We are coming to the end of this particular series of columns and if you haven’t taken the free, confidential online stress survey yet please do so (go to www.vitalstest.com and enter entrepreneur as the ‘employer code’). We will be closing that survey soon, aggregating the results and providing feedback in the next column. For now, one last visit to the toolkit.
Exercise We know that exercise mops up many of the ‘stress’ hormones and releases others that lift our mood. There are myriad health benefits we all know about and it’s also a socially-acceptable manner for releasing frustrations physically (‘Jo’burg traffic finger’ is NOT a legitimate sport!).
Legendary American columnist Erma Bombeck said: “the only reason I would take up jogging is so I could hear heavy breathing again”. Indeed, the grimacing and pained expressions that adorn many a jogger’s face are possibly not the best advert for this method of keep-fit.
Exercise should be taken in forms and quantities that are agreeable rather than abhorrent. Each of us inhabit a shape that is better suited to certain kinds of activity – watching the recent Olympics brought that home to me so clearly; some people are just ‘designed’ to run like the wind.
The key is to do things you enjoy – exercise must not be a chore. I was clearly designed for reading, however, I have grown to enjoy extreme dog-walking, mountain biking with my children, gardening and other prosaic low-impact activities. A couple of ideas that may help you:
- Consider a training-buddy – the additional motivation that comes with not wanting to let someone else down can help keep you going on those days when you are feeling a bit ‘flat’;
- Little and often – it’s like the old joke ‘how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’. Don’t over face yourself – trying to go from coach potato to celebrated athlete in a few short months is unrealistic and frankly dangerous.
In summary, we are just not designed for the sedentary lifestyle cars, computers and urban commerce force us into. We should be running across the veld with pointy sticks chasing our dinner not sitting in a box, staring at a box, eating from a box. Take every second opportunity to walk up the stairs, park far away from the shop entrance, walk to pick up milk and bread, wash your car yourself.
Logging off increasingly our ‘to do’ lists merely act as reminders of what we didn’t achieve in a day. There are more and more demands on our time and energy – emails, smartphones, advertising billboards, radio, TV, sms, people – and far too often taking care of ourselves has been bumped off the list altogether.
Diet, sleep, exercise all need to be on that list, but so too does ‘logging off’. Finding some quiet time every day to just be still, and calm the riot of emotions and thoughts is hugely beneficial:
- It promotes health – learning to be still calms your heart rate, slows your breathing and invokes the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the ‘resting and digesting’ functions in our bodies)
- True creativity comes unbidden, when you can still all your thoughts. Thinking about stuff is not being creative – it is merely juggling with the knowns.
- It promotes listening – calming the clamour of external and internal noise allows us to hear things that are beyond the normal range of our attention.
Some call this meditation, others call it prayer. I don’t know about that – I just call it sitting quietly and being in the moment, not asking for or expecting any particular outcome. I do it selfishly and often as I have felt the physical benefits and experienced the cognitive and emotional boost too often for it to be fluke.
Remember: small changes can add up to make significant positive impacts. Slow and steady wins the race.