By Steve Wells
Note: Since I wrote this article, Michael Phelps was beaten by Germany’s Paul Biedermann in the 200m freestyle at the world swimming championships, although there is contention that the new high-tech swimming suit aided his result. Biedermann believes it did and states, “I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits.” Phelps is eagerly awaiting a re-match on more equal terms. In the meantime, he remains a champion and world record holder in more events than anyone else, and this article is about one of the more surprising strategies he uses to succeed at this level…
Did you know that Michael Phelps recently broke the world record for the 100m butterfly at the US Nationals, in a time of 50.22 seconds, beating Ian Crocker’s previous record of 50.40?
The 100m butterfly was one of the events that Phelps won in Beijing, where he won an incredible eight Olympic gold medals. Interestingly, the 100m fly was the only event in which Phelps didn’t set a world record in Beijing.
In his post-Olympic year, Phelps has had his sights on breaking the world record for the fly and came close in Montreal at the Canada Cup 5 weeks ago, when he set a personal best time of 50.48 seconds. Let’s look at the strategy which enabled Phelps to improve on that time and break the record just 4 weeks later. It may surprise some of you.
Phelps was interviewed after his win at the Canada Cup, and here is what he said:
It was pretty much exactly the same race as Beijing – I was out a tenth slower. I just need to get a little more rest leading up to the nationals and hopefully take it out a little quicker.”
What did he say?
Let me repeat it just so it sets in: “I just need to get a little more rest…”
A little more rest? How can that be?
Most people don’t think of rest as being an important ingredient for peak performance. They think of the super athlete or the corporate superstar constantly pushing beyond their previous mark in order to improve. They think of blood and tears and sweat, with no time taken for rest. But the reality is surprisingly different.
Yes it IS true that the peak performer strives to improve and push past their previous mark. Pushing beyond your previous comfort zone is a crucial component of all peak performance. But the reality is that the true peak performer balances these periods of challenge with periods of rest and recovery.
This is explained brilliantly in an excellent book by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz titled The Power of Full Engagement, where they state:
“To build capacity, we must systematically expose ourselves to more stress – followed by adequate recovery… We grow at all levels by expending energy beyond our normal limits, and then recovering.”
And then recovering.
Adequate recovery after periods of expansion allows for the integration of gains, which is necessary in order for improvements in performance to be sustained. According to Loehr and Schwartz, the balancing of periods of recovery with periods of expanding capacity is crucial because during the recovery period is when growth actually occurs.
Where nothing seems to be happening, a lot is really happening…
I see so many people who believe that working harder and longer is the path to peak performance. They think of rest time as down time, unproductive time, wasted time. But the reality is that not only is rest time necessary to avoid burnout, it is actually essential for fully developing your potential and increasing your performance!
And here’s the other side to this. When you are feeling down and burnt out the solution is not in rest alone, even though that might be the first thing that is needed. The solution is to stretch yourself beyond your previous limits and to rest – and ultimately to balance the two.
It is just as destructive to your peak performance to rest all the time as it is to push (or work) all the time. Too much rest leads to atrophy. And too much stress leads to burnout, exhaustion, and loss of power. The power is in the integration.
So if you are burnt out, you need to challenge yourself. Then you need to rest. Then you challenge. Then you rest. True peak performance is a cyclic thing.
Phelps was clearly able to see the importance of balancing periods of rest for peak performance, and this is one of the reasons why he was able to go on and break the world record in the 100m fly at the Nationals. You would do well to emulate his approach, adapting it to your own situation. Identify ways to stretch your capacity and decide how you will rest and recover.
Some questions to begin:
What would be a stretch for you? What, if you did it, would take you out of your comfort zone but up to a higher level of performance? What, if you did it, could significantly improve your results? What have you been avoiding doing, but know would be good for you to do?
How will you rest and recover? What can you do to just relax? What takes very little energy to do but gives you lots of energy in return? What would seem like a complete indulgence to you but if you did it would give you a sense of having done something really good for yourself?
Now, where does tapping come in?
Tapping can be fantastic when you want to build your capacity by helping you to deal with the discomfort involved in moving beyond your previous limits. Tap to do the thing you currently fear, to do the thing you currently link discomfort to, to go beyond your previous comfort zone… Tap on those old internal pain-pleasure attachments so that they don’t continue to hold you back.
And if, like many of my clients, the greatest discomfort for you is actually linked to rest and recovery, tap on that aversion until you begin to see by your improved results the crucial link between balancing periods of meaningful rest and your future expansion.
What do you think?
We would love to read your comments…