Do You Bring Your A-game To Taking Care Of Your Body?

16 Apr 2019. Bob Kaplan

Here's an irony, a contradiction of sorts: capable people, high achievers, often fail to take care of themselves in important ways. Poor diet, lack of regular exercise, not enough sleep, too much to drink—a variety of bad habits that may well undermine their very effectiveness at work, not to mention hurt them in the long run. Somehow this incongruity escapes them.

Reason #1 for the unfortunate contradiction: whatever the person's body needs that it's not getting, it doesn't make the cut, it loses out to other priorities‎. Bleeding gums—gingivitis—left unattended, his teeth will loosen in their sockets and eventually fall out. "Yeah, I should have that looked at," he says to himself‎," but never gets around to it. Somehow taking care of themselves is not deemed worthy of the same dedication that they, successful leaders, bring to their work. Somehow, without thinking long and hard about it, they make this fateful trade-off.

A senior person I talked with shares that view:

The issue with lack of exercise is time management—which is another way of saying that you are just not prioritizing it. If health is really that important, you would find a way.

Also, travel is the enemy of good health, what with client dinners, drinks, airport food, airplane food, and late nights. But eating well and getting exercise on the road can be done.

Reason #2: it's the difficulty of escaping gravity—the strong force that holds a bad habit in place, not to mention the thrust needed to go‎ into orbit around a better planet.

For‎tunately, the disconnect contains its own solution. The very attributes that make one a success in one’s chosen profession—being goal-directed, driven, not easily stopped or dissuaded or discouraged—are exactly those needed to take better care of oneself. ‎But then this lovely get-it-done capability doesn’t matter unless change for the better is deemed a deeply felt priority.

One senior manager was tense to beat the band, so full of nervous energy she fairly quivered with nervous energy. Her body felt the ill-effects—irritable bowel. The gurgling woke her at night. When someone suggested meditating, she jumped on it, 20 minutes twice a day. It helped. Her husband could tell when she lapsed. ‎Hyper-disciplined, she had an easy time applying that attribute to the new practice.

Another senior manager, who regularly ran hard-to-implement campaigns to upgrade or even remake his big organization, had always wanted to lose weight but kept making false starts. Then he was sparked by the example of a fit colleague who ate moderately, and all of a sudden got serious. Applying his well-honed change-management skills, he went on a trademark campaign directed at himself for a change. He found a nutritionist‎ who not only prescribed a meal-by-meal diet but who also had the food prepared and then delivered to his home. It tasted surprisingly good but it wasn't steak, pizza, or butter slathered on white-bread toast. He had to arrange to feel good about "eating virtue." Also, he started getting up early to exercise, vigorous sweaty stuff. With great oomph and feeling he was able to sustain the two-pronged effort and in 18 months lost 30 pounds.

His example contains an important element—getting help. Self-sufficient types often make the mistake of just relying on themselves.

Another element is structure—a potent aid to willpower. A class, yoga, cycling, Fitbit, or Apple watch, you name it. A senior leader who wanted regular exercise hired a trainer, who was paid whether or not this individual showed up.

‎I won't be facile. Some bad habits defy these practical formulations. Substance abuse, for example, which repeated rehabilitation may, sadly, not fix, regardless of the skills and motivation are brought to bear. But, in most cases, successful people have the tools they need to succeed in other realms.

A final thought: shoot high enough to make a statement—get your heart rate up for 30 minutes three times a week. But not so high—an hour a day every day of the week—that you set yourself up for slippage, despair, giving up altogether.  And as another senior person told me, whatever you do, don't overdo it; it's got to be sustainable, it's got to fit into your regular life.