You can practice readiness for the moments that matter most in your life, both planned and unexpected. To be ready for big moments you need three things — a strong body, steady emotions, and a healthy mind. The good news is, in a world where we track everything and are more transparent than ever, you can recognize, train and manage all three of these readiness pillars.
Defining 3 pillars for practicing readiness
PHYSICAL FITNESS. As a general public, we are investing more in physical fitness than ever before. Evidence undeniably shows the links between our activity, nutrition, and brain health. In fact, aerobic fitness boosts your ability to respond effectively to challenges, makes you less impulsive, and improves your attention span, decision-making and motor skills. But physical fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. Given the strong connection between our bodies, emotions, and minds there are two other attributes that make us ready: emotional competence and mental health.
EC. To diffuse its academic vibe, emotional competence (EC) is the ability to detach from powerful and impulsive short term emotions, be aware of, understand, manage, and control them. Research says this quality plays the biggest role in performance when compared to 30+ other professional skills, and that coaches who have strong EC are more successful. You can proactively change and improve EC through positive thinking, external support, and self-awareness (see below section!).
MENTAL HEALTH. Finally, many people are surprised that 1 in 5 of us suffer a mental health condition, and many more some type of mental unrest. While about 15% of mothers are diagnosed with clinical postpartum depression, 80% experience the baby blues. A half a million soldiers returning home in the past 15 years have some form of diagnosable PTSD, but many more than that will struggle in some way to reintegrate into home life. Once I began speaking openly about my own struggle with being a startup executive and mom of two young babies with a surgeon spouse, the floodgates opened with other colleagues' and friends’ stories. The many pressures of our modern lives can tip us over sometimes, and we need to proactively address them.
These three pillars are equally responsible for your overall wellbeing, happiness, and success. Each takes work to maintain and needs attention.
Just ask Nathan Chen, who arrived at the 2018 Olympics as America’s ice king, crashed and burned in his debut, and turned around less than 24 hours later to make stunning history in his free skate. Many opined about the night in between, talks with his mom, and what was happening in his head and heart during the roller coaster. Certainly his physical fitness didn’t change dramatically overnight — but one can only imagine the mental and emotional swings.
Ask Matt Long, an FDNY Firefighter hit by a bus and given the slimmest odds of survival. Most physical therapists warned he would never walk again, let alone return to an active lifestyle. Five years and 43 surgeries later, he finished an Ironman. Matt now speaks around the country about the extraordinary fusion of body, heart, and mind required to regain his life and spirit. His doctors profess that physical fitness and mental stamina were his tickets to live.
Ask Kevin Love, who recently made headlines for his transparency with his mental health struggle. He reflected on our underinvestment in mental and emotional readiness: "In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. Coaches, trainers and nutritionists have had a presence in my life for years. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe.”
Ask Tracy Young, an indomitable force who just sold her construction tech company PlanGrid. Known as a laser-focused founder, Tracy noted recently “I’ve just been a much more effective leader since I started taking better care of myself.” Like many company founders, for years she maintained she was too busy to eat well. The she decided to make a life change and credits it in part for high quality performance.
Ask Kerri Strug, whom I watched become a success story of readiness in Atlanta in 1996. It wasn’t muscles or endurance that created one of the greatest moments in sports history that day. On busted ligaments, Strug sprinted 80 feet, executed a flawless vault, landed on one foot, turned 90 degrees to present to the judges, and then collapsed in agony. She was carried to the podium in a cast. The performance won the US a team gold medal.
Ask yourself when readiness has played an important role in your life, from the playground to the board room. Recently I suffered severe pre-eclampsia with the birth of my first daughter Emory, and am certain that physical strength, bolstered by a dream team of clinical and family support, propelled me through the emotional anguish and mind bender of the ordeal.
With growing visibility, transparency, and resources available to not only be fit, but ready, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to learn and train readiness. And your big moments don’t need to be national championships. Building a strong readiness program takes humility, proactive preparation, a support team, and a packaged approach. Here’s a blueprint to get started.
Shaping your personal readiness pillars
1. Shore up your physical plan for the long haul.
Baby steps first. As a fitness professional, I’ll echo every stat for you on the importance of daily exercise. And I have a rap sheet of options for you to try. But not everyone needs to be a HIIT junkie or the yoga queen. Starting today: adopt one new good food habit, and one change or addition to your weekly exercise plan. Don’t try to “boil the ocean” on transformation; it’ll never work. If it helps to have a confessional, I drink about 7 cups of coffee a day and have a mean sweet tooth. I counter these vices with green-loading and mixing up my workouts. I’m a certified trainer and still belong to two different group ex gyms. We have to keep it fresh. If you’re stuck in an exercise rut, it’s time to stop hemorrhaging and treat yourself to a new plan. We all have our crosses to bear, but you can’t ignore the long term necessity to commit to your physical health.
2. Work on your EC in real time.
At my first training event in the Army outside of my basic course, I was nominated for an MVP type award. I felt invincible going in, but when answering questions in front of a board of high ranking judges, fumbled so badly the interrogating officer asked me to stop talking. My training and gumption had gotten me a long way, but I had hit a wall. I knew the material cold, but didn’t have the EC to interpret my environment and carry myself through the test. From that experience forward in the Army I focused on my emotional readiness. Simple ideas include practicing self-awareness in important moments, visualizing what you’ll do and say, and actively turning your lemons into lemonade. When you crash and burn, think positive thoughts. In One Simple Idea, Mitch Horowitz gives us irrefutable evidence this works. Ask what you can do to use failure to your advantage. As Matt Long did, make a decision to get up in the morning. Another idea is to join a team activity. You might cringe if you’ve never seen yourself as that “team sports kind,”, but evidence shows that people who regularly participate in cooperative activity have higher EC due to the discipline, leadership, and self-control required to engage as a team. So lace up your sneaks and hit the court/pitch/field (which also checks box #1!).
3. Identify clinical support for your mental health (even if you don’t think you need it now).
The first time I sought professional counseling was when I suffered postpartum depression after the birth of my second daughter. Whether or not they result in clinical diagnosis, the pressures you face as a person, parent and/or professional are legitimate and worthy of external support. Resources such as ZocDoc, a review-based online broker for primary and specialty care, and TalkSpace, one of the largest consortiums of online counseling services, are wonders of modern medicine. When you need it most, you don’t want to be scrambling to find support for your mental health. You need someone to call whom you already know and trust and who’s qualified to help. Compare it to having directions to the emergency room for a head laceration that needs stitches.
4. Keep looking back while you surge ahead!
Write down a list of 10-15 big moments in your life. These can but do not need to be epic. This can be the birth of your child, a Tough Mudder race, a job interview, a sales pitch. Organize your moments into the following buckets: Crashed and burned; Got through it; Nailed it. Next to your “grade”, write one sentence about why. Then write a couple of additional sentences about how you prepared, and what you might do the same or different next time. When you face moments that matter, you are tackling them with an arsenal of experiences behind you, so leverage them for the better! This isn’t so different from the debrief concept deployed diligently by military, medical, and first responder services, and increasingly in corporate settings.
5. Know your dream team.
Identify your inner support network — a small but diverse group of special people who are always on your side. This likely isn’t your five BFFs, because your life has many facets. The group might include a shoulder to lean on, an inspiring conversationalist, a professional sounding board, a local neighbor and fellow parent, as examples. Know who you’ll call in both your joyous successes and tough failures. When I interviewed Dr. Ava Sierecki, on call the night I delivered with pre-eclampsia, about her decisions in that moment, she emphasized that she always makes critical decisions with her team — the nurse manager, anesthesiologist, high risk obstetrician, on call nurse, and so on. She also reflected that her spouse is her sounding board for debriefing, because he understands her clinical vocabulary and knows her. Stay in touch with your dream team monthly to check in and sustain the special relationship you’ve defined.
6. Recognize and embrace moments. That doesn’t mean hype them, but it does mean strike a pose. Treat the moment as special. Think ahead to success. Debrief the moment: Crashed and burned. Got through it. Nailed it. Write down what you’ll do next time, put it on an Evernote titled “for next time,” and move on.
Holistic personal readiness is not an overnight exercise. In contrast, it’s a lifelong effort. But I’ve found it’s a worthy one if your moments are more valuable than ever before and if you want to nail the big ones.