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7 Wellness Practices for High Achievers

Strategies for the pursuit of excellence

1409 Words | 5 minutes

You can't perform if you're not well.

The world's best athletes have known this for years. They design their training around building a foundation of wellness that helps them be their best when it matters most.

Here are the 7 principles of the pros you can use to help yourself consistently think, feel, and perform better and build your foundation of wellness.

Eat well.

We have a solid (and growing) body of research on the gut-brain axis that suggests what we eat is linked to our physical and mental health.

Some novel treatments for anxiety and depression revolve almost solely on adjusting dietary factors. Though I wouldn't recommend that in isolation, the idea that we can change what we eat to change how we feel is powerful. You have to mind how you eat if you want to perform better.

Here is some of what we know about the link between nutrition and mental health:

To optimize your well-being, mind what you put into your body.

Get high-quality sleep.

Sleep is the most powerful performance enhancer. It's also one of the most powerful well-being enhancers.

  • We have so much data on the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation (or what's called sleep restriction when it's more mild) that it's impossible to ignore.

  • There's no way we can create a strong foundation of wellness without consistent sleep with good quality.

  • We also know that sleep helps us make better decisions, regulate our emotions more effectively, and improve the quality of our relationships. 

Ignore quality sleep at your own peril.

If you want to read more about how sleep impacts performance, you can learn more here.

Have fun.

When was the last time you had fun?

People have simply forgotten how to have a good time (without alcohol to help). It’s conditioned out of us. We need more play.

  • Play is self-directed, self-guided discovery and learning for its own sake.

  • When we're engaged in play, we're restoring our energy, boosting creativity and innovation, and fully immersed in the moment.

  • Each of these creates an upward spiral that promotes better performance under pressure and helps us engage in more novel problem-solving.

Play also enhances brain structure and function, teaches language and social cognition, and helps develop the ability to self-monitor and self-regulate.

These are all skills you need if you want to peak under pressure.

Move your body regularly.

Much like sleep, there's a ton of data linking exercise to better well-being and performance.

There's also good data linking exercise to other important performance behaviors, like improved decision-making, persistence, and testing your limits and how you cope in those scenarios.

We need regular exercise to reach our full potential.

It's one of the most fruitful avenues for developing adaptive capacity.

Challenge yourself.

The best definition I ever heard of resilience:

"Seeking growth, even when conditions don't support it."

Kennon Sheldon, Freely Determined

I love that this definition reorients resilience toward the constant pursuit of progress instead of something that requires adversity to practice or develop.

Sometimes there won’t be an adversity. Sometimes you'll just feel shitty. You'll run late. Someone will say something to you that you don't like. 

If you can find ways to pursue growth, even when it's less than ideal, you're giving yourself the foundational skillset you need to deal with whatever life throws at you - particularly as you climb toward higher, harder goals.

The closer you get to the top, the more monotonous your practice will get. The less favorable the conditions will be daily.

There's a reason 70% of Everest climbers give up on their pursuit by noon on the first day.

Once you reach altitude, stuff is just tougher.

Finding opportunities to grow makes the tough stuff worth it.

Make time with loved ones.

Few things predict the quality of life and happiness better than social support.

Having people in your corner goes a long way. Whether you're dealing with a stressful situation, solving a hard problem, or just looking to vent, knowing who you can turn to makes each of those things easier. Who you surround yourself with ultimately determines the quality of your experience.

The other cool thing about social support is that it's bi-directional.

You need a team around you to sustain excellence over the long term. That team can help you feel better, stay well, and coach you up.

Nobody gets to the top alone.

Manage your stress.

Stress has a bad reputation.

It's often compared to sitting and smoking. If you grew up in the US, you were told that stress was going to kill you, destroy your heart and that you'd likely never recover.

Yet the reality is that with no stress, you'd die.


So what's the deal?

We need to set the record straight.

  • Stress is simply your brain and body preparing you to do something effortful.

  • It's neither good nor bad, it just is.

  • It's good if you can find ways to use it well (like seeing it as a challenge)

  • It’s bad if you see it as a threat

  • Or if you never give yourself time to recover.

Stress management is about finding ways to use stressors to your advantage. It's about using energy to facilitate your completing your tasks and performing well. Leave adequate time for recovery (using some of what I've discussed in this article and more) so that you don't burn out.

Stress with rest = adaptive capacity, or the ability to take on higher, harder goals.

Stress without rest = burnout, or the inability to progress further.

If you want to make it in the long run, you need to have a good system for befriending stress.

Build a richer understanding of who you are.

Much of the above boils down to a meta-skill: self-awareness.

You have to understand what your values are, what your goals are, and what you need to be successful. Values are guiding characteristics you are striving to embody. Goals are the specific objectives you pursue. Needs are the facilitative factors you need to succeed, from the basics like air and water to the complex like your pre-game meal that can only be consumed 4 hours before tip-off.

  • You won't know any of those things if you don't pay attention to yourself.

  • How you feel.

  • What you think.

  • What happens when you feel good, and what happens when you feel like trash.

  • How you feel after criticism, praise, setbacks, reaching a goal, and when you're all alone.

Exploring answers to these questions can give you the insight you need to be more successful. If you realize you need time with friends to feel fulfilled, you're more likely to arrange your week with a social calendar that accommodates those needs. If your needs are for time at the end of the night to just relax so you can sleep well, you're likely to make that change, too.

But it all starts with figuring out who you are, what you want, what you need, and ultimately, what you're willing to do to make those things happen.

The wellness pyramid

With these elements in place, you have a pyramid that looks a little bit like this:

With each of these needs addressed, you're in a position to optimize your mindsets and master the mental skills you need to perform under pressure. Without these, it'll be tough for your mindset to save you.

If you want to perform well, make sure you feel well, first.

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