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Boost Mental Performance with the Sprint-Recover Model

Can you imagine an Olympic athlete who trains without resting? Of course not...skipping recovery stunts physical performance and makes athletes vulnerable to injuries.

Although we may not be Olympic athletes — many of us consider ourselves as athletes in mental performance.

Our gold medal is actualizing our potential and operating at our optimal performance. And the optimal way to achieve our best is the sprint-recover model.

First, let’s look at some of the ways that we can impede our own progress:

More Input Doesn’t Necessarily Equal More Output

The logic makes sense. More input should equal more output. But much of the time more doesn’t equal more — it equals less.

For example, if you train the same muscles every day, your muscles won’t get stronger. When you strength train your muscle tears slightly. It is only during the rest phase, when your body restores these tears, do your muscles become stronger.

If you skip the recovery phase, the muscle will be prone to injury.

In a similar vein, if you work non-stop, you will get diminishing returns. You may work longer hours but the quality of your work will be lower. You’ll be more likely to get burned out. Your overall performance decreases.

Sprint-Recover Model

If you want to perform at your best and feel good at the end of your workday, try out the sprint-recover model. Do a focused and timed work sprint and take time for recovery. And by recovery, I don’t mean vacations.

Vacations Aren’t the Answer

Vacations and weekends are great but they are too slow of a cycle to be relevant for mental performance.

Our mental performance relies on the Basic Rest and Activity Cycle (BRAC), an ultradian cycle. It is characterized by alternating periods of ~90mins high-frequency brain activity followed by 20mins low-frequency activity when awake.

So our brain is already employing a sprint-recover model with our alertness. We just need to match our work habits to our brains’ natural rhythms.

How To Implement Sprint-Recover Model

Divide your workday into 90mins sprint-20mins recovery cycles. See how it works for you. The goal is to match your natural cycle. Observe when your alertness and attention is naturally high and naturally low. Try to match your work flow to your inherent cycle.

There are individual differences in how long one can maintain alertness. While the average is 90 mins, it can range between 80-120mins. So experiment with different cycle lengths to find the right rhythm for you.

When you take your 20mins break, make sure it helps you to recover. The activities you engage in during your break should not require a lot of mental resources.

Playing with your phone, surfing on the internet are not proper recovery breaks.

Here are are some good ways to use your 20 minute break and maximize your productivity:

1) Taking a shower (working from home)

2) Walking

3) Listening to music

4) Doodling

5) Playing with a pet (working from home)

6) Mild exercise

7) Cooking (working from home)

8) Snacking

9) Naps

10) Meditation

So...with the sprint-recovery model, you can have it all: a productive and high-leverage workday and a beautiful, restorative recovery-day.

Don’t let our culture of busyness and glorification of hard work mislead you.

Sustainable high-performance is only possible in a state of sustained wellbeing.


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