You may have heard that, as a child, Michael Phelps had attention deficit disorder, but was able to stay off of medication by swimming for hours every morning before school. At first, this may seem like a random bit of trivia or perhaps a recipe for helping children with ADD; but, it also points to a larger principle that applies to business development. By helping us to become more focused, balanced and calm, and by improving brain function, exercise enables us to be more present with others – listen better, adapt and respond to others’ ideas and concerns – all of which are essential for developing new clients, not to mention maintaining good relationships with existing clients. As lawyers, our biggest assets are our brains, and exercise makes them work better. It’s that simple. We are not talking about marginal changes.
Research indicates that, with exercise, reasoning and problem solving skills can improve a whopping 80%. Although most studies have focused on older adults, the available evidence suggests that physical activity improves problem solving, planning and attention at every stage of life. One study of schoolchildren in New York found that those in the top five percent of the fitness rankings scored an average of thirty-six percentile points higher on standardized academic tests than students in the bottom five percent. Exercise stimulates the flow of blood (and thus oxygen) through our brains. More blood flow actually stimulates the body to create more blood vessels, which in turn gives the body greater access to oxygen. Thus, the benefits of exercise actually increase over time as we consistently continue exercising.
While a healthy brain no-doubt seems like a good idea, in principle, it may still seem like a stretch to see it as a priority in terms of business development. After all, going to the gym or playing on a basketball team takes time. Wouldn’t your time be better spent writing articles or networking? Maybe, but here is the counter argument. Some business development activities are straightforward and action-based, such that the way one does it may not be as important as simply getting it done, for example, optimizing a LinkedIn profile or doing research on ideal clients. Even if you are grumpy, tired and overwhelmed when taking these actions, you can still hunker down and accomplish the task. (You might do a better job or work on such activities more frequently if you were happier, more focused, etc., but for now I will stipulate that the most important thing is just to get it done.) However, there are other aspects of business development where your attitude, focus, and ability to be open and flexible are absolutely critical. For instance, when you are giving a pitch, or sitting down with prospects to learn more about their business, the quality of your listening, the ability to look past your immediate agenda and really figure out what would serve your clients best, makes all the difference. Of course, to some extent these skills can be learned; but they are also a matter of attitude, focus and serenity which can be cultivated through exercise.
This is what ontological coaching is about, helping people shift their attitudes and perspectives so that they can achieve the results they want with more ease and joy. There are innumerable ways to create such shifts; but, one way, which doesn’t cost anything, necessarily, is exercise. Also, keep in mind that running, walking, swimming or other simple repetitive types of exercise present a wonderful opportunity to think through challenging problems. So, next time you are debating between one more billable hour and going to the gym, remember that clarity, focus and serenity come from exercise, and do what Michael Phelps would do.