SEI Dock Model, Pillar 1: Health
(Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise: recharge mentally and physically)
One of my writing friends gives all her workshop students toothbrushes. She tells her students, “This is one of the most important writing tools I can give you. Use this twice a day: once in the morning and once at night.” The toothbrush does two things for these creative misfits who spend too much time in their heads thinking about stories:
- It provides a routine to follow every day. No matter what, you have to brush your teeth twice a day or else your writing will suffer (and no one wants that – crazier things are done to stave off bad writing).
- Artists and writers (and rumor has it, some tech people) are known for forgetting about some basic human survival skills, like eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene. One of the biggest unspoken problems artists have (with their body and on their wallet) is dental-related. This friend of mine has seen too many of her friends struggle with health-related issues, so she tells her young students what her friends wished they had heard when they were in their 20’s: “Everything you do affects your writing,” she says, “if you do not take care of your body, it will show in your writing.”
Did you get enough sleep last night? Drink enough water today? Did you eat a breakfast and lunch that will provide the right kind of fuel for your mind and body? Or were you too busy chasing the carrot? The better we take care of our bodies, the more energy we will have and the clearer our heads will be. This is why “Health” is the first pillar in the SEI Dock Model.
So much to do, there’s plenty on the farm
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
Saturday night I like to raise a little harm
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
- From I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead by Warren Zevon
Super-humans (the people who get a lot done) get a full night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is between seven and eight hours a night. If you are used to sleeping on less, you are probably used to being tired and fatigued which means you haven’t been operating at your peak in some time. Even if you have been successful, imagine how much more successful you would have been with all of your mental faculties functioning. Imagine how much more joy you would have gotten out of life feeling fully rested than mindlessly slogging through the day with a pot of bitter black coffee in hand. Don’t believe me? Ask The Dalai Lama, Arianna Huffington, Ellen Degeneres, or Warren Buffett (and many others).
- Sleep hacks are hacks. There are a lot of sleep hacks out there, and many work for the first week—at the cost of suppressing your natural sleep rhythm. If you continue to disrupt your natural sleep rhythm, your eye for detail will diminish and you will start to make mistakes. You may feel like you are getting more done, but chances are, the quality of your work will not be up to where it used to be.
- You’re not tired, you’re drunk. Studies have suggested that sleep deprivation affects neurobiological functions similar to being intoxicated with alcohol. According to Harvard Medical School Professor Charles A. Czeisler, "We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%. We would never say, 'This person is a great worker! He's drunk all the time!' yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep for work."
- Your immune system takes a toll. You are three times more likely to get sick if you get less than seven hours of sleep per night. A quick literature or Google search will give you added insight to the health benefits of sleep, like this Harvard Medicine article on memory and cognition.
“Food is medicine and medicine is food” - Ayurvedic Proverb
The following are health tips as they relate to productivity. Before making any big changes in your diet, talk to your family doctor and/or a nutritionist.
- Make sure you are drinking enough water. Drink 16oz of water when you wake up. If you are tired in the afternoon, drink some water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to get a drink of water, you may already be dehydrated.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of green vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, protein, and slow carbs.
- Look at your food labels: If your budget can handle it, buy organic. You are what you eat—literally. If you eat poor quality food, you are going to feel lethargic instead of energized after lunch. Also, if you eat animal products, be mindful of the animal’s diet. The quality of chicken eggs has been going down because they are now primarily corn fed. Corn-fed chickens’ eggs have higher Omega 6 fats and less Omega 3, throwing off the normal balance of grain-fed chickens. For more information on healthy eating, I recommend reading Anticancer: A New Way Of Life by David Servan-Schreiber.
- Eat several smaller meals per day. Eating smaller meals is better for metabolism and energy, giving you the fuel to be more productive. Large meals lead to post-prandial somnolence, which is drowsiness from too much food in your gastrointestinal tract, colloquially called a “food coma”. This is why vegetarians are just as tired as the turkey eaters (tryptophan) after the big Thanksgiving meal.
- Moderate your caffeine and alcohol consumption. You’ve probably heard this before and found what works for you. If you haven’t, a good rule of thumb is less is better. There is a reason why everything in moderation is a phrase that often comes up here. And I’m speaking to you, pot-of-coffee-everyday coffee drinker :-) Overconsumption of caffeine leads to dehydration, resulting in lower energy. A good way to cut down on coffee is to switch out your afternoon coffee for tea.
- Rely on slow carbs, proteins, and fats as your fuel source. You want to maintain a healthy level of natural energy throughout the day. When you rely on sugar, caffeine, or carbs, your energy is going to spike and then crash, thus making you jittery and fatigued because of a high blood insulin level.
- Cut out processed products. Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, and other food additives. One of the healthiest choices I hear people make is to stop drinking soda (pop if you are in the Midwest) and starting drinking carbonated water and tea. According to a study TIME wrote about, soda may age you as much as smoking does.
(Looking to make a change in your life? Check out my post on “Changing How You Change” here).
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Or, How to Philosophize With the Hammer
Exercise not only gives you a break from your work, but it will also make you more productive by improving your mood, growing brain cells, and giving your body more energy.
- Your brain actually grows. A study suggests that mice who exercise have brain growth in the hippocampus, this is where learning and memory take place.
- You get a “runners high”. Exercise releases natural endorphins, lightening your mood and give you a fresh perspective on the day.
- You have more energy. Exercise increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. This gives you a more efficient body, and in turn, efficient use of your energy. As Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia’s exercise psychology laboratory, said: “Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic. There’s a scientific basis for it, and there are advantages to it compared to things like caffeine and energy drinks.”
- Promotes better, deeper sleep. People who exercise regularly have been observed to have deeper and more restful sleep, waking up feeling more refreshed in the morning.
- You feel good and have higher self-esteem. Not only will you feel good, but you will look better too. This will give you more self-confidence because you will be able to better manage weight.
- Great way to start your day or end it to de-stress. At the end of your workout, you get a great feeling of accomplishment and it gives you endurance to stick with projects and lowers anxiety.
- It's a form of meditation. Exercise can be a form of meditation, you get a small amount of time during the day to be alone with your thoughts and sometimes it can be a break to not think about anything at all.
How It Works In The Model
Health is the first of the four pillars in the SEI Dock Model. It is the first post or pillar next to shore. A well-maintained dock needs to be “grounded” in healthy routines that provide the rest of your dock the energy and levelheadedness to perform at your peak. Productivity starts with a healthy mind and body, so as cliché as it sounds, you don’t have time not to be healthy.
Part III of the SEI Dock Model will be released on October 9, 2015. Stay tuned until then! If you missed last week’s introduction, you can view it here.
Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant
Week 1: SEI Dock Model: Introduction
Week 2: SEI Dock Model: Pillar I, Health
Week 4: SEI Dock Model, Pillar III: Play