I get it. You’re tired. Full busy days, constantly feeling like you have to be “on.” Exhausted, you flop on the sofa after a long workday hoping you can at least muster up enough motivation to eat something other than a frozen pizza for dinner. Escaping the gravity that holds you to soft cushions seems insurmountable. I mean, come on! You had carpool this morning, back to back to back meetings throughout the day, a lunch on the go, that nagging headache, and a million emails screaming your name. You are a hero, just for getting the dog out for a walk and the trash to the curb on the right day of the week. I mean, after all that, of course you are tired. Or, are you?
In my former life I served as both a professional firefighter and a cop and I’m in this present life married to a Chief of Police. I think its fair to say I know a thing or two about long days. As a byproduct of those professions I was introduced to Dr. Kevin Gilmartin and his research forms the very foundation of the Action First coaching philosophy and, conveniently it also happens to be the number one antidote to feeling tired.
In a nut shell, Dr. Gilmartin says that when we think we’re tired…we aren’t.
Instead, it’s just our body’s protective response to a chronically heightened level of awareness, rather than actual muscular fatigue and exhaustion. Let me explain.
The human body utilizes the peripheral nervous system to control nerves that innervate the muscles and glands outside the brain. It can be divided into two parts, the somatic and the autonomic. For our purposes we care about the autonomic, which is the part of the system that controls smooth muscle. It too can be divided into two sub sections…the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Stay with me here, because this is where it starts to sound familiar.
The sympathetic part of the autonomic system is that which controls the body’s fight or flight response to stimulus. This is the response that produces adrenaline, increases your heart rate, breathing rate, makes your hands sweaty, and is really designed to have us be “in it” or “on.” The blood is sent away from smooth muscle to the skeletal muscle.
The opposite of fight or flight is the rest and digest cycle, which is governed by the other side of the autonomic system, the parasympathetic system. This system takes over when you can finally “turn off” or relax. It returns blood flow to smooth muscle, slows your heart rate, brings the color back to your cheeks, and generally makes you feel all warm and cozy.
Now that you have that straight, here is where Dr. Gilmartin comes in. Dr. Gilmartin specializes in developing psychological resilience, specifically within the law enforcement community. His research has led him to the conclusion that the “exhausted disengaged state that (an) officer feels after a work day is actually the parasympathetic autonomic response…if the officer is untrained in this physical reaction, they misinterpret this response as being TIRED.” He goes on to say that ironically, the officer disengages from the very things, such as physical fitness and family activities, that can return the body to homeostasis.
So, while you may or may not be someone that works in a super high pressure life and death environment, everyone to different degrees feels stress and pressure during the workday and spends some degree of that time experiencing a fight or flight response. And since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the rest and digest functions of the parasympathetic response take over once we are safely out of that environment. But just as Dr. Gilmartin cautions the officers he works with, the rest and digest function is not exhaustion. It is not being tired. It is not you being done for the day. It is only an emotional state that is brought on by the nervous system.
And here folks, is the crux.
Dr. Gilmartin has learned that “the emotional state will only alleviate once activity is initiated. It is not muscular fatigue that requires rest. It is a parasympathetic response that needs to be overcome by activity.”
Yes folks, activity. You have to take action, first. When you feel crappy and shitty and think you are tired, you have to remember that its just a physiological response to having had a heightened level of awareness…and the only way to overcome it is through direct physical action. You have to get up off the couch, you have to stand up from the desk, you have to do the thing that seems to totally suck in the moment, so that you can overcome the rest and digest mode and push your body towards homeostasis. This is the very idea behind why folks almost always feel better once they start a run or a workout.
I know, just reading about it sounds hard. I challenge you though, the next time you feel tired after a long day, consider these ideas and think “action first,” confident in knowing that you are taking control of your body and mind.
I believe that Dr. Gilmartin’s theories can be expanded to include all areas of life. If change, of whatever kind, is what you seek than you must take action first. Waiting for all the stars to align will get you just that, more waiting. In rock climbing, when I am on a vertical face I cant always see where the next place to set my feet or place my hands will be, so I have to make a small move just to expand my field of vision. It’s the same in life; make small moves so the next can appear.
The combination of Dr. Gilmartin’s research with Frank Tibolt’s ideas around inspiration that I described in Part I of this post, form the very foundation of my coaching practice and how I chose to face life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, use the comments to let me know if this resonates with you. For now though, remember, take action, first.