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Exercise Your Way to Better Work-Life Balance

This lesson is a part of an audio course Achieving Work-Life Balance by Russell Clayton

In our previous lesson, we talked about emotional intelligence, and that research studies show that it is an effective way to build work-life balance. In this lesson, we will talk about the role physical exercise plays in helping you find balance.

There's a good chance that you know how important exercise is for our health. Information about how much to exercise, when to exercise, and the benefits of exercise, are routinely shared on the news and in print. But what you might NOT be aware of is that exercise plays an important function in helping us achieve work-life balance.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself – "If I am already stretched too thin at work and home, then why is this teacher asking me to add one MORE item to my already busy schedule?"

And that is a valid thought. After all, certain types of exercise can take an hour or more each time you do it. Let's take a few minutes to discuss HOW exercise can help us achieve work-life balance.

When I was much younger and brand new in my first real job, I had a boss and mentor who jogged for 30 minutes or so almost every workday during his lunch break. One day he asked me to join him and, and of course, I said "yes" so that I could stay in the good graces of my boss. One day I asked my boss, David, "why do you do this?" "Why do you exercise during the middle of the workday?" His reply was that "it helps his problems get smaller."

In a nutshell, – David was telling me that the regular exercise helped him reduce stress. And this should not come as a surprise – years and years of research studies have concluded that exercise helps reduce stress. So that's the first-way exercise helps us achieve work-life balance – it reduces our stress.

The second way is that exercise increases what we call "self-efficacy," – which is somewhat similar to confidence. Self-efficacy is that "can do" attitude that helps us overcome challenges. This is a finding that came about in a study I led and published in the Harvard Business Review. What I and my co-researchers found is that after exercising, people have a sense of accomplishment – that "can do" attitude – that helps them meet and overcome challenges. Here's how that works: when I begin a new day, I know that it is likely going to be a full-day – meetings, family responsibilities, classes to teach, and more. In my mind, when I put on my exercise clothes and actually participate in the exercise, I have accomplished something. I conquered my own busyness, if you will, and got the exercise done. I could have easily found an excuse to NOT exercise. That's one feeling of accomplishment – beating my own busyness. The second comes when I finish my exercise – whatever that may be – jogging, weightlifting, a brisk walk, an exercise class. I have physically accomplished something and that, too, helps create this sense of achievement. And the great thing that research tells us is that this sense of mastery, or achievement, from exercise carries over into other areas of our life. This sense of mastery helps me confront my to-do list with much greater confidence. It helps me problem-solve on the job with much greater confidence.

Now, let's talk about a couple of thoughts that may have popped into your head while listening to this lesson.

The first is that many of us hold the opinion that time that we could be spending on exercise is of better use elsewhere. For example, it is very common for parents of young children to believe they must abandon many of their own pursuits – such as exercise – in order to fully invest their time in their children. There's nothing wrong with that perspective. And the same line of reasoning could be applied to the working professional – taking time to exercise takes away from full devoting your time to your employer. I would like to encourage us to veer away from that thinking and find 20-30 minutes of time – 2 to 4 days per week – to take care of yourself via exercise so that you can more confidently approach the demands of work and life. This is like the often-used airplane oxygen mask example – when we fly, we are instructed by airline personnel that, in the event of a drop in cabin pressure – we are to put our oxygen mask on FIRST and then help others with their mask. That is, we need to help ourselves first so that we are better able to help others. This same logic can be applied to finding time to exercise.

The second thing you may have thought about is the level – or intensity – of exercise. Let me be clear: I am NOT talking about exercising with such intensity that we are going to become the next star, professional athlete. No, I am simply encouraging us all – myself included – to get our bodies moving a few times each week.

If I have convinced you that exercise is a good way to help you achieve work-life balance, then consider these next steps:

  1. First, If you are regularly exercising already – good! – keep up the good work! If you are not exercising and with to begin – ease in slowly! Start small, and don't do too much too soon. You might start with brisk walking before moving onto jogging. Or perhaps find a workout video on YouTube that you can do in your living room. And if you are just starting out, consider consulting a healthcare professional for their guidance.

  2. Second, decide if you would prefer exercising alone or in a group setting. Some people really benefit from the social aspect of a group exercise class, while others prefer exercise to be a solo event. Both have their benefits. Find out which one is best for you and your personality.

  3. Next, figure out a way to be accountable – do you need a workout partner that will meet you at the gym to hold you accountable? Or maybe just give your friend or spouse permission to check in on your progress on a weekly basis.

  4. Fourth, consider cost-effective forms of exercise. You do NOT need to sign up for an expensive gym membership or service in order to reap the benefits of exercise. Walking and jogging are free (just be sure you have adequate shoes to protect your feet). You can also – as mentioned earlier – find workout routines on YouTube. My wife and I will search for a 10-minute exercise routine on YouTube and do those as a way to fit in a quick exercise session. That's an absolutely free way to exercise.

  5. Finally, determine how much time you are going to devote to exercise. You do NOT need to exercise for 2 hours 5 days per week in order to decrease stress and build self-efficacy. Aim for 2 – 4 exercise sessions each week – and do 10-30 minutes each time. And if you're really strapped for time, Google the popular "7-minute workout" as a way to fit in some exercise in a short amount of time.

Your task going forward: think through the idea of adding in exercise as a way to help you with balancing work and life. If so, think through the "next steps" we just discussed and began to formulate a plan for including exercise!

In the next lesson, we will talk about building resilience to help us better achieve work-life balance.

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Written by

Russell Clayton

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