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2 March 2020

SELF-CARE & CREATING A EUDAEMONIC YOU: Part 2

by Lyndon Purcell 0

Well, in the time since part one of this article series was released, I have received a substantial amount of feedback from coaches and other members of the fitness industry regarding just how much they needed to hear what I said (or read what I wrote). While it is very flattering to know that my…

Well, in the time since part one of this article series was released, I have received a substantial amount of feedback from coaches and other members of the fitness industry regarding just how much they needed to hear what I said (or read what I wrote).

While it is very flattering to know that my work is being well received and having an impact (however slight), there are still two-sides to that coin. The positive reception of my previous article does just highlight the point that self-care is both needed, and neglected, to a significant extent by coaches (among others).

This needs to stop.

If you want to be successful—as most people do—you need to be able to sustain what you do for a long period of time. You will need to tolerate more stress than what you ever have before and come out the other side of it relatively unscathed. Self-care helps with that. 

Now with the pep-talk out of the way, let’s set the scene again and pick up where we left off last-time. 

Late last year I was unhappy, eating garbage, carrying a bit of extra weight, wildly unproductive and my blood pressure was about 40% higher than any 26-year olds should be. I was so far from a state of eudaemonia that I think I would have struggled to locate it on a map, let alone get to the actual “location”. However, while I didn’t know exactly where to find it, I did know it was north of where I was—given I was about as South as one could go—and I had a few ideas of how I would get a lot closer.

Last time I outlined the first variable I addressed to support this journey, nutrition, and described the alterations I made to my diet. In this instalment I will cover Exercise & Activity as well as Leisure Time. In the final piece of this series I will discuss the changes I made to my Working Hours and other productivity enhancing considerations, and maybe some bonus content if you’re lucky. 

2. Exercise & Activity

As I mentioned in my previous article, I was doing a decent amount of resistance training, and not much moving outside of that. While many would suggest getting my step count up, and this would have some mild energy expenditure benefits, I didn’t feel like this really produced the benefits I was looking for. Sure, it would be an easy and minor change, but it would likely produce relatively minor results. 

The primary improvement I was hoping to make in regard to my physical activity was the introduction of purposeful cardiovascular exercise. Not “cardio” in the body-composition sense (where the primary goal is calorie expenditure), but literal cardiovascular system training. 

You know, actual cardio…

In order to begin this process, I had to pick my poison. Modality wise, I had a few options, but one was pretty much the perfect fit.

Option 1: Run

However, running seems to leave me pretty beat up nowadays. My joints aren’t what they used to be, and the more muscle mass you gain (or just weight in general) the more impactful each stride is on your body. Running was a lot easier 10 years and 15kgs ago.  

Option 2: Cycle

Didn’t have a bike. I wouldn’t have minded cycling, and probably preferred it to running, but without a bike it was going to be tricky. I could have made the effort to buy or borrow one, but the appeal do it really wasn’t that strong.

Option 3: Treadmill

Many of the same issues with running but compounded by the fact that I would be completing it at JPS, which was where I was already completing my resistance training, as well as my working hours. Now the facility, people and general atmosphere at JPS are great (and you should come check-it out if you haven’t already) but in order to address the issue effectively, I decided it was best that I branched out a little. As they say, a change is as good as a holiday.

Option 4: Swim 

This was the one that hit the money. 

Now, my aim with this series is not to just relay what changes I made during this time, but why. I want to give you some of the ideas behind my thought processes and why I made certain choices as opposed to others, so that you can learn from them. 

So here goes…

The first reason I selected swimming over the other modalities is because swimming is very well tolerated by the body. Swimming is easy on the joints due to the buoyancy/partial alleviation of gravity provided by the water, and the concentric only actions of all the strokes means that it results in minimal muscle damage (and thus minimal interference with my resistance training). Because of these factors, it is a form of exercise you perform for large relative volumes without breaking down, which is very important when selecting an endurance training modality. It is definitely not easy but selecting swimming as my form of cardiovascular exercise allows me to be limited by my aerobic fitness, and not goddamn shin-splints or hip-pain.

The second major benefit of swimming is how disconnected it allows you to be (something that I will expand a little further on in the next instalment). Getting in the water means no phone, and no music—which is torture to some, but heaven to me. This disconnection meant no “Hey, can you…”or “Sorry but I…” messages were interrupting time that was supposed to be for myself and myself only. All those messages and emails were still going to be there when I checked my phone afterwards, but it was knowing that I had respite, and could have some time away from it that really helped me feel great. Once you’ve got the rush of endorphins that come about after aerobic exercise, dealing with those kinds of messages is a lot less psychologically laborious. 

In addition to the mood-boosting endorphins that are released as a result of challenging aerobic exercise, there is also a plethora of cognition-enhancing chemicals released as well. This meant that the addition of cardiovascular exercise was a very positive move for my self-care purposes. Not only did it directly improve my mood and my blood pressure, but the subtle improvements in cognition helped to increase my productivity, which also further improved my mood. Simply put, it feels good to be productive. If you’re not entirely happy and want your life and mood to improve, increasing your productivity is a great place to start. 

3. Leisure Time

This is possibly the most important topic within the umbrella of self-care that we have been perusing across this series. The reason for this, is because of how we conceptualise leisure time—basically most people just consider it as when we aren’t working.

So before I can discuss my leisure-time self-care interventions, I need to briefly discuss work-life balance so we can have a conception of just how important well-constructed and well-protected leisure time is for becoming our best selves.

Work-Life “Balance”

Something we are all guilty of, is letting our work-life feel like our whole-life.

You ask someone, “how’s things?”and they’ll often respond with something like, “work is killing me”or “yeah great, I just got a new job”.

We let our career become our identity, and as a result, any unmitigated work-stress impinges on our entire existence. Unfortunately, this is a sure-fire way to find yourself at the bottom of a hole in regards to both your physical and psychological health.

While work is without a doubt important, both for financial reasons, and to ease the psychological desire of needing to contribute and just generally do something (avoiding the sensation of “uselessness”)—it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, everything within your life. 

Look at it like this…

Full Time Equivalent (FTE) is 40 hours a week. That’s 8 hours, 5 days a week—with a half hour lunchbreak each day bringing these numbers down to 37.5 hours of paid work. As we know though, most coaches work split-shifts and often work for at least a few hours on the weekend­—whether it be sessions on a Saturday morning, emails on a Sunday night, or a little of both. Regardless, they’ll still likely find themselves around the 40-hour mark for work each week—if their lucky and a coach in demand that is. Many coaches would love to work more but don’t have the list of clients to supply this much work.  

Adding to this, and as is the case with most workplaces, you probably have to do some unpaid work. Which bumps those hours up a bit. Emphasis on a bit. 

So even if you’re working 20% more than FTE—a full one-fifth more than the regular agreed upon working arrangement—that only takes you up to 48 hours per week. The week is 168 hours long. If you deduct 48 from 168, you’re still left with 120 hours of you-time. 

That’s a lot of time.

However, time can definitely be wasted, and that’s what I was doing with my leisure time previously. The primary change that I made to improve this was, again, very simple, but as we have already addressed, little, simple things can add up to have profound effects.

The Intervention: More Books, Less Netflix

Up until the point where I had my self-executed intervention, I had been operating under the impression that it didn’t really matter how I spent my non-work time. If I was relaxed, then it was serving its purpose. 

This is/was mostly true, but as tends to happen, when left unchecked, true beliefs can quickly spiral into mischievous misconceptions—especially when pushed to the extreme. An episode of something on Netflix before bed became two or three. Was this this ok? It became evident, eventually, that it was not.To give you an idea, I was up to date on all my favourite tv shows—I’d seen all of Rick & Morty, BoJack Horsemen, Final Space, That 70s Show, The Office, a decent amount of anime and even guilty pleasures like The Ranch and Atypical hadn’t escaped me and my mindless viewing.

Don’t get me wrong, watching some Netflix, TV, YouTube, or whatever else one might view in their downtime, is completely normal, healthy and probably necessary for living the happiest life you could possibly live. However, you must find the right “balance”. 

Now, I am not going to dive into my philosophical thoughts about a completely balanced life being a completely mediocre one, but there is a fine line that must be found in many of the competing aspects of our life. The two competing ideals in this regard were ambition and relaxation. I had slipped a little too far into relaxation mode. 

Generally speaking, when things go wrong/aren’t going right, it is often a case that something has been pushed to the point of diminishing returns. Not diminishing returns in the way that most people think of it—where results just come more slowly or to a reduced extent—but in the technical sense, where an even greater amount of an input produces even less of the desirable output. It is the term used in economics for what we’d simply call “overdoing it”.

This is exactly what had happened with many aspects of my life, but in particular my Netflix consumption and various aspects of my leisure time.

After the first episode or two I watched each night, I felt pretty good. As I watched more and more episodes though, I didn’t feel any more relaxed, I actually typically felt felt worse. 

How could this be?

Well after sitting and laying down for a while, my physiological markers of stress weren’t going to get any lower. My heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels are going to be relatively stable after 20 minutes of sedentary time—and while another episode won’t improve things any further, it won’t conceivably produce any elevations in those measures (unless I stay up for an extensive period of time and have significantly reduced sleep-time). So in regards to my physiology, it was initially beneficial, then had a neutral impact beyond a certain point. 

This then shifts the point of focus to what is being achieved on the psychological level. 

After watching an episode or two of your favourite show, the variation in stimuli compared to what was encountered during the day helps dig yourself out of the repetitive and work-related thought patterns. This allows you to “switch off” and run some different components of your neural circuitry—variation in this regard is certainly a good thing. However, at a certain point, this process reaches a plateau, just as physiological markers do. The primary benefit is achieved by switching off, not by trying to switch off more and more.

The difference between the physiological and psychological factors of stress though, is when we continue to increase the input (Netflix), after a certain point our psychological stress begins to rise again. This is because we have other more productive tasks we could be doing—and we know it. Unless your life is 100% in order, relaxing for a little is fine, and needed, but relaxing for extended periods of time is both unwise, and almost impossible. You can certainly do “nothing” for long periods of time, but it isn’t at all relaxing if you are fully aware of more productive and beneficial tasks you could be doing.

This is what was occurring for me. I felt run down, I felt tired, and like I needed to relax, so I kept watching more and more and doing less and less, thinking this would fix the problem. But this was neutral at best for my health and happiness, and I would say a more likely bet is that it was detrimental. The nagging voice in the back of my mind that became increasingly more critical as I watched episodes three, four and maybe even five in succession.

To end this desolate cycle, I decided­—almost instantaneously—that all time previously being dedicated to Netflix was henceforth going to be directed towards reading. 

Now, I know the common wisdom is change habits slowly and subtly, but it’s not that I was trying to establish a prolific reading habit, more so just return to one. In previous periods of my life I had well and truly been behind or out-of-the-loop on popular tv shows, in favour of reading a few books a month. I had a high degree of confidence that I could quickly return to this. It was previously charted territory, I simply had to get back there. 

I did this predominantly by buying more books that interested me, leaving those books beside my bed and not taking my laptop into my room at night. These changes may sound ineffectual to some but falling back into productive habits is just as easy as falling back into destructive ones—if the environmental cues are appropriate. 

In the end, these changes had a profound impact on my levels of perceived happiness. One of the reasons that work-life balance can feel out of control at times, is if you aren’t achieving anything in your downtime. Work may not actually be as much of an influential factor in that equation as you might think. Sure, work commitments and stress can get out of hands at times, but it isn’t always solely to blame. You might actually just be under-achieving in your leisure-time outside of work, and that is what creates the perception of a work-life imbalance. 

Remember the concept of eudaimonia that we introduced in the first article (and is the title of this series); it is about creating happiness, flourishing and wellness by satisfying and developing a broad range of elements in your life. Your career is not the only place you should be expressing ambition if you wish to feel truly fulfilled—you need more than that. For me, substituting Netflix for books allowed me to be a little more productive with my time, and feel better off for it. It may not be books for you, it will likely be something else, but ensuring your leisure time is made up of not only rest and recovery, but some personal-growth related activities is extremely important for developing a eudemonic you.

And to complete this section, and article, I will leave you with this quote by Charles Kingsley:

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of  life, when all we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about”

I’ll see you all for the next instalment where we go over some work/productivity related changes and how they were conducive to self-care.

Thanks, as always for reading guys.

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