“Recover as you work”, asserts my Peloton Coach, Matt Wilpers.

The Peloton is a stationary bicycle equipped with a video screen that streams upbeat music and enthusiastic and well-toned coaches who “ride” along with you and hundreds of other pelotoners. As you ride, the coach instructs you to adjust both your cadence and resistance throughout the workout.  Cadence is how fast you pedal, and resistance refers to the load you pedal against. The center knob is located in front of the bike seat. When you turn it to the right you increase the resistance and when you turn it to the left, you decrease the load. What Matt is encouraging us to do when he says, “Recover as you work,” is to either slow our cadence or to lessen the load but to never quit pedaling. And believe me, I often want to quit especially after a really intense effort.

The idea of recovering while you work is what we must do given the uncertainty and chaos of our COVID world. We must constantly solve problems, make decisions amid ambiguity, and handle increased levels of stress.  We may be Zoomed out, feeling isolated and burdened with additional responsibilities like homeschooling our children.  We are carrying greater loads and the pace of change may be overwhelming. So how do we recover while we work?

Neuroscientists and neurophysiologists are discovering that little recoveries throughout the day can actually enhance our resilience. Author, James Clear states, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” In his book, Atomic Habits, James uses the following analogy to demonstrate just how important little habits can have on our life trajectory: “Little things matter. Imagine a plane taking off from LAX. The destination is New York City. If the nose of the plane is pointed just 3.5 degrees south and the pilots don’t correct for it, they’ll land in Washington D.C. rather than NYC. 90 inches off at the start equals hundreds of miles off at the end. Again, little things matter. A lot.”

As an example, the world top tennis players were studied to see how they remained at that level year after year. At the same time several hundred exceptional players, remain just under the world-class level. Researchers wanted to find out why players like Venus and Serena stayed at the top for so long. Initially, investigators could not find any major differences between the top players and those just below them. Their training regimens, nutrition, and other factors were quite similar. Those researchers began to look more closely. What they discovered is what those elite players did between shots made all the difference. The world top tennis players made tiny adjustments and that distinguished them from the other players. It was these little habits of recovery that made all the difference in their ability to maintain world standing (Haines, S.P. & St. John, B., 2017). These incredible players had learned to “recover as they work”.

Allen P. Haines and Bonnie St John, in their powerful book, Micro-Resilience, layout exactly how all of us can learn simple practices to increase your focus, drive, and energy. Below are three tiny habits I encourage you to make part of your daily routine. To do so, keep in mind that we form new habits slowly. A new habit to become hardwired into our neural circuitry takes time. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist who has studied the brain for nearly 40 years, tells us that a new habit to become hardwired into our neural circuitry takes 21-days repeated three times or a total of 63 days. In the first 21 days, we are unwiring so to speak the old habit. The subsequent next two intervals of 21-days each are where the habit becomes “automatized” or automatic. Therefore, beginning with small changes has a greater likelihood of success because there is less rewiring to be done.  Reflect on how many New Year resolutions you have made and not kept.  We tend to give up on major changes because we can easily get discouraged. However, adding a small habit, such as walking for 15 minutes every morning is much more likely to be achieved than committing to training for a marathon. So, begin small and with intent.  James Clear also encourages us to “stack” habits to assist in acquiring them more quickly. For example, every morning I get up and go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. If immediately after this ritual I stretched for 5-minutes, it would in time become part of my morning activities. And as James reminds us, it is the little things that result in huge dividends in time.

Here are three simple habits, I encourage you to add to your daily routine to increase your stamina and improve your resilience. Begin with choosing just one habit to focus on.  Keep repeating the habit until it is automatic and then add in another.

    1. Deep breathing. Practice breathing deeply several times a day. To do this, sit in a comfortable chair and place your palms facing up on her lap and close your eyes. Next, breathe in through the nose until you fully fill your lungs. You should feel your rib cage expanding as you breathe in.  Then hold your breath for a couple of seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth.  It should take longer to exhale than inhale. As you do these steps, focus solely on your breath and on nothing else. Repeat this exercise 10 times. If your mind wanders, simply refocus your thoughts on the breath. Deep breathing will lower hormones such as cortisol in your blood, it will fill your brain with rich oxygen and create in you a sense of calm.  Those who use deep breathing several times a day will find they are refreshed mentally and physically. Those who use this practice find that in time that they have more energy at the end of the workday to devote to their family, community, or outside interests.
    2. Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day. The human body is made up of 70 % water, but your brain is 85% water. According to the Stress Management Society, not staying well hydrated will result in fuzzy thinking, headaches, and even seizures. Water acts to reenergize your brain and body. Water keeps hormone levels in check, reduces stress, and helps with weight loss by reducing your hunger.   To make this a habit, keep a large water bottle with you at all times, and practice sipping from it every 15 minutes.  And don’t try to substitute caffeine or energy drinks for water, you achieve the best benefits from just drinking water.
    3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene. Matthew Walker, a Neurophysiologist has studied sleep for over 20 years. His research focuses on the restorative processes that occur when we obtain enough deep sleep, that is when we obtain adequate amounts of both Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM sleep. In Non-REM sleep, your brain takes all the information accumulated throughout the day and reviews, categorizes, and stores it in your brain. At this stage of sleep, it also reflects on the new information. In the deeper REM sleep, your brain integrates that information and forms new ideas, problem solves, innovates, and dreams.  In addition, toxins build up from all the calculations performed by your brain. In deep sleep, those mental waste products are carried out of your brain and body.                              However, it takes a good amount of time to get into deeper levels of sleep. If we shortchange our sleep by staying up too late, we will not achieve the benefits of restorative sleep. We may feel fuzzy and disconnected the next day. Without enough sleep, we are more prone to stress and emotional outbursts. Practicing good sleep hygiene habits is the best means to get the sleep our brain and body require to perform optimally. Dr. Walker recommends giving yourself 7.5 – 8 hours of sleep opportunity. Avoid working up until you go to bed. Instead, practice simple, quiet activities 30 minutes or more before bedtime.  You could listen to soft sounds, use aromatherapy diffusers, and perform deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. You must avoid drinking alcohol or eating rich foods too close to bedtime. Also, turn off the blue screen. That includes your cell phone, iPad, laptop, and the TV. The blue screen rays will interfere with your body’s natural sleep processes. Make it a priority to adapt to the small habit of readying yourself for a good night’s sleep. Your brain and body will benefit.

Remember, “little things matter, a lot.” Make these tiny habits part of your daily repertoire and discover that you are fully capable of “recovering as you work”.