Shifting Gears: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- As leaders at work and breadwinners at home, busy professionals must deal with many demands and expectations.
- Burning the candle at both ends diminishes our work performance and puts our health at risk.
- What if you could increase your work performance and enjoy life more at the same time? The secret is to shift your mindset and habits.
- If you are reading The Whitecoat Fitness and this article then you are on the right track to learn how.
Does This Story Sound Familiar?
What gets you from age 20 to 40 will not get you from 40 to 60 unless you shift gears.
When I was in my 20’s, my career was starting off and my health was good. At work I enjoyed proving myself as the new guy and being part of a demanding business. Being single I had time to play sports with my buddies. I even hit the gym on a semi-regular basis. I looked good and felt strong, and the ladies all knew it.
Things began to change in my 30’s. At work I developed a reputation for getting things done and increasing responsibilities and promotions came my way. I met a wonderful girl and got married, and we started a family. I saw my buddies less often, usually for a drink. I just didn’t have as much time for sports or the gym anymore. There was a lot going on in my life, but I was enjoying the challenges and had energy to spare.
By my 40’s I had left a Fortune 500 company and was part of a startup that culminated in a successful IPO. As an executive my travel schedule was punishing. I was on the road up to 75% of the time. I had three young kids at home who were growing up fast and wanted to spent all their free time playing with me. Everybody was expecting more of me: my wife, my kids, my boss, my employees, my peers, not to mention clients and suppliers.
I was heavily borrowing time from my sleep and exercise to meet all the expectations on me as a leader and a breadwinner.
The result? I was exhausted, stressed out, and overweight.
It dawned on me that I might not be around to see my kids graduate or get married. What made me successful between 20 and 40 was not going to be sustainable from 40 to 60.
I needed to shift gears if I wanted to complete the second lap.
Being a man is bad for your health
Comedian Louis CK jokes about how being a man is a pretty sweet deal. And it’s pretty easy to laugh along and agree, I know I do. But what are the facts? Unfortunately they don’t paint as funny a picture.
The fact is, being a man is not very good for your health:
- Men have higher death rates for all 15 leading causes of death in every age group compared to women.
- Men’s death rates are 1.5 times higher for both heart disease and cancer compared to women.
- Men are more likely to suffer severe chronic conditions and fatal diseases from an earlier age than women.
- Men are nearly three out of four persons who die from heart attacks before age 65.
- Men die more than 5 years younger on average than women in the United States. Canada, UK, and Australia all have similar patterns in morbidity and mortality.
Ok, so being man sounds like bad news, right? Not so fast.
It turns out that most of the key factors affecting your health are under your direct control.
Take control of what matters most
As leaders and breadwinners we have a lot on our plates: Your need to make your top line numbers and decrease costs. Your staff needs your support. Your competitors are innovating quickly. Your family wants you home more. Multiple geographies and travel compound the situation. If your clients and suppliers are international and operating in multiple time zones you need to get up early and stay up late. We simply don’t have a high degree of control over these external factors.
Speaking as a man, I can honestly tell you that I would rather work than work out. I’m very good at what I do and I enjoy it. In fact I enjoy it so much I will get up early to work, work late into the evening, and even skip my workouts. I am always looking for a competitive edge in business.
But eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Economists call this effect “declining marginal utility”. At some point an extra hour of work yields less than an hour of productivity. And I’ve come close to negative productivity when I was too stressed, too tired, and eating too much crappy food.
It took a while to realize the biggest gear I had to shift was my mindset about how I invest myself in my work.
Yes, tactics are important. I’ve invested thousands of dollars into productivity tools, hacks, books, and courses. But after studying many successful business leaders I’ve learned that that cultivating habits is even more important than implementing tactics.
By far my biggest gains have come from taking control of my strategic mindset.
Long hours DECREASE productivity
- Research found that productivity falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.
Better health INCREASES productivity
What is the implication of mastering this shift in mindset?
Simply put, it means reallocating marginal-return time (excessive work hours) into a higher-return investment (your health).
For me that meant meant trimming back an hour in the evening doing email at home, and reinvesting that time into 30 minutes of extra sleep and 30 minutes of exercise.
What you need to do to finish strong
Men are action-oriented. “Just tell me what to do”.
The thing is, you don’t need to learn anything more. If all we needed was more information, everyone with an Internet connection would live in a mansion, have abs of steel, and be blissfully happy.
If we know what to do, why is change so hard? It turns out you have two decision-making systems. System 1 is automatic and System 2 is analytical.
The ‘secret’ to good health and better business is cultivating the mindset and habits (System 1) to automatically implement what you already know (System 2). When done right, my experience is that very little extra time is needed when the healthy choice is the default choice.
Here how this works as you navigate the second lap of life:
- Appearance — Like it or not, people respond to our appearance as leaders.
- Mindset: Looking good is good business.
- Habit: Leverage 21 eating decisions a week to lose 15 lbs.
- Fitness — Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live. Gradual loss of muscle mass between age 20 and 40 is the reason you gain weight and have less energy.
- Mindset: Nobody can do your push-ups for you.
- Habit: Lift, Sprint, and Walk once a week. Total time required: 2.5 hours with the correct protocols.
- Sleep — Some of worst business decisions in history were made by exhausted leaders.
- Mindset: “Let me sleep on it” is good business.
- Habit: Improve the quality of your sleep by improving the quality of your sleep environment. Changes in diet and exercise will also yield synergistic improvements.
- Stress — Stress is often the result of uncertainty when facing pressures that take us to the limit of our capabilities.
- Mindset: Better perspective results in better business decisions.
- Habit: Develop an ongoing mentor relationship (such as a trusted peer, mastermind group, or coach).
- Travel — Early morning departures and late night arrivals make it a real challenge to eat well.
- Mindset: Be aware that food at airports and hotels caters to tired travelers (lots of sugar, fat, and caffeine)
- Habit: Stress eating is a major challenge for executives on the road. Here are 33 countermeasures you can take.
Investing in new mindsets and new habits can be done incrementally and the effects compound like interest. For instance, you can double your money when the return rate times the number of compounding periods equals seventy two (‘r’ x ‘p’ = 72).
By the same logic, if you improve your health a 1% a day for 10 weeks you will feel 100% better.
I hope you found this article useful, and would appreciate it if you commented below with your thoughts and suggestions.
- Jeff is a successful executive who has served as Vice President in a Fortune 500 company as well as several Silicon Valley startups. He has been a guest speaker at UCLA Anderson and Berkeley Haas and is a graduate of Harvard PON and Stanford GSB.
- He has figured out how to increase executive business performance using better health in less time. Warning: Unintended side effects include looking better and living longer.
- You can learn how at The Healthy Executive.
- Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes ↩
- (except Alzheimer’s disease) Courtenay, 2003 ↩
- (age-adjusted) Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2007 ↩
- Verbrugge & Wingard, 1987 ↩
- American Heart Association, 1995 ↩
- Courtenay, 2002 ↩
- Declining Marginal Utility, Wikipedia ↩
- Pencavel, Stanford University 2014 ↩
- Carlos Slim, Real Leaders 2015 ↩
- Study of 20144 employees, Ray Merrill ↩
- h/t Darren Hardy, Publisher SUCCESS magazine ↩
- Of Two Minds, Scientific American ↩
- h/t Jim Rohn, mentor to Tony Robbins ↩
- The Rule of 72, Business Insider ↩
- The Corporate Athlete, Harvard Business Review R0101H. ↩
- Jeff’s credentials on LinkedIn here and Facebook here. ↩