Everyone has certain things they do that help them focus better, but at the core of optimal focus is the same common ground for all of us. Sleep! Nothing compares to the focus of a well rested mind and body.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amal Elbahnasawy, a spa industry veteran, who has acquired over two decades of experience in the wellness + beauty sector. She has been included in publications such as CNN Arabia, Readers Digest, Robb Report, Yahoo Finance, Business Insider, and American Spa to name a few. Elbahnasawy combined her years of research through travel and expertise in the skincare industry to create a brand of natural skincare products through her company ARTISANskin. She was raised in the United States but currently resides in Bali, Indonesia with her two 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?
Thank you so much for having me!
I was raised in Florida from the age of a young baby until adulthood, but both my parents are Egyptian so I had a mix of American and Egyptian traditions growing up. The majority of my childhood was spent daydreaming really. I’ve always had my ‘head in the clouds’ so to say, dreaming up ideas and other worlds. I could transport myself anywhere at any time and long Florida afternoons spent outside just cemented my love of possibilities and nature.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I became really intrigued by the number of beauty products that I was not allowed to use during my first pregnancy. There were so many warning labels that cautioned against use while pregnant so I began to research how and why certain products could create harm in the body. It wasn’t until I was just sitting and reading the book The Alchemist one day, that I really began to think about the history in general surrounding alchemy and the power of formulation. I ended up spending years researching and combining my own experience from the spa and wellness industry to better understand what the problem was and how I could contribute to solving it.
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?
There isn’t any particular person who intentionally helped me, but there are so many who unintentionally helped. I’ve worked with such a variety of people in the spa/wellness industry with different types of backgrounds and experience levels. Some taught me what to do and others what not to do. Two particular women showed me early on in my career what sisterhood meant and how we each play a part in each other's success. I call them by their nicknames which were the “Queen A’s” as they taught me how to stand my ground in a male-dominated work environment, and I’m forever grateful that they were my teachers in female empowerment. I was lucky to learn early on from them that our actions will always speak for us.
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?
I’m sure that I’ve had something happen in all my years in the spa and wellness industry, but I cannot for the life of me think of any particular incident. It might also be a form of self-inflicted amnesia to block out the memory! But it would be inevitable that we all experience something we consider a mistake when in reality, it’s all leading us somewhere. Every event guides us to another level of life and expands our perspective, most times unwillingly.
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?
Push yourself past everything you know. Past everything that is familiar to you. To achieve anything worth having, you’ll have to go against the grain at times. Question everything, especially those that tell you you’re too inexperienced to know better. It’s easy to take on others' opinion as your own, but finding your intuitive self will propel you where you want to be.
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?
I’ve always been a fan of Dr. Joseph Dispenza, but his last book “Becoming Supernatural” is easily the best book I’ve ever read. If you’re genuinely interested in science-based phenomena of the brain, then this book is a portal of sorts. It will no doubt open doorways you never knew existed. I felt a great shift after I read the book and it continues to have its residual effects on everything I do today.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Kindness above all else. No matter the circumstances. Each day, fewer and fewer people actually ‘see’ each other, but kindness is another way to connect. To be seen when others may be too busy reacting. If you have the opportunity to make someone feel better, then why in the world would you not?
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Sound wave technology. It’s absolutely fascinating the way certain frequencies can affect the evolution of specific types of matter. In my case, I’ve been working on plants and the way the sound waves can affect their growth and potency which has really changed my product formulation in skincare. There are so many amazing details involved with a project of this kind, but what originally motivated me was really very simple. It was the rhythm of nature. The unseen events that take place in front of our eyes on a daily basis.
There is still so much to discover, but the same invisible strings that guide nature are the same that lead us in everyday life. The results of this type of research can be profound, but more so I hope the idea of unseen events expands people’s perspective.
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?
Like anything that needs to develop and grow, there must be a solid base. A plant needs its roots planted firmly in the soil. We as humans need a solid understanding of what works for us individually. Forming good habits will give us that base and it can single-handedly change the trajectory of our life. What works for some, will not work for everyone. It’s a discovery process of what motivates you.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
The most important habit I have can be summed up in one word, perspective. I make a habit of reminding myself on a daily basis of our own insignificance. I do this not to take away from our own innate power as human beings, but to realize that there is a power that is greater than our own thinking minds. The quickest way to do that is through meditation, where one is forced to quiet the mind. It has been my shortcut to life. Or anyone could choose to have any type of habit that symbolizes something greater than the society and routines we exist inside. Perspective helps us zoom in on the priorities. What’s important? What can wait? It builds an efficient outlook on what needs my attention and what doesn’t when it comes to work and life.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Habits can be cultivated. It’s an investment. To reap the rewards of certain goals, you cultivate the habits that will help you achieve those goals. I think it’s important to allow patience during that cultivation process as each person is on a different discovery process when they are first exploring what habits work for them.
The quickest way to stop bad habits is to understand why they exist in the first place. What triggers us to do the thing that we know is no good? And what desire do we have that is greater than the desire of that bad habit? Before habits can be formed or stopped, reflection is important.
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 really sums up a general area of our lives, including physical, mental, and even spiritual. To reach optimum levels in wellness, we would need to form habits that are a combination of those areas.
1.) An important and very overlooked habit would be any activity that promotes the growth of your emotional intelligence. It’s really about adapting to our environment and circumstances to the best of our ability and there are different types of habits that can improve our level of EI.
2.) What is your connection to nature? Is it the amount of time it takes you to get in and out of your vehicle to and from locations? An honest evaluation of how much time is spent outdoors can significantly change your level of wellness.
3.) What brings you joy? We’ve reached a point in our time where most people don’t know the answer to that question. Creating a habit that isn’t so much about efficiency or results, but more about your source of happiness. If you don’t know what stirs those emotions in you, then you should plan on a journey of discovery.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
1.) Emotional intelligence or EI can be the single thing that improves any area of your life. Having this enables you to understand those you deal with on a daily basis and gives you the ability to intuitively read and respond in your interactions together. Career-wise, it will give you the upper hand in any situation. Homelife will even improve because instead of ‘reacting’ to events, children, spouse, you will be coming from a place where you understand why things happen.
There are a variety of ways to improve your level of EI such as reading books about self-awareness, breathing techniques (there are courses, books, and many options on controlling breath) which assist in managing certain events that ignite emotional reactions instead of intelligent responses, it’s more about finding a daily activity that makes you aware of yourself. Some people find it through yoga, meditation, books, etc., but to become aware of your own patterns and mastering your emotions will get you on the path of forming good EI habits.
2.) Connecting to nature is not a new idea, but it is something that is proven to alter your level of wellness. Whether it be sitting on a bench in a park for 30 minutes a day or finding a local walking trail, getting yourself immersed in fresh air, woods, wind, anything from the outdoors will impact how you feel each day.
3.) This is one of my favorites because most people view habits as something that needs to be performed versus something you actually want to do! What do you look forward to doing? It could be dancing in your living room for 15 minutes each day, playing basketball in the neighborhood court, watching a movie with your kids, it’s really anything that will put a smile on your face. The problem is these habits usually get the backseat to our daily lives because sometimes it’s easier to sacrifice what we want instead of what we need to do. Somehow guilt or selfishness becomes associated with those ideas, but it’s important to do them each and every day.
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.) Most people associate physical habits for improved performance at work or sport, which is an important factor, but once the mind gets right, then all else falls into place. Any habit that quiets the mind, can help control the level of physical performance.
2.) How can work or sport improve? Knowing that we are beings in constant growth, will humble a person enough to know that there are always things to be discovered in our respective fields. Learning something new everyday can propel your quality of work and life.
3.) Everyone knows without being reminded that being physically active is a necessity, but if you can create a habit that turns that necessity into play then it is done with ease.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
1.) Meditation is the go-to ritual that many athletes, executives, and business owners turn to on a daily basis to control their quality of life. It can be 15 minutes or it can be 1–2 hours a day, but finding the time to be still in a constantly active career/life helps organize the mind for the rest of the day. It could even be a form of sitting or walking outside that is incorporated into your day, while being mentally conscious of what is happening on the inside.
2.) You’ll find a common trait in many successful leaders and it always points to learning. Whether it be reading books about new subjects, taking courses, or learning from experienced colleagues, learning new things and ways to improve can instantly increase your quality of work or sport.
3.) Many people enjoy their daily dose of exercise and can’t go a day without it, but there are others who don’t. Turning it into something you enjoy like tennis dates with friends, joining a league, training for a marathon, or it could even be simple like a short walk after dinner. Finding a way to actively and consistently move will change your quality of performance.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
1.) Everyone has certain things they do that help them focus better, but at the core of optimal focus is the same common ground for all of us. Sleep! Nothing compares to the focus of a well-rested mind and body.
2.) Finding a way to switch off the noise (so much easier said than done!), can make such a powerful impact on your level of focus. Otherwise, you will be inundated with the details of each day until it may eventually lead to exhaustion or a cloud that follows you around which affects how well you can focus on certain things.
3.) It’s common for us all to multi-task and juggle multiple responsibilities, but to be able to focus we must practice the power of presence. Being completely and utterly consumed only with present moment.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
1.) Ensuring that you’ve completed all of your tasks by a certain time each day, will set you up for a well-rested night. There are always some exceptions to the rule, but if you can make it a daily habit to end your day at a certain time to ensure you’re getting enough sleep, then you are ultimately setting yourself up for success. All other priorities will organize themselves with ease.
2.) What does it mean to switch off the noise? It means separating the everyday needs and responsibilities from the core important factors of your life. Meditation is a phenomenal tool to help shift from chaos to laser focus. It can be any type of habit that helps you calm and relax your thoughts so that you’re able to make a clear separation.
3.) This is without a doubt an acquired habit and something that might take more work for some, but being able to pause the multitasking mental list that most of us have and pay attention only to the task at hand, can help enormously with building a healthy habit around to focus. Being present enough that whatever you’re doing at that particular moment, is the only thing of any consequence.
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?
Presence. The more we are present in the action of now, the more that seamless flow takes place in our daily lives. When your mind is stuck on future events or responsibilities, or maybe even analyzing something that took place in the past, then we are not completely ‘available’. Everything we do will be performed at a very minimal level. It’s also a practice of sorts until you are able to habituate this type of mental performance where you can consciously control the train of thoughts that can sometimes feel like a million miles per hour.
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.
The invisible strings. I offer a challenge to anyone who is willing. A daily reminder that there are invisible strings all about us. We are all living and breathing in the same web of energy. The challenge is to remind yourself of that each day. There are unseen events that have happened or are about to happen and we each play a role. Be kind to the unkind. We are so much more powerful than we realize.
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 had the honor of being invited to Vanity Fair Magazine’s very first women’s entrepreneurship event which was called The Founders Fair and I was in awe of one particular panel. It was a well-known celebrity (hello Reese Witherspoon) and the VC firm that invested in her clothing line, who was Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures. I was basically hypnotized with every word Kirsten Green said and would’ve loved to sit one on one to talk about entrepreneurship in general!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Instagram or Twitter: @ama5
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.