6 professional pitfalls of unhealthy living

Want to be productive, happy, and a good role model for others? Start making healthier decisions.
By Jennifer Wilson

When I address audiences these days, I see a lot of worn-out, super busy, somewhat overweight, middle-aged firm leaders. These are smart, good people who simply aren't eating right, exercising regularly, sleeping enough, meditating, pursuing hobbies, investing in learning (especially technology learning), or engaging in other important personal development practices. And they're rationalizing their lapse in healthy, happiness-inducing, and life-extending habits with an overused and over-believed excuse we all give:

"I just don't have time."

As any student of time management will tell you, managing your health is a proactive, Stephen Covey Quadrant II activity that may not be urgent but is very important. As you read this, you think you don't have time for these healthy activities, but I believe you're wise enough to know that putting off proactive activities leads to some kind of crisis later. So, let's take a moment to acknowledge the obvious and not-so-obvious professional impacts of not investing in your health and well-being.

When you don't make time for healthy habits, the obvious impacts are:

  • Reduced stamina. When you eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, you have more energy. I travel like a crazy person and sometimes put in extra-long workweeks. I am raising three daughters and striving to be a loving wife, homemaker, and daughter. To keep my energy up, I pay attention to what I eat and make choices and trade-offs so I don't overdo sugar or daily calories (except on special occasions!). I make time at least five days a week to exercise so that I have the energy to live my XXL life. When my inner voice encourages me to sleep in an extra hour, I disregard it and exercise anyway. One hundred percent of the time, when I choose the exercise, I have more energy and all-day stamina. Does less stamina make you less efficient or less relentless than your competitors?
  • Premature aging. In Men's Fitness magazine, Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science, wrote that beginning in their 30s, men who do not exercise and build strength put on 15-plus pounds of fat every decade due to a combination of muscle loss and weight gain. Countless studies show that a lack of physical and mental activity produces weakness and contributes to the aging process. On the flip side, real people stay "young" by exercising well into their 80s and beyond. I find inspiration from Harriette Thompson who, at 92 in 2015, became the oldest woman to finish a marathon. When I grow up, I want to run just like her! And I won't get there unless I keep at it.
  • There is also a growing call to get enough sleep to minimize the mental and physical effects of aging. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults ages 25 to 64 sleep a minimum of six and maximum of 10 hours per night. I'll confess that I have been guilty of sacrificing sleep to make time to accomplish everything else (see above). Sacrificing sleep can feel as if it works in the short term, but fatigue can create memory and other health issues, so consistent sleep has to become a way of life. In 2017, I have made a commitment to sleep a minimum of an average of six hours per night and have started a sleep diary to hold myself accountable. If you seem ready for the rocking chair, what impact does that have on the way others envision your future at the firm?

  • More frequent illnesses. Studies show that eating right, exercising, managing stress, and getting enough sleep all boost your immune system and help fight disease. When we don't make these activities a priority, we'll end up making time to manage sickness. And, when unhealthy habits persist, especially overeating and under-exercising, we become subject to serious illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. How inspiring are you when you're under the weather?

There are also less-obvious impacts caused by our unhealthy habits:

  • More negative self-talk and less joy. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that elevate your mood and give you a sense of well-being. And, when we know our habits are unhealthy and we don't feel fit, most of us run an ongoing mental dialogue of disappointment with ourselves. This discouraging self-talk can then cause us to be grouchy or negative. How many people want to hang out with us when we are giving off our Debbie or Donald Downer vibe?
  • Detracting from our personal packaging. When we gain unwanted weight, many of us don't adjust our wardrobes to maintain a crisp, tailored fit to our clothes. When we don't get enough sleep, we can begin to look haggard. When we lack stamina, we can find ourselves yawning or nodding off in meetings. Like it or not, people form impressions based on the visual presentation we make with our grooming, dress, posture, and other nonverbal aspects of our "professional packaging." Doesn't a healthy professional image present better to others?
  • Discouraging your future leaders. This is the impact that drove me to write this article. Young people in our country place a high premium on work/life integration, which, for them, includes wellness. Every day in our profession, future leaders look to their established leaders and ask themselves, "Do I want to follow in their footsteps? When I am their age, do I want my life to look like theirs?" If you are worn out, disheveled, grouchy, or unhealthy, and you have "no time" to improve your circumstances, what do you think their answer is?

What kind of health role model are you? What do your health habits say to others about your ability to prioritize? About your discipline? About your commitment to continually get better?

If, like me, there are things in this article that you can and should improve, which one will you commit to change today?

Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at

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