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Humility, exercise and 9 other things that I have learnt

In the third and final blog in his ‘healthy habits for leaders’, Andrew considers his 9 reflections on what exercise has taught him, and how it has shaped his approach to work and his own leadership style.

So what has my exercise in recent years taught me, and how has it benefitted me?

  1. Balance! I went from thinking ‘How could I possibly fit extra stuff like this into my life?’ to thinking ‘How did I ever cope without it? I would hate to have to give it up...’. I’ve also had to seek an equilibrium in terms of maintaining what Stephen Covey referred to as the P/PC balance: exercising as much as I can (producing the ‘golden eggs’ in terms of fitness outputs), but trying still to protect myself as the ‘golden goose’ in his analogy, and my long term ability to produce. This has been for example by taking up the yoga, and by easing off a little when I do inevitably get injuries and niggles
  2. I know I need to show up and get on with it, even if I’m not feeling 100%. I also know my own psychology well enough to understand that if I start allowing myself ‘cheat days’, they’ll become ‘cheat weeks’ and I’ll soon end up skipping the lot. Then I will just sit around eating doughnuts and watching TV (although come to think of it, that does hold a certain appeal…)
  3. Commitment: there’s no point ‘dabbling’ in Taekwon-do (TKD); you’re either in or you’re out. And the advantage of playing tennis with friends is that you know you need to show up, even if it is cold and damp, and a ridiculous time of day at the weekend. And there’s always some sort of injury niggle – but I just have to get on with it. I also have to spend quite a lot of time these days on a combination of ‘rolling’ and stretching, as well as physio and acupuncture – that’s the (not unreasonable) price I have to pay
  4. Hanging in there. There won’t be many health benefits from undertaking any of these activities for a month. But for a year: maybe. And how about 5 years? 10? 20 and beyond? After having contracted Covid at Christmas 2020, my lungs were not in great shape for a month or 2 afterwards. I was grateful to my younger daughter for suggesting we try Couch to 5k together; it was a really effective way gently to build back up
  5. I could probably stretch and train for decades and still not be able to kick as high as some of my TKD club-mates. And it certainly keeps you humble when you totally mess up a pattern (typically a sequence of 30-40 set moves), when on your own, in a circle of 40+ people…
  6. Despite my limitations, it’s all about keeping on going. I’ve also reached the stage in TKD where, if am to keep progressing, I simply need to accept that I need to embrace a bit of perfectionism. I need to try to do everything exactly right. And I need to learn all the theory, whether I like it or not
  7. Patience: the improvements are incremental, and may not always be visible to the naked eye in my case (!) but they do come. If CPD can be reframed as ‘Continuing Personal Development’, you sometimes need to ‘develop’ for a year before you are able to look back and see results that make you proud
  8. Acceptance: I’d rather be doing all these activities as imperfectly as I am, than not be doing them. And over time, maybe terrible becomes OK, and even good or conceivably excellent. We can worry about ‘perfect’ another day
  9. The health benefits from these activities – not to mention the extra dog-walking I now have to do in between, have undoubtedly helped me. I’m fitter than I have been for a long time, and hope to improve still further – just as long as I can be a bit lucky and avoid injury

Ultimately – you just need to do the best you can, and make your peace with it. It’s actually quite liberating, even though I may not be eating my own foot for some years yet….

Are there downsides? Of course. My commitments mean I’m out for parts of 3, occasionally 4 evenings each week, away from my family (but they also have their own hobbies and commitments, and we do prioritise time together in the week). And who knows if I may get unlucky, and suffer some direction-changing injury. Meanwhile, I also remember ruefully the mantra that supposedly the more exercise you do, the more energy you’ll have and the less tired you’ll be. I’m not sure that always works in my case! And I sometimes ache from one day to the next. I don’t find my sleep is all that perfect ether - although that may have something to do with young Nala.

What questions still remain? What’s the right balance to ensure good health and energy levels, without overdoing it? I’m pretty sure I should do even more stretching. And I’m hearing more and more that people my age and above should be doing weights now, to protect our muscles from withering away. What do people see as the right balance or way forward? Are there any magic shortcuts, by any chance? Surely there must be some sort of dodgy pangolin-based supplement that someone could find me on the black market? Also, please can no-one tell me I need to cut out all sugar from my diet?

Andrew has written three blogs in his series ‘Healthy Habits for Leaders’; you can read ‘A tale of Tennis, Taekwon-do and a lady called Christine’, ‘Teetering on the edge of inflexibility’ and ‘Humility, exercise and 9 other things that I have learnt’ by clicking here.

Andrew Holden founded Parliament Hill in 2004, and has seen the company go from strength-to-strength to where we are today, with over 95 clients and close to 7 million members. If you are interested in becoming a client or partnering with Parliament Hill, please get in touch with Andrew here.

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