4 Steps to Improve your Sleep

At IESE this week, Steven MacGregor ran 3 sessions on “Sustaining Executive Performance”.  Keeping healthy is one aspect of successful executives.  The human being functions best under conditions of stress followed by recovery.  Too much stress leads to breakdown.  Too much recovery leads to atrophy.  The best form of recovery is sleep.  How can you improve your sleep?

What is Sleep?

Photo Credit: Erik K Veland

Sleep is a natural occurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, suspended sensory activity and inactivity of voluntary muscles.  Sleep is divided into two stages: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).

“Sleep is the primary mode of recovery and repair from stress” Steven MacGregor

The majority of people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.  You can know you are getting enough sleep when you don’t feel sleepy during the day.  Sleep is most effective when appropriately timed for your circadian rhythm.  Optimally, one should be asleep for at least 6 hours before minimum core body temperature.  (How to determine human circadian rhythm?)

The Danger of Accumulated Sleep Debt

You can choose to sacrifice sleep in the short term, but accumulated sleep debt results in diminished high-level cognitive function.  You will not deliver peak performance in a condition of accumulated sleep debt.  Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce healing of wounds, reduce immune system performance, reduce memory performance.  In short, it is not great for enjoying life.

The arrival of artificial light has led to big changes in sleep patterns.  In many nomadic societies people sleep on and off throughout the day and night depending on what is happening.

You can improve your sleep

4 ways to improve your sleep:

  1. Get fit – When your level of fitness increases you will:
    1. fall asleep faster,
    2. have a higher percentage of deep sleep,
    3. awaken less often during night.
  2. Create the right environment – No TV in the bedroom.  Sound proof the room if necessary. Comfortable bed.
  3. Gradual wind-down over an hour – Do not check email just before bed. Reduce stimulus in the hour before bed – no TV, films; no caffeine.
  4. Change your primary mode of breathing – Breathe from the stomach (the main mode of breathing when asleep), rather than through the top of the chest (our natural mode of breathing when awake).

Sweet dreams.

Any thoughts?  Do you have an accumulated sleep debt?  How many hours do you need for optimal function?

Further Resources

Easy and Certain

Seth Godin’s blog post today is Easy and Certain.

The lottery is easy.  It is not certain, but it is easy.

Many choose an MBA because it feels certain.  It is not easy, but it feels certain.  Once you’ve got the diploma on the wall…  success is inevitable…

There is a spanish word “chollo”.  “Un chollo” is a something valuable that you achieve for little cost.  

The danger of searching for the Chollo

There is a story about Toyota.  Back in the 1980s they implemented an employee suggestion scheme.  It was left to each country to decide how to motivate employees to provide improvement ideas.

Toyota USA rewarded outcomes

In the US, the senior management debated and discussed.  They decided they would offer employees 2% of the total value of the suggestion once implemented.  Wow.  This could be big bucks!  2% of a suggestion that cuts $1M in cost from the production line?  Take home $20,000.  Nice.

The employees liked this idea and spent hours thinking about big changes, big suggestions.  On average Toyota USA received 2 suggestions per employee, and about 10% were implemented.  I don’t know what the total value of these changes were.

Toyota Japan rewarded process

In Japan, the senior management debated and discussed.  They decided they would offer employees a straight up-front payment of $50 for every suggestion.

Employees liked this concept.  They didn’t spend too much time thinking, but identified lots of little, incremental, simple changes that steadily improved performance in the factories.  On average Toyota Japan received 50 suggestions per employee, and about 60% were implemented.

18 months later the performance at Japanese factories had increased so dramatically that they took all the changes and began to implement them around the world, and in the USA.

What happened?  The Japanese employees were looking for simple little suggestions that made life 1% easier.  The Americans were looking for the chollos: the big value suggestions.

Incremental improvement always wins in the long run.

Excellent Pottery design

A story from Derek Siver goes that a ceramics teacher told half the class that they would be graded on the total weight of pottery they created during the term; the other half of the class was told they would be graded on one piece of pottery.  The weight students produced pot after pot after pot; experiments, prototypes, random ideas, and some magnificent pieces.  The quality students spend a lot of time talking about concepts, thinking through ideas, developing a plan…  and waited til near the end to actually get their hands on some clay.  All of the best pots came from the weight-graded half of the class.

Incremental improvement always wins in the long run.

Could you set up an online business that earns you €50 per month?  Could you import a product and find stores to stock it that gave you €50 a month?  Could you write an eBook on “how to develop a career in your industry” and sell 10 a month at €5 per download?

In your life are you looking to add 1% per month or are you looking for the chollo?  Warning: chollos almost never come…  even to win the lottery you have to do some work: buy the ticket, check the ticket, file your claim…

4 approaches to learning a new discipline

The US Aikido master George Leonard in his book “Mastery” speaks of 4 approaches that we take to learning new disciplines.  It scares me that I might be a regular Hacker…  how to shift my approach and push through “good” and reach “better” and one day “expert”?:

  1. The Dabbler – The Dabbler’s learning curve rises very quickly, meets an obstacle and then drops to zero, since the dabbler gives up the activity and goes on to another; repeating the same curve on different activities.
  2. The Obsessive – The Obsessive’s learning curve rises quickly, meets obstacles, which The Obsessive tackles by redoubling his effort, getting more books and tools and trying to figure out ways to get better results faster and cheaper, and then burns out in a short while when he finds that the curve is not a straight line upwards.
  3. The Hacker – The Hacker’s learning curve rises quickly, meets an obstacle or two and then plateaus out on a straight line. The Hacker doesn’t consider the need for more instruction or rising above that level. He is content with level reached and plans to stay at that level.
  4. The Master – The Master’s learning curve rises quickly, plateaus for a while, and with consistent practice, rises again with some regression and plateaus again for a while and so on. The Master knows that Mastery is a lifetime path. The Master enjoys living on the plateau. The Master knows that while he is on the plateau, learning is happening and practice will inevitably raise him to a higher level.
How do we make the journey of learning a journey towards mastery?  George outlines five keys to mastery:
  1. Instruction – get an instructor.
  2. Practice – learn to love the plateau and practice for the sake of practice.
  3. Surrender – surrender to the learning process and the learning curve.
  4. Intentionality – bring all of your willpower and the mental game to the learning.
  5. The Edge – focus on the fundamentals and the leading-edge.
Have a great weekend.  Looks like spring is here.

"Be water, my friend" Bruce Lee

“Be water my friend.”  Bruce Lee

What does Bruce Lee mean?  What is it to “be water”?

On “being water”

What is it to “be water“?  Water flows and adapts.  It has no plan, but deals with the environment that it finds.  It fully explores the space.  It has no expectations of what it will find.  It forgets immediately when it leaves one space to find another.  It remains the same inside even as it flows and adapts outside.  Is this what it is to “be water, my friend”?  What did Bruce mean?

Bruce in speaking of be water is talking about a Tao concept called Wu Wei – knowing when to act and when not to act.  Wu Wei can variously be translated as “effortless doing” or “effortless action”.  It connects to the Greek Rhetoric school and “Kairos” – recognizing the right moment to act, and knowing in the moment the right way of acting.

According to masters of rhetoric it is impossible to teach a general way to identify these moments and the right methods of action – so we must turn inwards and go back to our intuition, and really become good at listening to our own internal voice.

This is the path to being water.

Bruce Lee:

“Don’t make a plan of fighting
that is a very good way to lose your teeth
if you try to remember you will lose
Empty your mind
be formless
like water
put water into a cup
becomes the cup
put water into a teapot
becomes the teapot
water can flow or creep or drip or crash
be water my friend”


P.S. If you liked this post you might also like Sun Tzu’s 5 factors for Victory and 5 attributes of a leader and There are no answers, just Stories.

How you do Anything is How you do Everything

Two months ago, I was at IESE business school with Verne Harnish and his wife Julie.  We were talking about entrepreneurial success and achievement.  He shared with me a quote that comes from his father-in-law:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Detail from the Alhambra Palace in
Granada, Spain credit Pim Fijneman

Verne’s father-in-law has apartments that he rents out.  What criteria does he use to identify good tenants?  How does he decide to whom he will rent out his apartments?

When somebody comes to view one of his properties, he takes the time to look at that person’s car.  Are the tires in good condition?  Is the paintwork in good shape?  Is the inside of the car in good condition?  Is it clean?  If the person takes good care of their car, he knows they will take good care of his apartment.  He rents his apartments to those who take good care of their cars.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Coach John Wooden, the most-winning-est coach having led the UCLA basketball team to 10 championships in 12 seasons, has 3 rules for his players:

  1. Show up on time
  2. Show up properly dressed
  3. Show up shaved
His view is that if you can keep these simple things under control, you have the discipline to master the big things.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

My brother Aidan worked in investment banking for a decade.

When he first started he joined a team led by a gruff senior banker.  This senior banker gave my brother one simple task that he was to complete every morning before the 7:00am team meeting – he was to send out an email to the team with 6 market indicators calculated for the day.  My brother delivered this email before 7:00am every day for 2 years.  One day, the whole team had a late night.  Everybody was out late celebrating.

The next morning, my brother’s email didn’t arrive til a few minutes after 7:00am.  The gruff senior banker immediately said to him “Never let this happen again.  How can I trust you with clients, with million dollar trades, if I can’t trust you with this task.  Never again. Understood?”

I would have felt cruelly treated in this situation – “I deliver 400 times successfully and the one time I deliver 3 minutes late I get beaten up!”  But the message was very clear:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Sweat the details.
The little things count.

“We can do no great things, only little things with great love”

Mother Teresa.

Have a great weekend.

An afternoon with Kilian Jornet

The Psychology of High Performance

I spent yesterday afternoon in Puigcerda with Kilian Jornet, an athlete who dominates two sports: alpine skiing and mountain trail running (skyrunning).  He is 23 years old, but his values and approach to life and sport transmit a maturity far beyond his 23 years of age.

Kilian’s mother says “I believe the most important thing for me was to pass on values to him to be a good person, to love nature, to always live in harmony with what he thinks, and believes; to be sincere”.  She succeeded.

Extreme High Performance

My project over the last few years has been an investigation of the psychology of extreme high performance. I have been working with a friend, Jordi, on a series of interviews and case studies on extreme performance athletes.  We have had the privilege to spend days with Miquel Suñer, Josef Ajram and yesterday with Kilian Jornet.  In our conversations I am learning that it is no surprise that these individuals have achieved the incredible feats in their sports.  They have developed a mental clarity and strength that is very rare in the world.

The Mental Models of High Performance

There are 4 aspects of the mental approach of these high performance athletes that I have observed:

  1. Acceptance – the past is gone, it serves no purpose dwelling on problems, only on dedicating resources to solve the problem and move on.
  2. Presence in the moment – Miquel, Josef and Kilian prepare, plan and think about strategy…  but once they start in a race they only focus on the moment, or next 5 minutes – they never let their mind think beyond the next moment, the next breath, the next stride, the next drink of liquids.
  3. Humility – each has achieved great things, but do not allow any arrogance to enter, they have no feeling of superiority, of being special.
  4. Responsibility – nobody else is going to solve their problems.  They know how to ask for help, to use the resources around them, but they never expect that anyone else will take the decisions for them.

Kilian Jornet’s words

Kilian spoke about overcoming problems:  “If the seal skin comes off on my ski…  it is a waste to be frustrated or angry…  the only thing that moves me forward is to stop and solve the problem.  Anything else is a waste of vital energy.”

And about the future “I don’t know what the future holds.  I know this is my passion now.  If it remains my passion then it will remain part of my life.”

And about plans “I plan and think through scenarios for every race, strategies, tactics… how I will start, how I will attack…  but I know that as soon as the race starts nothing will go as in the plan…  I am flexible and take the opportunities that come up”.

And about life “anyone who thinks they have achieved great things in this life is a fool”.

Next steps

We have several more interviews scheduled.  Who should be on our list?  Who has achieved extreme levels of performance?  What other aspects of mental strength should we be looking for?  How do people develop this clarity of thought?

Photo Credit: kilianjornet.cat

More on Kilian Jornet

ESPN Sept 25 2013 – Nature Loving Jornet Setting Records