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Healthy, Happy, Productive You: How to take care of yourself and make it pay

Here's how you can take charge in 2014

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based business and legal affairs writer. She can be reached at paddleink@gmail.com, stalked via @paddleink on Twitter, and visited at CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.

Jan 3, 2014

by Marzena Czarnecka

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Illustration Blair Kelly

It’s January 2nd, and half your New Year’s resolutions are out the window. You hit the snooze button, skipped breakfast, and that urgent email in your inbox means there’s no way you will make it to the gym. Too bad. You really thought this was the year you were going to make those changes …

You know what? It is. It totally is. This is the year you take charge of yourself. This is the year you’re going to eat better, exercise more, play more and achieve more. And you’re going to do all this because what we’re talking about here isn’t unimportant ooey-gooey, pie-in-the-sky, self-improvement-I-know-I-should-do-but-I-just-don’t-have-the-time-for garbage, but a key leadership strategy that has a direct effect on the bottom line and financial performance of your company. Do I know how to motivate you, or what? This year, you are going to embrace self-leadership and self-care and follow through on every single one of your New Year’s resolutions, and you’re going to do it because it’s going to make your company – and thus you – more money.

Ready?

“The best, most effective leaders seem to know this intuitively: they are more effective, more productive – better – when they take care
of themselves.” – Jamie Davidoff, professional business coach, Spark Success Coaching

“The best, most effective leaders seem to know this intuitively: they are more effective, more productive – better – when they take care of themselves,” says Jamie Davidoff, a professional business coach with Spark Success Coaching. “They sleep. They stop work to eat lunch. They make the time for exercise, for their hobbies, for their families. They take care of themselves.”

And they do this not because they have more time than you. They do this because they know how demanding their jobs are – and they’ve learned that self-care and good health make them more effective.

Self-leadership and making explicit the link between leadership and health are all the rage in Europe right now, and starting to make in-roads south of the border, with leadership and health-type conferences and workshops mushrooming alongside more established approaches to leadership and management. The proposition is ridiculously simple, and you’ve heard it before. Healthy, happy people are more productive. That goes for you too. Are you healthy? Are you happy?

You’re bristling, ’cause you think I’m going to go all soft human resources on you. Let me flip it. Sick, stressed people underperform and cost you money. And when you’re stressed and sick yourself – or careening towards Type 2 diabetes, say, or the mildest of heart conditions, or starting to feel premature pain in your creaking joints because you’re bunched up and hunched over a desk 28 hours a day – how effective a captain of your enterprise are you?

Not very. Let me be more explicit: lousy, actually. The clinical research from Europe and the U.K. is in, and it’s pretty emphatic. “We are not geared to sit at our desk and work through the entire day,” says Sherry Matheson, who, with Davidoff, is the co-founder of the Calgary-based Business Ingredients for a Healthy Lifestyle program. “When we do that and push through fatigue, physical and mental, we do our body a disservice.”

Now, you kind of know all this, right? All this advice tends to boil down to four things: Eat better.

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Exercise more. Get enough sleep. Lead a professional life that’s aligned with your values. Blah-blah-blah. But change is hard. Incorporating 21 healthy habits starting Monday is hard. Not answering that BlackBerry ping right now is really, really hard, and stepping away from the desk to eat a healthful lunch when you know at 1 p.m. you have to make a critical pitch to a new investor or client is really hard, and …

But this year, you are going to do it. Oh yes, you are. You’re going to do it, and succeed at it, because, first of all, you don’t want to die – the link between self-care and health is really that explicit. Ask your doctor. Second, you’re going to do it, because you’re not going to do it alone. Change requires allies. Davidoff and Matheson both emphasize that the most successful programs they’ve seen, be it in their approaches to health, leadership or other business practices, are ones that have the support and accountability of a group.

“You see other people are struggling with the same challenge – you are not alone,” says Davidoff. That’s a huge mental help for top performers (I’m talking about you) who tend to be overachievers and have a hard time accepting any kind of weakness in themselves. “You also see other people making progress and that inspires you.” And, let’s be frank, feeds that uber-competitive beast inside you. She hasn’t skipped lunch in three months? Well, you’re gonna show her …

Third, you’re going to do all this and you’re going to succeed, because you’re going to harness all of these self-care principles to the thing that really matters to you. Your business. Your enterprise. You’re not going to change your eating habits to have a leaner butt – I mean, it’d be nice, but unfortunately that’s insufficient motivation. The spectre of death and physical incapacitation is a stronger one, but it generally does not work as an effective motivator for lifestyle change until one hits rock bottom. You are going to eat better, take more breaks, sleep more, and be physically active and all that because you need to do all those things to be a business rock star– to take your business where it needs to go. To quote Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything, “You may not care what you look like at the beach anymore, but I bet you care about how big your brain looks in the boardroom.” A well-rested, well-fed, regularly exercised brain looks better. Performs better. Attracts more investment. Sees more opportunities … pounces on them more effectively.

That’s going to be you in 2014. And as you lead yourself to a healthier, better place, don’t forget to change your organization as you go. It’s easier to lead happy, healthy people too. As you sleep (nap!), eat (well), exercise, and turn off the BlackBerry to really focus on your kids’ soccer game, make sure you’re modelling those values and spreading them throughout your entire enterprise. “Leaders who’ve done a lot of self-work and who are aware of the personal benefits of self-care are role models for everyone in their organizations,” says Matheson. But being a role model – especially in a larger organization – isn’t enough. The self-care value has to be made explicit. “The leaders have to spread the word,” but also drive institutional and cultural change.

It’s December 31st, and you’re looking at the past year with self-satisfaction. You’re down four inches along the waist. The bags under your eyes are gone. Your doctor can’t believe how good your cholesterol levels are and you’re training for a marathon. Your kids love you more, and your spouse is no longer researching divorce lawyers. And all that’s icing. Your baby – your business – oh, your eyes are tearing up. Is it possible to love quarterly reports this much? You can’t wait for the annual. The opportunities you noticed this year, the plays you’ve negotiated, the deals you’ve closed …

And it all started with paying attention to what you eat for breakfast, taking the occasional nap, and not skipping your session with the treadmill. I’m so proud of you.

Our experts recommend:
  • Be Excellent at Anything (formerly The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working) by Tony Schwartz, with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy (2010);
  • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John Ratey, MD (2008);
  • Self Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader From the Inside Out, by Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan, PhD (2013);
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink (2010) (http://www.danpink.com/books/drive/)

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