Relaxation and Peak Performance

“If there is one tool you must possess in the midst of tough conditions or threatening competition, it is the ability to relax and focus on what matters most.” – David Shaner

When I first read the above quote in David Shaner’s The Seven Arts of Change, it made inherent sense. Pick your favorite sports metaphor – sinking that final put or kicking the last second field goal. It’s pretty much common knowledge that if the athlete “tenses up” at that particular moment, it won’t end well.

However, if you think about relaxation in our day-to-day lives, there seems to be a piece missing. We tend to think of relaxation as synonymous with “downtime” – watching TV, reading, taking a walk, etc. Relaxation generally means the absence of stress. That’s great, unless a client is yelling at you and you aren’t allowed to take a break and go for a walk. What then?

Translated to the business world (and life in general), it comes down to the question of how to relax in a stressful environment.

There are two ways I have found to do so, and both are hard. The less hard one (at least in my opinion) is practice. Get yourself in a slightly stressful position and consciously dial down your tension level. How do you do that? One way is physically. Breathe (if you’re not). Breathe slower (if you are). Lift your head, or square your shoulders – anything to take you out of the classic “discomfort” posture. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your mood changes when your body changes.

The other way is mentally. Remember that this is just one of the many stressful events in your life (and you’ve survived them all so far!) When you put it in perspective of your overall life, it will typically seem less consequential. And if that doesn’t do it, you can always use the classic mantra “this too shall pass”.

And then – repeat. If it’s too easy, do it in a more stressful environment. Keep repeating until it is natural. Do it until you can walk into your boss’ office when they are clearly in a bad mood and still feel relaxed. Then do it with your boss’ boss. And so on.

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