Written by Laila Tomsovic
Can lifestyle change improve your performance? In one word: yes!
- Are you having trouble focusing on your work?
- Are you procrastinating getting to your most important tasks?
- Do you have to rely just on willpower or are there other ways to be more effective?
Lifestyle really does have an outsized impact on how you feel and subsequently on how you perform. It is a huge part of the foundations of health, which you can break down into various categories, but today let’s take a look at sleep, exercise, and stress.
- Did you know that the brain has its own cleaning system? The glymphatic system was only discovered ten years ago by Danish neuroscientist and it basically power washes your brain while you sleep. This is only one reason that sleep is foundational to optimal functioning. You need enough sleep for your brain to work well. So if you know you have a big day ahead, do what you can to allow yourself enough sleep the night before.
- Plug your phone in in the kitchen. Don’t bring it into your bedroom. Just do it. Once that phone is on your nightstand, the temptation to doomscroll instead of resting your eyes is nigh impossible to avoid. Many people really do have enough trouble falling or staying asleep that requires specific approaches, but many folks just need to allow themselves enough undistracted time in bed.
Many of my patients struggle to find the time or motivation to incorporate exercise into their daily rhythm. (I know it’s hard, but it is worth it.) The trick is to bite off what you can actually chew.
- Focus on building a habit that you can stick to and figure out how to make it work. Better to commit to taking three ten- or twenty-minute walks per week and actually do it than aim for 45 minutes of HIIT (High Impact Intensity Training) or weight lifting daily and quickly burn out.
- Start small: it doesn’t matter how small. Maybe you just stand up from your desk and stretch for 30 seconds every hour or two. Or schedule a work call while you walk. Perhaps work out with your partner or a buddy to be sure you get time together.
- Once you have a habit in place, you can build on it. Do you already walk your dog regularly? Maybe take a route with more hills or strap some weights to your ankles.
- Need help with starting a new habit? Consider temptation bundling. This is an approach where you couple something you need to do but don’t want to do with something pleasurable. Are you binging Peaky Blinders? Well, you are now only allowed to watch it during or right after exercise. Earn that chill!
Sometimes I feel like a meditation-pusher, but the likely benefits of meditation keep increasing the more we study it. They include increased attention, improved memory, decreased anxiety and stress reactivity, and improved sleep.
- Many people believe they don’t have time, or they “can’t” meditate because their mind races, or they just don’t know where to start. Let me say that no one starts knowing how to meditate. We all have a “monkey mind” that carries us away.
- Learning meditation is like learning a new sport—you improve with time. That’s why it’s called practice. As with exercise, just dipping your toes in for a brief 5 minutes is a great way to start.
- These days, we have many awesome guided meditation apps that will show you where to start. Insight Timer is one that has a free level. Highly respected teachers like Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, Jack, Kornfield, Sharon Salzburg and Diana Winston all have free guide meditations on that app. If you want to combine meditation for sleep, look into Yoga Nidra.
You Don’t Have To Do It All
You might already be feeling overwhelmed. You don’t have to start with all of these today. Repeat after me: start small. Pick one thing that speaks to you, or feels doable, and make a commitment just for the next 2 weeks. After two weeks, revisit how it went and adjust accordingly. Small tweaks will yield small improvements, but over time the impact will grow. Lifestyle may take a little longer to bear fruit, but I believe it is one of the most powerful levers you have to make change, feel better, and grow your positive impact on the world around you.
About Dr. Laila:
I am a naturopathic physician, raised and educated in New England. I am honored to support people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds as they return to wellness. I practice primary care in Vermont and as a specialist in natural medicine in Massachusetts and Vermont. In addition to the variety of concerns brought to primary care, I have particular interests in digestive and women’s health, mood, sleep, and autoimmunity. I also offer craniosacral therapy and visceral manipulation: gentle, powerful forms of physical medicine for pain and other conditions.
I earned my degree in 2011 from Bastyr University in Seattle. The Bastyr program–four to five years of academic and clinical training–combines the medical sciences with in-depth study of traditional and evidence-based treatments. I have been practicing in Northampton since 2012 and in Brattleboro since 2013.