Wellness Tips for Leaders

The following is adapted from the section on wellness for leaders that I contributed to the newly published What Exceptional Leaders Know, High Impact Skills, Strategies and Ideas for Leaders, by Tracy Spears and Wally Schmader. Whether you’re a CEO, sales team manager, parent, coach or teacher, you’ll discover useful information on wellness and more. Here’s just a sampling: 

Wellness, as a term, gets tossed around a lot these days. But what does it really mean? According to the National Wellness Institute, “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” I like this definition because it reminds us that we are each responsible for our own success as a person. No one can do it for us. We have to want to take that close look at ourselves, and then accept the self-knowledge that results.

Next we commit to making changes and envision how these look moving forward. It’s an “active” and ongoing process, with no formula that works for everyone. Each of us is unique in our challenges, yet wellness is available to all of us who actively participate in the journey.

What Exceptional Leaders KnowThe authors of What Exceptional Leaders Know have done a great job of outlining a 30-day reboot that fits our definition of optimal wellness. They lead us through an Energy Audit and a Neglect Review. Together these tools boost our awareness of what’s working and what’s not.

Next, readers use information from the Audit and Review to create change in the Managed Goals Workshop. When reviewing your own behaviors, be sure a few of your health concerns make it into the exercise. Without our health, we have nothing. You know this all too well if you’ve had a health scare or suffer from a chronic condition. Lucky you if this seems like just another platitude, but someday it’s meaning will be crystal clear. Don’t wait for that day. Don’t fall prey to the mindset of, “yeah but, that won’t happen to me.” Just like everything else relating to personal success and wellness, good health involves awareness (no denial here) and consistent good choices.

My Top Suggestions

In addition to your list of goals that result from your Personal Reboot, I offer three suggestions that every exceptional leader will benefit from. In my practice as a health coach, without exception my clients need reinforcement in at least one of these areas. Even though my suggestions are undeniably basic — the first two you’ve surely heard hundreds of times — they bear repeating because they allow for the strongest, healthiest and most robust platform from which all or your energy, ideas, and talents as a leader flow.

Sleep

Adequate sleep is elusive to many of us, especially leaders. Two reasons seem to be at the root. The first is that we are taught that go-getters don’t have time for sleep. Sleep is for lazy, unproductive folk with little motivation. We hear about movers and shakers who only require about 4 hours a night (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump). Remember, these folks are anomalies. They represent only 1-3% of the population. If you’re not regularly logging 7-9 hours (1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night), you are accumulating a sleep debt that has far-reaching negative effects on the body and mind.

The second reason we don’t get enough shuteye is that many of us fall into a cycle of bad habits that undermine our ability to get a sound night’s sleep. Poor sleep quality is often blamed on age or chalked up to stress, but there are ways to improve our sleep.

– Why Sleep is Vital

The first step in improving your sleep is to understand why it’s so important to our health and our overall success. Our bodies contain a delicate mix of biochemicals, which regulate how we feel and behave. These brain chemicals become depleted throughout the day, particularly by stress. Sleep is when our bodies restore this important balance.

  • Mentally, sleep deprivation makes us more forgetful, less able to process new information and leaves us vulnerable to depression and anxiety. More sleep keeps cortisol (the stress hormone) in check while boosting our natural mood enhancer, serotonin.
  • Insufficient sleep lowers cortisol and leptin, making us more likely to crave and overindulge in fatty, crispy, salty, and sweet comfort foods.
  • Physically, sleep debt hijacks our immune system, raising the risk of hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and stroke.

– Tips for Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

Now that you’re convinced of the fundamental importance of a good night sleep, there are a few things you can do to help you get it.

  • Charge electronic devices outside of the bedroom, or completely silence them. Beeps, hums, and chirps are disruptive.
  • Cover as many of the light sources in your bedroom as possible – that red light on the TV (a piece of black tape), the glow from your alarm clock (turn it around), the street light streaming in past your shades (invest in better window treatments).
  • Kennel your pets at night, or have them sleep outside of your bedroom. I know I sound hard-hearted, but as comforting and sweet as they are, they wake us up a lot. We need lengthy periods of deep sleep that aren’t possible if we are repeatedly awoken by our bedmates.
  • Have a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve electronics. At least a half hour before bed, dim the lights, step away from the computer, turn off the TV, and do something quiet and relaxing. Make this a habit so that your body comes to know the signals that sleep is imminent.

– If you wake at night and have trouble getting back to sleep

  • Take a look at your exercise level during the day. Is your mind worn out but your body under exercised?
  • Are you anxious about a problem or upcoming event? Keep a pen and paper next to your bed, and take 5-10 minutes to jot down ideas, to dos, even worries. The simple act of putting them on paper will help you rest more easily.
  • Is heartburn an issue? Try eating an earlier dinner, elevate your head and shoulders while you sleep, and avoid foods that trigger indigestion. If that doesn’t help, see your doctor.
  • If you drink alcohol, resist the urge to have a nightcap. Wine or whiskey may help you nod off faster, but as the alcohol is metabolized, it becomes harder to stay asleep and sleep well.
  • Are your mattress, sheets, pillows and PJs comfortable? How’s the temperature in the bedroom?

Most people don’t realize they’re sleep deprived. They don’t tie their irritability, lack of self-discipline or difficulty concentrating to sleep debt. Try some of the suggestions above and take notice of other changes that result.

More Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

That fruits and vegetables are healthy is nothing new. But I have a strategy for anyone trying to improve his or her eating habits. Don’t spend energy counting calories. Forget about denying yourself right and left. Banish the word “diet” from your vocabulary. Simply eat more fruits and vegetables.

By eating more fiber-rich, vitamin-packed fresh produce, you will be crowding out some of the less healthy choices in your day. Keep in mind you can enjoy an enormous vegetable-laden salad and not come close to the fat and calorie count in a burger and fries. And since we’re not denying ourselves, go ahead and have a few fries, but chances are you won’t want nearly as many.

Go for variety. Try new things. If you’re taste buds are somewhat challenged at the thought of veggies, set a goal of trying at least one new fruit or vegetable each day for a week. Another helpful “rule” is to limit any after-dinner snacking to fruit only. You’ll be surprised at the awareness this raises around the difference between true hunger and a craving for something sweet.

Fruits and vegetables are also nature’s best source for vitamins and minerals. Increasing your intake will provide your body with more of the nutrients necessary for robust health. When you consider everything you put in your mouth as opportunity to nourish your body, you’ll eat more mindfully and be less likely to use food for comfort.

Less Sitting

My third suggestion isn’t quite as obvious as sleeping more and eating better. But being sedentary for long periods of time is somewhat of an epidemic, especially among those working in mid- to upper-level jobs. We tend to sit in long meetings, travel by air and car frequently, plant ourselves in front of the computer for hours on end. On average, Americans are seated for 9 hours each day! In 2013, the American Heart Association stated that too much sitting is as dangerous to our health as smoking.

Even regular exercise won’t offset the negative impact of sitting for long periods of time. What does help is incremental movements throughout the day, something Mayo Clinic physician, J.A. Levine, has termed NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). NEAT encompasses any energy expended throughout the day — from sleeping to fidgeting to climbing stairs — that is not done for exercise. Levine and others have found these activities add up, and have a significant impact on our metabolic rate.

Be more mindful about the length of time you spend sitting still. When doing computer work, set a reminder on your phone to stand and stretch every 15 minutes. Take the stairs, all the time! Consider scheduling a walking meeting as opposed to discussing business over lunch. When on a conference call, put on your headset and pace around the room. You can even add in some deep knee bends and no one on the call will be the wiser.

Wearing a pedometer or using a smart phone app to track your movements is hands down the best way to track your movement. Leaders know you manage what you measure, so why not measure your daily activities in order to increase them.

Standing desks or treadmill desks are becoming more common in the workplace. Some companies invest in one or two, allowing employees to rotate through the workstation throughout the day. Certainly, investing in the health of your employees is a remarkable way to gain their trust and respect.

Your Reach as a Leader Includes Creating a Wellness Culture

As much as you endeavor to improve your health and habits for yourself and your personal success, remember that as a leader you set the tone for many others. In the lingo of positive psychology you are an “influencer.” By practicing and embodying good self-care habits, you inspire those around you. As a leader, you’re in a position to model good habits, reward healthy choices, and spark constructive change. In essence creating a culture of wellness for you and those you manage is a powerfully productive leadership skill.

A wellness culture will not take hold if leaders don’t invest personally in the health-promoting ideas and the tools. If it’s not good enough for the boss, then the team probably won’t spend the time. Employees sense a wellness program that is primarily concerned with improving the bottom line through fewer absences and less expensive health insurance costs. But when a company fully supports the wellbeing of its employees, a zeitgeist forms and builds upon itself to strengthen the company, its employees and its leaders.

– from What Exceptional Leaders Know by Tracy Spears and Wally Schmader —available on Amazon

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Still Accepted, Blatantly Outdated

The following post is re-blogged from Smarts and Stamina, written by my friend, Marie-Josée Shaar, a wellness expert, speaker, author, and all-around motivator. I know you’ll enjoy her insights into what we can all do to change some deeply ingrained but oh-so unhealthy habits that permeate our way of life.

 

Do you remember the anxiety of being picked last for the basketball team in phys ed? Or the pressure of doing an oral presentation right after the coolest kid around in English class? Of course you do! Such events threatened your fundamental need to belong, and so they impacted you deeply at the time they happened.

The desire to fit in is a powerful shaper of behavior. In some cases, social pressures serve us well. Just think that 20 or 30 years ago, the following behaviors were not only commonplace, but widely accepted: smoking in public places, drinking and driving, littering, riding in a car without a seat belt or on a motorcycle without a helmet, and unprotected sex.

I’m so glad things have changed!

In other cases, social pressures are lagging behind their times. Take the following list of examples, which are still widely accepted, but that really have to go out the window, and fast (I could easily list 10 other examples of unacceptable but accepted behaviors, but these are my personal pet peeves):

  • Sleep: We still glorify sleep deprivation, as if it were a sign of being needed, successful, needed and irreplaceable. But in reality, when I hear someone brag about their sleep debt, what I hear is “I am temporarily and reversibly mentally-impaired, but I’m too groggy to realize it.”
  • Food: We still think it’s OK to twist somebody else’s arm so they eat something unhealthy, or so they eat past satiation. “Come on, just one piece of brownie won’t kill you!” We all have enough of a hard time all on our own resisting temptations, thank you very much. What we need is someone to applaud our self-discipline, not a guilt trip so we eat like a Sumo.
  • Mood: Few ignore how pervasive, contagious, and detrimental stress can be, yet we all sink in our seats when someone spreads unnecessary stress around. No one benefits when we accept others dumping their garbage around as they please, so why are we still silent?
  • ExerciseSitting is the new smoking. There’s new research coming out every month about the dangers of our sedentary lifestyles – see this Washington Post infographic for one example. Yet social convention pressures us into spending long days participating in endless meetings without daring to request a chance to refresh our minds and bodies through a little healthy movement.

Improving Norms

How can we start shifting things so that the unhealthy norms just listed can become a thing of the past, much like smoking in public places and drinking and driving did?

Most people are willing to change when they see a clear personal benefit in the proposed change, and when they are convinced that those around them are implementing the change as well, says the World Bank.

In general, we have the first portion of that equation covered: most people understand that sleeping enough, eating right and moving more will help them be at their best and avoid undesirable health conditions. Our challenge lies not in promoting individual reasons for change, but in challenging what’s considered normal social behavior, and in defining new norms.

Let’s consider 2 examples where social pressure was used successfully in implementing healthier norms.

Concerns of Teen PregnancyA North Carolina pro­gram aimed at pre­venting teenage preg­nancy used the tagline ‘Talk to Your Kids About Sex. Everyone else is.’ (DuRant et al, 2006)This message created a tension that became more uncomfortable than the uncomfortable conversation itself. Who would want their kid to be the only one uninformed about important issues that affect people their age? The following phone survey found that parents who had been exposed to this cam­paign were more likely to talk to their teens about sex the next month.

In another exper­i­ment, researchers looked at the influ­ence of social norms on house­hold energy con­sump­tion (Schultz et al, 2007). Households who were consuming under the average for that area received feedback along with a happy face, conveying social approval of their energy use. Those who were consuming above average received their feedback with a sad face, conveying dis­ap­proval of their higher footprint. In the fol­lowing months, the over-consuming house­holds reduced their energy use while the under-consuming house­holds kept their usage levels the unchanged.

These 2 experiments suggest that social norms can be effective motivators for behavior change, and I’d like to explore how to use them for the greater good. If you are concerned that following others is a shallow extrinsic motivation that won’t last, let me remind you that the desire to fit in is a powerful intrinsic motivation, and that’s what I’m trying to tap into here. Plus, healthy behaviors help us feel good. Once they are in place, they are often self-reinforcing.

Creating Positive Pressures in Your Organization

 If you’d like to experiment with social pressure as a behavioral change motivator, be careful not to state that the behavior you’re trying to extinguish is the current norm. For example, a campaign declaring “we’re all eating very large portions around here, let’s reduce them” would reinforce the social acceptability of overeating, and your efforts would backfire. Instead, make the desired behavior center stage: “We’re all trying to eat less. Let’s help each other out.”

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to address the pet peeves I have identified above:

  • Sleep: host a lunch and learn about the importance of sleep and encourage your participants to respond to those who brag about their sleep deprivation with an equally boastful statement of how well they slept lately, and how refreshed they feel as a result.
  • Food: A lot of good eating intentions are sapped by the sugary snacks brought to the break room by well-meaning colleagues who didn’t want to eat a whole batch of cookies on their own. Tom Rath suggests throwing away our extras rather than taking them to work. Perhaps you could talk to your colleagues and agree on a new norm, such as “If it’s not healthy enough for you, it’s not good enough for your colleagues either.” Or perhaps you could start a group competition to see who can tweak favorite recipes to make them “a tad lighter in calories and richer in healthy nutrients,” as we describe in the Be Sneaky chapter of the Smarts and Stamina book.
  • Mood: Here’s a stat worth sharing, and which can put a little pressure on the energy vampires at your organization: according to this Harvard Business Review article, 90% of anxiety at work is created by 5% of one’s network. Share this information again and again, until everyone in the organization is familiar with it, so that everyone takes a good look in the mirror (whether they do so out of their own initiative, or whether someone else puts the mirror right in front of them).
  • Exercise: Meeting leaders will often start things out by making a statement about why the group has been gathered together. Very often, that statement is followed by a question: “Does that sound good to everyone? Anything else you’d like to add?” Here’s your opportunity to add a little social pressure. “Sure, and I’d like us to make sure everyone is contributing to the best of their ability throughout the meeting by allowing everyone to stand up/to enjoy a stretching break each hour.” Ta-da! Tough to say no to that!

Before I go, let me clarify: I am not suggesting that we ostracize those who adopt or even promote unhealthy behaviors. But I would like to see more of us wellness leaders skillfully and emphatically use social pressure to reject behaviors we know to be harmful, and thus craft healthier norms for everyone. In other words, I’d rather ruffle a few feathers if need be and press our norms to evolve than maintain a status quo we now know to be blatantly outdated.

Photo credits:

Large portions courtesy of  emdot
Pregnancy concerns courtesy of artur84

Sources:

DuRant, R.H., Wolfson, M., LeFrance, B., Balkrishan, R. & Altman, D. (2006). An eval­u­ation of a mass media cam­paign to encourage par­ents of adoles­cents to talk to their chil­dren about sex. Journal of Adolescent Health 38 (3) 298–309.

Pollay, D. (2012). The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Stop People from Dumping on You. Sterling Press.

Rath, T. (2013). Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. Arlington, VA: Missionday.

Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The con­structive, destructive, and recon­structive power of social norms. Psychological Science18(5), 429–434.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

My Genes Are Not the Boss of Me!

cancer cell

After I was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer seven years ago, I had a little freak out. On the one hand, I was reassured that if I was to have cancer, thyroid cancer is the kind to have. It’s relatively easy to treat and highly curable. Okay, that’s great. However, if I had cancer, doesn’t that mean at some point something went haywire at the cellular level? Why didn’t my healthy cells kick those cancer cells to the curb? If it happened once, isn’t it more likely to happen again, somewhere else like my lung, my breast, or my brain? I’ve been told it’s not, but hey, I’m not taking any chances.

My cancer diagnosis changed my attitude toward my body. That wake up call is the driving force behind my work as a health and wellness coach. I want others to understand that when it comes to the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and obesity — our health is largely up to us. I don’t know what caused my cancer, but I do know our genes are not the boss of us! The way in which we take care of our bodies can determine which genes are expressed. If our parents are obese, we probably have that propensity, but it’s only a factor in the equation. It’s not our fate.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack at age 40. It happened at a time when medicine was just making the connection between diet, exercise and cardiovascular health. I remember hearing that my grandmother – a wonderful cook – changed up some things in her kitchen, especially replacing butter with margarine. My grandfather lived another 30+ years, so her efforts obviously paid off. By the time their son, my father, was 40, he was dedicated to regular exercise and has always maintained a healthy weight. His actions were a direct response to what he feared his genes might have in store for him.

Angelina JolieIn the case of Angeline Jolie, who carries the BRCA1 gene and opted for a double mastectomy to diminish her chances of developing breast cancer, I sincerely hope she combined that decision with a commitment to a chronic disease-bashing lifestyle. Last interview I read, she was tucking into a juicy steak and red wine, so maybe not.

We tend to get stuck thinking our health is predetermined by fate, the quality of our healthcare, or our genes. Don’t forget that WE play the most pivotal role in determining our health. Food is medicine. Choose mindfully what you put into your body. Sleep balances your hormones and restores your willpower. Get plenty of it. Exercise boosts your immune system and promotes cell turnover. Make it a regular part of each day.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and ExerciseSounds so simple, doesn’t it? Sometimes we need to reinforce what we “know we should be doing” with some current information that can make this all come together to form a pretty darn compelling picture. The support of a group helps too. And we could all use some effective tools to help us figure out how to make these changes in a way that they will stick.

If you’re nodding your head to any of this, please check out my upcoming online workshop – Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. It starts in nine days, and has the tools, the group, the support, and the information. Please join me!

Lack of Sleep Sabotages Health and Fitness

Sleep is highly underrated. Before the invention of electric lights (1879), humans slept an average of 10 hours each night. And lo and behold, scientists have found this amount of shuteye is optimal for human performance. The prevailing wisdom today is that we need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, but at least 1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night. We are chalking up sleep debt at an alarming rate. Why and what’s the cost to our bodies?

asleep-at-desk-jpg

Sleep simply isn’t valued by our society. We respect busyness, productivity, and many of us are addicted to stress. It’s no surprise that we admire the 1-3% who can consistently perform on little sleep (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump).

It’s somehow been overlooked, but sleep is just as important to our well-being as a healthy diet, regular exercise and a positive outlook. The good news is that relative to the other three, sleep is often the easiest factor to improve. Since sleep, food, mood and exercise are tied together by our bodies’ biochemistry (the stress hormones as well as the feel-good chemicals), improving your sleep is going to pay off big time in your health and well-being.

Below are 8 key benefits of a good and long night’s sleep. Each of them is directly related to levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. Stress ramps up cortisol, while sleep (and exercise) bring it back under control. Too little sleep, too much cortisol, lots of problems! Regular and adequate sleep will help you to:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation1)  Protect you from Chronic Disease – According to Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.” These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.

2)  Be Mentally Sharp– Sleep allows us to make decisions quickly and easily, make fewer mistakes, and boosts our short-term memory.

3)   Improve Efficiency – More time in bed may feel like wasted productivity, but a good night’s sleep helps us complete tasks faster.

3)   Strengthen the Body – Sleep helps us cope with pain and strengthens our immune system.

4)   Make Better Food Choices – Lack of sleep causes us to crave fatty and sugary comfort foods. A well-rested mind means willpower is fully available, and healthy food choices come much more easily.

5)   Exercise Regularly – How often do you skip your workout after a bad night’s sleep? Motivation and willpower are highest when we’ve slept well.

6)   Lower Levels of Frustration and Anxiety – Just like a cranky toddler in need of a nap, when we feel tired we are more easily frustrated and less able to relax.

7)   Prevent Premature Aging – Too little sleep slows the skin’s recovery from sun damage and other environmental toxins.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and ExerciseNow you know the benefits; however, sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. In my upcoming Smarts and Stamina online workshop, Safeguarding your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise, we’ll delve further into the value of sleep. We’ll also explore a number of scientifically proven ways to help you improve the quality and quantity of your slumber. Sign up by December 20th to get an early bird discount!

TED talk, Arianna Huffington, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep. Jan 3, 2011.

SOURCES

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Why Sleep Matters – Sleep and Disease Risk.

Maas, James B., Wherry, Megan L., Axelrod, David J., Hogan, Barbara R., Blumin, Jennifer A. (1998) Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. William Morrow.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Science Daily, Sleep Deprivation Linked to Aging Skin, Study Suggests. July 23, 2013.

WebMD, The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep. The Healing Power of Sleep. by Gina Shaw.

WebMD, Sleep Disorders Health Center, The Toll of Sleep Loss in America. by Jeanie Lerche Davis

Dr. Andrew Weil’s Daily Health Tips, How Lack of Sleep Can Ruin Your Diet. October 22, 2013.