“This next hour is for you. Stray thoughts will come. Don’t explore them, don’t follow them. They will wait for you. Focus on your breathing. Slowly increase your inhales and keep your exhales constant. You can get back to life and your tasks after this hour. Be in the moment. Focus on your training session, your body, one rep at a time.”
Coach Arvind’s monotone voice was something I looked forward to as he started every class during this lockdown.
Fitness and training was something I adopted very late in life, but as they say, it’s never too late to start something new right? I have been training at The Quad for 7 years and it’s turned into an integral part of who I am and how I look at life in general. It started off as yet another attempt at weight loss and general fitness but has grown into so much more.
4 or 5 days of the week, I’m up at the crack of dawn and it pretty much sets the tone for the rest of my day. Words like crawls, hinge, windmills, press, and goblets that were alien to me before, are now ingrained in my head and I can do them in my sleep. Here are some numbers. I wasn’t able to lift or clean a single 12kg kettlebell 7 years ago. I can now squat 95% of my BW with double kettlebells. I can deadlift 1.2x of my BW for at least 10 reps. I can overhead press about 40% of my BW for a couple of reps. But what does all of this mean? They’re just numbers. They don’t mean a thing. I’m not chasing numbers. I’m not training for an Iron Man or getting into powerlifting. It’s about progress. It’s about doing a little more every time I show up. And that’s all it took. Showing up and doing a little more every day.
My coaches talk about getting the four basic things right, and the rest takes care of itself. Stress. Sleep. Nutrition. Activity. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, but it’s not impossible. It isn’t about seismic shifts and life-changing events, but making small shifts in habits and choices. Here’s a change I made early on and still practice even today.
A minimum of 7+ hours of sleep when I train the following morning. No matter what. That meant phones put away, no calls, no screen time. It’s a challenge especially when work calls run late, but where possible, it’s about setting expectations, respecting personal time, and having personal goals. A few years in, I realized I needed to shift my training time to a later slot just so I can get in that extra hour of sleep.
The other factors work the same way. Making subtle shifts in your food habits rather than go on binges and then on the next fad of unreasonable and unsustainable diets. Focussing on just 30 minutes of any activity like walking. No, not the type that your local colony uncle and aunty does, but rather brisk walking. Or cycling. Slowly up it to an hour. The stress is tough. Everyone has stress. There’s stress at work, at home, all around us. I realized, if I took care of the other three factors, (no I didn’t magically erase stress) I was able to tackle stress a lot better than I did earlier.
The lockdown, of course, threw everything sideways. Training centres were closed. One couldn’t go out and run or cycle or play a sport as before. So initially while I struggled to pivot into the new normal of working, sleep and stress suffered, but thankfully nutrition and training kicked in. I was luckily able to rent a few kettlebells and trained more regularly than I have before. I was able to set aside a small space in the house that was mine for that one hour. We cooked a lot more, that meant healthier eating and less outside food. Into month 2 and 3 of the lockdown, sleep stabilized and so did stress. It’s essential, especially now, to find that balance. My coach uses the dials analogy and how when we start noticing a couple of dials moving up, we can turn down the other dials to compensate. For example, if I didn’t get enough sleep or was mentally not 100%, I would dial back the training and operate at a 70-80% efficiency.
The acknowledgement of these factors and subsequently the recognition of the levels of these factors are of course essential. For me, the impact on my focus, on my productivity has been fantastic. Energy levels are a lot higher, meetings were a lot more productive, creative output was better. In fact, prior to the lockdown, my team ran plank sessions at 4 pm every day. We did it collaboratively and motivated others to join in as well. Working from home isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a joyride. There are challenges employees face, mental and emotional ones. It’s imperative that we find that one thing we are passionate about and lock-in. Even if it’s for 20 minutes a day. It could be art, music, playing an instrument, listening to a podcast, working out, talking to your kids, or doing yoga. But for that 20 minutes, switch off from the world and focus all your energy on that one activity. The other 23 hours and 40 minutes would be a whole lot better. Finding the sweet spot of focus during this lockdown has been a challenge. There is no secret sauce. Like anything else, one has to work at it, chip away every day, until it clicks. I don’t have all the answers but there are some things that worked for me, others are still a work in progress.
I’m now locked in on nailing the rice to water ratio in the cooker, so I gotta run. Lunch is on me. Stay safe and work on finding your focus.
In his day job, Suneel leads a team of 300+ designers who service some of the best brands in the world.
Suneel wears many hats though and believes in the engagement of people through the medium of sport. He has been teaching Ultimate frisbee for the KC High middle school as part of their electives program and loves the mixed-gender format of the sport and how it promotes sportsmanship. In his spare time, he croons some tunes and also is a closet abstract art painter.
He currently lives in Chennai with 6 girls; one wife, two young daughters, and three cats!