Healthy body plus healthy mind equals healthy career

Our bodies are finely tuned machines, yet we tend to drive them into the ground, ignore warning signs, and generally treat them poorly. What if you could tap into a whole workforce of finely tuned, healthy and active employees? Christopher Paterson reports

Healthy body plus healthy mind equals healthy career

Business Strategy


In truth, most of us don’t fully understand the intricate design of our brain and bodies. As a result, we’re operating at a fraction of our full capacity. Further, what you may not realize is how this may be holding you back in terms of your career and life success. Multiply this across an entire organization, and the gap between current and potential performance widens exponentially.
Neurological, biological and psychological data shows we’ve prioritized our workloads and our success far above our mental and physical wellness. As a result, we’ve become disconnected with the fundamentals of how the human body functions. This is having an impact on our ability to solve complex problems, come up with new ideas and push the boundaries for our capability. Not surprisingly, it’s also inflating our stress and anxiety levels.
While we all have access to a very impressive machine in the form of the human brain and body, it’s extremely fine-tuned. What happens to a finely tuned machine when we put it under sustained pressure? Performance suffers and it breaks down. You’ll see these breakdown signs among your friends and family; your colleagues and staff; and within yourself. While we see the signs, we don’t know a different way. So we keep doing the same things. We do our best and hope things will improve.
However, taking time to understand the fundamentals of how we’re designed has now become a critical sustainability issue. Changing the way you do things – and working with, rather than against – your body will ultimately let you be at your best both in and out of the office.
Career outcomes
Our review of the published research shows individuals who work with this knowledge experience lower stress levels, greater mental alertness, more energy, higher self-esteem, better memory, greater work fulfilment, less workload pressure and greater concentration.
Not surprisingly, this facilitates improved job output, increased creativity and greater overall career success. On an organizational level, imagine a whole workforce of these individuals! This is organizational performance and capability redefined – and it adds a unique dimension to a company’s market differentiation.
Performance and arousal
The Yerkes-Dodson law shows the correlation between “performance” and “arousal,” but we try not to use the latter word too much in the workplace. So let’s call this “pressure” instead. This research proves a certain amount of pressure enhances performance to the point that’s our sweet spot of optimal performance. However, when additional pressure is applied, this creates stress – and our performance decreases.
Therefore, our first task is identifying the triggers creating this additional pressure. Our next task is having specific strategies on hand to manage them effectively.
It’s not always possible to remove these triggers. But with a better understanding of our neurological and biological toolkit, we can get back to our sweet spot of optimal performance.
Wellness toolkit
The good news is, the research also highlights the mistakes we’re making and identifies the specific things we can do to be at our best. This data points to three key elements of wellness that all play a role in our work and life success:
1 Cognitive wellness
– our brain at work
Understanding our brain functionality, particularly the prefrontal cortex (PFC), allows us to unlock the full potential of our cognition. Unfortunately, we currently tire our brains out with low-level tasks. We’re left wanting when we need to switch into higher-order analysis or creativity. In addition, the multitasking way we attempt to work creates unnecessary pressure for the poor old PFC. We fail to produce our best thinking.
2 Emotional wellness
– our limbic system at work
While still in the brain, our limbic system is the centre of all our emotional responses, even mild ones. So every time we’re a little bit worried, stressed or feeling under pressure, this powerful system gets quickly activated. It absorbs all the cognitive energy, decreasing the quality of our thinking and pushing us beyond our sweet spots.
3 Six cylinders of wellness
In a 2009 review of our career transition clients, we observed there were two types of people being coached through career change. While both had equivalent levels of intelligence, experience and capability, Group A would navigate change with confidence, resilience and focus. Group B struggled to adapt; took a lot longer to bounce back from setbacks; and experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety. A closer investigation of the factors at play, cross checked with the research, revealed the
Group A people were simply making better decisions in six key areas of their lives.
We call them the six cylinders of wellness and they are: nutrition, social connections, activity, time out, sleep and outlets.
We tested a workshop program that educated staff on three of these wellness elements, including the six cylinders. This enabled them to identify the areas requiring attention and the specific, practical actions they could take to facilitate a stronger wellness profile. We found that by making small adjustments, staff were able to reduce their stress levels by 8% and their workload pressure by 16%. Meanwhile, they increased their focus and concentration by 5%.
Business case
In HR, we support staff because it’s the right thing to do. In an environment where workplace stress and anxiety are on the rise, a focus on wellness is a core element. Alongside the humanistic argument, the data shows a well organization will be more productive and creative. Its staff will be less stressed and more mentally alert, energetic, fulfilled, focused and successful.
Take action
On a personal level you’ll be more successful if you manage your own wellness. On an organizational level, your business will be more successful if you can facilitate enhanced wellness profiles for your staff. The pressures currently holding you and your staff back aren’t likely to go away, so inaction isn’t an option.

This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Christopher Paterson, managing director of ALCHEMY Career Management based in Sydney, Australia. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.

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