By Jason Lacayo, O2X Instructor, SWAT Operator, PT
As First Responders, it is of the utmost importance that we make sure we are in the best mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual space possible each and every day. It is our responsibility to create habits that boost job performance and to have our bodies and minds functioning optimally as often as possible. There are plenty of reasons and/or excuses an individual can make for why they don’t work out, or eat right, or sleep well. Additionally, in this profession it’s easy to become consumed by the job and neglect yourself. Don’t get me wrong, there are days where all the things you plan go right out the window and your usual routine has to be put on hold. However, if you have a well established routine that keeps you on track, a day or two of slip up won’t be too detrimental to your overall well-being or optimal functioning. With that said, here are the 5 things I do on a daily basis to boost my job performance:
My 5 Daily Practices to Boost Job Performance:
Every morning I meditate right after waking up, before I begin my day. Meditation has been a huge part of my life for the last few years. It enables me to clear my mind of any negativity, rid my heart of any lingering negative feelings, and begin each day with a positive outlook. I set intentions for the day, usually just things I envision for my day and how I want my day to go. Then, I give thanks and express gratitude for my family, for the gift of seeing another day, for the ability to move my body, and for being able to continue to do a job I love. I also usually read a scripture from the Bible or a motivating quote that further aligns my spirit with how I want to live that day. This sets the tone for everything else that follows. Meditating allows me to remain calm while on very high stress, dangerous calls at work. It helps me to act out of my rational mind instead of an emotional state. And it also allows me to rid myself of negative feelings resulting from work stresses.
2. Move my body and exercise.
Whether it’s a long walk, a hike, or a long high intensity workout, I make sure I move my body and stay active every day. I typically train for 1-2 hours per day. The content of my training varies. Some days I focus on conditioning, long runs, endurance pieces, or agility and sprint work. Other days I combine strength training with a high intensity crossfit style workout. Workouts are varied and consist of functional movements to mimic real life. As an ESU and SWAT team member it is essential that I am in peak physical shape to ensure that when I am called I can perform. My physical fitness or lack thereof could mean the difference between life or death on any given day. I train to ensure my survivability, as well as to be able to save the lives of others no matter the circumstance.
I make sure that I sufficiently and appropriately fuel my body to endure my vigorous workouts. Nutrition is also necessary to handle the toll that high stress work situations and shift work take on my body. There are a few nutrition practices that I use every day. First, I utilize intermittent fasting as a means of regenerating cells, maintaining mental clarity, and burning fat. I usually fast for 15-20 hours, depending on how busy my day is. I also eat high quality, nutrient dense, whole foods. I eat a few healthy snacks and then one large meal. Snacks most often consist of nuts, protein cookies, protein shakes, and fruit. I eliminated meat from my diet nearly six years ago, and honestly I’ve never felt better. At this point I do eat fish on occasion, but most of my meals are completely plant-based. Without proper nutrients, my mood suffers, my sleep suffers, and, in turn, my workouts and work day suffer. Finally, I make sure to take vitamins and supplements that bolster my immune system, support bone and joint health, and promote overall physical well-being.
Without enough water, our bodies eventually stop running efficiently. I drink at least one gallon of water per day. On most days, especially on hot days or days I train for longer than usual, I make sure I drink more. Many people may not realize how many different body systems rely on hydration to work efficiently. Hydrating regulates our body temperature, lubricates joints (which becomes more important as we get older), delivers the nutrients that we eat to the cells that need them, and keeps our organs functioning properly. It also flushes out toxins, aids in sleep, which helps the body recover, and improves cognition and mental clarity. When I don’t drink enough water, I feel it. I don’t seem to recover as fast and will experience more muscle soreness after training.
5. Maintain a work-life balance.
It is so easy to become all consumed by work. You can get caught up burning the candle at both ends, working a ridiculous amount of overtime, and making the job your life. It is important to me to make sure that I take the time to enjoy and appreciate my family and all the great things God has blessed me with. Without taking the time to enjoy and honor my gifts, it would be easy to burn myself out and become unhealthy. I make it a point to visit family, travel, enjoy movie nights at home, go out with friends, and play recreational sports. Self-care and enjoying life also makes me a better co-worker and a better, more level headed and alert police officer on-duty. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so I make sure to do things that keep my cup full.
Take time to establish your routine
The things I listed above took years for me to establish and make into a daily routine. It takes a significant amount of self-examination and growth to figure out what things work for you. You have to be willing to put in the work even on the most taxing days to maintain the routine, but I promise you all the work is worth it.