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The 5 things I did to become a corporate athlete.

Thursday, December 29, 2016
Marijn Kraakman

I have the privilege to work for one of the biggest healthcare companies in world. And it just turned out that made me a healthier person, and a better corporate athlete. Here’s why:

During the last 18 months I have never felt better, both mentally and physically while, in all honesty, I’m juggling a demanding job with a private life that needs my full presence as well (as do most people in their mid-thirties, or actually, at any age). I did not lose a ton of weight (approx. 10 kilo – sorry, no before/after pictures), I did not change the direction of my career nor did I end my relationship.
I am, however, more relaxed, focused and consciously aware of the things I am doing.

Looking back at the past 18 months I wonder: What made me realize turning small things around would be hugely beneficial for me? And how did I pick the areas that needed a turn-around? My life was already in a good place so I had no obvious big incentive to change.

3 key moments led to changing 5 things:

  • An inspiring lecture I attended by Tony Crabbe (watch his TED talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2B9XpwKuP4), author of the book BUSY

  • Out of curiosity I started using health trackers: Quantified Self (late to the game, I’m well aware!): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantified_Self

  • I attended a two day course by the JNJ Human Performance Institute (HPI) called Energy for Performance in Life (EFPIL) where I learned to use my energy there where it matters most (and contributes to my goals!)

A lot of self-improvement books and courses tend to discuss a lot of ‘what to do’s’, but they don’t discuss how to do it. The reason I believe my process of getting healthier and more focused worked so well for me, is that the 3 points above helped me find the “How to do it?”.

These are the 5 areas in which I started implementing change:

  1. Focus more. Every morning I write down my most important objectives of that day. All I need for this is a small notebook and 3 minutes to think. I try to start with the big chunks; things that will take significant amount of time and focus. Being able to then focus on these things for me also means turning off all (ALL) notifications on laptop, phone and iPad. No email or twitter notifications, no sounds and no vibrations. I work on my e-mails during down- or scheduled time. Thanks Tony for this insight!
  2. Sleep better. Two actions to improve my sleep quality. As a result I sleep 20 minutes longer every day on average (fitbit data).
  • Dark room: A few months ago we finally put up curtains that really darken the bedroom and I bought a wake-up light alarm clock. This means I no longer wake up too early when the sun rises.

  • Put away the phone: The second benefit of the alarm clock: It allowed me to put my phone away. No longer do I fall asleep and wake up with my telephone while checking social feeds and email. This also turned me back on to the old-school pleasure of reading an actual book!

  1. Be aware of calorie intake. I used the app MyFitnesspal to track my calorie intake for over a year. I learned that fat is really calorie dense, which means that my favorite snack; cashew nuts, however healthy fats, are also very high in calories! So while eating nuts is healthy, cutting back on my large intake was an easy start to losing weight. I continued to implement this over all my daily meals. When hungry, I now avoid the calorie dense foods and binge on the food that has a lot of volume but fewer calories (rice crackers, tomatoes, etc).
  2. Walk more. A step counter challenge at work and a fitbit really nudged me to walk more and more regularly. Now, I bring my headphones everywhere, so I can walk and do phone calls at the same time. An easy solution to get some extra steps in during the workday.
  3. Say No to meeting invites (more often). I like being on the go and in demand. In terms of productivity, my problem is that work tends to get in the way of work. Now before accepting another taskforce meeting, or a regularly scheduled meeting without an agenda, I tend to ask myself if this is most effective way to spend my time. Tony Crabbe describes this as asking yourself the right question, don’t say whether or not you should attend (as the answer is Yes most of the time), but ask yourself which activity should I attend or focus on. Give yourself a real choice. When choosing between yes and no, the answer will be often yes as us humans find it hard in general to say no. When you give yourself a choice between: attending a meeting, or finally have time to work on this crucial project, at least the answer will be less predictable and you will have given yourself a fair chance to make a conscious decision.

The events and information that led me to make these changes were all provided (voluntarily) by #mycompany. They invested heavily in to these programs, and I wondered what the ROI is. While googling that exact question I came across this HBR article (https://hbr.org/2010/12/whats-the-hard-return-on-employee-wellness-programs) which states that there is a clear financial return on investing in wellness related corporate programs (although the Dutch system is a bit different, as we pay for our own health insurance). Nonetheless, these programs also boost morale and define company culture.

I’ve been very happy with the changes I made and if nothing else, at least it made me write this blog and hopefully inspire some of you to see where you can make easy but valuable changes to your own life. Good luck and feel free to share your progress! Any questions or comments? Reach out to me via the comment section or send me a message on twitter (@marijnkraakman)

Please note that I wrote this story based mainly on personal experiences as a non-expert. I was asked but not paid to write this blog by #mycompany.