Thursday, 11 October 2012

Managing your career: Keeping your mind fit

Many people exercise to keep their body fit. Nothing worse than climbing a flight of stairs and feeling like your lungs are going to burst from your chest.

Others exercise to look good or "feel the burn".

Some people exercise to compete, either in a team or as an individual.

I exercise to keep my mind fit and my brain sane. Well, as much as that's possible!

I have always been relatively active, despite how my body looks. I can't say that I have ever liked playing sports but I did gymnastics and dance growing up and played in the high school hockey team. As an adult I have done various things to keep some sort of fitness going; walking, swimming, dance classes, a bit of bike riding, gym memberships and personal training. But it wasn't until I moved to Sydney and had a job within walking distance of my home, that I started to understand that perhaps exercise might have something to do with keeping my brain working well and my emotions in check.

One of my first jobs in Sydney, while a great step in my career, was very challenging. It was an autonomous role with not much useful support on the ground. Even though it was a big company, it was a lonely place to work that I found stressful at that point in my career. I look back on this role and the people I worked with fondly. I gained global experience, got to travel the world and gained some fantastic friends (one who I was lucky enough to attend her wedding last weekend!), but I also remember what a difficult place it was to work, not just for me but for many of my work collegues.

After a hard day dealing with the issues and emotions of others, sometimes the only way to get this stuff out of my head was the 30 minute walk home. The walk to work was also good in planning my day and getting my head into the right frame of mind. At the time I knew this exercise made me feel good but I don't think I fully appreciated how good this was for my head.

A few years later I started going to a personal trainier at a small physio led gym. I loved it! Well I should say I loved what it did for my head. Of course I saw physical benefits but I enjoyed training with another person. The social aspect really appealed to me. And I pretty much always kept the appointment because I was going to meet someone. I trained there for around 4 years, including while I was pregnant up until 36 weeks before I had my first son Aiden and returned there to train again, once I returned to work. That's committment.

After returning from maternity leave something had changed. Firstly my favourite trainer didn't work there anymore (which is one of the problem's with "personal" training) and secondly they had lost sight of why I wanted to exercise. When I decided to leave there I don't think I could accurately articulate why I wasn't enjoying paying them money to sweat anymore. I knew it was important for me to maintain a level of aerobic fitness and strength, but I had lost my passion for going there.

I have now learned that the more senior the role, the more complexity and ambiguity and the longer hours I have needed to deal with, the more important regular exercise is in manging stress and emotions. I know that if I exercise most days I:
  • do a better job at work
  • am more tolerant
  • can focus better and for longer
  • have loads more energy, even when I work long hours
  • feel more positive and optimistic
  • am more creative
  • can achieve more at home and at work
In hindsight I know that the mistake my personal trainer was making was taking a "risk management" approach to my exercise...what is my blood pressure? what is my glucose level? when was my last checkup...and so on. Of course this stuff is important, but I wasn't going to the personal trainer to manage this for me. I have enough information and education to do this for myself. Primarily I wanted to have a "social" experience and have fun, while keeping my brain fit. When I wasn't getting this I decided to take my dollar elsewhere.
So why am I writing about this today? Well one of the blogs I often read is Sarah Wilson's. Today she wrote a post called another (surprising) reason to exercise. I completely agree with her words and they were a great reminder and inspiration for me today. I have been travelling quite a bit over the past weeks and had a long but satisfying day at work, sitting on my bottom. I made myself go for a short walk before dinner tonight, even though I felt like my eyes were about to fall out of my head from tiredness. Exercise has become vital in making sure my career is on track.

It's also World Mental Health Day and exercise has an important role to play in assisting improve a variety of mental health disorders. I keep my mental health in check by walking and going to pilates and yoga.

What do you do to keep mentally and physically fit?


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