathematical equations or philosophical issues was grueling work. It took a toll on both the body and the mind. And, here is where the connection comes in.
When you are out of shape, inactive, overweight, overtired or physically compromised, your physical state crushes your ability to excel intellectually in two distinct ways.
One, pain and discomfort become a constant distraction to your ability to fully engage your mind in the process of thinking. We all know this to be true through own experience. Think about it. If your back is constantly aching, if your weight is drenching you in sweat, if something hurts from the time you open your eyes until the moment you go to bed, those sensations become constant distractions to the work that needs to get done.
The great yogic sages of India knew this, too, though the process was a bit different. In yoga the quest is more for enlightenment or unification with your divine self. One of the most effective ways to attain this ultimate state was through increasing bouts of daily meditation, often for extended periods of time.
To be able to sit for that long, though, was extremely difficult. Because, within minutes, every previously minor nagging discomfort would blossom into full blown, hugely distracting pain and discomfort. So, they created a system of physical practices that included exercise in order to better prepare the body to no longer distract the mind for the process of evolving. Which bring us to the second realization about exercise and the thinking process…
Two – Just as an out-of-shape, pained body becomes a constant distraction to hard intellectual work, a fit, able body becomes bio-chemical, structural and emotional support system that allows you to work harder, longer and more intensely than most others around you. Your “physical” abilities actually translate to an increased ability to develop your intellectual capacity.
This is especially true because you will likely be competing against many others who do not take care of their bodies and are likely battling the thought-distracting impact of their unconditioned state. Don’t expect this to last long, though, because more and more professionals, especially at the highest levels are becoming hip to the professional impact of exercise. So, if you are looking to compete on their level, exercise is simply a mandatory part of the equation.
Exercise “biggifies” your brain (and makes you hotter, but that’s for another post)!
For those not convinced by the wisdom of the sages and the growing experience of high-level exec’s all over the world, there is a growing body of science that now proves the impact of exercise on your brain’s everyday and “executive” functions—complex problem-solving, decision-making and planning.
- Exercise doubles late-day efficiency – A classic NASA study contrasted the work-efficiency of employees who exercised versus that of those who did not. During the last two-hours of an eight-hour day, the non-exercisers efficiency dropped dramatically by 50%. At the same time, those employees who exercised maintained near 100% efficiency, allowing them to accomplish twice the amount of work in the final two hours of the day. Exercise actually breeds efficiency.
- Fittest bodies yield the fittest brains – In a 2007 study of 259 third and fourth graders, kids who were the fittest, as measured by a variety of flexibility, strength and cardiovascular benchmarks, scored higher in math and reading than their less fit counterparts in statewide standardized tests, even controlling for socio-economic and other outside factors.
- Exercise has immediate impact on productivity and interpersonal performance at work – A 2005 study of 210 workers by Professor Jim McKenna at Leeds Metropolitan University revealed that, on the day that employees exercise, not only their mood, but their work performance was substantially improved, as measured by their ability to manage their time, increase output, and improve mental and interpersonal performance.
- Aerobic exercise grows brain cells responsible for executive function – According to an October 2007 Newsweek article, a series of recent studies by Professor Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois and others, show daily aerobic exercise can actually grow new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, the area that controls memory and learning, and the frontal lobes, which are chiefly responsible for executive functions. Dozens of studies back this up, yielding improved performance on psychological tests, the ability to answer question more quickly and accurately. Interestingly, the research also seems to show that there is a use it or lose effect once you are well into adulthood. Stop exercising and the increases quickly fade.
Top executives turn to exercise to keep their edge
Beyond the research and history of exercise and its impact upon professional performance, you only need to look at the make-up of the executive suite these days to know the critical nature of exercise in professional excellence. Increasingly, those who aspire to professional greatness hold their daily workout sacred and those seeking to hold onto their seats at the table view fitness not just as a way to look and feel better, but a mission-critical business tool.
So, now the ball’s in your court
If you are not yet exercising or it’s been a while, now is the time to get back into the active flow. Added to Building-in Space and Training Your Attention—you have three powerful daily practices whose impact will quickly compound to yield some pretty astonishing changes in your thought-processes and professional performance.
“Stepping Away” from challenges and Building-in Space is a practice that you can deliberately integrate into the way you approach your professional problem-solving strategy. You can begin it today and see it’s affect nearly immediately.
“Training Your Attention” will take a bit more time, but is eminently worth the effort.
“Getting Active” will require you to do a number of things. One, if you’ve been inactive for more than a few months or you have any other medical or orthopedic conditions that might weigh on your choice of and approach to getting active, you’ll need to make a quick visit to your qualified health care provider to get her/his input.
Once approved, you’ll need to make time in your day. And, as we’ve seen above, carving out this time will make you so much more efficient that the process of exercising, itself, literally creates the extra time needed to exercise. It’s a gorgeous positive reinforcement cycle, once you’ve begun.
Next, and this will likely be your greatest challenge, you’ll need to explore activities, setting and guides/trainers/instructors to find what works best for you and inspires not boredom, hatred and drop-out, but joy, comradery and a enjoyment. If that sounds like a mega-challenge, honestly, it is.
But, IT IS POSSIBLE to love exercise if you know how to approach the process. In fact, done right, you may even learn to love exercise more than sex!
Please share your comments, questions and thoughts in the comment section below.
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