ADVERTORIAL • July 2021
Executive Club Gold Member and CEO of The Parker Practice, Louise Parker has more than 20 years’ experience helping clients reach their highest potential. In this issue, the lifestyle guru tells The Club how analysing the regimens of athletes helped her to structure her coaching courses, and how businesspeople can use these findings to dominate the boardroom and their travels…
When I study top, modern-day athletes, what always strikes me is how they spend as much time working on their mental performance as they do on their physical health. Sports psychologists are a constant in elite sports and they’re often the first person an athlete thanks after success. Think of Jonny Wilkinson and his mentor, coach and mental advisor Steve Black. Would Wilkinson have kicked that World Cup-winning drop goal in 2003 without a bulletproof mindset? I think not.
At The Parker Practice, we frequently coach elite ‘boardroom athletes’. Numerous studies have shown that the link between physical and mental performance is absolutely hardwired. The better your lifestyle, the healthier you are, the sharper your mind will be. If you’re looking for that extra one per cent to beat your competitor and win that pitch, prioritising your wellbeing could be the secret sauce that gets you there. So how can you discover your edge?
If your plan is to work yourself to the bone and expect to be a high performer, you might not be as effective as you think. Athletes have a plan that involves training, prioritised rest, work on their mindset and great nutrition. If you’re going to be a boardroom athlete, then the ingredients are the same. And here’s the key bit… you have to live like an athlete before you are one. The work comes first, the results are the consequence.
In the boardroom, the pressures to perform are huge, but there’s one big difference with sporting pressure – it’s constant. There’s no off season to rest and recover. If you want to be a top performer consistently, you need to prioritise rest in the same way you prioritise your workday. Sustained peak performance comes as a result of managing distractions, rest to offset periods of focus and, crucially, managing the number of decisions you make every day. So, if your plan is to work for five hours on a flight before that big conference, then you might not be as effective as if you spent the same time resting.
While there is no perfect air travel routine, there are some important dos and don’ts that a boardroom athlete lives by. Firstly, they stay hydrated. The longer the flight, the more this matters, so drink enough water to ensure you have to get up every so often. Secondly, they avoid alcohol. While it may be tempting to have a glass or two, it typically leaves us feeling dehydrated and drowsier upon landing, and can get in the way of our natural sleep cycle. Thirdly, they keep moving. It is very important to keep our blood flow regular throughout long flights. So walk up and down the aisles or have a nice long stretch. Finally, prioritise sleep.
If you often find yourself working ten- or 12-hour days, fuelling your body to meet these demands will give you a major boost. It’s almost like running an ultra-marathon every day! Make sure you eat a diet with regular protein, some low-GI carbs and healthy fats, and include snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. If you fuel yourself for short, sharp bursts with processed carbs or sugary snacks, you’re going to be on a daily sugar, hunger and mood rollercoaster. And, trust me, your performance will be much worse as a result.
Discipline and resilience are directly related to practicing patience and kindness towards ourselves. If you think of discipline as a muscle in your body, the more you work that ‘muscle’, the stronger it will get until it eventually, naturally, becomes a part of your day-to-day life. How do you work it? By being committed to a blueprint of ‘success’, whatever that may look like for you (it’s different for everyone) and valuing the process of getting there just as much as the results.
My version of Moore’s Law – Parker’s Law, if you like – is that the more senior you become, the less you move. Get a promotion and, trust me, your steps will drop. Become the CEO, and you might rarely walk further than from your front door to your car. Walking makes such a huge difference to your overall health. It’s a great form of exercise, burns lots of calories without you thinking about it, is almost the optimal way to reset your mind and is brilliant for your core. Try swapping some meetings for walking meetings – in other words: get up and walk whenever you can.