Think of successful people you look up to; maybe it’s Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or someone closer to home. Now think of what they might be doing right now or on their weekend. You might envision them working on a project all weekend or having a high-powered lunch with other executives. In fact, Bill is probably playing Bridge and Mark is at home for two months taking paternity leave and Facebooking pics of his baby daughter and Hungarian sheep dog.
Some of the most successful people in the world are embracing a more holistic way of life that is not only making them happier but also having huge benefits for their businesses and careers. I know the whole ‘holistic’ and ‘mindfulness’ stuff sounds a bit new-age mumbo-jumbo but just stay with me on this one.
The late Steve Jobs was renowned for his use of Zen meditation and even Rupert Murdoch is now on the bandwagon, announcing that he was learning transcendental meditation. Leading companies like Google and Goldman Sachs offer mindfulness programs, while Gina Rinehart pens poems about the resources sector.
You probably think you’re too busy, just like I used to think. So, rather than joining the fun with the rest of the world’s top executives in order to boost your happiness, do it because it makes good career and business sense.
That meditation that Steve Jobs ‘wasted’ so much time on helped retrain his brain to improve his creativity and thus his business decisions. There is so much research proving the benefits of mindfulness and holistic living that medical students now learn about it at university in order to help their patients and themselves.
Exciting developments in neuroplasticity have shown our brains can be physically transformed to improve skills and abilities such as problem-solving, creativity or leadership. Research is demonstrating that meditation, mindfulness and other activities can train our brain to become faster and cleverer, just like upgrading a computer.
One of the most popular approaches to this holistic self-improvement concept is called ESSENCE. It represents seven factors that must be addressed in order to maximise your physical and mental health: education, stress management, spirituality, exercise, nutrition, connectedness and environment. Sometimes, emotional intelligence is also added.
Don’t be put off by words like ‘spirituality’ and ‘connectedness’; they simply refer to nurturing aspects of who we all are.
For example, spirituality might mean your belief in donating to charity because it’s the morally right thing to do or your determination to try everything once because you don’t believe in life after death. Whatever spirituality means for you, whether it’s going to church or believing in karma, it’s important to engage with these thoughts and stay true to them in order to give your life meaning and contentment.
Education encompasses seeking out information that could improve aspects of your life, such as your confidence and well-being. For example, if you’re feeling too tired to do anything after work every night, you could research ways to keep your energy up, such as eating protein rather than sugary snacks or exercising in the morning.
Stress management is not about avoiding challenges, but developing strategies that allow you to function at your highest capacity. Chronic stress is known to inhibit rational thinking, problem solving and creativity, so stress management techniques such as mindfulness and meditation have obvious benefits for your career.
A few years back I decided I wanted to improve my creativity and my research led me to meditation and creative pursuits, such as painting and writing, which get your brain in the habit of creating new ideas. This work has led me into many pursuits that I had never anticipated, like writing these articles for example.
I also discovered that creativity usually takes place when the mind is at rest. Have you ever noticed that you get that Eureka moment in the shower or on a run?
Meditation puts you in a similar frame of mind in a more structured way. It’s had a huge impact on my life; for example, I suddenly decided to stop drinking alcohol after doing meditation for a year and it wasn’t even difficult.
Exercise and nutrition are no-brainers in today’s world. We all know the mental benefits of a healthy lifestyle and it certainly garners respect from others. Remember not to go overboard though – everything is good in moderation, including the gym, but if you look like a ‘roider’, then you might have some trouble in the boardroom. And no-one wants to have a business lunch with the guy who can’t eat anything with fat or carbs.
Being connected comprises involving yourself in family, social and work events, as well as interacting with people in a positive way. Getting to know your colleagues has obvious advantages for your career and future work possibilities, but it can also make your work life more pleasant, which results in a more creative business.
Engaging with people outside work has countless benefits – you’ll never know your cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s dad is starting a new business in a field you’re interested in unless you really get to know everyone you meet and stay open to possibilities.
Finally, your environment has a greater impact on you than most people think. You know when you stay at a five-star hotel and you feel so relaxed and inspired and motivated? When it comes down to it, it’s just a bed and a bathroom, just like you have at home. But there’s something about a beautiful environment or even just a change that creates a totally different mindset, like when you walk down the beach in the sunshine and it tastes better than a steak dinner.
I’ve benefited and learned so much from embracing these elements in my life and just about every other executive on the planet is doing the same. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it and what you’re missing might just be career success.