by EDGB Guest Editor – Cory Rigler 

Well, it’s that time of year to make – and possibly break – resolutions for a fitter, smarter, and better version of you.  Even now, most people I know are scribbling down new diets, new exercise regimens, new goals, new plans, and new commitments to a happier, healthier, and more successful version of themselves.  Unfortunately, most of those resolutions will be broken within two months for a variety of reasons.

But what if the key to a better version of ourselves is to actually do less, and not more?  What if the frenetic pace of this 21st century world is actually preventing the ability to renew, recharge, or revitalize?  What if adding new goals and activities to an already full plate is actually causing more harm than good?

When I was younger, the collective wisdom of “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” prevailed.  As I got older and wiser, however, I realize just how wrong that wisdom is.  It turns out, life isn’t a sprint, nor is it a marathon; instead, it is a series of sprints.  And what makes the difference between those sprints is the downtime so that runners are primed and ready to go for the next race.

Sharpen the Saw

In his groundbreaking work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People[i], Steven Covey discussed the importance of Sharpening the Saw, because it was the one habit that made all others possible.  If you haven’t read the book or heard the phrase Sharpen the Saw, it’s a simple enough concept.  Imagine a lumberjack with a new axe who cuts down 20 trees the first day.  The next day, he only fells 15.  The third day, he is determined to get back up to 20 trees so he works even harder and by the time the sun goes down, he’s lucky if 10 have been chopped down.  In the midst of beating himself up and self-flagellation, an older and more experienced logger approaches him and then gives him the sage advice that his moribund productivity has little to do with his determination and talent, but is instead declining because he needs to sharpen his saw.  Let that sink in for a moment: when we work harder for the same net results or even declining results, the end result rarely involves a post-mortem of why we slipped; rather, the end result is usually negative self-talk (e.g. my job stinks, my boss is wrong, I’m not cut out for this, etc.).

If we can agree that sharpening the saw and taking time to relax is an important concept and not just a chorus in a Jimmy Buffet song, then the next question becomes: how do we accomplish that?

Corporate Athletes- Better Recovery Through Rituals

Cory Rigler receiving the William H. Carlisle Jr. Outstanding Workshop Faculty Award at Sigma Chi Fraternity’s BTLW in 2017.

Covey was not alone in identifying the importance of rest and rejuvenation.  In their seminal article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete[ii]”, Loehr and Schwartz identified the traits of professional athletes who consistently are at the top year after year and compared them to working professionals.  Regardless of the profession, there was one constant: “Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.” 

Their hypothesis was simple enough: any athlete can be a champion once, but what do top-tier athletes do that separates them and allows them to stay at the top year after year?  Yes- talent, hard work and God-given ability are all important, but the ability to take a day off also ranks way up there.  Ironically, the answer is not rest alone, but rather, it is resting with a purpose; it is rejuvenating by following a carefully laid out series of rituals that are specifically designed to rejuvenate oneself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Regardless of age, I’ve always enjoyed the physicality and artistry that went into the diving events in the Olympics.  As this concept of Corporate Athlete began to take hold, I watched that Olympic event differently.  After every dive, the athletes performed a ritual that was unique to them.  They typically grabbed a towel and some headphones, went to a hot tub, and visualized what they were going to do.  What was unique was not that they did that after every dive, but that they did it the exact same way after every dive.  Thus, we learn that rituals have power- they ground us and make us feel as though we are a part of something larger than ourselves.

Thus, their success came down to their ability to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate through the use of carefully planned rituals.  That the authors identified these traits in professional athletes is not unique, but what is special is how they applied those same principles to working professionals.  At its core, this is about energy management.  Similar to how I learned that the concept of “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” is wrong; so too have I learned that you have to “give 70% of your energy at work, so that you can devote 30% of your energy at home;” instead, my aim to is to give 100% of my best energies to my work and 100% of my best energies to my family.

Regardless of what it is called, the ability to recharge is of paramount importance for our physical and emotional well-being.  As a professional salesperson, I celebrate the end of every sales quarter the exact same way, by volunteering at my kids’ school the first two weeks of the new sales quarter.  It grounds me and allows me to spend great time with my kids while they are still young.  I have counterparts who specifically plan a vacation at the beginning of every quarter so they always have something to look forward to, regardless of where they finished in the rankings.  Whether we finish at the top of the rankings or barely pull a paycheck, our rituals don’t change, nor does our excitement for the beginning of the next quarter and the hope that we will absolutely crush it.

As we part, let us resolve to re-examine the whole “less is more” concept.  By investing in activities and rituals that reduce burnout and promote health and happiness, we might just find a better version of ourselves that does not need to rely on a New Year and the ill-fated Resolutions that typically come with it.

[i] Covey, Stephen R.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

[ii] Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz.  “The Making of a Corporate Athlete.”  Harvard Business Review, January 2001, pp 120-128.

Cory Rigler is a highly successful business development manager in Portland, Oregon. He has spent his career almost extensively in pharmaceuticals and medical sales. Rigler has an MBA from University of Denver, with an emphasis in Values-Based Leadership and a BA in History and Political Science from the University of Montana. Rigler invests a lot of his free time volunteering for various values-based leadership organizations.