….It is how fast you can recover

Have you felt low in energy and motivation and wished you could be tougher? You’re not alone if you do. We all believe that the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. That is how most of us understand resilience.

My own mistaken approach to resilience

My journey to ‘resilience’ started as a necessity of enduring pain from a very young age. It started with a scared 7-year-old boy who had rheumatic heart disease having to take an intramuscular penicillin injection every 20 days, a 10 ml with the consistency and viscosity of curd. The pain from the injection blinded me. I had to learn to have the courage to face the day I had to be injected – and to endure to walk the next couple of days in blinding pain. Eventually, I got so good at it that when I broke my back and doctors told me I could never walk without surgery — I learned to not just walk but to run and lift. I once lived with a broken ankle for months. More recently I got electrocuted on an 11,000-volt line – the pain for days was unbearable. A few months later I cut the artery of my left forearm in an accident – the blood spurted all over my face, eyes and clothes, so I wiped the blood from my eyes, injected myself repeatedly with the one good hand with drugs to prevent both loss of blood and shock from blood loss, then drove an hour to get to a hospital. At work – when I started TWB I remember working 16 hrs a day for 2 yrs without a day off. Today it’s been 7 yrs I took a vacation or watched a movie in a theater. I thought I was resilient and tough but I was wrong.

I have always prided myself in being able to take a lot of punishment, but the last few years have taught me I had learnt all the wrong things about resilience and developed a bad work ethic. I mistook what it meant to have resilience for how much punishment I could take when it actually is how quickly I could recover to 100% performance capacity again.

The Resilience Model

Much of what we think of tough is inspired by the military. It was certainly true for me. I came from a military background, and as a boy, I read about battles and about courage because I knew I was scared. The image of a soldier still fighting without stopping when they are shot or a boxer going one more round when he is badly beaten was what it meant for me.

Even if the military is not where your idea of resilience comes another wrong idea of resilience is bred into you from an early age. You are valued for how early you woke up to study or how many hours you stayed up working on a project.

These ideas of resilience become part of our work ethic when we hit the workforce. Nobody is punching us in the face but we put in long hours that leaves us exhausted. Soon we start thinking of overwork and exhaustion as the same as having a work ethic. Long hours of work become a measure of how we should be seen as professionals. The satisfaction derived from driving late from work and waiting for the weekend so you can hit a pub is now an epidemic. Working and being exhausted from it is now the example of having grit — when actually it is trying really hard, recovering, then trying again.

What is so exhausting about your day?

I learnt — after being exhausted for years that — resilient people operate in either of 2 zones – the performance zone and the recovery zone. Performance zone is about making a concerted effort to drive a result. You can operate in this zone for a few hours tops before fatigues sets in. This is why we need to get to the Recovery zone – where we are recharging to get back to 100% capacity before we push again. This comes from a fundamental concept in biology called homeostasis. Homeostasis is a fundamental concept describing the ability of the brain to continuously restore and sustain well-being.

Essentially high performance has a cycle – work hard – rest – work hard – rest. You can see in sportspersons – they train – rest – train – rest. The more time we spend in the performance zone, the more time we need in the recovery zone. The value of recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of effort, that is fatigue. The massive effort itself does not cause exhaustion it is when we do not have enough time in the recovery zone we feel we’re overworked and stress starts building. When our body & brain are overworked – we have a negative balance and we use a vast amount of mental and physical resources just to return to zero balance before we can get going again. This is an actual physical condition called ‘upregulation’. Filling the negative balance repeatedly that is ‘upregulation’ causes exhaustion. This is why even one late night can leave you exhausted.

There is another powerful phenomenon that is taking place at the same time which is ‘the fear of doing nothing’. This is an actual unsaid fear that has been trained into us from our previous wrong idea of resilience that we have built. The fear of doing nothing initially starts as a fear of not contributing to our goals or relinquishing our responsibilities. It is a powerful emotion because this fear is mixed with guilt. When you have a sick child or require a large sum of money taking a break feels like a crime. So how do you cope with feeling guilty about resting?

Rest & Recovery are not the same things

We fill this ‘recovery’ period of what we think are activities that we feel are relaxing or less intense — such as looking at the phone or just checking messages or mail. When we first did that our fear subsided and so did our tiredness. Our body and brain thought ‘hey I can do this’ again because there was no guilt of taking time off.

Without thinking about it you assume that stopping answering work emails and shifting attention to a conversation with a friend on Whatapp or Facebook will be an aid in recovery. But the fact also is in a conversation like that you are still active and engaged about “what did she mean by that’, ‘what do I say for him to think this’. Even when you come across a video with political views or when you just lay quietly about decisions about how to change your life your brain has not received a break from its arousal state. I know people who come back from vacations – exhausted!

Changes I made to my life

Many people ask me how do I function – how much time do you need to work off a INR 20+ crore deficit when you are alone? I lived an extreme life but these are some of what has allowed me to function and work against tremendous odds:

  • I have learnt to actually keep things strictly in either of 2 buckets and become ruthless with my time. The time I am thinking of work, of actually working is my Performance Zone. The time I am with my dogs, or working out is my Recovery zone.
  • My hours of working have dropped dramatically (to around 4 from 10-12 at TWB 1.0) but my productivity, energy and creativity have skyrocketed.
  • If there is any activity that does not fall into either of these – eg meeting a friend or working on something that puts me in a deficit (read about procrastination here) then I think hard whether it is worth investing my time in it all. Invariably the answer is no.
  • For years I could hardly sleep but now at 10 pm I am fast asleep and up with the first light. Even though I sleep so light that the change of breathing of just one of 20+ dogs around me will wake me up.

I can’t say I have a work-life balance – because I do not seek it – I run a 24 hr day at any time I am working for earning more money, or am with my dogs or working out. I only stop now to sleep. It is now 7+ yrs that I have not taken a vacation both because I could not leave the city and I did not have the money to spend on a ticket or a night out. For years I thought “next year I will take that vacation”. But now I could I decided against it. Because I don’t need a vacation. When I am not working I am on vacation.

Not resting strangely allows us to feel connected with our ‘goals’. You eventually fall asleep exhausted with thoughts and plans of how much work you’ll do tomorrow. Its a poor relationship but a strong habit. The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our ability to be resilient and successful. You don’t have to have a life like mine of course but there are important techniques in the ‘Stronger with Rakesh Shukla™’ programs you can learn on how to build the resilience you need to have a rich, proud and fulfilling life.

Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA™ is a framework for developing unparalleled Mental & Physical toughness developed over Rakesh’s life. It has driven 2 comebacks.

Rakesh Shukla has slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel and others. At 43, over one year he lost everything. Alone & friendless he spent the next 5 years repaying over INR 20 crores of debt & taxes, building back his company and reputation. While creating & funding VOSD the world’s largest dog sanctuary & rescue.

Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was 7 yrs old, had had 2 heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this 5 year period, Rakesh was 88kg in weight and very unfit. Today at 48 yrs he can lift well over 100kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2000 push-ups or 250 pulls ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer or taken any supplements.