Protect the Asset
Read Time : 10 minutes
In an era where we consume more information by 9am than the average human in the 1900s would have consumed in a day, the need to 'Protect the Asset' and to evaluate the systems and processes that we use to maintain, sustain and improve our mental, physical and spiritual selves has never been more pertinent. Even more disconcerting than the proliferation of this content and associated content streams is the demands now made of our time, not only by other humans, but by very the tools which are meant to be serving us.
In stark contrast to the tradesman who calls upon his tools to help him complete a job, the vast majority of tools designed for the professional era call upon us to attend to their every need. Notifications for every conceivable reason under the sun, - calls, messages, emails, how well you slept, imminent engagements - remove us from the present and demand our attention, focus, time and energy. In a time of 24/7 accessibility it is imperative that we do all we can to protect the asset and create systems, processes and boundaries to ensure that others are not stealing, and I mean that literally not figuratively, our time and energy and that we have enough life and vitality, after our duties, to have a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Anecdotally, I was aware that a large percentage of people found prioritising their health and wellbeing difficult in the current climate - from soaring physical and mental health admissions, increased work related stress and anxiety as well as a significant increase in those feeling generally isolated or disconnected. This supposition was bolstered by the work of Katherine Cowan (2020) which showed that 70% of respondents to a survey investigating the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic 'were people with lived experience of a mental illness'.
As unsettling as those statistics were, the work of Gordon et al. (2009) was the quintessential example of why we as a society need to slow down and really evaluate how we treat ourselves. Gordon's (2009) study focused on 'medication-taking among renal transplant patients' whom, with this procedure, had been given the chance of improved life experience and increased life expectancy. 'Adherence to taking immunosuppressants is essential for the survival of transplanted kidney grafts [. . .] with nonadherence having serious consequences' (Gordon 2009) including infection, rejection episodes, and graft loss with consequent resumption of dialysis.
Astonishingly, studies show that 19.3% of kidney recipients had not adhered rigidly to their medication regime citing 'forgetfulness, cost, unpleasant side-effects, regimen complexity, and low palatability' as causes (Gordon 2009). This phenomenon is not unique to those receiving kidney transplants with comparable rates found in lung (13%) and heart (21%) transplant recipients (Dew 2008). 'People are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves' (Peterson 2018). Even in life or death situations, many humans find it difficult to care for themselves - an obstacle that we must overcome if we are to live a life worth living.
Although there are an abundance of strategies available to those looking to prioritise their health, many of which will be the topic of subsequent articles, I have decided to focus on the three most significant barriers to a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle; boundaries, setting your standard and building a community of accountability.
In the current narrative of 'you can do it all', the thought of placing limits on what you can and will do is not fashionable. Many assert that these restrictions curtail life and limit opportunities. While they certainly restrict activities, they allow us to actively select which endeavours are congruent with our life plan and to discard the rest. They free both time and energy to follow our own path as opposed to being left to the whims of destiny or worse yet the capricious agendas of others.
Having boundaries comes at a cost - 'the trade-off'; a situational decision that involves diminishing or losing one quality or quantity in return for gains in other aspects. With any boundary we set, there are both pros and cons. For example;
If you decide to set a hard boundary and not work weekends in order to spend time with your family, you will have to deal with the rewards and consequences of the boundary. After several weeks your boss will not ask you to do work at the weekends again but this may negatively effect your standing within your organisation, your salary potential and maybe even your promotion eligibility but on the flip-side you get to spend every weekend building memories with you family.
If you decide to focus on only playing rugby, you will accrue the benefits and drawbacks associated with this lifestyle. You'll miss out on those kick abouts with friends in the park, the nights out and will have to accept the inevitable bumps, bruises and injuries that come along with the game but you will gain improved health and performance, the camaraderie that sport provides and memories that will last a life time.
Boundaries are not a zero sum game - they have costs and consequences - but when we decide our own boundaries we are deciding which dues we are willing to pay and which we are not. The resultant clarity of purpose leads to improved adherence to the processes required and ultimately better outcomes.
In a world of infinite possibilities, boundaries certainly narrow our focus but do not limit us. We have consciously defined our reality, our vision and our purpose and as a result we happily forfeit the trivialities that exist outside of that vision for excellence in our own domain.
Setting your Standard
Clarity, conviction and certainty around boundaries is paramount before considering setting your standard. Our boundaries are the foundation upon which our standard is built and as a result they are co-dependent. Any lack of adherence to the boundaries will have a detrimental effect on the standard we set and negatively impact upon our search for mental and physical wellbeing.
The world's greatest performers David Goggins, LeBron James and Serena Williams have rock-solid boundaries which allow them to execute their standard continuously and relentlessly. They have set up their boundaries to optimise the things they value most - health and performance. We must therefore set our boundaries to allow us to achieve what we value most.
The standard refers to the daily, weekly and monthly tasks that we must undertake to ensure an upward trajectory in our quest for improved mental and physical health. It is those things that we know we should do, but currently don't make the time for or execute on - that walk in the park, that coffee with a friend, or turning off Netflix and getting to bed. We must set our standard and create actions that are 'non-negotiable'.
The practice of setting daily, weekly and monthly non-negotables is a practice that has proliferated the fitness industry for years and is now being more widely adopted by businesses and business professionals as a tool to improve adherence in a bid to ensure that daily and weekly actions are congruent with 'Protecting the Asset'.
Daily non-negotables will consist of actions that we must complete each and every day come hell or high water. They are the micro-steps that accumluate to create macro success in health. They are goal dependant of course but may include such actions as;
[ ] Walk 10000 steps per day
[ ] Meditate for 15 minutes per day
[ ] Get 8 hours sleep per day
These non-negotables create a daily, immediate feedback loop to let us know if we are protecting the asset or if we need to do better tomorrow. Adherence over time improves as a result of 'what get measured get managed' and health improves as a result.
Weekly and monthly non-negotables refer to less frequent events that we also must hit to ensure progression towards our objectives. They are usually less specific but fit into our overall plan. Examples include:
[ ] Complete 3 strength training sessions
[ ] Complete 2 cardio sessions
[ ] Have 80%+ adherence to my diet
[ ] Drop 3 pounds this month
The Sunday night check-in allows an honest appraisal of the week's performance and definitive steps to take should we fall of track, with monthly check-ins being an extension of this concept. It allows for intrinsic, personal accountability and self-reflection which promotes positive behaviour and adherence to health promoting protocols.
Community of Accountability
Research (Sallis 1999) conclusively shows that social support is significantly associated with adherence to health and wellness protocols with 'the role of the spouse being particularly important' (Wallace 1995). Doré (1998) asserts that those who perform group activities (either teams sports or group fitness activities) show better adherence and mental health than those who solo exercise and that those individuals exercising in groups were more physically active, doing nearly twice as much activity as those who exercised alone.
Human beings are innately social, we like to create connections with those that share similar ambitions and aspirations and to use these connections to improve personal and community capacity. The result of which is a plethoria of clubs based around every conceivable activity. Research definitively shows that those who join such clubs improve and participate more than those who engage in the activity independently without the support of the club.
These communities of practice have very strong identities and an implied standard to which all participants must adhere to. The club base standard usually far outweighs the personal standard of the individual and consequenctly improves their performance and health as a result. This standard is strengthened by other members who, through friendship, support, guidance and a genuine kinship, hold the other members to account. Unlike the solo enthusiast, if you are not showing up to sessions or your dietrary habits are hindering your progression, the other members will hold you to account. There is an extra fall-safe for those who form a Community of Accountability and its impact is profound.
The human desire to be part of something greater than oneself, to be part of the tribe and to add to a community cannot be underplayed and has driven many to great feats and works. You are no different, and must use this force of extrinsic motivation to bolster your intrinsic motivation - your standards - and the foundation upon which your life is set - your boundaries.
The data are clear; if you want to be successful at any endeavour, join a community where their base standard is your desired standard - if you want to be a great triathlete, join a strong triathlon club. The combination of your intrinsic motivation to be part of that group and the extrinsic motivation of what the group requires, will ensure you do all in your power to first reach, then maintain or surpass that standard.
Much of the current literature around 'Protecting the Asset' focuses on the superficial strategies, tools and hacks to improve health and mental wellbeing - time management matrixes, Pomodoro timers, sleep and heart rate variability monitors - and although these may provide marginal gains for those already well versed in physical and mental wellbeing practices, it is vital that we address the fundamentals before exploring advanced tools and strategies.
If we take the time to design our lives, choose what we want to achieve and create boundaries, this will narrow our focus and bandwidth to the tasks and activities which are most meaningful to us - our non-negotiables. Pair this with the support of a loving, caring and supportive community and you have the formula for life long health and wellbeing.
The message is clear, there is nothing more important than your mental and physical health and no one else will take responsibility for it. From this day forth, if you do nothing else, 'Protect the Asset'.
Do you currently have boundaries around your mental and physical health?
Do other commitments hinder you from looking after your mental and physical health?
If you were to stop these activities, what is the worst thing that would happen?
Is this worth the trade-off?
Cowan K. 2020, Survey results: Understanding people's concerns about the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, MQ, Belfast
Dew MA, Dimartini AF, De Vito Dabbs A, et al. Adherence to the medication regimen during the first two years after lung transplantation. Transplantation. 2008; 85-195
Doré I, et al. The longitudinal association between the context of physical activity and mental health in early adulthood. Mental Health and Physical Activity. 2018; 121-130
Gordon EJ, Gallant M, Sehgal AR, Conti D, Siminoff LA, Medication-taking among renal transplant recipients: barriers and strategies. Transplantation Int. 2009; 534-545
Peterson, J. 2018, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Random House Canada, Toronto.
Sallis JF, Owen N. Determinants of physical activity. Physical activity and behavioral medicine. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 1999. pp 110-134.
Wallace JP, Raglin JS, Jastremski CA. Twelve month adherence of adults who joined a fitness program with a spouse vs without a spouse. J Sports Med Phys Fit 1995;35:206-13.