With over 15 years of corporate experience, Swee Lin was accustomed to both the daily rewards and stresses of pursuing a career. With a background in management consulting, she now focuses on “Everyday Peak Performance”, a program that enables people sustain peak performance regardless of circumstances. In 2017, her website, www.sweelinlim.com was named as one of the “Top most promising health and fitness sites” by HuffPost. The author of ‘10 Easy Habits of Eating Well Being Well’ talks to Creative Sparq about the five elements that are essential for living a creative life and the importance of “commitments” in building healthy habits.
What do you do and why is it your passion?
I focus on peak performance by blending executive coaching with health coaching. I am on a mission to raise health and happiness in the workplace. I want to help people create and sustain their edge, in terms of energy, focus, concentration and creative problem solving.
What drives you in your work?
Hearing stories of transformation from people that I have supported makes me overjoyed. When they have followed a recommendation and it helped them with a troubling work-relationship or stress-induced insomnia, they feel energized! One former client told me that he felt like a new person! Receiving feedback like this makes me committed to helping even more people. The program involves one-on-one coaching to understand the individual’s needs. It feels good encouraging and watching a client taking gentle but effective steps towards transformation.
Since you focus on the workplace and the corporate executive, what do you think is the top transformation that has been most helpful for your clients?
A very important element for a transformation is learning to manage stress. Feeling stressed often results in “the amygdala hijack” – the “reptilian” part of your brain takes over, preparing the body literally for a “fight or flight” response. This is sub-optimal and results in less creative problem solving.
There are five elements that you include as part of your executive coaching - Eat, Sleep, Move, Trust and Breathe. How do these link to creativity and problem solving?
I would like to start by defining creativity as being able to see many options for solutions to problems, combined with the ability to think out of the box. The need for creativity comes up when we search for solutions to a problem, especially when traditional or obvious ways of doing things are no longer effective.
When you are stressed, parts of your brain that are responsible for cognitive function, decision making, memory and pattern recognition, flexible thinking and creativity become blocked. Being unstressed allows you to use more parts of your brain to have more insights. When solving problems, often you need to start by asking the right question. Being unstressed also allows you to creatively frame the problem.
Having a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, getting sufficient sleep and exercise, operating within an environment of trust and using deep breathing techniques are proven to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance. This foundation of good health increases effectiveness in creative problem solving.
Please share a few tips for each of these elements that can help manage stress and facilitate a creative mindset.
The five elements of Eat, Sleep, Move, Trust and Breathe are important for living a creative and productive life. Here are a few easy habits for each.
- Eat According To The Plate
Divide your plate into four portions – protein [animal or plant], unprocessed carbohydrates [quinoa, rice, starchy roots], vegetables, fruit. These are the building blocks to rebuilding cells and you need to eat them in the right proportions.
- Focus On The Quality of Sleep
If you can’t get enough sleep, at least improve the quality of your sleep. Cut out the “blue screen” tablet time half-an-hour to one hour before you sleep. If you can only sleep for 5 hours a night, make sure you sleep between 10 pm – 3 am. Studies have shown that we rejuvenate more cells between 11 pm and 3 am, and that includes cells within your brain.
- Move 10 minutes Every Morning
Even if you don’t have time for sports or the gym, you can start with a 10-minute routine every morning – some stretching, some jogging on the spot and a few jumping jacks. 10 minutes a day translates to over an hour of exercise a week and for busy executives, that’s at least better than nothing.
- Trust Begins With Understanding
In all your relationships, create more understanding. Understand what is going on with the person you may be having an issue with. Trust begins by suspending one’s beliefs and thinking about the other person’s context. Asking the right questions without judgement opens up communication, prevents misunderstandings and improves trust.
- Breathe Through Your Nostrils
If you feel stressed, breathe deeply like a baby so that you can see your abdomen rise up and down slowly. As adults, we often take very shallow breaths. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes even more shallow. When we breathe deeply, we reset our stress hormones and oxygenate our brain. Take a deep breath through your nostrils, hold your breath briefly and exhale through your nostrils. Repeat 5 times.
How long does it take to build these habits into your life?
You start off by asking which areas of your life across these 5 elements need the most work. When I work with clients, I ask that they take a few moments for self-reflection. The program is designed around their individuality and where they would like to focus. Next, I help people with a few easy, high impact habits that show positive results quickly, even within 5-10 minutes. When they see the positive effects of change, they are motivated to do more. They start their process of committing to mindset and behavioural changes.
So, if “commitment” to a specific mindset or behavioural change is key in building a habit, how do we get comfortable with sticking to a commitment?
Commit to one change at a time or a maximum of three. Break them down into small changes. This makes it easier for them to fit within your routine. Creating and implementing small changes minimizes stress. Then follow through for the next 30 days. In general, when you introduce change for 30 days in a row, you seed and create new neural pathways in the brain. This makes the habit stick.
What do you do to recharge your creative energy?
- I do fun, silly things that make me happy and laugh. Why? It decreases stress and stops the “amygdala hijack” from happening.
- I take a break from my regular routine. This includes visiting new places, especially parks to be surrounded by tall majestic trees. I love cooking too, so sometimes, I explore new ways to cook an old, familiar dish or deliberately spend the time to plate and serve it differently.
- While in deep meditation, I ask for inspiration and creativity for new solutions.
A brand storyteller, Ayesha Kohli is the founder of communications consultancy, Sparq Communications and the Editor of Creative Sparq. She launched the site in 2017 to showcase different perspectives on creativity and creative thinking. Passionate about people, culture, education, leadership, technology and trends, she loves championing emerging talents and new businesses.