Too Tired To Succeed?

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I’m too tired, achey, burnt, frazzled, blah, blah, blah…

Life speeds by and half the time we feel lucky to just catch a glimpse, let alone jump in and play.  We work insane hours, endure unyielding pressure, strive for inhuman goals and lumber around increasingly fatigued, stressed, in pain, frazzled and just plain old burnt.  We barely have enough juice to get through each day.

The reality is, we’re caught in a bit of a vicious cycle.

Relentless hours lead us to neglect our bodies and minds, which, in turn leads to poorer sleep, weight gain, physical pain, slower and worse decision-making, planning and problem-solving, decreased efficiency and brain function, increased cardiovascular impairment and disease risk—which all leads to the need to work longer hours to get the same volume of work done.  Which leads to more stress, more pain, more fatigue.  Get the picture?

The vicious-cycle is the bad news. The good news is…

The way out has been right in front of us…for some 2,500 years.

Before you can effectively pursue your bliss (or even right your ship), you’ve got to live well in the world, maximize your physical state and minimize your distractions.

Put another way, for you to succeed in any career or life endeavor, especially one that will require an extraordinary amount of energy and work, you need to clear your psychic plate and you need…

  • A body that’s not only not riddled with aches and fatigue, but strong, energized and healthy and
  • A mind that is free of distractions and fully capable of sustaining a serious, concerted effort for an extended period of time.

Physical pain, poor sleep, lack of energy, ill-health, disease, stress and all manner of physical and mental discord are mega-distractions to the ultimate goal.

The old dudes were onto something…

The ancient Greeks came to the same conclusion, viewing intense daily physical practices as a necessary element of the pursuit of scholarly success thousands of years ago.  The yogic sage Patanjali codified a similar realization in the classic Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, revealing the need to follow the yamas and niyamas, their version of the 10 Commandments, exercise and meditate in preparation for pursuit if higher level thought and awakening.

The lustrous little-men in loincloths (I’m sure to be drummed out of the yoga world for calling them that) remedied this by prescribing a set of fairly simple daily practices that, done regularly, would bring the body and mind into a place of optimal health.  They called it yoga.

Others call it exercise, meditation, movement, visualization, breathing exercises, relaxation-response training, mindfulness and on and on.  They are all points on a continuum of practices that, done daily, profoundly enhance your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual states.

Just like the yogis of old in search of bliss, your ability to dramatically decrease physical discomfort, ease stress, reduce your likelihood of a wide variety of life-altering or ending disease and regain your peace of mind is a necessary prerequisite to attaining what you want out of life.  It fuels your effort and greatly diminishes the bodily and mental distractions that keep you from investing yourself more fully in achieving what’s most important.

Modern research proves exercise makes you smarter, more efficient and better looking (okay, I made up that last one)…

For those not convinced by the wisdom of the sages, 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.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to a growing cadre of executives who have been embracing daily practices, from exercise to yoga to meditation, in record numbers over the last 20 years.  The big news over the last 10-years is that we now have hard science to back up the claims.

So, what’s the answer?

Stop kvetching and start moving, breathing, meditating and visualizing.

Yes, it’ll take a little time to learn.  Frankly, it’ll be a pain in the ass, require changing around your schedule a bit and maybe even create a few more aches in the short-term as your creaky body adapts to movement.

And, the meditation and visualization will be a huge challenge for the first four to six weeks, but once you begin to find your zen-groove and these practices develop into habit, your professional abilities, options and achievements will be vastly improved for the effort.

Make sense?

What am I missing?

Ever tried any of these (and stuck to it)?

What was the impact?

Let’s discuss…

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31 responses

31 responses to “Too Tired To Succeed?”

  1. Kristasphere says:

    Jonathan: You are “on my street”. I’m exactly in the stage you describe in this post. Having been downsized for the first time in my life 2 weeks ago, your blog and manifesto are a God-send. Keep doing what you do.

  2. Kristasphere says:

    P.S. I studied Tai Chi for a couple of years. Used to do it daily, somehow stopped (I know) but I found it so effective. I did it every morning; practitioners say 2x per day, but still it was fantastic.

  3. Jonathan,

    Vulnerability time on my part…

    Over the past two years, without a good excuse, I went from endurance athlete & former Army Special Forces fitness level to gaining excess weight & just stop exercising.

    Perhaps other people can relate; “how can I be so successful in every other area of my life & suck in this one area?” Does not makes sense…

    Over the past few months I have experienced something that along with your post may help people. So often we never start because we remember how fit we used to be and hate our new “baby-step” starting point that we just never get started.

    Well, I am learning that my embarrassing first walk two miles before you can run two miles is really transforming.

    Don’t let the resistance of crawl, walk, run analogy rob you of getting started on your day one. I almost did!

    Be Well-Matthew

  4. Stella says:

    I love yoga! When I don’t exercise, the low grade aches and pains start to get the better of me. I lie awake at night, cursing myself for not having practised yoga that day, knowing that had I done so, I would be blissfully asleep now.

    On the other hand, there is something terribly wrong with our current work set-up, where we see 40 hours a week as not just the norm, but the minimum. Fitting in enough exercise around a full time job, while still having time for my family, friends, housework, social activities, hobbies and other pursuits, is nearly impossible.

    I once figured that this was down to poor time management, so I worked out a schedule to fit it all in. I needed 25 and a quarter hours a day, and that was before I had children! No wonder I felt I was always running to catch up. Clearly, something’s gotta give.

    In my opinion, what needs to change is the way we view work. The current system of paying for the hours you look busy only breeds inefficiency. Instead, we should pay for a job done, thereby giving people the incentive to complete work more efficiently.

    Furthermore, we should build physical activity into the workplace. I used to literally run morning meetings — well, walk them! We’d take the details we needed and discuss them as we walked around the block and through the park. This has the pleasant side effect of keeping meetings to schedule.

  5. Amit says:

    Great post Jonathan,

    I have always wanted to get “into shape” and become healthier.

    I am from India and am completely aware of the immense benefits of practicing Yoga. But I have never gone ahead and enrolled myself into one of those classes.

    Thanks for the remainder. I really need to start before I get completely burnt out.

    Do you have any suggestions/tips for a starter ?

    Thanks again 🙂

  6. Just to add to what you said, the Rule of Saint Benedict prescribed physical labor as a central component of his monks’ spiritual growth.

    No matter what you’re doing, a little exercise will probably help you do it better. I know that this has been true of my business/designing/coding work.

  7. Greg says:

    Great post. Personally, I’ve gone from exercising 3-4 days per week to the occasional weekend workout. I’ve noticed my energy levels and ability to focus lacking in recent months. It’s counter-intuitive, but I also find myself wanting more sleep than when I was exercising regularly. Thanks for the kick in the pants I needed to get back to regular workouts.

  8. […] Too Tired To Succeed […]

  9. Jarkko Laine says:

    Thanks for the push, Jonathan!

    Actually, I’ve been feeling too tired to succeed lately, and although the thought of starting to exercise more has crossed my mind, I haven’t found the energy to get started. Like you say, it’s a vicious circle: you know you should exercise to be more energized but at the same time don’t feel energized enough to get started 🙂

    But, enough for excuses. It’s time to start taking care of myself again!

  10. djuro says:

    Hi Jonathan and all! This post was timely for me as well.
    When I find myself in a huge bulk of work to be done, the first thing I stop is doing yoga, because “There are just more important things to do now”. Soon enough I find myself in hazardous sleeping time (freelancing makes this insanely possible), I start having dull headaches, catch a cold from one barefoot walk across the room, and end up burned out from a few hours of work, in return needing more food than I usually need, and considering watching movies as my primary relaxation.
    Watching this pattern makes me more conscious about it and I jump back into my yogalicious self as soon as the cold passes. However, the biggest toll the pause takes is in my mind. My mind just doesn’t shut down, and not only getting to sleep is a task on its own (take a shower! warm milk!), but focusing on important things gets impossible, because they all seem like a huge super-important forest of tasks. It doesn’t really help also that the mind gets really harsh on me in these times.

    It’s practically putting myself down and bullying myself.

    Oh I can’t wait to do yoga today!

  11. Throughout school I always noticed that most of the top student hit the gym on a regular basis.

    You mentioned “The old dudes” in your post. I think it was they, Juvenal, that came up with the line, “A sound mind in a sound body”.

    Maybe that’s just the way we were designed, to be most efficient when we take care of ourselves physically.

  12. Todd Smith says:

    Right on, Jonathan! I make time for meditation every day, and am learning not to work at night to get all wound up for bed. Sometimes less is more.

  13. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ everyone – ahhh, just getting back into the swing after the long holiday weekend. Great comments, thoughts and stories as always. Funny, after a year of great intentions, but a string of injuries, I think I wrote this post at least in part to remind myself to get my butt in gear, too.

  14. Hello Jonathan,

    As a Physician Assistant and Medical Exercise Specialist for over 17 years, I have seen significant physical and psychological changes in many of my clients due to adapting the the physical lifestyle. Your post couldn’t come at a better time. Many of my clients are Type A/H Fortune 500 businessmen, who rely entirely on their conditioning programs to cleanse their anxious minds. Some even use it to “prime” their minds prior to important meetings they are involved in.

    Especially in this economy. Most have echoed that without structured conditioning programs they would have surely regress into some level of illness, given the added stress they are under.
    My hats off to you for helping people open their eyes wider, and focus on the most important thing in the world; Their Physical and mental health. Without the two in harmony, 401K’s and luxuries are irrelevant!

  15. axel g says:

    It’s easier to succeed when you love and enjoy what you’re doing.

    But it takes talent too…

    Motivation is another important key.

    Nice site +_+

  16. Justin says:

    I remember reading that article last year in Newsweek about how exercise builds new brain cells. Ever since then I’ve been exercising more, and the results have been pretty good.

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Rivak – No doubt, having a sound body is critically important to both state of mind and state of your career

    @ axel – interesting point about talent. There’s a substantial body of research that shows that talent is actually not nearly important as work or what the literature calls “deliberate practice over a sustained period of time.” And, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers, fortuitous timing may also play a bit of a role.

    @ Justin – I still have that article torn out and placed in my critical reading file. It was a real eye opener

  18. […] Re: Quick Fixes For Your Life – DIY I recently read a good blog post on this subject entitled "Too Tired to Succeed?" […]

  19. […] pm by Dee Wilcox I just read a great post on Awake at the Wheel from back in November called “Too Tired to Succeed.” Basically, it’s another reminder of why we need to take care of ourselves physically […]

  20. Great article! I love the “zen-groove” thing, hehe. When I am exercising regularly (usually a combination of yoga, tai chi, speed walking as a part of daily errands, and elliptical training), I definitely feel more focused (maybe because of all the new brain cells?), calm, joyful, energetic, and accomplished. Exercise is wonderful preventative medicine for the body and the soul. Inspiration such as your article is great motivation to keep the body moving. Thank you for getting this message out in such an entertaining way.

  21. Sid Burcham says:

    Totally agree. I own a lawn care business and help with the work. So over 10 months of the year I get a good workout 5 days a week. During the winter downtime, it’s easy to put on a few pounds and I notice the lower energy levels.

  22. […] Too Tired to Succeed? Posted by admin Connect Mind and Body, Healthy Lifestyle Subscribe to RSS feed […]

  23. Jonathan – thanks for the refresher. I’ve been in a cycle of not getting enough sleep, and then not exercising because I didn’t get enough sleep. So now I’m thinking, even when I don’t get enough sleep, I should still push myself to exercise (no more excuses). My guess is if I sleep better too, I’ll probably get twice as much done during the day compared to if I didn’t get enough sleep (the good old 80/20 rule).

  24. One thing I always have to do is get a good stretch in during the morning and maybe do a little work out. It gets my mind going so that working is a little easier during the day.

  25. […] Too Tired to Succeed? Posted by admin Uncategorized Subscribe to RSS feed […]

  26. […] great joy a post in one of my favourite new blogs “Awake at the Wheel” called “Too Tired to Succeed?” While the author is focused on more secular pursuits, I immediately drew a comparison back […]

  27. Interestingly, exercising regularly somehow becomes more important as you get older. I recently came to a conclusion that the only way to stay young is to exercise more. When you are young, you look great no matter what, even if you are a little out of shape. Once you get older, you need to recharge your body regularly, to a point until your body reluctantly agrees with you and slows down the aging process. I never exercised in my life more than I do right now.

  28. excelent post, somedays i feed of this way, very tired for work from a good way