This 1 Lifestyle Change Made Me Better at My Career — Here’s How

Here's how practicing Pilates, and its core principles, made me a stronger CEO.

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Deborah Sweeney102 CEO

About five months ago, I started taking Pilates classes regularly again. 

As the “again” part of the sentence suggests, this isn’t a new hobby for me. I have always been active and love to exercise. I was even a Pilates instructor when I was in law school. The time I spent with — and away — from Pilates left a deep imprint on my leadership abilities as a CEO. Here’s how it made me better in my role, the changes I felt when I stopped exercising, and how returning made me stronger.

1. Pilates taught me core principles that I could take to the workplace.

Pilates is an exercise developed by a man named Joseph Pilates. The movement contains six core principles — centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. These principles take Pilates from simply exercising the body to expressing the spirit and mind. They are also principles that you can take to work with you. Some of these principles, like concentration, control, and precision, sound obvious enough in the workplace.

Others are more intuitive. Flow is the act of grace. Rather than come unprepared to a meeting, I keep an agenda to ensure it stays smooth and on topic. Breathing allows me a moment of pause when anything gets too chaotic. Centering ties in with my muscles. I take breaks by walking or getting some fresh air outside. I like to think of these Pilates principles as being like soft skills. There is an emotional intelligence component to each one. I may not need them, in theory, at work. But I do need them as a person who grows and learns.

2. Pilates challenges me daily, and reminds me of the importance of practice.

It is said that if you want to become better at something, you will do it each day. Practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect. What practice actually makes is progress. As I practice Pilates each day, I use my entire body. Every muscle, each body part becomes toned and stronger. My mind becomes one with the motions. Every day, and each session, offers with it the ability to shift my mindset. I move, I breathe, I think with clarity and greater understanding.

I would not say I am perfect at Pilates by any stretch (pun slightly intended), and I do not need to be. How would we learn if we were perfect with our hobbies? Even our favorite ones should present challenges that allow us to rise to the occasion!

3. Practicing pilates regularly has made me less stressed.

I’ll be frank with you: the months I was not actively practicing Pilates were not good for me, mentally or physically. I was under enormous pressure, and combatted the feeling by constantly working. This kind of behavior was akin to digging a hole in the ground. I kept digging and digging, but I had no way of getting out of the hole once I was inside. My endless hole digging as a solution took its toll. I was left tired, lethargic, easily frustrated, and emotionally drained. 

Where could I find respite? My favorite hobby, Pilates, had always been there for me. It was time to embrace it again. I started going to classes regularly. Over the course of one summer, I went from class once a week to 3-4 times a week. I took small steps to return to life. My attitude became much more positive, my body grew stronger, and I felt better all around. I was able to shake off the stressors and take back a slow and steady approach to everything I did — from my job to my personal life. I was stronger, literally and figuratively. 

Now, I wouldn’t give up Pilates for the world! There’s so much that this hobby has taught me, and much I continue to learn as time progresses. Above all, it has given me peace of mind. Because of Pilates, I am ready to be a leader to my team and to continue to lead onward.

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