Recovery is an important topic and gets discussed a lot among endurance athletes and coaches.
The list goes on and on.
But what if we’re not paying enough consideration to something that is really important?
Something that is not only good for your performance but equally important for good health and a happy life.
I’m talking about the recovery of your brain.
Specifically, I am worried about the effect that social media, text messages and other forms of digital stimulation – in today’s doses – have on your brain and its ability to recover.
Your Brain Gets Tired Too
The brain is the most energy-consuming organ in the body.
It works at full capacity every single day and uses at least twenty percent of all the energy you need on a daily basis.
It’s no wonder it needs rest.
During training, you may think that it’s just your muscles doing the work, but that’s not the case. Your brain is the puppet master coordinating your muscles and every other physiological process that was needed for you to complete your session.
As such, it’s fair to say that neurological depletion happens during training, and just like your muscles, your brain needs time to recover.
Outside of training, further neurological depletion happens as you spend a good chunk of your waking hours employed in a job that also puts your brain to work in demanding situations.
Living In A Digital World
Prior to the mass adoption of the internet and particularly smartphones, people had time each day to sit in peace at the bookends of the workday. To read the paper, play games, socialise and generally repair and replenish their brain and body.
As technology has continued its aggressive progression into our lives, we’ve lost that time to sit in peace. At the hint of boredom or downtime, we reach for our phone or laptop – regardless of where we are – and bury ourselves in the neverending newsfeeds, texts, emails and videos that fill our screens.
On top of that, the bright lights of our devices, negatively affect our ability to achieve good quality sleep when you use them prior to going to sleep.
I argue that this constant digital stimulation (and the residual side effects) further depletes your brain and fatigue continues to accumulate.
The majority of apps you use are engineered to be as addictive as possible and to demand as much of your time and attention as possible. You need to fight back and be more intentional in how you choose to use them.
To combat the addictive nature of technology, I have set up some rules for how I use technology. I am by no means where I want to be but I am seeing the benefits of the changes I have made.
The key ones being a huge reduction in my overall anxiety levels and an improvement in mental clarity and energy.
I removed all social media from my phone. When social media is on your phone it is far too easy to pull out your phone in times of boredom or when you are in a social situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. The simple act of removing it from your phone forces you to be more deliberate in your use. By taking the apps from my phone, I realised pretty quickly how much time I was wasting and just how little value it really added to my life.
My phone lives in do not disturb mode. Because most of us have our phone on us at all times, it makes us very accessible. People have no problem emailing or texting at all hours of the day and expect an instant reply. By replying instantly to peoples messages, you further fuel the belief that you are accessible at any time.
As Tim Ferris says, “to achieve amazing things, you have to be ok with small bad things happening”.
To limit the “bad things” I have my do not disturb settings structured to allow people on my favourites list to get through to me. This list includes my wife, parents and key staff members. Outside of that, you will get a reply from me at a time that suits me.
My phone lives in greyscale. A colourful screen is far more appealing than one in greyscale and I feel far less compelled to constantly check my phone with it in black and white. I have a setting that allows me to easily toggle to colour by clicking the home button three times. This is extremely useful for situations where I quickly need to see something in colour.
I avoid watching Netflix and other shows on my laptop and phone. Instead, I stream them to a television set. When watching on a TV, I am far less likely to be jumping between tabs or googling things that come up as I watch.
I downloaded Moment on my phone and rescue time on my laptop. Moment is an app that tracks how much time you spend on your phone. The first week was eye opening and a little scary. RescueTime does the same thing for your computer. When you are mindful of how much you actually use your devices, it makes it easier to try and limit your time.
These simple actions help to make me more intentional in how I use my devices. They keep me calmer and allow me to be more productive. In training and in life!
I encourage you to take ownership of how much mental energy you are burning throughout your day.
Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is not bad, too much gambling is bad.
Technology is no different. It’s not bad (in fact, it’s bloody awesome when used appropriately), too much of it is bad.
If you want to be a good, happy and healthy athlete, consider giving your brain some time away from digital stimulation so that it has time to repair and replenish.