Politically Correct Fitness?

man holding hand over his mouthAs long as man has been alive, there has been physical fitness.  Centuries ago, physical fitness was a way of life. It was how we lived and more importantly, it was how we survived.  Fast forward to 2007, and physical fitness hasn’t changed.  At least it shouldn’t have changed.  It is and should still be a way of life and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it is definitely something that will help you survive.  But study after study only shows that as a society we move less and less and physical fitness is diminishing as quickly as the national budget.  Is it that fitness is so misunderstood or is our idea of fitness completely off kilter?

Most people would certainly agree that exercise is something that they need to do and more often.  It is no secret that the number one New Year’s resolution people make is to exercise, be it to lose weight or just get moving.  Yet when it comes to making the decision whether or not to exercise, more times than not an alternative or excuse to do something other than exercise usually wins out. Has exercise become so high tech, advanced, and intimidating that even the intelligent person can’t make heads from tails?  Or is it something else? As a society, I like to think we suffer from what I call politically correct fitness.

Political correctness is a term used to describe any language, ideas, policies, or behaviors seen as seeking to minimize offense to racial, cultural, or other identity groups.  In a broader sense, it is also used to describe adherence to any political or cultural belief.  While it’s unlikely that anyone would say they find exercise offensive, it is the cultural belief of exercise that is in question.  That cultural belief is that exercise is time consuming; cumbersome; painful; sweat inducing; only for the already fit; not fun; too much work; etc. But where did these ideas originate? Past experiences from high school gym class; the aerobics/spandex boom of the eighties; the dark, cold steel days of the early weight lifters? Perhaps it is the media’s attempt to make fitness seem more glamorous and easy, thus creating a false sense of what it really means to exercise.

While watching a popular morning news show the other day,  I witnessed the anchor “attempt” to do a rather easy exercise and gasped as she did everything in her power to make it look like it was something only Houdini could perform.  Her message to the audience: “We need more exercise but I’m just going to stay home and watch my TiVo”.  In a popular magazine, an article written by a fellow fitness professional says how all one needs to do to stay in shape is clean their windows and wash the floors once a week.  That may be true if your house was the Sears Tower!  The sensationalism of fitness as it relates to our health has only added to the confusion and reluctance of more people making an active choice to live a healthier life.  There are no guarantees in life and contrary to what some think, we are not entitled to an existence free of injury and sickness.  When you can appreciate the fact that over 70% of the diseases and illnesses listed with the AMA (American Medical Association) are preventable through healthier lifestyles, it makes you wonder why we just don’t carry around our own shovels.

Bottom line – there is no politically correct way to go about fitness.  Fitness requires work.  It requires time.  It requires dedication.  It requires commitment.  And most of all, it requires a willingness to not accept things as they are, but to work towards something perhaps once thought as unachievable. Fitness, specifically physical fitness, is a part of a healthy lifestyle.  It is not the solution, but a piece of the solution. It is part of a healthy lifestyle that includes sensible nutrition habits, good emotional health, and sound spiritual health. To that end, it is a big part of a solution to a problem that is only going to keep getting worse the longer it is ignored. And that is damn near offensive.

Featured in November 2007 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Do What You Love

520157-apple_logo_dec07Do you remember your high school or college graduation commencement address? Most likely, it was given by a prestigious alumnus, a local politician, a motivational speaker, or perhaps even a Hollywood celebrity.  The content of a commencement address generally consists of knowledge and life experiences that the speaker would like to impart on the graduating class as they begin their journey into life.  Yet it is seldom that you find someone who truly remembers or can say they were deeply moved by their commencement address.  For the Stanford University graduating class of 2005, they had the honor of having their commencement address given by the man whose company most likely was a huge part of their college experience – Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios.

The message in his commencement address was one that those in attendance that day and all of us could reflect on everyday.  Very simply put, the message of Mr. Jobs’ speech was “to find what you love” and that alone will lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment.  In his speech, Mr. Jobs related three personal stories from his life and how each one was driven by his desire to do what he loved.

The first story was about “connecting the dots” and how sometimes when chasing your passion, it’s not always easy to see how your actions today will lead to better things down the road  when pursuing what you love.  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.  This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

The second story was about how Mr. Jobs started Apple and then in a matter of years was fired by the very company that he created.  But the same determination that led him to form Apple in the first place was exactly how he got back to Apple – by doing what he loved.  “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.  You’ve got to find what you love.  And that is as true for work as it is for your lovers.  Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

The third story was about death and how it is the only thing that all of us are guaranteed.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

For many of today’s workforce, work is just a place to spend eight to ten hours a day and collect a paycheck.  Ask yourself this question.  How meaningful is your work and how personally fulfilling and satisfying is your work? Sure, if you were Steve Jobs who sits atop a 2 billion dollar a year company, you might say that your job would be extremely meaningful and fulfilling.  But even if you find your work to be meaningful and fulfilling, do you really love what you do?  Do you find yourself dreading getting up everyday to head to work?  At the end of the day, do you look forward to another day on the grind or do you live only for the weekend?

As Mr. Jobs said in his address, a good deal of our life is spent at work.  Does it make sense to continue doing something you’re not exactly excited about?  Of course not, yet most would rather stay where they are simply because they take the approach of working to live, rather than living to work.   Do yourself a favor.  Think about what you love, find what you love, and do what you love.  A commencement address does not necessarily need to be a creed for life, but something that even those of us already immersed in our respective careers could take a point or two. Commencement after all is not an end, but a beginning.

Featured in November 2006 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Time Management

time-managementTime.  It seems that there is never enough and what time we do have appears to be just washing away.  If only we could have more time.  Question is, would more time really matter?  Would we really get more accomplished? Or would it just be more time to waste wishing we had more time? No matter how you look at it, time is the same year after year, month after month, day after day.  So if time remains constant, why does it always seem to be moving away from us at break neck speeds? The answer is that we simply fail at time management.

Time management is often associated with being organized, yet being organized does not necessarily mean that you have a grasp of time management.  For example, how many times have you started your day with a “to do list” and still did not get everything accomplished.  Some would say that there are unforeseeable events that occur and get in the way of completing that day’s tasks.  While that may sometimes be the case, it generally is more the result of poor time management than being disorganized. Advances in technology can help keep us organized but they can not hold us accountable for time.  The solution therefore is to not only be organized, but to purposely and constructively plan that organization.  Some of these tips may be something you have already heard, already knew, or perhaps even currently employ.  My feeling however is that if you have read this far, time management is something you are struggling with.

Step #1 – If you do not already have a method of keeping track of your everyday tasks (PDAs, desk calendars, schedule books, etc.) start using one today.  Research has consistently shown that those who write down their daily tasks and goals are more than 90% likely to accomplish them.  Even a simple piece of paper and pen will work.  Whatever is easiest, most convenient, and most comfortable for you to use is what is most important.

Step #2 – PRIORITIZE.  It may sound very cache’, but most people spend inordinate amounts of time working on tasks that are really not that important or that are not in sync with their desired outcomes.  The tasks or goals that are most important should take precedence over all others first.  From there, determine the things that are not as equally important, but have to get done or accomplished to fill in the gaps.

Step #3 – In addition to prioritizing, you should also work through tasks one at a time.  Skipping around or completing tasks half way and you will quickly find yourself losing time and getting nothing accomplished.  Keep the focus shifted on doing the necessary and not on the “what ifs”.

Step #4 – Account for time wisely.  In our present day and age, it is very common to spread ourselves thin, trying to do too many things, be too many places, see too many people, to the point where we can drive ourselves insane.  Build time into your daily schedule for things such as travel to and from appointments, meal breaks (can not properly manage time on an empty stomach), phone calls, etc.  Avoid over scheduling and give yourself a chance to attack your tasks with the same vigor and energy as the one before.

Step #5 – Always allow time for your personal agenda.  It is sad but we will spend more time on things that in the general scheme of life are not really important and less time on the things that should really matter most to us – ourselves, family, and friends.  Personal time is vital not only to your mental well being, but to your long term health and prosperity. My personal favorite is exercise.  Everybody says that they just do not have the time.  I say to them that you can not afford NOT to exercise. It has to be built into your schedule and it should not be something that gets fit in if time allows.  There is always time when it is a priority (see Step #2) and it SHOULD be a priority.

Step #6 – Take a deep breath and relax.  We worry so much about time that we probably spend too much worrying about where it is going.  If you continue to find yourself struggling with time management, perhaps you need to sit back and take a good look at where you are, where you are going, and where you want to be.  Grinding it out day in and day out can and will get in the way of your goals and dreams if you allow it.  We can all be found guilty of complacency and sticking to our routine on a daily basis even if it is not where we really want to be.  It is just what we do and that can be a complete waste of time.

Featured in November 2005 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Personal Strategic Planning

TriangleSuccess can be measured in many different ways.  A successful career may include prominence in an industry supplemented with a high level of income.  A successful day may be a day in which the “to do” list was finished before noon.  There are many ways to define and measure success and everyone has their own views and opinions. But no matter which way it is looked at, success can best be defined as the result of a series of positive changes and influences that led to an achievement of a particular goal.  The unfortunate mistake that most people make is that they look for success to come to them, rather than making success happen for them.  That process can begin with personal strategic planning.

Corporations big and small get involved in strategic planning. Their goal through strategic planning is to find ways to maximize the organization of the business to increase their ROE, or return on equity.  ROE simply refers to the return on the capital invested in the enterprise. By reorganizing, prioritizing, and shifting resources from areas of lower value to areas of higher potential value, the ROE in the business can be increased. That very same approach can be used in your own personal strategic planning. The ultimate goal of achievement, or success, is the same.  How you go about it is dependent on what areas of your life need improvement (areas of low value) and which ones are going well (areas of higher potential value).

Behaviorists and life coaches have identified that our goals and achievements (our ROE) can be divided into four basic categories. The four basic categories are: a desire for happy relationships; a desire for interesting and challenging work; a desire for financial independence; a desire for good health. Everything that we do in life is an attempt to enhance one or more of these areas and improve our overall quality of life. The common denominator of these four goals, and the essential requirement for achieving each of them is that they require you to take charge.  Happy relationships do not happen, they are built.  If work is dull and boring, change jobs.  Financial independence is earned (unless you are lucky enough to win the lottery), not given.  Good health is a choice, not a right.  In fact, good health is the one that most of us take for granted until something happens to it.

In the business world, companies have financial capital.  Think of yourself as possessing human capital (mental, emotional, and physical). Just as a company works to increase their ROE, so should you individually work on your ROE.  Without getting into too much information on how to improve your life in all four categories, the best step forward is to look no further than a mirror.  There are so many little things you can do right now that will lay a foundation for success.  Since good health is often overlooked, I can think of no place better to start.

Time and time again, you will hear how proper exercise, diet, and rest are essential to health and prosperity, yet as a society we do not focus on any one of them 100%.  That is where a proper attitude also comes into play.  The right frame of mind can open doors once thought to be never opened.  Everything that you do counts in some way. It is either going to help you or its going to hurt you.  It will either propel you towards your goal or move you farther away from it.  The only one who can make that is assessment is you.  Good, bad, wrong, or right – our decisions are what they are.  How we learn from them and move forward will ensure greater success than the one who never tries.

As mentioned before, success is the result of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of tiny efforts that nobody may ever see or appreciate except yourself. These
tiny efforts, sacrifices, and disciplines accumulate to make you an extraordinary and successful person.  In every area of life, it is the quality of the time, not quantity, that you put into your actions and decisions that determines the rewards life can give. No one is going to understand or appreciate better than you – and that is worth the investment.

Featured in November 2004 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Wellness in the Workplace. Can Your Company Afford to Ignore It?

shutterstock_63994297Affordability.  In today’s economic state, it is a term that has become more common place in business than growth and prosperity. Businesses today are asking themselves: “Can we afford advertising?; Can we afford to hire more staff?; Can we afford to keep operating at the same costs and still turn a profit?”  In a time when things may be grim for a lot of businesses, the only ones that are going to survive are the ones who make an effort now to turn things around.  And to turn things around they need to focus on what’s most important instead of focusing on the negative.  Often, one of those overlooked items is the wellness, both financial and physical, of their business.

What exactly is wellness?  Websters defines wellness as: 1) the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort, and 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases. Most people look at wellness simply as the absence of any apparent or disabling illness. And companies generally look at the wellness of their business from the financial side of things.  How “well” is the business doing?  The reality is, there is a very direct correlation between a company’s financial wellness and its physical wellness, namely the wellness of its employees. Why is wellness so important to a company and why should employers be concerned about their employees’ wellness?  Here are a few statistics that put it in perspective:

  • American employers lose over 300 billion dollars of productivity annually due to illness, sick days, absenteeism and sub-par performance or “presenteeism” (showing up to work but not actually doing anything productive).
  • The average employee misses 8.4 days annually due to illness or injury, totaling over $63 billion nationwide.
  • The employee with a serious or chronic condition (diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, etc.) misses 72 days annually, and works at diminished capacity when present.
  • Nationwide, over 2.5 billion work days are reduced or lost completely. Can your business afford this reduction in productivity?
  • Between the times employees spend at the doctor’s office, the time they spend out sick, and the time they are working at less than full speed, employers are losing an average of $2,000 to $2,800 per employee per year due to illnesses. These numbers do not include the healthcare costs or workers compensation costs incurred due to illness.
  • For every dollar an employer spends on salaries and wages, they spend a minimum of an additional 10 cents on health insurance and workers compensation costs.
  • Those who suffer from GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) suffer decreased productivity so severely that a recent study by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has calculated that over $2 billion is lost in productivity each week due to the disease.

Everyone gets sick from time to time, but which would you rather have? A workforce of vital, energetic hard-working individuals focused on results and available to work when and where you need them? Or a workforce of average individuals who use up most of their sick leave, and come to work dragging their heads and underperforming? Wellness in the workplace has many benefits, and employers who have tracked their employees’ wellness, as well as those who have contributed to their employees’ wellness, have enjoyed increases in productivity, decreased healthcare costs, decreased workers compensation costs, and increased employee loyalty and higher morale.

Although good health and vitality benefit an employee in every aspect of his or her life, they also specifically benefit the employer as well. Just as investing in an employees’ training provides a better, more valuable resource, investing in their health will provide an employer with a more effective and consistently available resource. The costs of unhealthy employees can be staggering. “Soft costs” such as absenteeism and reduced productivity are calculated as costing four to seven times the amount that employers pay in health insurance premiums and workers compensation premiums combined.

The American population as a whole is sadly unhealthy. So if your employees are average, in terms of their health, they are most likely overweight, 30% of them are obese, many are at risk for or already have diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory compromise, and/or heart disease.

If you look at the life insurance weight tables, you’ll see numbers that reflect the average of what people actually weigh, which is not the same as the weights recommended as healthy. The casual observer believes that if their weight falls within those on the table, he or she must be “okay.” That is not the case. It just means that he or she is within the statistical norm. The same disconnect exists in our perception of the health of those around us (and ourselves!). We become used to what’s the norm, not what’s actually healthy, and we use “normal” as the benchmark for “healthy.” It’s not. Vitality, energy, stamina, and systemic strength are what’s healthy. Chronic disease, even low-level, missed work, repeated colds, sore throats, sinus infections, headaches, etc. are all signs of an unhealthy body and life. And they will all respond to wellness intervention if the employee is willing to participate.

Many think that other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke are just bad luck, and it’s a shame when they happen to someone, but they can be prevented. For those who wish to take the steps, the incidence of such diseases can be radically minimized by living a fit and healthy life. Of the top six causes of death, (heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, accidents), five are what we call “lifestyle diseases”. This means that they are caused by a person’s lifestyle choices, at least in part, if not in whole.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, of course you would want the best for your employees, and you would want to see them free of illness and disease. However, there is also the very practical matter of your business’s bottom line that gives you a vital interest in your employees being free of disease and a wellness program quickly becomes something your company can afford not to avoid.

Featured in November 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Train Smart. Eat Well. Be Better.