TL;DR: Your health is the foundation to everything you will do in life. Eat right, sleep well, and exercise daily. Workout your mind like you would your body. Surround yourself with people that inspire and challenge you. Find the things you truly enjoy to recharge. Do all of this in the context of operating at sustainable peak performance, to maximize your impact and enjoyment.
Your health is the foundation of everything you will accomplish in life. Ignoring it will not only put you at risk of disability and death from a host of preventable diseases, but it will also sap the energy and life force you have today to put towards your goals and ambitions. Given this, you need to take care of yourself in the same way a professional actor or athlete would. You need to do the things necessary to ensure you are in peak condition to perform. Your health is the foundation of your ability to impact the world, so you should give it the proper level of attention. I don’t know exactly what you will need to be at peak performance, but from my experience, there are a few key things I need to get right to make sure I have the energy, focus, and motivation to succeed.
The energy you need to move mountains starts from within. It all boils down to a few simple concepts – you need to:
- Wake properly – when you first wake up, drink a large glass of water, and take a moment for a few deep breaths. The water is key to help kick things in gear and flush out toxins from the night. The air will re-inflate your lungs and alveoli so they can get oxygen pumping through your veins and feeding all the systems that need it for optimal performance.
- Eat right – cut back on sugar, processed foods, and meats. Eat a healthy amount of fruits, vegetables and fiber. Pay attention to how different foods make you feel. Do they give you more energy or less? Is that energy sustained or volatile and fleeting? Eat food as a way to nourish your body with the things it needs to achieve peak performance. You can also eat for pleasure, but make that the minority case, and make sure those guilty pleasures aren’t inadvertently throwing you into a bad energy or state of mind.
- Exercise daily – get your heart pumping every day. Even just a 15 minute brisk walk will do the trick. If you can, bake a walk into your commute to work – that way it’s automatic. At least 2-3 times a week, carve out time to do a real workout. Move your body, stretch your body, and put it through the motions. We are pack animals, we were meant to move. Don’t deprive your body of that or it will undermine your energy and performance.
- Sleep well – most people need at least 8 hours a night of quality sleep. If you’re not getting quality sleep, figure out what you need to change that. Get ear plugs. Get an eye mask. Get a breathing machine if that’s a problem. Don’t try to be a hero. Some rare individuals can get by on less than 8 hours, but if that’s not you, then don’t fight it. Try waking up without an alarm clock. Tune into your natural rhythms. Your body and mind will thank you when you finally get into a sleep pattern that matches your needs for optimal performance.
You’re only given one body, it is your connection to the world, you need to keep it in peak operating condition.
Just like physical muscles, you need to work your mental muscles daily as well. The goal here is to do something that requires you to actually think – the type of thinking that requires conscious focus and effort. The kind of thinking that makes your head hurt after a while. It could be learning a new programming language, or an instrument. Or it could be jotting down new ideas for how you can change the world. Whatever the case, give your mind a workout every day outside of your daily routine.
Focus on building up your emotional energy by surrounding yourself with people who energize you. There’s truth in the saying that you are a function of the five people you spend the most time with. If you spend time with negative people, they will bring you down. Instead, spend your time with people who inspire you and challenge you – they will help you grow.
‘Spirituality’ has a lot of baggage associated with the word. I’m not referring to anything religious. What I am referring to is identifying those things that help you recharge. Those things that help you clear your mind, and ground yourself in the present, casting off the past and the future for a few minutes. There are many ways to achieve this. Personally, I get there through sports or going on a hike. Sometimes I’ll try simple meditation. I try to be grateful every day for the blessings in life. Whatever it is for you, make sure you make the time to recharge your spiritual batteries and clear your head.
Sustainable peak performance
Lastly, as you go through life, focus on maximizing your potential and productivity over the long term. Work and life is not a sprint. This means you need to pace yourself. Aim to get yourself operating at what I call sustainable peak performance. It requires conscious thought and calibration to keep yourself in the sustainable band, neither too slack nor pushing yourself too far. A bunch of scientists developed a concept called the Yerkes-Dodson curve, which maps the relationship between stress and performance (see below). You should think about where you perform best on this curve – it’s different for everyone.
On occasion life requires a sprint. If you’re going to do it, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, fully conscious of the tradeoffs and costs – and rest assured, there are real costs. Pushing yourself to work more hours might provide a short term boost, but it’s unsustainable. Eventually the increased hours and neglect to your health will start to impact your performance negatively. There have been studies indicating sleep deprivation puts you on par in performance of mental acuity with people who have had a few drinks. Would you want to show up to work drunk?
Follow the guidance here, and it will help you build and support the foundation that will propel you through life. It’s amazing how little you care about anything else when your health declines. Nothing else matters. It would be a terrible shame to be in declining health for the latter years of your life when you might finally have the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Make the right investments today and it will pay off in spades.
To your health!