How Regular Physical Activity Can Improve Your Productivity and Mindset

This article was written by Ciaran Ruddock, Co-Founder & Director of Performance at FFS Gym.

Exercising and playing sports helped me immensely with my confidence as a child, right through to my teenage years. I learned that if I focused on the process of getting better, made sure I showed up consistently and gave my best effort; I would improve my performance. This helped me to overcome shyness and develop greater self-confidence.

In my later teenage years I began to gravitate more towards rugby, and again I found the same enjoyment and self-belief from the work I was doing in the gym on my game. I’ve always trained with passion and purpose in the gym, the hard work I was doing not only improved my physical performance, but it also gave me the belief that if I continued to work hard, I could play at the top level one day.

Fast forward twelve years, I am no longer a competitive athlete, but rather a coach. I have the pleasure of coaching people from all walks of life, my mission is to help myself and others become the strongest version of themselves.

Aside from the obvious physical benefits of regular physical activity such as improved strength, cardiovascular performance, mobility, and body composition, there are also considerable benefits on mental performance. These benefits are a major driving force for me to continue to engage in regular physical activity, and to improve my mental health.

The mechanisms that drive this are:

1. ENDORPHINS

These are the chemicals released by the brain that reduce feelings of pain and bring about feelings of euphoria and general wellbeing. This is what facilitates ‘the runners high’; if you have not heard about this, it is the feelings of euphoria and reduced anxiety experienced by runners. For me, this feeling is a major motivating factor for me to make physical activity a priority in the mornings. I am in a better mood, have more energy and I am calmer facing challenges for the rest of the day.

2. IMPROVES STRESS MANAGEMENT

No matter who we are, we will always have challenges in our life; whether professional, personal, health, emotional, financial or anything else. Sometimes we will be faced with multiple challenges at once which can lead to increased stress levels and a cluttered mind, where we are not fully present. Research shows that physical activity is a highly effective treatment for stress. I have found that when I am stressed, one of the best things I can do is to go workout. It helps me channel this nervous energy into a physical output and the process of moving helps me to become more present. Physical activity can act as moving meditation, I am far less likely to be worrying about something in the past or future when I am on my twentieth burpee in a row. As I start to become physically fatigued my focus shifts to the present and getting up off the floor to complete the twentieth burpee. After I have finished my workout I always have a new perspective, and the challenges that may have had me feeling overwhelmed earlier, now seem more manageable.

3. IMPROVES SELF DISCIPLINE 

Personally, procrastination is a habit that can cause me stress. Putting important things off only leads to worrying about doing them. I always feel better when I take action and just get started. One of the most effective ways that I am able to tackle the habit of procrastination is through physical activity. Some days I don’t feel like being physically active or there are exercises that I may not want to do. This is where self-discipline comes in; being able to delay gratification, trading what I want now for what I want in the future. Being disciplined takes practice and, for me, one of the best ways to practice is through regular physical exercise. This practice then naturally translates into other areas of my professional life, where I find myself being more disciplined with task completion and time management on a daily basis.

4. IMPROVES SELF-TALK

This is one of the primary benefits of physical activity for me. When I speak to companies about how to improve performance, I always speak about the power of self-talk. Self-talk is the internal dialogues that we have with ourselves daily. Often we are not aware of the fact that we are speaking to ourselves or even the content of this self-talk. Research shows that how we speak to ourselves has a significant impact on the way we feel and perform. For example; if we make a mistake in work and then spend the entire day beating ourselves up about it, we are more likely to make more mistakes and certainly will negatively impact our mood for the rest of the day. I have found that doing a challenging workout really amplifies self-talk and gives us the opportunity to train positive self-talk.  For example; when I am doing a really challenging rowing workout I will inevitably start to tell myself “this is really hard” or “I can’t keep this pace up” and this leads to an increased perception of fatigue and decreased exercise performance. Through awareness and practice, I am able to direct my self talk to “Come on Ciaran! Keep working, you have this!” or “Keep driving through your legs, big long strokes!”. This practice of positive self-talk in challenging situations helps me to recognise negative self talk in my professional life and redirect it to positive self-talk.

5. HELPS TO DEVELOP THE GROWTH MINDSET

Researcher Carol Dweck at Stanford University has spent over thirty years studying the behaviour of thousands of children and its impact on their learning. Dr. Dweck coined the terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’ to describe underlying beliefs about learning and intelligence. She found that when students adopted a growth mindset they didn’t believe that intelligence was fixed, they understood that effort made them more intelligent. These children relished challenges and didn’t view failure as final. As I described in the introduction to this blog, physical activity has taught me that if I consistently work hard to improve then I will. I see through training myself and others that everything in life is a skill and it can be developed through deliberate practice. For example; if someone comes to me with the goal of being able to do more push-ups, I know that with a well planned and executed training plan they will be able to do more push-ups. Regular physical activity helps me to cultivate the growth mindset that allows me to learn and grow in my professional life.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this and, through sharing my experience, that it has sparked a curiosity about how regular physical activity can help you to be more productive and practice a positive mindset.

Thank you for reading. If you are interested in coaching to help develop nutrition and lifestyle habits that help you be at your best, you can email me at ciaran@ffs.ie .

Written by Ciaran Ruddock, Co-Founder & Director of Performance at FFS.

I am on a mission to help myself and others become the strongest versions of themselves. To do this I want to help people eat, move, think and recover better.

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