Family Time — It is so easy to get the balance wrong in today’s always-connected world. However, being ‘always on’ is rarely the best solution to optimal performance. Creating habits that force you to focus on other priorities is critical. For me, one of the easiest and most enjoyable is enforcing daily family time. We try to have as many family meals together as possible — especially without fail breakfast — sitting around our kitchen table together, with no screens, making conversation.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Walsh.
Oli Walsh is a seasoned entrepreneur and co-founder of the innovative self-care company, ASYSTEM. Prior to ASYSTEM, he was CMO of the women’s fashion retailer Aritzia, where he helped take the company public. He also co-founded and served as CEO to Wednesday Agency, the pioneering London-NYC creative agency. Oli holds a BA in Industrial Economics with French and Italian from Nottingham University and currently resides in the U.S. with his wife and three children.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course! I was born in London but then grew up in the west country of England. My parents split up when I was 7 and I was sent to boarding school — an experience which no doubt helped form a number of my character traits. Back then British boarding schools were not always the most enjoyable experience, however, they taught me resilience and how to handle social situations!
My father is a serial entrepreneur and my mother a homeopath, reiki-master, poet — so I had quite a diverse range of influences across both left and right brain. I was always really interested in business — so I went to study Industrial Economics with French and Italian at Nottingham University. I spent more time incubating small enterprises and figuring out ways to try and earn extra money than I did studying, however, I emerged with a 2:1 and headed straight to London to start figuring out my entrepreneurial journey.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My father for sure. He instilled in me this notion that being an entrepreneur was really the only route in life (for me at least). After that, he then primarily stepped back to let me figure out the ropes for myself — which at times I must say I found rather annoying, but in hindsight, it forced me to figure out things and win or lose on my own back. And he was always a consistent voice in my ear telling me to keep going, work harder, stop complaining, push more, etc.
From an early age, I also started reading lots of books featuring the story of successful entrepreneurs. I found these stories of creativity and perseverance — and ultimately financial success — very inspiring and also a powerful way to learn.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Although I have learned a lot from my business partners along the way, it has really been my close family that has given me the most help and encouragement. First of all my father, and more recently my wife JJ, and increasingly my three kids (who are 8,7, and 4!).
I remember a stage early on in my career when I was trying to figure out my next move. The London-based agency I was running had just been sold to a NYC-based business and I had decided it was time to branch out and launch my own venture. I would sit in Soho House in central London researching and creating business plans — and then come home to my wife full of anxiety and self-doubt. One evening when I was questioning myself and asking her for advice she said to me: “You know what you should do? Think about all those books you read about successful business-types. Ask yourself — what would they do? And then go and do that.” She was absolutely right, and within the year I had launched my agency business “Wednesday” and it was heading rapidly in the right direction. Sometimes you need the people who are the closest to you to just tell it to you straight!
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
If you are genuinely interested in taking an entrepreneurial path, then simply taking the first step is the most important. Launch out into the deep. There is no way that you will be able to know what challenges and opportunities lie ahead, but if you tackle things with the necessary fundamentals — creativity, perseverance, willingness to learn, hard work — then things have a tendency to fall into place. Typically, there is nothing that you can’t overcome with this approach. And try your hardest to surround yourself with people who give you energy!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Many years ago a friend recommended The Operator by Tom King about the Hollywood mogul David Geffen. I devoured it and was struck by the sheer power of the entrepreneurial spirit. Geffen lept from industry to industry, applying his same sheer determination and deal-making prowess and in doing so created some of the most important creative and cultural businesses in the world. I often thought of his story as inspiration throughout the years, and then once saw him sitting in the corner of a restaurant I was eating dinner in, just off Central Park — so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go and say hello. Thankfully the friend I was eating dinner with had coincidentally met Geffen at a conference a few weeks before, so that provided the perfect excuse!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio.” Starting out very early as an entrepreneur, you often feel that you have something to prove. This often means coming with an opinion and having your voice heard. However, at times this works to your detriment, as listening is without a doubt one of the most powerful skills in business. As I grew older I would often think of this quote in order to ensure that I am truly listening to the ideas and opinions of those around me — which ultimately helps me make better business decisions all round.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The most interesting business in my life is ASYSTEM — a health and wellness business I launched in 2019 with my business partner Josh LeVine. ASYSTEM creates powerful, natural self-care products that help you look, feel, and perform your best. We felt that the world of self-care was overly confusing, and so we set out to create ‘systems’ that make it easier. As well as health and wellness products, we help our community learn and connect through unique content and experiences.
I must say, so far it has been an incredibly interesting experience. As well as creating a true ‘Brand’ which people want in their life — something we both have lots of experience in doing — we are also in the business of creating habits. The psychology of brand building within this context is fascinating, and when it works — highly rewarding. You actually see people’s health being transformed. And the positive benefits for both them and those around them can be huge, and deeply satisfying.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
I truly believe that good habits are the most powerful way to achieve your goals — whatever they may be in life. We exist in a media environment which celebrates this notion of ‘overnight success’, but if you look at any individual who has succeeded in any aspect of life — you will see that they have got there through the sum of habits which they incorporate into their life — whether they do this consciously or not.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Truthfully habits have probably played more roles in my success than I can recall. I remember a small, unusual one which illustrates how something unlikely can create an impact… When my first business started to be successful there was a LOT of travel involved. I was on a plane 2–3 times a week from London flying all over the world. After a while, I started to be able to travel in business class, which was a novelty in my early twenties. So I created a habit for myself which was that I HAD to make at least one connection on any business class flight I went on. My thinking was that if someone was successful enough to be flying in business class then they must have done something right! So I would strike up conversations in the lounge, with the people at the bar, next to me on the flight… as a result I met a diverse range of supremely interesting people. From CEOs and entrepreneurs to global travelers — many of which ended up playing helpful roles in my journey.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
About two years ago I read an article about Non-Binary decision-making. The premise goes that if you remove the ‘yes/no’ decision from the equation then it is much easier to adopt a new habit or stop a bad one. I personally applied this to exercise. I knew that exercise helped both my mind and my body, and so I made a non-binary decision to do it every day in some way, shape, or form. I removed the answer ‘no’ from the question ‘Shall I exercise today?’. Instead, the question changed to ‘what exercise shall I do today?’. This simple shift had the most profound impact. And since I have shared this with other people I have seen them apply it across their diet, businesses, and more, to great impact.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
Wellness — The Power of Daily Supplements
I have always been very health-conscious, however, having a high metabolism and exercising frequently I wasn’t overly rigid with my diet. In my late thirties, I was connected with the Nutritionist & Functional Medicine expert Jay Cowin (ASYSTEM’s Director of Formulations). After much bloodwork, I was shocked by some of my personal biomarkers. A few times a year I would get sick, and often I would feel lacking in energy, but I would just ignore things and push through. It was then that I learned the power of daily supplements and the fact that, regardless of how healthily you eat, it is extremely hard for you to get the nutrients your body needs for optimal performance from your diet. For the last two years, I have been taking ASYSTEM’s Superhuman Supplements — same time, every morning with my coffee. The difference has been huge. Not only have I not got sick, but I feel just generally more alert, focused and my energy levels have increased enormously. I handle stress better and am probably in the best shape of my life. It’s not only how I feel but I can also see the results in my blood biomarkers. I never knew that such a simple daily habit could have such a profound impact on me.
Performance — A mindset of exercise
I have always been highly active and competitive, but in my twenties exercise was often the first thing that got deprioritized when life got busy. Believing in the importance of exercise, and trying to find a way to better incorporate it into my life, in my thirties I decided to take a non-binary approach. Every day I HAD to exercise — it became a question of ‘what’ not ‘if’. This also forced me to look at it through a different mindset. I started working out with other people more — friends, business acquaintances — and stopped looking at exercise as a luxury to find time for. This shift in mindset has had numerous positive results. It has resulted in a much more varied program of being active and has provided the opportunity for many unique experiences and connections. The more obvious physical and mental benefits have also been great — giving me more energy and the ability to embrace life at 110%.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
The best practices I believe are:
1. Take a Non-Binary approach
Remove the ‘shall I / shan’t I’’ from the equation. Commit to the fact you will do your intended habit every day, no excuses.
2. Visual Prompts
Incorporate visual prompts for your new habit into your normal routine. For example, if you want to start taking supplements every morning, place the supplements tower next to your coffee machine.
3. Publicly Commit
When you tell people you are going to do something, it forces you to be more accountable. This could be a true public statement (ie. Social), or even just telling your partner or kids.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Family Time
It is so easy to get the balance wrong in today’s always-connected world. However, being ‘always on’ is rarely the best solution to optimal performance. Creating habits that force you to focus on other priorities is critical. For me, one of the easiest and most enjoyable is enforcing daily family time. We try to have as many family meals together as possible — especially without fail breakfast — sitting around our kitchen table together, with no screens, making conversation.
I read as much as possible. 90% of what I read I labeled as ‘tycoon literature’ — stories about the lives of successful entrepreneurs. Many of the stories are just as compelling as the best fiction, but it is also a powerful way to glean insights and ideas for business. I carve out at least 30 minutes every night before sleeping to read.
3. Active Recovery
If you want to perform at your best, you need to prioritize recovery. I have learned so much about this from ASYSTEM’s Director of Recovery Vinh Pham… and truthfully one of the habits I have invested in is a weekly session with my friends at MyoDetox. They are the best PTs in the world and by prioritizing recovery as I typically have done my training, I have elevated my performance meaningfully.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Slow Down
Although I am typically very quick at making decisions, sometimes matters require a greater level of thoughtfulness — and the best path forward comes when you slow down. One of the oldest tricks in the book is the habit of sleeping on it. If there is an important decision to be made, I make a point of sleeping on my decision even if I don’t feel like that is needed at the moment. It inevitably leads to new perspectives and a better path forward.
2. Do what you love
This is an obvious one. But when you make a habit of doing what you love then there are no boundaries. You don’t feel like you are ‘working late’, there is no ‘Monday morning’. It is easier said than done for many people, but it is a challenge worth spending time to figure out. As the saying goes: “the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago. The second best time is today.”
3. Challenge yourself
Adrenaline is the ultimate focus agent. And there are plenty of opportunities that we each have each week to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Make a habit of committing to one thing each week which does this. Not only will it enhance your focus, but it will also take you to places which you never expected.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
It’s all about people and time. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, challenge you, and complement you.
Give yourself the time to get under the surface of something you love. It’s not a fail-safe formula, but these two elements will make achieving Flow a lot easier!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s something we call Betterment. An idea that you should be your best, not only for you but for those around you. I believe that this is the most powerful idea from the self-care movement — and an important nuance. Most people believe that self-care is about the self. However, when looked at — and lived — through this lens, it has a powerful ripple effect. Our hope is that ASYSTEM can be one of the pioneer brands helping people proactively take better care of themselves, and then spreading the resulting positivity far and wide as a result.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Richard Branson. As a British-born entrepreneur, Mr. Branson always was (and still is) the epitome of entrepreneurialism. A daring individual who used the power of creativity to put customer experience at the fore — and revolutionize multiple industries as a result. I would love to get his perspective on my current endeavors. A private conversation of any kind would be a privilege!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.