Wellness at Work
I have always been an active person, but until a few years ago, much of that activity was directed toward work.
When I moved to the US, the culture of working both on one’s mind and body enabled me to commit for my first half marathon. Now six half marathons and three Olympic triathlons later, exercising is part of my everyday life. Three days without exercise significantly impacts my mind and my body.
While I was preparing for the marathon, I realized that there is an inverse relationship between health and mind. Elite athletes talk about their mental preparation all of the time. In the most recent football season, quarterbacks in college and on professional teams used virtual reality systems to help them learn to read defenses. Golfers practice swings on courses around the world in simulations. These are all examples of mental preparation.
Rarely, though, do I hear executives get out and talk about physical preparation for work. For those of us who spend most of our day with a computer, it is the organ in our skull that we think is most valuable. But that organ, our brain, requires blood and oxygen—and it requires it efficiently.
Wellness at Work: Decisions and Empathy
I talked to a few of my CEO peers about exercise and work, and while our roles might differ, we all spend a lot of our time on two key areas that are highly impacted by wellness: decision making and empathy.
First, a large part of our day is spent making decisions on matters which cannot be resolved before we arrive at our desk. For most of the issues we deal with, there are no black or white answers. It is really making a decision as the Latin origin of this word means – de caedere, a cut off, or the death of one option over another. Decisions are never perfect.
Second, we spend a lot of time working with our teams—managing challenges, dealing with emotion situations and helping people and our ecosystem to thrive. It often requires a lot of empathy, compassion and patience which we never have enough of in our very active business life.
In both of these instances, I heard too many times that my fellow CEOs all had bad memories of actions and behaviors influenced because they were on the edge—too stressed, not enough sleep, mentally exhausted.
We live in an era where there are plenty of studies that establish a clear linkage between mind and body. The ability to manage both our mind and body to operate at peak performance is our responsibility as leaders.
Let’s be honest, I’m not an elite athlete, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished in terms of operating at my optimal self – this is what matters, not the volume of muscles or how fast I finish a race. In fact, we have to be cautious for as much as exercise is good for the mind, some people can become obsessed with it to the point that they suffer from conditions like “excessive exercise” and “overtraining syndrome”.
Wellness at Work: Finding Time
When I decided to add more regular exercise to my day, the biggest challenge for me was finding the time. My preparation exercises taught me that I have to make real time for staying healthy. I can’t just work it into my routine and do a couple of crunches in the lunch room, or knee bends waiting for a conference call to start. I think in a way my body knows when I’m paying attention to it. It is part of the design of my life. This body & mind preparation became an official block on my business calendar.
I have to make time for my body—for my heart and lungs and muscles—as much as I make time for strategy, evaluating the competition and nurturing the career goals of my staff. Balance is an important idea in design. We must find a balance that lets us be whole people, not just brains with bodies or bodies with brains. We have to design our own personal mind-body experience.
This isn’t new wisdom, just a new realization.
As the Buddha said:
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.