Jean Gomes is the founder of Outside, a research-based consultancy specialising in harnessing the latest science of mindset to help leaders solve their greatest challenges.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
I studied neurochemistry and went into a consulting career working in change with organisations worldwide, including elite sports and the tech, finance, engineering, and entertainment industries.
I spent the last 20 years studying and applying the science of self-awareness and developed a new framework for making sense of the world, which I’ve written about in my latest book, Leading in a Non-Linear World. I run a research-based consultancy, Outside, that works with leaders to build mindsets to solve their greatest challenges.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
If I’m not travelling or running one of our Leadership Labs, I get up around 05.45. Since Covid, the first thing I do when I wake, before thinking or feeling anything, is to tune into my body and assess how it’s doing. This body scan technique has been revelatory. It’s helped me create an embodied sense of my needs.
I’ve found that it’s helped me stay on track with health and fitness goals way better than relying on habit-building techniques (which we’ve found are ineffective for automating complex routines). It’s a vital precursor to understanding how my metabolism shapes my emotions and thoughts.
With this picture in mind, I run through the day ahead for 2-3 mins and set my intent on what outcomes I want. Then, I generally spend 20-45 minutes in my home gym with an online coach doing a workout.
The few minutes of intent setting before exercise means that the state of divergent thinking created by movement generates all sorts of new ideas and perspectives, giving me energy and options for the day ahead. I start work at 07.30. I make the first hour of the day about a task that fuels learning or progress, not email.
The remainder of the day is split between email sprints, meetings, and, once or twice a week, interviewing a guest for our podcast, The Evolving Leader. I catch up with my wife and two daughters in the evenings, plan our weekends and holidays, and read before turning in at around 09.45-10.00 pm. Before I go to sleep, I quickly clear my working memory by writing down all my thoughts and feelings and doing a focused breathing exercise to help maximise the chances of getting into a deep sleep.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?
I define work-life balance as being aware of my physical, emotional, mental, and social needs and trying to meet those needs. When unmet, they produce the primary sources of suffering: resentment towards your work, family, and other positive aspects of your life.
Tuning into physical feelings and emotions tell me what I need regarding movement, nutrition, and recovery. In the latest neuroscience thinking, negative emotions are regarded as error signals that core needs aren’t being met. Reading them well helps me understand when I’m not feeling safe, when my relationships are going off track, and when I’m not clear about my goals or a sense of purpose.
Creating effective mental boundaries between different tasks and aspects of my life is also essential to managing my well-being – to be present rather than there but not there.
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
I think purpose – having a ‘why’ behind every action is fundamental to developing well-being. For years, I failed at consistently taking a 2-minute cold shower to gain the benefits that researchers are revealing. After spending 10 seconds thinking about what my 90-year-old self would say about doing it, surprisingly, it seems significantly less painful.
Throughout Covid, we looked at the impact of change and uncertainty on well-being. One aspect of global-scale change – like the pandemic – is a perceived loss of control, much of which is unacknowledged. Unchecked, it results in a sense of futility, which you see in responses such as increased alcohol consumption and other behaviours to numb the feelings of uncertainty.
That’s a natural response to the existential questions posed by extreme politics, war and lockdowns. What I learnt from this was the need to focus even more on my purpose, and that of our team. That gave me the resolve to worry less about the short term and focus on what I need to become.
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
The work of the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett on how emotions shape our perception and mindset is an incredible leap forward in understanding our well-being. I thoroughly recommend reading How Emotions are Made. I also enjoy Oliver Burkeman’s witty, philosophical take on how we use time.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
The most powerful way to build a well-being mindset is to deepen awareness of your physical feelings. Counter-intuitively, it will increase your judgement, relationships and health throughout your life with minimal effort – perhaps 2-3 minutes a day.
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