Learning from the pros: how athletes learn to reset
by Amélie Desrochers
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, HIT RESET
Slowing down, taking a break, turning your phone off, sleeping for days… it probably sounds both awesome and terrifying.
And it’s not just you. During periods of imposed rest, many professional athletes also tend to fall down the rabbit hole and, in some cases, even experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. For anyone accustomed to performing at a high level, there may be significant physiological impacts to taking the pressure off – and knowing what to expect can go a long way in helping us understand and navigate them. The first step: realizing what’s going on in our bodies. When taking a break from consistent hard consistent or training, the production of so-called ‘happy hormones’ like dopamine and endorphins – which also act as pain and stress relievers – starts decreasing, thus setting the stage for previously unaddressed and uncomfortable emotions to emerge.
As an entrepreneur, the triggers for those hormones may not be quite as obvious or visceral as with a professional athlete, but they’re powerful nonetheless.
So as you work towards deceleration and soaking in your summer vacation, psychologist Sandra Taddeo recommends you intentionally take a step back from your busy daily routine, step out of the box, and become curious about your own assumptions, patterns, and habits. Questions will inevitably emerge, especially in a post-COVID world. Do I still feel on top of my game? Does this work still excite and engage me? Am I still feeling good about this? Maxime Hénault calls it ‘Being in your soul’, and if the answer is not a resounding YES, then it may be time to pivot or pull the plug.
It’s also helpful to frame this time of rest and self-evaluation as a tangible, if seemingly contradictory way of boosting your long-term productivity. Elite triathlon athlete Charles Perrault can vouch for that first-hand. “My best all-time performance actually happened when I was acting as a coach for a triathlete team at the Canadian Triathlon Championship.” He hadn’t trained at all for more than a month when the competition’s director asked him to join the race ‘just for fun’. Rested and relaxed, Charles clocked his best time ever and ranked in 7th place.
But of course, being the high-performance person you are, you may still be looking for an optimal restorative strategy to implement over your vacation period. And while it’s important to keep in mind that athletes/entrepreneurs are definitely not one and the same, we thought we’d share a few athletic tips and strategies that could guide the way.
Strategy 1 -> Tapering it down, with a twist
You may want to try what professional athletes call ‘the taper’ period, which is a sort of slow decompression that lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the discipline. It’s done before a big competition, as a way to rest and be at your best on the day of. What if a similar technique could be designed to make the best out of your summer vacation? In the weeks prior to your one (or ideally two) full weeks off, try operating at only 60%, then 50% on week two, and 20% on week three. Breaking it down in decompression steps may help you cope with fatigue and irritability more easily while slowly preparing you for an enjoyable week off where you won’t collapse from exhaustion. Progressive deceleration may be a way to avoid the shock you’re inflicting to your body from going from clocking 90 hours a week to doing absolutely nothing. A drastic stop often leads to a crash of your immune system; it’s a universal observable phenomenon although it’s not yet fully understood from a biological standpoint.
“It’s as if your body has been used to carrying a 200 lb weight on your shoulders. When you quickly remove the weight, your body doesn’t have time to adapt and simply falls flat,” Sandra explains.
Strategy 2 -> Total disconnection
This may sound a little drastic, but it can be incredibly effective. Feelings of anxiety, guilt and depression will typically run high for the first 24-72 hours. Be patient with yourself. Journal, walk or binge on Netflix as much as you need to get through it. While many people want to reach for a beer, Sandra advises caution as drinking on those key days has the potential to freeze the pain away and may simply prolong the agony. If you’re a fan of streaks, this is for you. Consider not looking at your inbox as a 7-day challenge. Craft a ‘gone fishing’ message, make sure people are redirected to someone you trust while you’re away, and then, forget about it altogether. You are bound to start feeling like a brand new person by day four. Sandra strongly recommends taking a full two weeks if you’re going down this path. “The first week should be for crashing, collapsing, or getting sick (as explained earlier, most high performers get ill on their first week of vacation). The second week is for enjoyment and real vacation: you can plan fun activities, exhilarating experiences like parachute or kitesurfing lessons, and/or social outings with people you enjoy spending time with — people who make you feel good about yourself. Vacation time needs to be about you! No compromises or people-pleasing. You deserve your time off to be really epic, refreshing, and/or replenishing.”
Again, make sure to take a step back and take a long look at yourself: why is it so hard to disconnect from your inbox? Do you have the right team in place? Are you able to delegate? Are your fears real? Is micromanagement part of your habits? Are you allowing your team to actually rise to the occasion? Maybe some time away from you will do them good. As Mejuri co-founder and CEO Noura Sakkhija says,
“You have to be able to separate your ego from the company. I am not the success of this entire company. I am someone who, now at this point, shouldn’t be a subject matter expert. I should be able to bring the right people on board, align them and move towards a specific goal.”
Give yourself an opportunity for a hard reset and create a vacation strategy that will allow your brain and body to properly shut down and reload. Coaches, psychologists and professional athletes all agree: you’ll be surfing on a whole new wave of energy when you’re done, which will enable you to reach new heights.