What do triathlons, yoga and habits have to do with employee engagement?

I recently participated in my 8th Sprint distance triathlon. The alarm went off at 3:45a. My husband, Alan, and I drove an hour to meet some friends for a socially distanced, mask-wearing transition area setup and then headed to the ocean for the open water swim. The outside air was 64° and the ocean was a cool 73°. 

As I stood shivering, I thought to myself “What the heck was I thinking?” 

That question seemed to be the theme for the day. I jumped into the ocean to swim a quarter of a mile, then cycled 12 windy miles and finally ran (mostly) a 5K. I had another triathlon under my belt and it felt good!


Afterwards, on the ride home, I kept thinking…”What is it that drives me to participate in a physically and mentally challenging triathlon and yet, I can’t seem to do 20 minutes of yoga a couple of days a week?” I was perplexed.

So here’s a question to think about. 

Why are we so good at doing some things – even difficult things – and not able to create habits for others which are easier?

I went in search of answers. The book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, had recently been recommended to me by a couple of colleagues. That seemed like a great place to start. What I learned made common sense but wasn’t always common practice. Of course, you’ll need to read the book if you want all the information, but one key thing I quickly learned was about the need for systems.

When it comes to triathlon training, I have systems in place with accountability partners. I regularly meet friends to swim in the intracoastal waterway. I have running buddies which I meet twice a week and I put cycling on my calendar. Since I live in south Florida, I’m able to do all of that year-round. These systems promote results that I’m happy with. I consider myself a recreational level, sprint-distance triathlete.

When it comes to yoga, since the pandemic hit, I’ve been on my own. No classes to attend, no girlfriends to meet up with. Sure, there are lots of free videos and I can easily practice inside or out at home on my own, but I hadn’t created a reliable system. I no longer identified myself as a yogi.

Well, I’ve recently fixed that by making a dedicated space in my house for my yoga mat and signing up for a paid app with live classes that I register for in advance. Classes are on my calendar and I’m excited to practice again. 

I hope you’re starting to see parallels between my training routines and your leadership and engagement skills. The only way to consistently improve and sustain the engagement levels of your direct reports is to have a system and accountability partners.

Here’s one idea for creating an engagement related system for yourself. 

Before you leave work every day, take 3-4 minutes to look at the next day and put an engagement action on your calendar. Examples might include writing a note of appreciation, rounding with staff, meeting one on one, reaching out to someone via FaceTime, etc.

Start realistically with this one system. To help things stick, ask someone to be your accountability partner. Send a quick email to that person with what your activity will be the next day and have him send you one too.

Whether something is hard or easy, it still takes systems to create habits. Please let me know what engagement related habits you’ve created for 2021!

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