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  • Writer's pictureJon Sharpe

The most profitable investment you'll make this year

By some estimates the racehorse Frankel is worth £100 million. I think it’s fair to assume that if you were Juddmonte Farms, the owner of the unbeaten thoroughbred, you would provide him with the best food, trainers and stables that you could afford, and ensure that he is being looked after in a manner befitting of a £100 million asset.

Why then, when it comes to our own most valuable asset, do we treat ourselves any differently? Why are we any less valuable than Frankel is to his owners? Why are we so willing to put our health aside, for success in our career or business?

Protecting your own most valuable asset isn’t something to be dealt with at some non-specific time in the future, because often by the time you realise you need to make a change, irreparable damage has already been done.

There is a better way than burying your head in the sand. And one that not only benefits your health, but also your performance in your work - so often the cause of weight gain, lack of sleep and excess stress.

In this article, I lay out four strategies that you can use to lose weight, increase energy levels and lower stress - all whilst improving your performance at work. So let's get into it.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead

There is an old saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Well as it turns out, if you don’t sleep, you will actually end up dead.

A lack of sleep has devastating consequences. As Matthew Walker explains in his exceptional book “Why We Sleep”, “ Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer”. It also contributes to a whole host of other maladies such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease.

But those things are too far in the future to worry about, right? Unfortunately that is the view taken by many. It’s a problem for your future self. So let me talk about some problems that your present self may be dealing with.

If you’re overweight, then a lack of sleep will make it more difficult to lose weight because the body produces more of a hormone responsible for feelings of hunger.

If you have to make big decisions every day in your work, then a lack of sleep will make that more difficult too. In fact, sleep deprivation can make you as cognitively impaired as if you were legally drunk. Though a lack of sleep is often worn as a badge of honour, a marker of how successful you are, turning up to work drunk would likely not sit so well with your colleagues or staff.

Finally, sleep deprivation leads to emotional reactivity - making us far less able to deal with the everyday stressors that come with running a business, or running a team.

I could go on. I won’t because that’ll make this article pretty boring. Suffice to say that if there were a magic pill to get you on the right track with your weight loss and health goals, then sleep would be it.

There is an old saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Well as it turns out, if you don’t sleep, you will actually end up dead.

Having (hopefully) convinced you that you don’t get enough sleep and need a little more, here are a couple of things you can do to improve that.

Firstly, start to regularise your sleep times. Whilst I know this isn’t always possible, the more often you can go to bed and get up at the same time, the more likely your body is to come to expect it.

Once you’ve worked out when you’re going to sleep each night, get into the habit of setting an alarm to remind you to go to bed. Let’s call it a wind-down alarm, because that’s effectively the purpose of it. My advice is to get your phone into ‘do not disturb’ mode right then and there and choose an activity that helps you switch off before bed.

By doing this, once your actual bedtime comes around you’re not still scrolling through your LinkedIn feed to see who’s endorsed your Excel wizardry or congratulated you on your work anniversary, even though you haven’t spoken to them in 5 years.

You are what you eat

Fundamental number two in our list is nutrition. You are what you eat, as they say. And if you’re eating shit, then don’t be surprised when you feel like a bag of it.

Poor nutrition is a big contributor to excess weight and low energy levels, not to mention the long term health effects. But I don’t need to tell you that. Instead I want to tell you what you actually need to focus on.

Why are we so willing to put our health aside, for success in our career or business?

Whilst the fitness industry will have you focused on the latest fad diet, or one of your employees will tell you that he’s just gone keto and lost 3 stone in a day, it’s best not to buy into the hype. By focusing on just two key components of your nutrition, you can solve 80% of your diet woes.

These two key factors are quantity and quality. The rest is icing on the cake, and until you’ve got those two sorted you really are trying to run before you can walk. Whilst it’s beyond the scope of this article to go into great depth here, I’ll summarise what I mean by each:

  • Quantity - eat less calories than you burn and you will lose weight.

  • Quality - prioritise whole foods and minimally processed foods for greater nourishment, energy levels and to help you stick to the right quantities.

A further point worth clarifying, and something I deal with quite often with my clients - there are no foods that you can’t eat. If you’re on a weight loss journey and you eat a bowl of pasta one night, you’re not going to wake up the next morning to find you’ve obliterated all your hard work from the past months. That’s not how it works.

This is how it works: Eat high quality food, in the right quantities for your goals, and make sure you enjoy what you’re eating. If that includes pasta/potatoes/[insert vilified carbohydrate here] then so be it. Build it into the plan and don’t go overboard with it. The best diet is the one that works for you. It really is as simple as that.

So what can you do to turn this little pep talk into a reality? The best place to start is to plan what you’re going to eat next week. If you can’t tell me what you’re planning to eat on Tuesday lunch, then you’re fighting a losing battle. By the time Tuesday lunch comes along, hunger, stress and lack of time will mean that you choose the quickest option, which will almost always be the furthest from our quantity and quality targets. So spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon getting your plan sorted. This is an exceptional investment of time, the return to your health is huge.

If you’re not sure where to start and you need some personalized guidance, send me a message and I’ll be happy to help out.

I move, therefore I am

Movement is central to our lives as a human. We were quite literally built to move. In one study, it was estimated that we would need to walk an extra 20km per day to reach the energy expenditure of our paleolithic ancestors (that’s about 25,000 steps for all you step-counters out there.)

If we consider that our brains haven’t evolved a great deal since then, then it would stand to reason that they are expecting an awful lot more movement than we’re inclined to give them. So perhaps it’s hardly surprising that we don’t feel at our best when we don’t move around enough.

You might be wondering why I keep referring to movement as opposed to exercise? That is intentional and because of a natural inclination for people to assume that exercise will solve all of their health issues. If we think about it, though, let’s say we sleep for 8 hours (which you all will be after having read fundamental one on sleep) and exercise for one hour, that leaves us with 15 hours left to fill. If we choose to spend that time eating and sitting, then it’s not looking too good is it?

If you’re on a weight loss journey and you eat a bowl of pasta one night, you’re not going to wake up the next morning to find you’ve obliterated all your hard work from the past months. That’s not how it works.

Exercise is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle and of course of any weight loss plan, but it’s wise to also focus on movement that isn’t structured exercise. Take the lost art of walking for example. It’s easy to do, burns some calories, gives you a chance to get outdoors and does wonders for your mental health too. It’d be a great idea to set a few alarms on your phone to remind you to get up for a walk, or to find opportunities to walk instead of taking the car when you need to go somewhere. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

When it comes to structured exercise, the best advice I can give is to find a balance between challenging resistance based exercises (lifting weights or bodyweight exercises) and cardio based exercises. And make sure you choose something you enjoy. We’re doing all of this for the long-term so if you don’t enjoy it, then it isn’t going to stick. You do not have to go to the gym if you hate the gym. You do not have to run if you hate running. You do not have get the picture.

Go slow to go fast

Stress is perfectly normal, and can even be beneficial to us in certain circumstances. But a persistently high level of stress is damaging to the mind and body. It certainly isn’t going to help you if you’re trying to lose weight, because high stress levels tend to drive poor food choices.

Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. This means actively making time to decompress and recover, and to do so properly. Watching Netflix with your partner whilst doing work emails and texting your mates doesn’t count. Decompressing means different things to different people. If it is a mindfulness practice for you. Great. If it’s reading a book. Also great. If it’s getting outdoors and walking in nature. Even better.

As a business leader, I’m sure you’re well acquainted with the idea of KPIs. My recommendation is to add a KPI to your own quarterly goal setting practice: time off per quarter. It’s very common to get caught up in constantly working on the business, but after a certain point this extra work becomes counterproductive.

If you instead spend time to properly decompress, recover and focus on your wellness, the time you do spend working will be far more productive - and you’ll feel much better for it. Your body will start to change in the way that you want it to as it becomes easier to get your nutrition and movement sorted once stress levels are controlled, and your sleep will improve too.

This is an investment, remember?

Having read this far, you might be thinking that it’s time to get this sorted, to finally stop mucking around - that it’s time to throw the kitchen sink at it and go all in. And whilst I admire that commitment, and certainly support it, I just want to note something crucial.

This is where most people go wrong. They set out with all the motivation in the world, only to move too fast, not be able to sustain the fad diets and punishing workouts and inevitably end up back where they started.

You’ve probably done this yourself, we all have. But here’s the thing about motivation - it can’t be relied upon. When it’s not there, you’ll need to rely on habits to get you through, and extreme lifestyle changes are not a good way to build habits. That’s why everything actionable that I’ve recommended above is a relatively small change. Small changes form habits, and habits form new identities.

If you were to go out today with £100 million and buy Frankel from Juddmonte Farms, would you be expecting that money back in 4 weeks? 8 weeks? 12 weeks? It’s highly unlikely, because you’d be viewing it as an investment for the long term. So when you’re looking after your own most valuable asset, using the four fundamentals I’ve laid out above, please don’t make the mistake of investing for the short term.

Are you looking for some help to lose weight and get your health back on track? If you’re interested in learning how I might be able to help you to do that, even whilst balancing a demanding work schedule, then you can apply for a free health blueprint session here.

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