I work with leaders at companies as varied as finance, law, healthcare, education, and more. As their “Executive Coach,” they ask me surface-level questions such as, “how can I get things done more efficiently?” or “how can I organize my email and calendar to be more effective?”

Professionally, I acknowledge them for asking what seem to be important questions.

Personally, however, I’m disappointed because they’re asking the wrong questions.

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Stoic philosopher Epectitus said, “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

In this article, I will offer you practical advice with the intent to put you in control.

“If you’re a leader, look in the mirror.”

This I demand of everyone I serve. If you want to be a better leader, manager, employee, or colleague, YOU have to look at what they look at, you need to see what THEY see. Take in a reflection of yourself right now. Are you tired? Do your shoulders sag? Are you low on energy? What YOU see is what they SEE, magnified.

How so?

They add to the story. If people see you as tense or stressed, they could be making up their reasons for what they perceive as anxiety. If they see you in a rush, they might wonder what’s happening behind the scenes. If they see you — and, yes, it even goes to THIS level — not eating healthy/energy- and life-giving snacks, they can build a negative picture of what it’s like to be in your position.

Remember, they are watching you. Always.

So, are there “better” questions you can ask? Fortunately, yes there are. And even better news: There aren’t dozens, there are a few well-placed questions you can ask the leader in the mirror to FOCUS on why you do what you do, CHANGE how much energy you have, and SUSTAIN your efforts through time. Are you ready? As you review these prompts, consider taking a moment (the count of 2 long breaths) to reflect on your gut answers to each one.

  1. What are my motives for action?
  2. How am I moving throughout the day?
  3. When am I eating — and what am I drinking — to refuel my body?
  4. Where do I schedule rest during the day and how can I sleep through the night?

As you continue reading, allow your mind to explore these four topics: Motivation, Movement, Nutrition and Rest. And, if you come up with an “ah-ha,” or “I’m gonna,” be sure to share that with a buddy who can hold you accountable!

MOTIVATION

Traditionally, we’ve used the word “motivation” to describe one’s enthusiasm for getting things done. That is, if we say that someone is motivated, we almost expect them to have an extra skip in their step, a natural and uplifting way about them that radiates out to the team. How many of you have been to a motivational speech where the presenter expressed themselves in a way that got you “riled up,” ready to “take on the world?”

However, there’s a more profound relationship I want you to have with this word. It’s by taking action to identify your answers to THIS question that you can truly tap into your “motives for action”: Why do you do what you do?

motivation (noun): the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

NOTE: This definition doesn’t include “pumping you up;” it doesn’t demand that you “stand up and shout.” If you give yourself the gift of your attention and truly think through YOUR purposes for doing what you do, you may discover a quiet, powerful, inspired, and enthused power within you; one that may or may not be evident to those around you.

So, what do you do? Try this: Open your notebook to a new page. There, make a list of 3-5 roles you have — at work and in life — that you will expand into or take on over the next year. For each one, write AT LEAST one paragraph to continue these two prompts:

“As a __________ between now and _______, I want to be known for…”

That prompt (in the book, Get Momentum, called your #KnownFors) asks you to identify the physical, visible outcomes you’re going to achieve; the verbs you’re working on over the next block of time.

For example,

“As an expert speaker between now and December 15th, I want to be known for speaking at conferences to help leaders adopt more sustainable and more healthy habits. I want my presentations to provide actual tools and practical strategies to lead better, work smarter, and achieve more.”

You can see there that I have a specific period to measure my success as well as exacting crosschecks to ask of the attendees of my programs a month and six months after I speak.

How about you, how specific will YOU be? Remember, to get the most value from this you’ve got to share it!

MOVEMENT

Did you move your body enough yesterday? How about tomorrow, do you have a plan to get a few extra steps in, to do some strength exercise, or to maintain body-core flexibility and integrity?

Most of you reading this would agree that health, happiness, and productivity at work are all concepts that relate to one another. But, does your organization support the behaviors necessary for people to feel that they can take care of themselves this way?

Here’s a short quiz you can take (each question is answered with a simple YES or NO):

  • Yesterday, did I park far enough away from my office entrance to get 100+ extra steps?
  • Yesterday, did I do ten sets (of anything) when I got up from my office chair?
  • Yesterday, did I leave my desk and go somewhere else to eat lunch?
  • Yesterday, did I do a workout, take a flexibility class, or take a long enough walk to increase my heart rate to 70-80% of the max?

If you answered NO to four of those four, look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “How important is my physical body to the life I want to lead?” Then, open your calendar, and schedule some times this week where you can do SOMETHING that looks (and feels!) like physical movement.

NUTRITION

Look around as you’re reading this, what options for nutrition do you have? Your body will work off of the last 2-5 hours of fuel you’ve given it, so make sure you have what you need for the rest of the day.

Personally, here at 9:31 am on a Wednesday, I have: A half-full bottle of water, the last few spoonfuls of my morning oatmeal, and a Greek yogurt ready for my 10:15 am snack.

Bottom line, I don’t HOPE I get enough water, protein, and calories; I plan for it.

You could start here, with the Baylor College of Medicine Adult Energy Needs and BMI Calculator. It’ll at least give you a generalized sense of what you’ll need today.

According to Joan Carter, a CNRC registered dietitian and instructor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston:

It’s easier to get up the will-power to turn down a 900 calorie double-burger with cheese and sauce and opt for a 400 calorie chicken sandwich or salad when you know your entire daily needs are about 1600 calories.

According to Scientific American, “The brain needs fuel, just like the body does.” Again, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Would eating a healthy/healthier snack do for my physical energy AND my mental focus? So, within the next hour or so be sure to eat something.

Finally, when it comes to liquids… drink another glass of water. Every day, regardless of your “already-existing” routine, make a point to pause at the water fountain or top-off your half-filled water bottle. When you leave the office, or even right before dinner, drink another 4-8 ounces.

The research is clear, dehydration in office buildings is a real thing; studies have shown that there are higher incidents of accidents, and lower overall productivity when people don’t drink enough water!

REST

For a moment, keep “sleep” off your mind; we’ll get to that later. For now, look in the mirror (or, your front-facing mobile phone camera!) and check to see how rested you look. Then, no matter what, do SOMEthing that helps you relax your back, stretch your legs, or slow down your mind. My favorites include deep breathing, body scanning, and reaching for the ceiling. Don’t judge; instead, write on a piece of paper a number – between 1-10 – of how stressed out you are. Do the following three exercises and write your number again. Do you see a change?

EXERCISE 1:

Step 1: Sit comfortably in your chair (or on the plane, or subway, or bench!) and close your eyes.
Step 2: Breath in through your nose, slowly and deeply, up to the count of 7 filling your lungs with air.
Step 3: Hold your breath to the count of 7 (or even 15!) before slowly blowing out through pursed lips.

Do that 3 times.

EXERCISE 2:

Step 1: Sit comfortably in your chair (or on the plane, or subway, or bench!) and close your eyes.
Step 2: Extend your arms toward the cieling, and stretch your entire upper body, from your fingertips to your buttocks; really extend through your back and torso.
Step 3: OPTIONAL: Stretch your feet out from your chair, parallel to the floor to extend that stretch through your lower body.

Do that 3 times.

EXERCISE 3:

Step 1: Sit comfortably in your chair (or on the plane, or subway, or bench!) and close your eyes.
Step 2: Focus on your pinky toe; ask yourself, “How relaxed is my pinky toe between my toe and my foot?”
Step 3: Keep focusing, on each toe, then your ankle, your calf, your knee…all the way to “imagining” the feeling of your hair roots connected to your scalp.

Plan to spend at least 45 seconds on this body scan.

Ok, I promised I’d talk about sleep, but I won’t try and teach anything new. Instead, I’ll ask a favor, “For the next 5 nights, will you do those three steps about 10-30 minutes before you get in bed?” No, it’s not advice about what to eat before bedtime or how low to set the temperature in the room. My intention here is to put things back in your control.

Your job is to find ways to increase your focus on yourself so that you have the energy you need to do your job at the best of your ability. You have my word, those who see you will think, “There’s a leader worth following, there’s a colleague I’m happy to work with.”

Please, let me know how it’s going!