As a time-strapped executive, you're constantly struggling to prioritize your personal wellbeing. Sometimes we’re so busy managing those around us that we neglect to take care of ourselves. As an executive, it’s critical to keep a close eye on four key elements that affect your wellbeing: diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Benjamin Wilkes, a clinical psychologist and the Manager of Allied Health/Clinical Operations at Macquarie University, confirms, “Most mental health professionals and researchers would attest that balance comes down to four key areas of our routine: your quality of diet, exercise, sleep and stress relief.”
Life is too short to de-prioritize ourselves. As Michelle Obama reminds us, “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list.”
Executive Coaching Tips On Wellbeing
You are what you eat. A healthy diet is critical to your personal and professional wellbeing. A regular intake of calories (3-5 right-sized meals a day) is essential as a means of stabilizing your blood glucose levels and maintaining high levels of focus. It's not worth skipping breakfast simply because you have an early Monday morning Board Meeting.
Executives should also prioritize foods with a low glycemic index level as they gradually release glucose into the bloodstream and, in turn, prevent blood sugar fluctuation and improve mental focus. Ensure you have a stash of fruits, vegetables, nuts, muesli, and other low glycemic index foods readily available. Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables increase dopamine production (which heightens our levels of motivation, engagement, and even creativity) and contain antioxidants that improve memory and act as mood enhancers. Reaching for the donuts in the break room can quickly trigger a downward spiral.
Your diet can influence your leadership development abilities in astonishing ways. Call this fair or biased, a study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that leaner executives (defined as those who exhibit a BMI under 25) were viewed more favorably by peers and were rated higher in terms of interpersonal skills as compared to their higher BMI counterparts. According to Barry Posner, a leadership professor at Santa Clara University, executives with higher BMIs are perceived by others to be less capable due to assumptions about how weight impacts one’s health and stamina.
Study after study cite the value of exercise. Physical activity is closely associated with enhanced cognitive processing. A 2013 study published in Psychology and Aging found that physical activity is not only associated with physical benefits such as lower blood pressure and heart rate, but also with improved cognition (including enhanced concentration, memory, and even creativity).
The most effective leaders incorporate exercise into their daily regimens. A study spearheaded by Leeds Metropolitan University found that employees who visited the gym during the workday were more productive and had smoother interactions with colleagues as compared to employees who abstained from exercise. What’s more, gym-bound employees departed work feeling more satisfied at the conclusion of the workday.
Many top executives wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. Sleep deprivation should be avoided at all costs. An article published in Harvard Business Review explains that if you fail to obtain seven to nine hours of sleep per night (the amount recommended for adults by the National Sleep Foundation), “your logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood can be impaired.”
Recognizing the importance of sleep, the most successful executives consistently amass more sleep than their lower-performing counterparts. Research by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, co-authors of "The Mind of the Leader" found that the more senior an individual, the more sleep they obtain. As the most logical explanation, the researchers conclude, “senior executives have had the wisdom and discipline throughout their career to get enough sleep and thereby maintain a high performance level without burning out.”
Sleep quality is equally as important as sleep quantity. It is, for example, best to sleep and wake at consistent hours each day and morning and to avoid blue-light-emitting device screens as they suppress one's pineal gland and depress melatonin production. It’s also best to avoid caffeine or food two hours prior to catching your zzz's as they activate blood flow and sugar levels. Tim Ferris adheres to several other sleep hacks, including maintaining a bedroom temperature around 60–67 ºF.
4. Stress relief
The workplace is a ripe breeding ground for stress. Excessive workloads, the constant pressure to perform, and interpersonal conflict and tension all aggravate our stress levels.
Stress wreaks havoc on our wellbeing. It leads to anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, and a host of other ailments. A survey by APA's Center for Organizational Excellence found that one-third of working Americans reported experiencing chronic work stress. Only about one-third (36%) of these individuals say their companies provide sufficient resources to help them cope with stress.
It's critical that executives incorporate stress-quelling activities, including meditation and mindfulness training into their routines. A 2017 study published in Business Perspectives and Research found that employees who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program reported lower levels of stress, enhanced sleep, and higher levels of self-compassion. An executive coach is well-equipped to help you design a mindfulness-based stress reduction program that can assist in stress reduction.
Professional advancement and leadership development is important. But, at the end of the day, nothing trumps our own wellbeing. In fact, taking care of ourselves allows us to be more effective, and to achieve higher career accomplishments and organizational development. Executives who pour all their blood, sweat, and tears into their careers will only drown in regret. As Heather Schuck, author of “The Working Mom Manifesto” reminds us, “You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.” Hillary Clinton offers additional words of wisdom: “Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” To learn more about how to better manage your executive job and your personal life to improve your overall wellbeing, contact me about my executive coaching training today.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner