How do you handle stress, stay focused, and maintain your wellbeing at work? Forget time management: energy management is what matters.
The truth about our working lives? Our roles are increasingly complex. The people and projects demanding our focus? It’s full-on, and full-time. The tasks? Relentless. Put a group of strangers in a room – each with a unique, if somewhat intense, job – and the penny drops that these are universal truths.
A few weeks ago I was one of those strangers in the room: not knowing what to expect after giving myself over to the Human Performance Institute for a two-and-a-half day workshop to elevate productivity and performance in the workplace. I presumed I was there to be broken down and built up again. The real point, I discovered, was to learn how to manage my physical and mental energy so that I don’t break down. FYI, burnout has just been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a medical condition, defined as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The Human Performance Institute couldn’t be more relevant right now.
The HPI also comes with a killer backstory: the program was founded in Orlando, Florida, by performance psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr and Dr Jack Groppel, then a professor of kinesiology and bioengineering, and was designed to train professional athletes and military Special Forces to perform at their peak. (Now that’s a titbit to make you feel flattered when your heart is bursting on a treadmill during the course – but more on that later.) Now powered by Johnson & Johnson and with its first international HQ right here in Singapore, HPI helps professionals manage their extreme working lives and reconnect with their ultimate purpose.
The approach is holistic, and designed for the long-haul: exercise (you’ll hit the gym together), nutrition (you’ll get some real talk about your portion control), and yes, a bit of soul-searching – which all takes you out of your comfort zone. In short, quips coach Chris McUtchen, “We bring the midlife crisis to you.”
What I never expected was that the path to professional and personal enlightenment would begin with dancing. To Shakira’s Waka Waka. The horror of dancing in front of strangers, however, gives way to the natural high of being physically energised, and you’ll almost forgive Chris and co-coach Wai Yee Chan for making you do it. By the end of the course, you’ll curse – and love – Chris and Wai Yee for making you do many things.
This ranges from pushing you to press an extra 5kg at the gym, provoking you to face truths about where you’re at in your life, and roping you into a game of full-body rock, scissors paper. (You’ll surprisingly love the latter.)
Without giving away all the meaningful advice that comes with the lighter moments – because you cover a lot of ground – here are 10 golden rules I came away with:
Start the day with breakfast, not a caffeine fix.
Sorry, we tricked you with that photo up top. Here’s your new golden rule: eat breakfast every day, within an hour of waking up to regulate your blood sugar levels and kickstart your metabolism. Skip the caffeine hit first thing as it provides false energy that’s a sure path to a caffeine crash. And let’s not get started on how chronic coffee consumption diminishes your baseline energy and mood. That’s a sad story for another day, coffee lovers.
Face it: multitasking is BS
You waste a quarter of your mental energy when you multitask frequently, and it leads to more mistakes. FYI, having 10,000 tabs open to remind you what you need to get back to is not multitasking. As HPI founder Dr Jack Groppel says: “If you think you are truly ‘good’ at multitasking, think again, you’re actually good at partial engagement.” Choose the task, the moment and give it your full engagement.
Snack like you mean it
Your new mantra? Eat light, eat often. Aim for a meal or snack every three hours to fuel your body with the energy it needs, but before you get too excited, this isn’t your licence to stock up on bags of chips. Think high protein and fibre, alongside healthy fats: nuts, hummus, cheese and dried apples are your new best friend. You will need to get your act together and be prepared with the right kind of snacks in case of emergency. Dissolving into a hot mess happens when you’re at your hangriest.
Discomfort is where you find growth
Part of the course was getting acquainted with discomfort, or what’s fondly known at HPI as ‘Zone D’. Physically, we learned what this meant by strapping on heart rate monitors, hitting treadmills and working HARD until we reached our individual target heart rates. Sorry, but you aren’t going to get fit by taking 10,000 effortless steps that don’t get your heart pumping.
The secret to handling stress is strategic recovery
You’ve got to have a strategy. After a full-on burst of focused work, get up and move to allow yourself time to reset before diving into the next task. Fatigued after another epic day? Do something that really satisfies you, like reading that book instead of looking at a screen. Super stressed? Use deep breathing to lower your heart rate and start again cool, calm and collected – you’ll make your best decisions this way.
Diets will never work the way you want them to
What does work? Creating a calorie deficit via exercise, not via food deprivation. Regular resistance training combined with good nutrition is the key to fat, and not lean tissue/muscle loss. During the course, you’ll catch an unforgettable video by exercise physiologist Chris Jordan that introduces the concept of your body’s ‘fat department’ and ‘lean tissue department’. It’s gold.
You DO have time in your day to exercise. Seven minutes, precisely.
Chris Jordan also developed the famous Johnson & Johnson 7 minute interval training workout that gets your heart rate up and builds muscle. There’s a reason it’s gone viral – it works. Download the app, stat, and don’t even try to convince us you can’t carve out minutes to do this.
Small changes are sustainable
Start with little steps that are likely to stick. Case in point: that seven minute workout. Create new rituals for yourself that serve your purpose: mine is to read from a page and not a screen to set myself up for some actual sleep.
Give yourself a mission statement and act on it
Be honest with yourself: what do you stand for, what’s really important to you, and does your behaviour align with this? Keep checking in with yourself and how your actions are aligned with your purpose.
Sleeping will save your life
You know it intuitively, but here’s the hard truth: low-quality sleep deteriorates your DNA, and diminishes your body’s capability to repair. As one of two people in the course who confessed to regularly surviving on four hours of sleep, it’s mortifying. Blue light from screens, caffeine and alcohol all derail your chances of a good night’s sleep and should be avoided at least two hours beforehand.
Now here’s the thing: you can gather all the tips and tricks in the world to get yourself more Zs and tasks off your to-do list, but none of this sticks unless there’s purpose behind it all. Prepare to dive deeper at this course. There might be tears (including your own). You will be moved. It’s highly probable that you’ll have to face some of your own BS.
Is it transformative? Truth: Chris is the only person in the world who was able to convince me that I like exercise, and that it’s now or never to lift my game. Wai Yee’s warmth and wisdom gave me clarity to realise what’s really important, and what I need to do about it. Am I getting more sleep? Well, this story was written at an ungodly hour.
We’re only human.
The next Human Performance Institute 2.5 day course dates in Singapore are August 28-30, September 25-27, and November 25-27.