Over the past 7 weeks, I’ve been taking part in a 10 week programme at work, focusing on improving the personal and professional performance of everybody on the course. We’re a small group of 25 people from all parts of Microsoft. Different jobs, teams, families, priorities, ages, genders, nationalities. What has brought us together is a desire to change ourselves for the better. We want to improve our performance to have more energy for the things and people we love, and to get more out of life.
This has been the most worthwhile investment of time – 2 hours each week plus daily homework in the forum of rituals and practices we have to turn into subconscious habits. The course is led by top sports psychologist and ex-Armagh All-Ireland winner with Armagh, Enda McNulty, and his company Motiv8. The course “Fuel your everything: peak performance” focuses on 4 areas: body, mind, life, energy. Each week we’ve had top class talks from guest speakers who are at the top of the games.
David Gillick (400m Indoor European Champion & MasterChef winner)
David gave us a real insight into how he upped his game to get to the World Championships and top international level of athletics. His honesty in sharing his goal plan was inspiring (as he had to break the 45 second barrier). Plus, he’s a great cook and shared top tips on healthy, yummy, nutrition – check out his new cookbook – David Gillick’s Kitchen – I really like the simplicity and tastiness of his recipes).
Pádraic Moyles (Riverdance lead dancer)
Pádraic gave us an inspirational talk about how he went from a kid who reluctantly did Irish dancing to the leader dancer for over 10 years, performing in 2000+ shows in front of 6 million people. His dedication and preparation while travelling were really amazing to hear.
Dr. Fionnuala McHale (European powerlifting champion & functional medicine practioner)
Fionnuala gave us a really personal talk on her own experience of making big changes in her life. The key question she asked us all is “what motivates you?” Is it your family, your own sense of well-being, your desire to improve, your feature of failure, or your need to feel part of something? There’s no right answer, but you need to be clear on that before you can really change your performance.
So what have been my goals?
We all had 4 daily rituals or habits that form the basis of anybody looking to achieve peak performance.
I’ve been drinking 1-2 litres of water a day. I always have a bottle at my desk and have reduced my coffee/tea intake to 2-3 cups a day. Tip: adding lemon, ginger, celery or other fruit/veg adds a great flavour to water.
Eating healthy, nutritious, fresh food 3 times a day is the goal and I’ve largely achieved this. My personal goal was to cook all 3 meals a day and this has been a gradual change over the last 6-9 months as I’ve got more confident in the kitchen. Now I enjoy cooking so much, I’m freezing food for the week ahead and looking for dinner guests!
I bring all my lunches to work, so rarely use the canteen (event though it’s great). I probably am eating too much thought and snacking on nuts, dried fruit, crackers, desserts a bit too much. My weight went up a bit recently as a result (final week of biggest loser weigh in this week!) so I want to get back to under 163 lb.
I’m pretty good on this goal of 5 times a week exercise – I train most days, sometimes twice and I rarely do “nothing”. Changes I have made are to cycle more to work or training, as well as taking 30 min to walk to/from work to calm the mind and get some fresh air. I rarely use the Luas or car now during the week.
The flip side of exercise is rest and recovery so I’ve been getting to bed by 11pm and aiming for 7-8 hours’ sleep as I’m up usually by 6.30am. I’ve failed in digital detox so far, i.e. no phone/computer screens after 9pm, but I’m going to work on that during December. I also want to build more strength & conditioning into my recovery to improve flexibility, core strength and functional movement.
The biggest change I’ve made is to meditate daily. I never meditated before but Enda has shown us the importance and power of calming the mind and being present in the moment. It can be so hard now with so many distractions, messages and 24/7 feeling of always being connected (plus the FOMO phenomenon).
My goal is 15 min per day and I’ve started to enjoy and really feel positive effects of mindfulness. I usually meditate before bed which is good but want to do it earlier too – in the morning, at work during lunchtime. Even if it’s 5 minutes – it can help us to better at the next task a hand –whether that’s making dinner, going training, talking to friends, analysing data or making a tough decision. I downloaded some great podcasts from Deepak Chopra onto my phone, so I listen anywhere.
At this stage, I hope I now have a meditation habit – it’s a normal part of my daily rituals like brushing my teeth. The mind is a fascinating areas, so I’m curious on learning more and practising in this area. If top business and sports people invest time in it a say it makes a significant difference, why doubt their wisdom?
I’ve already started making my goals and new rituals and habits for 2016, which I believe will bring me to the next level in sports, work and my personal life. Yesterday at the kitchen table I wrote out my sporting goals for 2016. It really helped to put things on a page and think about how I can change to get better. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.