Stress is a part of daily life and comes in many forms. “Negative” stress can come from work, tough family situations, health issues, time limitations, or challenging issues.  However, we can also experience “positive” stress from challenging ourselves physically or mentally through exercise, skill-building, study, or other types of new learning.

Recovery is what happens to our bodies during the time immediately following a dose of stress.  It could be a break in that tough meeting or significant presentation, or during an exercise regimen when you are taking a breather.  Recovery is when you or your body is processing what just happened. Believe it or not, recovery functions as a lever for high performance.    

While studying tennis players in the 1980s, noted performance psychologist James Loehr uncovered that the difference between the best tennis players and others was not in what they did during volleys, but rather what they did in between.  Yes – what they did when they weren’t hitting a tennis ball.  He discovered their behavior was distinctly different during times of recovery.

The highest performance tennis players used recovery to strategically shift their focus and reset.  This reset was structured and included the following:

  1. A positive physical response: replacing any “miss hit” with positive imagery or simply practicing positive body language
  2. Relaxation: often breathing deeply in and out a few times
  3. Mental preparation: contemplating the next play and visualizing it in a positive way
  4. Practicing rituals:  while they varied by person, these rituals (e.g., a series of planned actions) prompted refocus

Loehr called this process “the 16-second cure” because all four steps could be completed in about 16 seconds.  With this intentionality and structure, these tennis players produced better results.

Think about the last time you experienced a stressful situation – maybe it was a phone call or meeting or simply a discussion.  What did you do immediately after? Did you have a period of recovery to regroup and refocus? Did you recover with intentionality and structure?

Similar to athletes, professionals need periods of recovery to perform at their highest level.  These periods of recovery can be short (e.g., 16 seconds) or long (e.g., a vacation) but they are very important. Extended periods of stress limit both effectiveness and development. We simply won’t perform our best or reach our full potential without recovery.  

The solution is to create our own strategic recovery process.  Each of us needs micro recovery strategies and macro recovery strategies.  For micro strategies, consider how you might adopt and adapt the four steps above, then start practicing those at meeting breaks, in between phone calls, or before meetings start.  For macro strategies, consider what works best for you – vacation at the beach, unplugging for a long weekend, a cruise, a personal retreat, etc. – and schedule it.

Regardless of what you do for recovery, practice it often. Do it with intention, and be deliberate. When your recovery is strategic and purposeful, you have the greatest opportunity to positively influence your overall performance.