For thousands of years, mankind has been trying to understand fatigue. Why is it that two people of relatively equal capacity or ability can have completely different outputs? One quits after only a few minutes, while the other pushes through, sometimes producing superhuman feats. From an exercise physiology point of view we have made a couple of assumptions.
Perhaps the local muscles fatigue because the accumulation of waste products (lactic acid) changes the pH of the tissue and prevents contraction from occurring. Perhaps the muscle cells simply run out of energy at the cellular level and therefore can’t create a contraction any longer. Perhaps the cardiorespiratory system reaches its limit to deliver oxygen to the working tissue or to take away waste products from the tissue.
All of these are partly true but they don’t explain the complete picture. Recently, Timothy David Noakes published an article in Frontiers in Physiology (April 2012) that proposed another element. His interest started by reviewing some of the early works of A. Mosso from the 19th century where he wrote: “The thought that fatigue at first sight might appear an imperfection of our body, is on the contrary one of its most marvelous perfections. The fatigue increasing more rapidly than the amount of work done saves us from the injury which lesser sensibility would involve for the organism” so that “muscular fatigue also is at bottom an exhaustion of the nervous system.” Noakes goes on to present the idea that the brain actually uses the emotion of fatigue as a “governor” to protect the body from damage. This would make sense since at their root, all emotions are subconsciously created by the brain to improve our survival.
As the challenges in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) business world continue to grow, the by-product we see is a growing fatigue. Some of this is clearly physical fatigue (although most of us don’t have physically demanding jobs when compared to other jobs), but most of this is mental fatigue. So the question is, how can we acknowledge the brain’s creation of the emotion of fatigue as a way to protect us while at the same time use our Performance Mindset skills of controlling our emotions to push through?
Just as with all emotions, the first step is to develop an accurate awareness of what you “feel”. By being able to quickly recognize your emotional state and label it, you can consciously decide what to do with this unconscious product of the brain. Once you consciously identify the “feeling” of fatigue, you can now take several options. From a Tignum perspective this would always mandate the total integration of Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery.
Mindset: I recognize the emotion of fatigue. I understand it is a warning sign to protect me but I do not allow it to control me. I visualize a fork in a road where I can either take the path to fatigue where it controls me or I can take another path towards a more desired state (happiness, excitement for the challenge, passion for the results, etc.). Having chosen another path, I visualize myself heading down this path. Dominant thought - I am in control of my emotions.
Nutrition: I maximize my hydration. I avoid simple sugars and processed foods and instead choose great brain foods (fish, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, deeply colored fruits such as berries or apricots). I avoid the habitual use of caffeine and instead use it strategically (maybe even choosing green tea instead of coffee for its added benefits). I take time (to savor and relax) with my meals to help my body optimize digestion and uptake of nutrients for fatigue management.
Movement: I choose regenerative movements (low intensity movement, Daily Prep, Walking,Tai Chi, Yoga, etc.) to help my body reduce tension and increase blood flow without adding additional stress on my entire system.
Recovery: I make sleep a priority. I take power naps to quickly recharge. I oscillate throughout the day with quick mini-breaks (5 minutes) every 90 minutes. I use breathing techniques whenever possible (even a 1-minute breathing break can rebalance your Autonomic Nervous System).
Taking this approach doesn’t take more time, it takes more purposefulness. It requires that we challenge our own stories and “badges of courage” of how tired we are as a symbol of our importance, and instead we take responsibility for our choices and for our internal emotional responses. This is Sustainable High Performance at its best, and this is how you can choose to be the person who dominates fatigue rather than letting fatigue dominate you.
As always, I would love to hear what you think.
By Scott Peltin
Founder & Chief Performance Officer