Ambition, Renewal, And Why Rest Is Essential To Achievement

When my father, who was once a nationally ranked gymnast, coached me in high school track, his approach to training came from University of Oregon’s track coach Bill Bowerman. The legendary running coach, Arthur Lydiard, who presided over New Zealand’s golden era in world track and field during the 1960s, had mentored Bowerman. He introduced Bowerman to a philosophy of training that revolutionized American track and field in the 1960s.

Bowerman’s approach to training had been the same as virtually every other American long-distance running coach: push hard until you are exhausted. This philosophy was based on the belief that the harder you trained, the more progress you made. The results revealed severe limitations. Prior to Bowerman, Americans were virtually absent in the world long-distance running realm.

After returning from New Zealand, Bowerman began exhorting Oregon runners to finish workouts exhilarated, not exhausted… His credo was that it was better to underdo than overdo. He had learned from Lydiard that rest was as important as work to keep a runner from illness or injury. Bowerman realized that his runners’ training was more effective when they allowed ample rest between hard workouts. He trained and raced his men to seasonal peaks but would back off before they crashed. To incoming freshman he preached: Stress, recover, improve…

While commonly accepted now, the idea of alternating hard days in distance running training, was revolutionary at the time. And it didn’t go down so well with the coaching community. When Bowerman first articulated the hard-easy method, he was widely despised for it. Kenny Moore, one of his legendary athletes and author of Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, wrote, “The anthem of most coaches then was ‘the more you put in, the more you get out.’ In response to Bowerman, coaches were morally affronted. His easy days were derided… called coddling.” Moore adds parenthetically, “His common sense approach is still resisted by a minority, and probably always will be.”

Bowerman’s response to his critics was to “crush their runners with his.” His “Men of Oregon” won four NCAA team titles. Over his legendary career, he trained thirty-one Olympic athletes, fifty-one All-Americans, twelve American record-holders, twenty-two NCAA champions and sixteen sub-four minute milers. During his twenty-four years as coach at the University of Oregon, the Ducks track and field team had a winning season every season but one, attained four NCAA titles, and finished in the top ten in the nation sixteen times.

Bowerman also developed the first lightweight outsole that would revolutionize the running shoe. With some latex, leather, glue and his wife’s waffle iron, he created a durable, stable and light Waffle sole that set a new standard for shoe performance and helped him co-found the Nike Corporation. My dad bought me a pair of those original waffle running shoes. It was an amazing shoe at the time. Bowerman also ignited the jogging boom in America. How that happened is another great story.

Since Bowerman’s success days at the University of Oregon, the physiological foundation for the “hard/easy” system has been validated. In short, physiology has verified what Bowerman learned and applied. The trick is first to provide enough but not too much stress, and second, to allow enough recovery to replenish energy stores, heal and adapt.

As in the outdated “no rest system” for training distance runners, I wonder if we aren’t living our lives these days with an outdated belief that doesn’t take into consideration the importance of rest and renewal. In today’s world, with its unyielding emphasis on success, productivity, and efficiency, we have lost the rhythm of balancing between effort and recovery. Constantly striving, I see so many people exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. How many of us long for time with friends, family, important relationships, even just a moment to ourselves, as we constantly look down at our devices and strive to achieve more? We now find ourselves compulsively checking for messages from work while in the midst of our vacations and times when we need to be connected to who and what really matters.

My challenge for you is to create some structured time over the summer to rest, attend to what is important to you, and make room for whatever you would call renewal. Whether it’s a two-week break, a one unproductive renewal day per week, or an hour a day to just to rest, take the time to simply walk in nature, spend some time hanging with kids, or sit and read a novel. Carve out some time to rest your body and mind, restore your creativity, and regain your natural state of inner peace and well-being.

We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our fervor to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living. Let us resolve that we will begin today to take a little time to relax, to be idle, to go more slowly and be more attentive to the world around us. Let us take time to be still, to be present, to notice the beauty in this world, to watch the sun go down behind the hill.

Renewal and relaxation aren’t a luxury. They, along with hard work, are a necessity to a life well lived.

Bill Bowerman knew the importance of rest in training Olympic athletes. We can all learn from the legacy he left us.

Work Life Balance – It Isn’t About Balance

Balancing poses in my yoga practice are the most difficult for me. I’ve learned that the harder I try to balance myself, the more I lose my balance. I’ve learned, from good yoga teachers over the years, that instead of trying to balance to: “Relax. Stop judging. Stop ‘trying.’ Breathe. Sometimes you’ll find the balance; sometimes you won’t. Keep practicing.”

We talk about work-life balance these days as if it is something to be achieved like running a marathon, making a sale or achieving a goal. Then when we fall short of our expectations we are critical of ourselves for a lack of balance in our life. I’ve met people who leave their offices religiously at 4:30 every day, only to go home to a life that is terribly out of balance. I’ve also met people who will stay at work until 10 some nights and actually live in a balanced way. Balance in life, like balance in a yoga posture, isn’t really about balance at all. You can’t achieve balance, because balance is not a destination. It’s a method of travel. Work-life balance is, instead, about being centered and living fully.

Keep in mind three principles that will help you find balance.

  • Sort out what’s work and what is life. Become clear about what work is and what life is, and make sure you have this sorted out. Even if work is tremendously fulfilling, it isn’t my life. In the periods in my life when I’ve been a workaholic, I had this confused. My work was my life. Work defined me as a person, so I had to work harder and harder in order to be a good person. I know today that my work is an expression of my life, but it is not the totality of my life. While work remains important and is fulfilling, it no longer defines me. My life is much bigger than my work. I remind myself these days that when I’m away from work, my life is time with my family, friends, community, being in nature, or helping others. I’ve learned that although work is critical to my development, when I define myself by my work, I am partially avoiding life. That part I need to say no to, walk away from, and learn how to be in life.
  • Clarify your Values. The antidote to exhaustion is not rest. The antidote to exhaustion is alignment and wholeheartedness. In my Authentic Leadership workshops, I have participants reflect upon their future and what matters most to them. I ask them to think about their relationships, health, contributions to others, expression of their talents, and the time they set aside for inner growth. This is an excellent exercise for you, too. From your reflections, list the top five values in your life. Then rate your life in each area on a scale from 1-10. Be honest. This is your list, not anyone else’s. At the beginning of each week, make sure that you schedule time in your day-planner to attend to each of these values. Balance is about living in alignment with your values. Feeling out of balance indicates that energy is being drained from you by living your life according to someone else’s conditions. Carve out time on a weekly basis for your soul’s desires. A key for living fully is to say “no” to the wrong opportunities.
  • Develop a positive relationship with the present moment. Being rushed, impatient, frustrated, or stressed are indicators that you are not present. You are either speeding forward or thinking about the past, without concentrating on being here now. Living fully is about fully living in the present. Next time you are stressed with a project, impatiently waiting in line, or frustrated with a co-worker, heed the guidance of my yoga teacher and take a few deep breaths to connect with yourself. Look around and see how you can be present with the world around you. Notice the beauty of a flower or plant nearby. Smile at the person ahead of you in the checkout line. Take time to really listen without judging the person you are frustrated with. It’s quite amazing how balanced you can feel in the midst of perceived pressure if you remember to stop and be here now. The best present you can give anyone is to be fully present in the present.
  • Stop trying to get more balance in your life, and enjoy your day. Stress isn’t in the task at hand or from the demands of others. Stress is in my head. Being stressed is a choice. And I’m not going to wait for tomorrow to enjoy myself. If I can’t enjoy myself today it’s not going to get any better when I’m on a vacation or retired. I can enjoy each task and stay relaxed in midst of the tasks. There is no stress except what I chose to be stressed about. There is only work to be done. Enjoy the precious moments that are in front of you right now. None of us know how many of these moments we have left. While we can plan for the future, life is lived in the now. Life will never be experienced tomorrow or yesterday. Life is what is going on at this moment. Life happens. Enjoy it.