Reading time: 6 minutes
Can your business sustain high-level business performance if you’re not operating at a high level yourself?
Any small business owners that have taken up the challenge and survived know exactly what it takes to create a successful small business. For years, they will endure sleepless nights worrying about cash flow, burning the candle at both ends trying to balance the books, becoming a regular at the nearest fast food outlet, developing a caffeine dependency to get them through the day. Small business owners are easy to spot: they’re the ones with the pale skin, having not seen the light of day for far too long. The weight of having many mouths to feed and your unwavering passion means you’ll do whatever it takes to keep the dream alive.
But having met many business owners operating at various stages of this cycle, what I’ve come to realise is that many will initially sacrifice their health for their wealth in their younger years, only to reverse the trend in their later years. After all, according to leadership expert Robin Sharma, health is the crown on the well person’s head that only the sick person can see.
As a trusted advisor, I believe it’s not only our role to advise on the health of the business owners’ business and personal wealth but also to remind them of the value of their personal health and wellbeing. Instilling some wellness disciplines into the business owner’s routine will not only improve their health, but it will also magnify their professional success.
Although we’re a diverse bunch at BlueRock, none of us are doctors. So what’s discussed in this article is certainly not medical advice. It’s simply a collection of factors and habits that the team at BlueRock try to consider both personally and for their clients, in order to achieve success in business and prepare for the long road ahead called life.
Nutrition: shift the way you think about food
In general, it seems people are starting to realise that sugar is bad, fat is not public enemy number one, and as a broad rule, unprocessed food is better for us than processed. But how many of us actually stop and think about the nutritional value of the food we eat? Not enough I suspect.
There are so many diets out there, all with good intentions. Unfortunately, most of them are becoming more like religions than diets. Keto, paleo, vegan, vetarian (a vegetarian transitioning to veganism), carnivore (yes, that’s a thing)…the list goes on. Learning the benefits of each becomes a game of contradictions, created in part by people’s interpretation of research and their own personal biases and beliefs. I’ve studied and tried most of these ‘diets’ over the years, with varying results. However, the common theme that they all agree on is to stay away from processed foods. Food wasn’t meant to come in a cardboard box!
The problem is, those cardboard boxes repay us with time. The business owner can come home from a long day at work and within five minutes, dinner is warmed up to nuclear levels and ready to go, freeing up time for a relaxing night on the couch, catching up on emails or watching TV.
This is the first paradigm shift we need to undertake in order to become a higher functioning, healthier business owner. Preparing a healthy meal at the end of the day should be seen as a reward, not a chore that replaces couch time. Put some music on, reward yourself with a glass of wine, debrief with your partner and prepare your healthy feast together. The time lost on the couch is replaced with a process that improves your relationship, your energy levels and your overall longevity. Not a bad trade-off.
The rule I stick to when considering the meal ahead is that we are what we eat. In fact, to be more specific, we are what we eat ate! That’s why when consuming meat, I always look for organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed meat. Same for veggies: go organic where possible.
Keep it simple. If you can stay away from anything that comes in a cardboard box, you’ll be well on your way to providing the body with all the healthy nutrients it requires to fuel your body and keep you away from the doctors. Eat food, not food-like substances!
As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
Sleep: choose naps over Netflix
Cutting through the science of sleep, the average person should be getting around seven to eight-and-a-half solid hours of sleep a night. In 1952, 8% of us were surviving on six hours of sleep a night or less. Today that figure has increased to 50%. This is having a direct impact on our cognitive functions and general wellbeing.
The quality of our sleep directly impacts:
- our immune system
- our mood and ethical standards
- our weight management
- our mental functions
- our tissue repair
It’s more than just our beauty that’s at risk if we skip on sleep. For example, if we’re only getting four or five hours of sleep a night, our body’s ability to fight against active cancer cells floating around in our body is reduced by up to 70%.
So why aren’t we getting the quality sleep we need any more? Well, there are a few reasons, but overwhelmingly, we’re time-poor. Getting time back while running a business is the subject of many discussions that we address in other blogs. For now, let's discuss what we can be doing to optimise the time we do have available to us for sleeping.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge the importance of sleep and prioritise it over other activities such as social media and Netflix. With the exception of watching Game of Thrones, getting seven hours of sleep a night MUST be put before checking how many likes you have on social media or catching up on the latest viral cat videos.
Once we’ve given ourselves half a chance of getting the elusive seven hours, we then need to make the most of the opportunity. To do that, in the hours leading up to sleep-time, blue light-emitting electronics need to be switched off. That means no social media or email scanning: activities known to fill your nervous system with chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, both of which have been linked to the growing number of sleep disorders.
Alcohol and sugar are two other culprits that stop us from falling into that deep sleep mode that has the most benefits, so best to keep them to a minimum in the closing hours.
So what should you do in that final hour of the night? Most nights, I’ve replaced TV and my phone with audiobooks, podcasts and teaching myself the piano. Not only have I missed a season of MAFs but I’m teaching myself new skills. Winning!
The other interesting thing about sleep is it doesn’t all have to happen at night. Studies have shown we can achieve the same benefits of sleep by topping up our night-time sleep with a few strategically chosen naps throughout the week.
To help get that body clock humming at night, it’s also important to get off to a good start in the morning. Your circadian rhythm (your body clock) can be reset by starting your day with hydration, movement and sunlight. These three ingredients will have you jumping out of bed, ready to take on new challenges every day.
Stress: don’t let it control your life
Studies are now proving that long-term exposure to stress can lead to suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke and perhaps, even cancer. This alone highlight the need for us to address and prioritise how we manage stress in our lives. But before we can do that, we need to understand the different types of stresses and determine if they are all bad.
Business owners, just like the rest of us, are subjected to two different types of stress: acute and chronic. If you’ve ever taken a plunge into icy cold water or taken on a ski slope you probably shouldn’t have, then you’re familiar with the sensation brought on by acute stress. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses and provides some beneficial responses to short-term situations.
On the other hand, chronic stress appears if you’ve spent the past five years wondering how you’re going to pay the bills or your staff. Or perhaps you’ve been stuck in a toxic personal relationship or job that you can’t escape from. This is the grinding stress that wears people down day after day, year after year. The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it's there. They ignore it because it’s old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable. It’s the silent killer.
Hormones produced by stress during the body’s fight-or-flight response are designed to switch off our immune, growth and digestive systems and stimulate our muscular and cognitive functions. These functions were used by our ancestors to address short-term acute stress, potentially caused by having to evade enemies or endure cold winter nights out in the elements. However, in today’s modern, comfortable world, we spend most of our time dealing with long-term chronic stress. Unfortunately, our bodies struggle to distinguish between the two types of stress and often react in the same way.
So what can we do about it?. The first thing we need to do is identify and acknowledge what stressors we have in our lives and eliminate as many of them as possible. However, we can’t eliminate the financial stress of paying bills or the emotional stress of a toxic partner without severe consequences. Therefore, for some forms of chronic stress, we need to learn how to manage it better. The best way to achieve this is by reminding our bodies what acute stress feels like, and in doing so, reminding it that ONLY then, should it be shutting down our non-essential systems. So, without jumping out of a plane, how can we trigger acute stress?
Who’d have thought something as simple as catching your breath can help with stress? Start your day by taking 30 to 50 deep breaths. When you feel yourself becoming lightheaded, that’s the indication that your blood is now hyper-oxygenated, so stop. Exhale every last breath out of your lungs and hold. You’ll soon feel your body fighting for breath by releasing adrenaline into your system. At that point, take a breath. You have just subjected your body to acute stress, replacing the sensation of chronic stress.
Again, the aim here is to create an acute stress reaction that helps to eliminate the chronic stress in your system and remind your body which type of stress needs the fight or flight reaction. If you don’t have access to a freezing river or lake, then two minutes in the shower each morning with the cold water running will do the trick.
Exercise: take time for yourself
Muscle is an insurance policy for old age. There’s no point winning in life commercially and financially, if you can’t enjoy the spoils of your success because you’re stuck in a body that didn’t survive the journey. Wouldn’t you rather enjoy the back nine of your life in a body that looks like it’s ready to tee off on the first again?
Besides the longevity benefits of exercise, being in sound physical condition provides a whole host of other advantages to your mental and physical wellbeing, including management of weight, bone density, energy levels, brain and skin health, chronic disease and pain.
Again, there’s a lot of specialist advice out there to help you tailor an exercise program that works for you and fits in with your weekly time commitments. Studies show that they should include a balanced mix of daily movement, some heavy weightlifting and occasional sprinting (yes, running fast like you used to when you were a kid). Small amounts of daily, consistent exercise will result in significant improvements mentally and physically over the long-term.
Don’t have time? Get up early. Now that you’re not watching hours of brain-numbing TV every night, you can go to bed earlier and rise earlier too. Getting in some exercise before the sun, the kids and your work has started its day has to be one of the biggest game-changers out there. You start your day energised, fulfilled and full of endorphins because you feel good about dedicating an hour of your time solely on improving yourself!
Enjoy the rewards
Small incremental changes add up to make a significant impact on your life without you even noticing. But this statement works both ways, so ensure the changes are good ones. Dedicating your life to your business can blur the lines between the two, and in some cases, your work becomes exactly that: your life! Rather, try dedicating your passion to both your business and your wellbeing, so that you can enjoy the rewards of your life long after your business has served its purpose.
Paul Evans is an Accounting Director and BlueRock’s resident wellness and health champion. To find out more about enhancing your business’s performance by incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle, get in touch with Paul.