Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 1: Self-Awareness

The bane of most consultants is trying to stay fit and healthy. The lifestyle is almost completely incompatible with this and it’s so, late in 2010, that I found myself at some 220lb (100kg or 16 stone). It’s not that I was terribly unfit – I could still run 7-8 miles – but the weight had slowly put itself on over the previous 3 years.

It’s something that we see in a lot of people in consulting. The lifestyle that lures us into the career in the first place – travel, exciting places and interesting roles – is exactly the lifestyle that is our downfall. In my case it’s the long days and late evenings – usually fuelled by 3 meals a day out of the house. For others it’s long stints away from home, digesting fatty hotel food.

To compound this, we find ourselves mentally exhausted from work and unwilling or unable to exercise effectively. How can you exercise when you leave home at 7am and get back at 9pm? And for many, this is further exacerbated by the long days leading to the desire to have a drink – or two… – to relax more quickly.

What’s interesting is that this becomes a vicious circle – because the late nights, fatty food and booze make people sleep worse. We are a little less focussed at work and so work longer hours. We’re a little grouchier too. See where it’s going? Do you see a bit of yourself in this?

So some time in early 2011 I decided to try to kick it. In my case, it’s still a work in progress but I thought it was time to share my experience – in the hope that it might strike a chord with someone else.

The first step – in my opinion at least – is nothing more than realization and self-awareness. We’re supposed to be self-aware in everything we do, as consultants and leaders. Are we really self-aware in how we look and how we treat our bodies? I’m not so sure.

So look in the mirror and think back to college days. I don’t know about you but I was 82kg and had a 32″ waist. When I seriously looked in the mirror at the end of 2010 I was at least 100kg (I started to lose weight before I weighed myself, so I can’t be 100% sure) and my 34″ jeans were – honestly – at least a size too small. My T-Shirts and shirts were full, but not with muscle.

If you look in the mirror and see this person, the first thing you need to do is to relax. Most people out there feel this way at some stage or another. What you do next is up to you but I’d caution against trying to do something extreme. In most cases, extreme reactions (severe diets and regimes) don’t last. They do for some people, but not for most.

The other thing I would caution against is making some purchase to spur on a fitness reaction. Don’t buy the bike, or the rollerblades or treadmill – or even the gym membership at this stage. Rewarding yourself prior to results does not enforce behavioural change. “I just need a XXX and then I will be able to do YYY” just isn’t compatible with human psychology.

For most people, self-awareness combined with small change is all that’s required. The question is – what change to make? That’s for the next part, but for now just look in the mirror and try to be self-aware.

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6 Responses to Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 1: Self-Awareness

  1. Tim Guest says:

    Very true and could also be said of a Sales role!
    As primeval men we hunted, fought beasts and generally got rid of the tension out of our lives in a physical manner. The mental anxiety felt in times gone trying to hunt for food is no less than trying to appease an irate customer or constantly designing customer solutions. The only difference is the physical exercise.

    I personally cannot function unless I do something physically challenging at least 3 days a week and I see this in work performance.

  2. Steve Bogner says:

    Great points John. I’ve been making a similar sort of transition, and reading about the same sorts of issues in a great book titled ‘The way we’re working isn’t working’ by Tony Schwartz.

  3. Great article John as I am really enjoying your personal blogs. I got on a health kick back in November after falling “victim” to many of the things you wrote about above. One thing for sure is it wasnt easy as lets just say my 40 year old body rebelled with a lot of pain as I rolled out of bed (literally) that first month. The key is sticking with it and there are no doubt more challenges with the traveling consultant lifestyle. Some of the things that have helped me:

    1. Eat at the same restaurant with a healthy take out order ->You arent tempted by a cocktail/beer and it saves some time though eating healthy sometimes involves a special order as restaurant food tastes good for a reason.

    2. Get in a routine ->In my case I work 7am to 7pm and try to hit the gym 3 nights on the road and during the day on Friday. It isnt always easy but if your goal is 4 times and you get 3 it is still better than none.

    3. Use technology – This is where I love my smart phone…..I can check twitter, read articles and view email (as well as listen to some great tunes).

    4. Set a goal – I set a goal for # of times in 2011…..year has a ways to go but I am tracking pretty well.

    My biggest challenge is winding down to get a good nights sleep exercising so late in the day so any tips for that would be appreciated.

  4. Jamie Oswald says:

    You don’t need to be a consultant for that. Being a suburban father of 4 is all the horrid lifestyle I need to vaccilate between 285 lbs (at my heaviest) to 198 (at my lightest since college). I’m right in the middle now (FWIW). No time to shop, much less cook, and everyone seems to think chasing kids around will make you skinny — it won’t. It’ll just make you figure out the least work you can do to keep up with an active 3 year old.

  5. susan roe says:

    I was had a project that was like the Freshman 15! Work hard all day, skip lunch, stop by the restaurant where many consultants were dining on the way back to the hotel, join in with a few cocktails, bread, dinner, maybe dessert and a night cap. It was wonderful to find a workout buddy on the project. We committed to early morning workouts at 6am with a trainer. This did a few things:
    We had a financial investment
    We were accountable to each other
    We didn’t want to stay out late and reduced the nights of team dinners (Of course it didn’t mean that we always skipped out on the rest of our colleagues- just limited it)

    Not to say that it was ever easy to keep up with, but it helped

  6. Pingback: Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 2: The Calorie Deficit | People, Process & Technology

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