I’ve had the privilege of caring for hundreds of patients from a wide variety of occupations: teachers, plumbers, athletes, general contractors, secretaries, pastors, executives, politicians, homemakers, and countless others.
In doing so, I’ve worked with several high-performance people, who needed something extra from their bodies to fulfill their calling in life. No matter what industry they were in, the call to excellence demanded that they be in optimal health at all times. What I discovered was that there were a couple of universal core strategies that helped keep even the most demanding performers at their peak.
Now, bear in mind, I’m not just talking about professional athletes. Obviously, these are non-negotiable for athletes, but it goes way beyond that realm.
This is so crucial. I don’t want you to miss it.
Is Your Engine Ready For The Race?
I have found that one of the reasons many executives, pastors, and government leaders burn out, break down, or die young is that their bodies are not conditioned to perform at the high levels their occupations demand. They are trying to run the Daytona 500 with a minivan.
If you have a perception of an executive as a middle-aged man with a pot belly in a silk suit, propping his feet up on his mahogany desk while he puffs on a fat cigar, then you have bought into one of the pervasive lies of marketing. While I will grant you that some leaders are obviously out of shape, I propose that they are the exception – not the rule – and that they are in serious danger.
People like that are a heart-attack waiting to happen. That’s why they don’t last long.
If you’ve ever run a business, pastored a church, led an organization, or run for public office, you know something about the kind of stress that accompanies those occupations. The mental pressure of being responsible for other people’s salaries, pleasing customers, and keeping a brave face when things look bad is not only emotionally taxing, it can damage your body. We’ve talked many times about the damage that occurs to your organs when stress neurotransmitters like cortisol and adrenaline are allowed to flow unabated. The higher your position in an organization, the higher the pressure to deliver results, and the longer the cortisol valve sits open. The negative effects of unhealthy lifestyle habits are exacerbated as pressure increases.
That’s why, when I work with high-level executives, we don’t just deal with spinal subluxation. We also talk about stress management techniques, optimal diet, and healthy movement. Here are four of my key strategies for executives:
Stay Physically Active
If you spend any time reading any of the most popular books about leadership, you have seen the volumes of research linking exercise to stress management. Exercise stimulates the production of a flood of good-feeling neurotransmitters that are usually absent from the bloodstream of people who are depressed or stressed. Still, I’m surprised at how many executives I come across who don’t have a consistent regimen of movement in their lives. They think they don’t have time to hit the gym.
If you will allow me to be blunt, you’ll have plenty of time to exercise after you get out of the hospital – if you survive the trip.
If you want to sustain a career in leadership, then exercise needs to be one of the most consistent parts of your daily routine – somewhere between answering e-mail and reading the cash flow report. In fact, with a little creativity, you can easily find ways to combine exercise with other activities through your day.
If you’re building a start-up, bailing out a sinking ship, or trying to hit an impossible deadline, it’s easy to put in a 14-hour day without moving from your desk. That’s a dangerous habit to start. I understand about focus and I know what it’s like to be driven. I get hustle…I really do. I’ve been running my own practice for more than 20 years, with and without partners. I’ve set crazy, ambitious goals, and I’ve paid for it with my health.
You have to ask yourself what your goals will cost your body and if you are physically able to pay that toll. Take the question seriously. It’s one thing if you are 25, fit, and single. But I’d be willing to bet that you are not 25 anymore, and you have more than your own future at stake. Some goals will cost you more than you think.
At the same time, I don’t want to discourage you from pursuing a big dream. You just need to know what your body can handle, and you need a strategy and a plan. That plan needs to include a regular schedule of movement, including:
- Stretching for flexibility, stability, and motor control.
- High-intensity interval training to ramp up your heart rate and trade stress hormones for feel-good hormones.
Your emotional life is tied directly to your physical life and you need to give your body an outlet for pent-up stress, anxiety, or frustration. You’ve seen what happens to people who don’t. If you don’t make time to exercise, your body will make you make time.
You Are What You Eat
It’s easy to forget to eat when you are focused on something all-consuming, like a big goal. Hard-driving high-achievers I’ve worked with have a tendency to work through meals. That’s not the worst thing in the world because intermittent fasting can be a powerful way to regulate your blood sugar and fat metabolism.
Where it becomes a problem is when you finally come up for air and eat all three meals at once! I see people do this ALL THE TIME, and it’s dangerous. I’m not just talking about the spare tire you’re going to grow; this is the shortcut to heart disease. This is especially true if you gorge yourself on fatty fast food to save time.
Look around your office today. If you see pizza boxes, McDonald’s wrappers, or half-eaten Chinese food containers scattered around your floor, it’s time to slam on the brakes. Convenience food is a scourge on our culture, and it is creating a disease epidemic that is keeping the pharmaceutical industry in business. It’s completely unsustainable. If you think, “it’s just for a couple more months, until my ship comes in,” I have to wonder what ship you’re expecting.
And what will be your reasoning when you’re still trying to keep up this pace next year?
I realize that preparing healthy meals takes a little longer than buying fast food, but maybe that’s a good thing. If you will permit me to get philosophical for a moment, maybe we’ve lost our soul as a nation because we’ve sacrificed the time we used to spend preparing and enjoying a meal around the dinner table with family and friends.
If you don’t have time to eat right, you have to ask yourself what you do have time for. Maybe it’s time to hire some help. Maybe get an assistant to help you manage your priorities, phone calls, and e-mails, so you can focus on the things that only you can do. If you aren’t comfortable delegating anything, then you have a problem no one can solve. Your business will eventually kill you.
Most convenience food is loaded with sugar (because if they didn’t mask the taste with sugar, you would gag on it). Sugar has the same effect in your gut that it has in your car’s tank, yet so many busy people prop themselves up with refined sugars, baked goods, and carbonated drinks all day long, until they finally crash. To get top performance from your engine, you need to put clean fuel in it.
If you eat a lot of red meat, I urge you to trade out some of it with dark, leafy greens, vegetables, and healthy omega-3 fat sources like avocados and macadamia nuts. Take fifteen minutes before you rush out the door to put together a simple smoothie with green apple, spinach, carrot, and celery. It’s high in fiber, healthy sugars, iron, protein, and a host of other benefits. And it only takes a few minutes.
Get More Sleep
I know it’s a badge of honor to burn the midnight oil, but it’s a romanticized notion. If you want to be a high performer, then you need to recognize that sacrificing sleep for productivity actually sacrifices productivity. Your body needs sleep on the same level that it needs food. This isn’t negotiable. If you starve your body of sleep, it will catch up with you in the form of diminishing returns.
One of my good friends in college participated in a sleep deprivation study and she still says it was the most terrifying thing she has ever done. Her mind began to play tricks on her. She went through fits of paranoia, hallucinations, and sudden memory lapses. It affected her for weeks after the study was over. One night, she was walking out of the library one second and, a second later found herself sitting in her car at home and didn’t remember driving.
Friends who have worked overnight shifts while trying to raise kids during the day have described permanent changes in their metabolism, short-term memory, and simple problem-solving skills.
Sleep deprivation has been blamed for a long list of traffic and transportation disasters. It interferes with cognitive functions, decision-making processes, and even emotional responses to stimuli. If you want to be a top performer in any industry, you can’t be prone to sudden emotional outbursts, fits of rage, panic, or the inability to make decisions. It will ruin your organization, your career, and probably your family and other relationships.
Get some sleep. Seven to nine hours out of every 24 you spend on the planet. Your work can wait.
Surround Yourself with Support
No man is an island. There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” We know this. Everyone knows this. Yet I still work with countless leaders who live in isolation, either intentionally or unintentionally.
“It’s lonely at the top,” is absolutely true. There are aspects to leadership that non-leaders will never understand and can’t relate to; it’s a fact of life. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to live like a hermit. If you are married, your marriage needs to be a priority or it will become the most painful thing you have ever experienced. If your spouse doesn’t support your vision, then your first priority is to get them on board – whether that means you need to present it to them in terms they can accept or you adjust it until they can get aligned with it. Otherwise, they will always resent your goal.
You must have a circle of peers you can talk to. I suggest a group like this:
- At least one who can teach you something.
- At least one who can hold you accountable to your goals and values.
- At least one who can make you laugh or relax.
- At least one who will listen when you need to cry.
- At least one you can mentor.
These can be golfing or fishing buddies, pastors, friends from church, friends from networking groups, neighbors, or even extended family members. Bonus points if your spouse can fill one of these roles. I urge you not to have anyone from the opposite sex in that circle other than your spouse. It just creates problems.
Finally, I personally couldn’t handle the pressures of my career without the daily support of my Savior. If you don’t have a relationship with God, it’s time to reevaluate that. He gives me peace, wisdom, encouragement, and strength for impact every part of my life. I can talk to Him and trust Him to talk to me; I never have to go through my life alone. And I never have to be afraid or wonder how I’m going to make it. That takes a huge burden off of me in my day to day life. I don’t know how people survive without Him.
Start With A Coach
If you find yourself in a position of leadership and struggling to keep up with the demands, let’s talk. I’d like to help you bring balance and flexibility to your life so that you can more effectively manage the pressures of your work and perform at the level you know you can.
Now that things are getting back to normal here in Naples, I’m pleased to announce that we have rescheduled out next Fundamental Foods and Friends dinner for Thursday, October 5th. If you live in this area, I invite you to join us for a great night of food, knowledge, and new friends. We always have a great time at these dinners, so the word is getting out. Don’t wait to see if this one is full because space is limited and I assure you this one WILL be full. RSVP to secure your seat now so you don’t miss out. Bring a dish to share or $10 cash.
I look forward to meeting you there.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas