At 28 years old, Laurie Watkins should have been on top of the world. The year was 2008 and as a political strategist, she had just helped her candidate, Barack Obama, become the President of the United States. But after a grueling campaign where she worked around the clock fueled on coffee and sugar, the experience had left her worn out, a little overweight, with a bad complexion and graying hair. It was while driving across Florida when she nearly lost control of her car after a shockwave of pain seized her body that she finally realized she needed to make a change.
I recently interviewed Watkins, a coach, speaker and author who wrote Go from Stressed to Strong: Health & Fitness Advice from High Achievers, to get her thoughts on how we can make the journey from being stressed to being strong in our work lives:
Mark Fadden (MF): What inspired you to write the book?
Laurie A. Watkins (LW): “I wrote Go from Stressed to Strong to help motivate people to get started in achieving a healthier life, even in the most adverse situations. After I got myself on the right path to health and better self-care, healing my own body after decades of abuse, I wanted to share my discovery and tools with others. It also helped that I was being asked for help and “how do you do it?” by other friends and colleagues because they saw that I was happy, but still working hard. They saw that I was at the office a lot, but I still found an hour to exercise.”
MF: “In your book, you describe “Strength Seekers.” Can you share a couple of their stories and what you learned from their examples, especially when it comes to work?”
LW: “Bill Nye quit his engineering job and decided to become a performer after growing tired of working for people predominantly focused on the bottom line, sometimes at the expense of others. He wanted to spend his time doing work that made him happy, and for people who appreciated his abilities and time. What I learned from Bill Nye is to no longer tolerate disrespect in the workplace.
“Chef and restaurateur José Andrés showed me similar values when he took a stand against disrespect and bullying by pulling out of plans to open a restaurant inside the Trump Hotel, D.C. following then-Presidential candidate Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigrants on the campaign trail, and referring to Mexicans as “drug dealers and rapists.” People should understand the price of that decision. Andrés faced $10 million in damages from a breach-of-contract complaint after backing out. And, instead of giving up, he counter-sued Mr. Trump. That showed me his level of commitment to doing what was right, no matter the cost. It was bigger and meant more than just winning. In the end, he beat the bully. The lawsuit was settled, and Andrés was not beholden to operating a restaurant and working with people who do not share the same values and beliefs as he. And believe me when I say that his staff (spread across the U.S. and into three other countries) took notice as well.”
MF: “With regard to work, why are establishing routines so powerful? Sometimes at work, routines can’t be adhered to, or things just get out of our normal routine during the day. What are the best ways to keep stress at bay during those times?”
LW: “We develop personal habits as we go through life. Though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our productivity, financial security, health, and happiness. We also have the power to reset our routines. If you feel stressed, overweight, tired, and that you’re not in full control of your life, then you need to shake things up and change what you’re doing, because clearly it isn’t working. When a person changes their habits, they in turn change their routine.”
MF: “What are your go-to techniques for stress management at work?”
LW: “Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up. It’s also good for you over the long term. Laughing can increase personal satisfaction. Plain and simple, laughter connects people. It can improve your mood. I advise my clients to put humor on their horizon. Find photos, greeting cards, or comic strips—anything that makes you laugh — to hang up at home or in your office. Funny movies, books, comedy albums, joke websites, and visits to a comedy club also help. Spend time with those who make you laugh— and be sure to reciprocate! And also, importantly, know what isn’t funny. Laughter that hurts someone is not funny. Be able to tell the difference between hurtful humor and good-natured ribbing.”
MF: “What are some myths regarding time management tools and what are some better tools and techniques?”
LW: “The biggest and most destructive myth regarding time management is that you can get everything done if only you follow the right system, use the right to-do list, or process your tasks in the right way. If you want to take back control of your workday schedules and priorities, the only way to do it is by relentlessly questioning how you’re spending your time. I always like to start with this question: What are you doing in this moment?
“The simple act of becoming more aware of where your attention is going will help you focus it where you want it to be—on achieving your compelling goals. Too often we get distracted or get caught up in unimportant tasks that end up wrecking our day and derailing our to-do lists. The ways you feel about the tasks you hate doing are big, red flags that encourage you to find a way to pass those un-pleasantries on to someone or something (like a system) that can tackle them for you. But first, you have to figure out exactly what’s making you crazy in the first place.”
MF: “You also mention that we need to take time to pamper ourselves, with your best example being getting a manicure (both women and men). Why is this so important?”
LW: “Getting a massage, going on a weekend yoga retreat, sitting still and allowing yourself sixty-minutes for a manicure/pedicure, a facial, that cut-and-color you haven’t had the time to schedule, taking 25-minutes for yourself each morning to meditate and set your intentions for the day, or to read a book – these acts of kindness for yourself should not bring a sense of guilt. These acts of kindness should make you feel energized, rejuvenated, and thankful that you gave yourself the time to feel the reward – because you deserve it.”
MF: “Your book is ultimately about finding your own strength. What can you say to encourage busy people to get started and stay disciplined?”
LW: “An increasing number of Americans are asking themselves how they can not only survive longer, but also live a more purpose-driven and fulfilling life. I wrote Go from Stressed to Strong to help motivate people to get started in achieving a healthier life, even in the most adverse situations. In my opinion, there are many people who have needed this reset for a long time, whether or not they realize it. Only you can control what your future self looks like. If you’re fed up with feeling worn down, haggard, and left checked out at the end of each day, let’s put an end to it. Today.”
To order a copy of Go from Stressed to Strong: Health & Fitness Advice from High Achievers or to read a sample chapter, visit http://laurieawatkins.com/book/.