Sustainable changes and success

Fulfillment occurs spontaneously when there is a congruency between our life values, and how we are actually spending our time on a daily basis. A common problem is people filling their days with too much gunk – stuff that is not really that important to them in the grander scheme of things.

The consequence of this is that the stuff which really does matter, usually gets left out. One of the reasons for this is that things that fall into the latter category (e.g. maintaining fitness levels) are seldom urgent in the short-term. However, they are absolutely critical to ensuring true, on-going success – which requires sustainability.

Think of yourself as a reservoir of energy which in its natural state is full. As you go through life, certain things drain you, while others top you up again. Effective self management is about managing this energy flow in a way that ensures an on-going balance between input and output.

This means that we need to identify things which nurture us, (e.g. regular exercise, healthy eating habits, positive relationships, good sleep habits) and maximize their influence in our lives. Similarly, we need to identify and minimize the influence of things which drain us. Doing this requires personal insight, regular planning, and effectively managing one’s boundaries (including being able to say ‘no’).

Most successful people learn to be tough, and to mentally override fatigue and stress. If this becomes habitual however, at some point the energy reservoir empties – and that’s when the body takes it upon itself to stop you. If you’re lucky you get flu, if less so, you end up in ICU. But naturally it ‘won’t happen to me or anyone I know’…until it does.

We fool ourselves that working 14 hour days leads to greater success and enables us to give our children the best possible opportunities. In fact, these habits over the longer term lead to ill-health and decreased performance. Ultimately, whether we care to see it or not, having a father around is far more important to your child’s development and happiness, than being driven to some expensive private school in a similarly expensive car.

Even if working and generating income is the single most important thing in your life, you can only keep doing so effectively over the long term, if you spend some time and energy on certain other important areas of your life. If not, something inevitably breaks – your health, your relationships, or the quality of your performance.

It is well known in the sporting world, that performance is able to be maintained at a higher level and for longer, if one manages all life areas effectively, including for example allowing enough recovery time. This is also why elite athletes are encouraged –
for the sake of their sports performance – to have a life and identity outside of just their sport.

Regular physical activity is a crucial requirement for on-going success. Research has shown that besides the obvious physical benefits, maintaining adequate levels of physical fitness also moderates the extent to which we respond to stress – firstly we respond less dramatically, and secondly return to normal much quicker.

The most common reason given for not exercising regularly, is time constraints. This is however a fallacy. We have all the time there is. When we say we don’t have the time to exercise, what we really mean that we have decided that something else is more important. Occasionally this may indeed be the case, but it is unlikely to be so repeatedly over time. Far more likely is that our avoidance of the bigger / longer-term picture, has simply become a habit.

In conclusion, no matter what our priorities are, our challenge lies in managing our lives and selves in a holistic manner. Ultimately, this increases the likelihood of success in our actual, chosen priority areas.

Clinton Gahwiler, Psychologist, Sports Science Institute of South Africa