Kali Patrick: “Decide to prioritize your sleep”

So many high achievers, perfectionists, and people seeking optimal performance fail to incorporate rest into their lives. They push, drive, and power through energy lows instead of allowing themselves to recover. They work or train hard, and when they don’t reach their goals, they work or train even harder. Whether you’re looking to make a […]

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So many high achievers, perfectionists, and people seeking optimal performance fail to incorporate rest into their lives. They push, drive, and power through energy lows instead of allowing themselves to recover. They work or train hard, and when they don’t reach their goals, they work or train even harder. Whether you’re looking to make a great impression at work or achieve a new personal best, rest is necessary. Backing off and resting may sound counter-intuitive or even like a waste of time, which perhaps is why many people fail to do it.

Rest is a prerequisite for consistently refreshing sleep. If you cannot rest, either in mind or body, it’s predictable you’ll have a hard time falling and staying asleep long enough for your system to repair and rebuild itself for optimal performance the next day. Countless studies show how poor sleep negatively impacts our memory, creativity, learning ability, decision-making, and so on. If these ways of using your brain are important to your work or your sport, you need to re-train yourself to rest, if only so that you can sleep.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kali Patrick.

Kali Patrick is a former high-tech corporate professional turned Sleep Wellness Coach. She helps stressed-out, busy professionals learn how to sleep better and improve their energy. She’s also a therapeutic yoga & meditation teacher, and public speaker.

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?

I’m an only child who spent my early years in a home with an emotionally abusive father. My family lived in an isolated location and so I also spent a great deal of time by myself. When I was 13, we finally left, and the transition for my mom and I was difficult financially and psychologically. I was different from my peers in many ways, from not knowing the latest “cool” things to being extremely sensitive to others’ feedback. I believe these early experiences influenced my becoming a type-A, perfectionist who feared making mistakes and suffered from performance anxiety.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My first career was in high-tech, inspired by my mother’s desire for me to be financially independent. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in human factors, I worked as a user experience design manager in a variety of Boston area software companies.

Around 2011 I started to experience symptoms that today are diagnosed as burnout. To restore my own health, I pursued several wellness certifications. I studied yoga and meditation (in therapeutic contexts), mind-body coaching, and various stress-reduction techniques. As I studied and recovered my health, I discovered a completely different “me” underneath!

I also began to see how hectic professional life was taking a toll on my colleagues’ health and well-being. I’d been working in high-tech for 17 years at that point; I understood the pressures, constraints, and schedules that got in the way of rest, sleep, eating, and other basic self-care practices. Since I had one foot in the corporate world and the other in holistic health, I thought I could help others like myself.

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?

Without the support of my partner, I’m not sure I’d be an entrepreneur with a business whose purpose is truly meaningful to me. As you might expect, my transition from a career in high-tech to Sleep Wellness Coach was not an easy one. I had to tear down the life I’d invested in. I had to discover who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

My partner gave me space and permission to explore. He created a safe environment for me to try new things; he supported my successes, was compassionate about my failures. He listened when I needed to be listened to and offered advice when I asked.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The problem with being a perfectionist is that I can’t think of one! That causes me to feel a bit sad, because mistakes — whether they’re funny or interesting — help us relate and connect more deeply to others. What’s more, I’ve learned that mistakes aren’t something to be feared and prevented at all costs. They offer up valuable lessons, and so I hope to have a funny or interesting mistake very soon!

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?

First, I’d advise that person to create a vision that includes their own, individual definition of success. For some people, success is rising to the top of the corporate ladder. Success may be about having financial security, being a top performer or athlete. But these definitions of success may be limiting to some people, not fully capturing their deepest, human desires. Due to influences in my past, my early definitions of success were material and accomplishment-based; I didn’t question them for a long time.

For the “new me” who emerged from my health crisis, success is about earning a decent living doing my unique brand of coaching work: work I’m passionate about and that contributes to individual and collective well-being. The “individual” well-being emphasizes my own. The underlying needs and values of my “success” definition include contribution, freedom, authenticity, and self-care.

Second, it’s OK to refine your vision and your definition of success. Even if you’ve been working your whole life toward it, you always have choices. When you learn something about yourself, or how you look at the world changes and calls your views into question, explore it (even if you’re afraid). Nothing keeps people’s lives small or stifling more than their own limiting beliefs.

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?

A talented business coach I worked with recommended Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. As a person with negative biases like anyone else, I like that Marie helps people recognize and leverage their strengths to solve problems. As a culture we spend a lot of time and energy focusing on what’s wrong, complaining that we’re “stuck” and have “tried everything”, when there are endless options and possibilities in almost every situation. Marie’s book also has that “real friend telling it to you straight” tone that gives you the kick in the pants you need while being kind and funny.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite life lesson quote is actually a poem written by Portia Nelson. It’s called “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.” I think it really captures what I’ve felt as I’ve transformed over the years: that growth is a process and a journey. We evolve slowly; awareness of our bad habits and limiting beliefs is one of the first steps. Change requires patience and compassion with ourselves, as well as time and practice. Even if we feel helpless at first, it is possible to make changes.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Lately I’ve been focused on helping clients in my 1–1 coaching practice. However, there’s a limit to how many clients I can meet with each week. So in May 2020 I put together a self-guided program called the Sleep Academy. It includes a good portion of the process I developed to help people reduce their stress and anxiety and get better sleep. People who enroll also get access to many of the techniques and worksheets I use with my 1–1 clients. Having an offering like this allows me to help more people with a lower time and cost commitment.

Since many sleep coaches help children and I’m strictly a sleep coach for adults, I’ve also been doing lots of webinars for companies and organizations looking to help their employees feel and function better. Solving sleep challenges is especially important now, given the pandemic and lack of sleep negatively impacts immune function.

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?

If someone isn’t feeling 100%, the ability to create and sustain good habits is a requirement for feeling better. Taken further, establishing good habits is critical not just for surviving, but also for having the stamina to face life’s demands and inevitable challenges, and to thrive in our various roles and environments. Optimal wellness, performance, and focus cannot be achieved or sustained without a solid foundation of good habits.

Let’s say you have a good habit of taking a nourishing, macronutrient-balanced meal away from your desk in the sunlight every day at noon. This has several implications: the most important is that you have a routine. There’s a rhythm to your day. Your mind-body system anticipates the meal, and you deliver it. Why is this important?

Think of a time when you were stressed or anxious. In many cases, underneath the worry is the thought: “What’s going to happen next!?” You don’t know. As we’ve seen over the past several months, uncertainty can create a stress response. We no longer feel secure. So, a good habit like this meal helps maintain the balance of your nervous system: it is a predictable occurrence.

Second, this meal is a self-care ritual. There’s a break in the work action, there’s vitamin D of the sun (which helps regulate circadian rhythm), there’s (likely) exposure to nature. It’s a great opportunity to clear your mind, or to spark creativity. Third, a healthy, well-balanced meal can help replenish the energy expended during your busy morning hours and prevent evening overeating or nighttime binges. Finally, if done consistently, this one habit can also set you up for a refreshing night’s sleep.

As I’ve tried to illustrate here, the effects of one small habit can be cumulative, and have more widespread benefits than we originally think. I chose a health-related example here because without one’s health, concerns like optimal focus, performance, and success are secondary at best.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

The habits I rely on most are ones that prioritize my own health and self-care. They give me the capacity to support others as a coach. They provide me with the energy and focus to be fully present, to listen well, and guide my clients toward meeting their goals.

These habits include:

  • going to bed between 9–10 pm every day (no matter what!),
  • having a peaceful morning (e.g. doing some reading vs. checking email or social media first thing),
  • eating a breakfast that’s high in protein (which sustains my energy), and
  • setting and maintaining solid boundaries, both with myself and others (e.g. I pause my email to get important work done, turn my phone ringer off between 7am-7pm, leave a lot of space in my schedule even if I have to say “no” to an opportunity, etc.)

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

To develop good habits, I love the “habit stacking” concept. This is where you take an existing habit — one you already do without thinking about it because it’s so integrated into your life — and you attach the new habit to that. An existing habit might be something like brushing your teeth in the morning or getting a cup of coffee. The new habit needs to be just as small. Then when you’re successful, your confidence grows and so does your success in sustaining it.

In my experience, one of the important components of stopping a bad habit is to recognize its benefits. What good is the bad habit bringing to your life? For example, smoking is widely considered to be a bad habit. But for smokers, this habit provides a self-care break. It might get them outside into fresh air. It might get them interacting and connecting with other people. The act of smoking increases the length of their inhales and exhales (which is a great stress-relieving breathing technique!). Until one finds other ways to meet the same needs, to re-create the good and the good feelings the bad habit provides (and that are needed), it will be difficult to change.

I’m all about easy. Identify and remove the obstacles one by one — then, your best can shine through.

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. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Here are 3 good habits that can lead to optimum wellness:

  1. Decide to prioritize your sleep.
  2. Create and maintain solid boundaries.
  3. Cultivate positivity.

We make thousands of decisions every day, and decision fatigue is real. Decide once (and now!) that sleep is THE most important habit for optimal wellness. This single decision makes all the others you make throughout the day easier: they are either in support of your sleep or against it.

An example: I’m a big hockey fan. If games start at 7 pm and end in 3 periods, I can make my bedtime. But if a game starts later during the playoffs, or if there’s overtime, what happens? Do I stay up and risk not sleeping well, being tired the next day, drinking coffee or eating chocolate to power through, potentially throwing off my sleep for a longer period? Or do I let the DVR catch the end or see the final score the next morning? For me sleep is the ultimate priority. I’ve already decided, so there’s no negotiating: I just shut off the game. Does social media sometimes leak the score or a highlight reel before I’ve gotten back to watching it? Sure! But waking refreshed and energized puts FOMO into perspective.

This simple example also illustrates the second habit: to create and maintain solid boundaries. Here the boundary was with me. I made a commitment to myself to be in bed at a certain time, and I honored that commitment.

We must also set and hold boundaries with others. If I tell a friend I won’t accept text messages or calls after 8 pm, but she texts or calls me anyway and I respond, then in practice no boundary exists. I might not be able to fully listen, and the chat might even bring up feelings of resentment. The conversation might be full of drama or create worry (which for many people is something that also negatively affects their energy, sleep, and well-being!) Boundaries with others applies to bosses, clients, and customers at work; to family members; and anyone you interact with regularly.

Boundaries are where many people get into trouble. They want to be supportive and feel guilty if they aren’t available 24/7. But having solid boundaries helps us find time and space for self-care and other aspects of our lives that deeply matter. Boundaries preserve energy, so that when we want to support others, we can do it from a place of true generosity and compassion.

The third good habit for optimum wellness is cultivating positivity. This is a tricky one because when life is difficult — and it often is — the standard recommendations about how to develop gratitude, among other positive emotions, can feel contrived. But many people know firsthand how negative thoughts can sap our motivation or trigger a downward spiral. Due to “negative bias” (our human tendency to focus on what’s wrong and what needs improvement), it does require some effort to see what’s good, what’s right, and what is working.

The ability to notice positives (also called “bright spots”, “small wins”, etc.) help reinforce the benefits of healthy behaviors we’re trying to establish, even when we’ve not yet mastered them. Instead of minor setbacks or slips causing us to give up (if even for a day), we see the good in what we’ve already done. We can build upon small successes to strengthen our resolve, remove barriers, increase confidence, and develop more consistency.

To increase positivity, the best set of practices I’ve found are available in Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book “Positivity”. In it, she also provides scientific evidence of how positivity helps people “broaden, build and flourish”.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Here are 3 good habits that can lead to optimum performance:

  1. Incorporate rest.
  2. Know and leverage your strengths.
  3. Build and use a support system.

So many high achievers, perfectionists, and people seeking optimal performance fail to incorporate rest into their lives. They push, drive, and power through energy lows instead of allowing themselves to recover. They work or train hard, and when they don’t reach their goals, they work or train even harder. Whether you’re looking to make a great impression at work or achieve a new personal best, rest is necessary. Backing off and resting may sound counter-intuitive or even like a waste of time, which perhaps is why many people fail to do it.

Rest is a prerequisite for consistently refreshing sleep. If you cannot rest, either in mind or body, it’s predictable you’ll have a hard time falling and staying asleep long enough for your system to repair and rebuild itself for optimal performance the next day. Countless studies show how poor sleep negatively impacts our memory, creativity, learning ability, decision-making, and so on. If these ways of using your brain are important to your work or your sport, you need to re-train yourself to rest, if only so that you can sleep.

From a physical standpoint, various stages of sleep are important for performance. For example, in deep / non-REM sleep, our brains release a growth hormone that helps build and repair tissues and muscles, as well as keep our bones and organs healthy and strong. Without refreshing sleep, your capacity for working or training is decreased, and you’ll end up putting more energy into less impressive results.

As a therapeutic yoga teacher, I once met with an athletic client who had an exceptionally tight calf muscle. He tried everything to get it to relax, including putting his calf in a vice-grip C clamp! While this is an extreme example, he got himself into this situation by overstretching. When I showed him how to do less, how to back off, how to stretch just before he felt the stretch, he was able to find relief. As a culture, we need to pay better attention to when “less is more” and honor our natural need for rest and recovery.

The second habit for optimum performance is knowing and leveraging your strengths. As I mentioned earlier, people are biased toward what’s wrong, what’s lacking, and what can be improved. In my 20+ years of corporate life, I experienced how giving and receiving performance reviews taught and reinforced this bias. There’s an obligatory nod to what worked well, and we quickly move onto what needs more work. When I danced competitively, not a single instructor exploited a strength in how I moved to help me develop my own unique, potentially winning style.

Connecting more deeply to our strengths can show us where we might align our work or our sport with our natural talents. As a result, we may be able to better focus, redirect, or even reduce our efforts while achieving even more. We can feel more confident in applying our strengths to overcome inevitable challenges. We might be guided toward more inspiring opportunities. Relying on strengths can also improve self-efficacy and motivation, as well as increase positive emotions (such as joy), even as we’re working toward a stretch goal.

If you’re not sure what your strengths are — or feel that you’d short-change yourself — you can use a tool like the VIA strengths finder, and/or ask 5 people that interact with you regularly to help you get more clarity.

The third good habit in this category of optimum performance is to build and use a support system. It’s important for me to emphasize that by “support system,” I don’t mean someone who will listen to a lot of “venting”. Ideally a support system is comprised of people who are empathetic (vs. sympathetic) and who help you build and sustain good habits, and otherwise help you keep moving forward, through challenges.

The types of people who belong in your support system may vary. For example, as a solopreneur with a technical background, it took me a while to let go of projects like maintaining my website or figuring out Google ads. But now my support system for my business includes delegating to people who have this expertise. I’ve also worked with a fabulous business coach who helped me focus my efforts so I could better focus on helping my clients. Earlier I described the support my partner gave when I was just starting out.

If a person is training for a particular sport or event like a marathon, having a coach is important, but so too is having a partner who will watch the kids while you take longer runs on weekends, or a group of like-minded runners who help you stay motivated to train during inclement weather. Professionals may benefit from connecting with mentors in their industry; caregivers with organizations or support groups for aging / unwell parents; people who must perform despite living with chronic illness with others who do so.

Especially these days, many people feel isolated, or have a mindset of “I can do it [better] myself”. While it’s certainly possible for someone to perform well alone, it usually requires much more effort, and can take a serious toll on our health and well-being. Having support systems in place — and reaching out to the people in them — is a priceless tool when it comes to achieving optimum results with fewer costs to ourselves. Again, make life easier, not more difficult!

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Here are 3 good habits that can lead to optimum focus:

  1. Practice a style of meditation that meets you where you’re at.
  2. Develop discernment.
  3. Breathe strategically to balance your nervous system.

The first stage of meditation can be defined as: placing one’s attention in a chosen direction and sustaining that attention without distraction. In other words, meditation is initially about developing concentration and focus.

When most people decide to meditate, they self-select a style. Whether one attempts meditation with an app or a book, the practice can create frustration and even fuel more distraction if the style is not well matched to the person. The easiest example of this is when a person who is highly stressed, anxious, and fidgety attempts to sit still on a cushion and watch their breath. They cannot do it. There’s not enough direction, and some people may even feel worse. This decreases motivation to continue, despite the suggested benefits.

A better style for a person with this constitution might be one that moves their body in a way that requires some light thinking, like the Moving Mountain practice. Cross-body movements timed with the breath require “just enough” thinking, engaging both hemispheres of the brain. Because we live in a culture where distraction and interruption are the norm, we often need to retrain our brain to focus. Repetition of meditation practices that “meet a person where they’re at” can increase their ability to concentrate and focus not just during the meditation session itself, but in all areas of their life. People seeking to improve focus via meditation will have most success if they work with a therapeutic yoga / meditation teacher or certified Yoga Therapist.

The second good habit that can lead to optimum focus is developing discernment. As I mentioned above, we are a distracted people. When I worked in high-tech, for example, I’d frequently experience the following:

  • meeting marathons — meetings that ran without pauses, which cut chunks of time out of my workday
  • fire drills — activities or tasks that gained urgency because someone important was upset and wanted it done
  • schedule congestion — an overloading of planned work, underestimates, unrealistic expectations

Experiences like these don’t just zap your focus, but can lead to stress, overwhelm, and ultimately, burnout. To develop optimum focus, a person must be clear about what’s important and what’s urgent. When you first ask someone to consider this, you’ll generally find that almost everything on their plate seems both important and urgent! Those seeking better focus must also be able to reduce distractions and interruptions. Improving one’s ability to make these distinctions also helps in setting and maintaining boundaries (previously discussed). A great tool for developing discernment is the Urgent vs. Important matrix, which was popularized by Steven Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.

The last habit for optimum focus is breathing strategically. Achieving focus requires our nervous system to be in a balanced state. There’s just enough alertness (sympathetic activation) and just enough calm (parasympathetic activation). Too much sympathetic activation and we’re in the “fight or flight” stress response, hyper-vigilant and overwhelmed. Too much parasympathetic and we’re fatigued and lack energy. Both imbalances make it challenging to focus. And one of the easiest ways to correct such imbalances is to use our breath strategically.

When someone is feeling over-stimulated (as many people are these days), a breathing pattern that slowly helps lengthen the exhale is often advised. This helps to engage the parasympathetic response (calm, or “rest and digest”). Conversely, one who can’t focus due to lack of energy might be advised to alter their inhale (to stimulate the sympathetic response (alertness). For those looking to maintain a healthy balance, an equal breathing practice is often useful. Again, working with a trained teacher is recommended before beginning any specialized breathing techniques.

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?

I think the best way to achieve Flow more often in your life, you must be selective about what you’re deciding to do in the first place.

In my Clarity Calls, I talk to a lot of different people. Many of them have days filled with work, obligations, tasks, and activities that aren’t well aligned with who they are deep inside. They may not have the skills to achieve Flow, but more importantly, they lack the DESIRE to develop those skills. That’s because they lack real interest in the activity. It isn’t meaningful to them personally.

I believe challenges can be met and overcome and that skills can be developed to experience Flow more often. But meaning is the key: without meaning, these other characteristics are hard to come by. This is where some real work must happen: what gives your life meaning? Why is that important to you? And why is THAT important to you? When you’re clear about what gives your life meaning and what your vision is, then you can apply or develop your skills, and rely on your strengths to overcome challenges.

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.

Current events have increased the already large population of people who struggle to get restorative sleep. Many more people are self-medicating to solve sleep and anxiety problems. The cognitive, mental, and emotional impacts of sleep deprivation are well-known; so are the short-term effectiveness and unwanted side effects of many substances people are ingesting.

I’m wondering how improving the consistency and depth of (natural) sleep could help us become more creative, particularly when it comes to how we talk about and work to address the challenges facing our society. As a nation of stressed-out insomniacs, it’s highly unlikely we’re bringing our best selves to the table.

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 🙂

I’m very fond of Cy Wakeman. I first came across her messages about eliminating workplace drama in a TED talk.

From my perspective as a Sleep Wellness Coach, drama is a HUGE energy-drain on people. Drama exacerbates stress and anxiety. It creates or cements the hyper-aroused and hyper-vigilant states that wake so many people in the middle of the night. Drama keeps people stuck in negativity and unable to see the wide range of options and potential solutions available to them. If I had a nickel for every post on social media where someone complained about their sleep or commiserated about it instead of doing the work to change their lifestyle habits, I’d be rich!

Much like Marie’s book, Cy’s work counters our tendency to complain and churn on what’s not working, connect with our strengths, and develop our capacity to be better people.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is https://kalisleepcoach.com. It contains self-guided resources & programs, the “Busy Person’s Guide to Better Sleep” blog (also available as a podcast) and a way for individuals who are curious about Sleep Wellness Coaching to learn more and book a Clarity Call. Those seeking corporate wellness speakers can find my most popular topics there too.

I’m on all major social media platforms as myself or my business name “A Journey Into Health”; find me most frequently tweeting as @AJIHealth.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

You’re welcome. It’s been my pleasure!

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