Note: This is the initial piece in a new series I am doing about CEO/entrepreneur/leader “burn out.” I recently experienced my first burn out, which landed me in the hospital for a night. Plowing through stress, using “grit” or sheer will worked for a while, but ended up proving to be the wrong path, or at the very least something that is not sustainable over the course of a lifetime. This is a serious topic that has been expressed by others, but I am putting my recent experience out there to shed some more light and hopefully stoke some discussion. I will be interviewing others who have faced similar situations and those who help entrepreneurs, leaders and great employees get through and then beyond these trying times. As an entrepreneur, we are on a “journey” never arriving at the destination, but we can find happiness, work-life integration (not balance) and other positivity along the way.
When I first started my own Public Relations agency, HeraldPR, at the age of 24, I was young, driven and thought I was unstoppable. I was convinced that sheer will would drive me to success and easily enable me to overcome any obstacle in my path. I speak a lot about my personal mantra of “breaking through the brick wall,” which essentially means that in life, and especially business, we have to be able to overcome challenges and plow through the brick walls that stand before us. I was doing it. I was charging forward, creating my own success. I thought I was unstoppable.
Now, nearly a decade later, my drive is as strong as ever, but the biggest brick wall I have ever faced stands before me: myself.
I’m not as young as I used to be, and my disregard for my personal health has begun to take its toll. Skipping meals, not getting nearly enough sleep and poor nutrition all started to wear on me. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I began experiencing severe anxiety and senses of panic. For the first time in my life, I began to doubt myself. It was a sudden wave of emotions that I had never experienced before, and I knew something was off.
After speaking with numerous business executives and fellow CEO’s I began to understand the importance of a healthy routine, and early morning maintenance. Slowly, I began starting my day with physical activity and healthy foods. The more and more I fell into my new routine, the better I felt. Now, as I embark on launching another business: Emerald.Digital, a full service digital marketing agency in New York and New Orleans, I had to be equipped to not only launch another business, but to do so in 2 cities a mere 1,312 miles from each other. So, now more than ever I need these tools to avoid another episode of stress overtaking me.
So, in an effort to share this newfound knowledge, I reached out to two close friends Daniella Cohn, a dietician with a masters from Columbia University and Jessica Carroll a health and fitness influencer who runs her own massively popular workshop entitled “Master Your Morning , Master Your Life” to try to gain some expert insight into how business leaders, and anyone for that matter, would best be suited to start their day.
Morning nutrition tips:
Before you even get out of bed in the morning, sit up and take a minute to stretch out your neck, shoulders, arms and legs. This helps to reset your body, gets your blood flowing and relieve any kinks or aches from sleep.
- Drink water
Before you eat or drink anything in the morning, drink a cup or two of water. Most of us wake up dehydrated, and its important to rehydrate after a full night’s sleep. I keep a bottle of water on my nightstand so I can have something to drink throughout the night if I need, or to drink before I get out of bed in the morning.
- Eat a high protein breakfast with fruits and/or vegetables.
Stay away from processed packaged foods that are often seen as breakfast foods. Instead, choose fresh, high protein, nutrient rich foods that will refuel yourself after a night’s sleep. Good choices include eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, nuts and seeds. Research shows that a high protein breakfast improves blood sugar control and insulin regulation, increases satiety hormones, and decreases snacking at night.
Whether you go to the gym or take a walk outside, working out first thing in the morning is a great way to ensure you incorporate physical activity into your day. Movement stimulates your body and your metabolism. This helps you wake up, feel alert and calm, helps you focus better and boosts your energy levels to get you ready for whatever you have planned for the day.
- Plan your lunch and dinner!
I am constantly thinking about and planning my next meal, because I don’t like finding myself hungry without a plan. It is so beneficial to take a moment and plan out the rest of your meals for the day to ensure you have a plan, so that you don’t end up skipping a meal and eating a bag of chips instead. This could mean preparing a to-go meal to take with you, meal prepping for dinner, or planning when and where to pick up your lunch.
I realized that the secret to happy people is a healthy childhood spirit and the secret to successful people is a solid morning routine. So through my work and my workshops, I help people combine these two things and create a VALUE morning:
V – Visualize. Wake up and take a moment to visualize what success looks like for that specific day. It is important to truly acknowledge what this is – see it, feel it. Then, take a journal out and write one intention for yourself “my heart is open to connecting with one new person today” or “getting out of my head and being present”. This is different than a goal, it’s a feeling. Write it down. Studies show you are more likely to do something if you write it down. Then write down three to-do tasks- three really important tasks for that day. Productivity experts say three is the perfect number.
A – Action. Now that you have your intention and three to-dos, the next step is to prepare a plan of action. Plan out your day, and make sure you set endpoints. For example 7 a.m. – 8 a.m. workout, 8 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. get ready etc… Set deadlines to stay on track. Plan out your day to make absolutely sure you will accomplish your three to-dos. Along with your plan, you should allocate time for three crucial blocks: 1. Focus time, 2. Play time 3. Rest time. Prioritize. Nobody knows your body better than you. So recognize when, during the day, your brain is the sharpest and allocate that to focus, and then do the same for play and rest.
L – Love. Take time for self love and expressing love to at least one person each day. Gratitude is critical for me. Every morning I write in my journal what I’m grateful for and what’s making me happy that day. Set an intention to express love to one special person (friend, family, uber driver, etc.) We can live in such a selfish world, so make sure you set an intention to make one person feel loved to help you from falling into that selfish mindset.
U – Unplug. Before you reach for your phone to get on social media or email, take some time to be unplugged from the world and to plug into yourself (prayer, meditating, walk dogs, sip coffee).
E – Exercise – The most crucial step of all. I am a firm believer that everyone should move their body at least once a day. Make due with the time you have. Whether it be a quick stretch session or a full out workout, you must make sure to move your body every morning. Wake up your body, wake up your mind.