Author Jamie Gold: Getting An Upgrade; How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus
STOP MULTI-TASKING — Sure, you can watch TV and scroll through your social media feeds. Neither requires great concentration and I’ve done both for years. You probably have too. But if you need to create or review something important, eliminate any and all distractions before you start the task. That could mean addressing the comfort and quiet of your workspace, hiding your email inbox, and getting meaningless chores out of the way first.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Gold.
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, wellness design consultant and the author of three books on design and remodeling. The latest, Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness (Simon & Schuster/Tiller Press), published September 2020. It is the first comprehensive consumer guide to the links between your home and your health — perfectly timed for a pandemic keeping millions of Americans sheltering in place.
Jamie has consulted on hundreds of kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, study areas and other home spaces in more than 16 years of a successful residential design career. While focusing on aging in place design for seniors when she started out in 2004, she realized that the advice she was giving older clients could benefit adults of all ages — herself included, as she transitioned from a 233-pound couch potato to someone training to summit Kilimanjaro as she turns 60.
So Jamie began sharing that advice in client consultations, in her award-winning weekly Gold Notes blog, and in articles for newspapers, national publications and sites like BobVila.com, HuffPost, Fine Homebuilding, Blue Zones and Design Milk. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes.com on wellness design, and a popular speaker at trade shows around the country.
In her talks and writings, Jamie shares how your home can be your secret weapon in building healthy habits and achieving your health and fitness goals — as it has for her — and why builders, developers and designers should be incorporating wellness design into the homes they create at every price level. It is Jamie’s strong belief that wellness design should not just be for the well-to-do, that everyone deserves a safe, healthy place to live.
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 was fortunate to grow up in a loving, boringly middle class home with parents who shared the best of New York City’s culture and the Catskill Mountains’ natural beauty with their three kids. My mom loved Midcentury Modern design when it was just plain modern in the 1960s. My dad was both extremely handy and artsy. He could — and did — create whatever home features my mom requested, including a kitchen island for probably the first dishwasher on our Brooklyn block. Two decades and 2900 miles later, they restored an 1860s San Francisco Victorian together. (My dad did most of the work himself.)
My San Diego townhouse is filled with my father’s creations, including two framed mirrors, an abstract oil painting, a restored rocking chair from our Kiamesha Lake bungalow and two stained glass lamps. I prize these “comfort and joy” elements of my home.
All three of my books are dedicated to my parents, and I’m so grateful that my Dad lived to see the first two published.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Design is my second career. I spent three decades in communications, earning two degrees and working at various media organizations, advancing toward becoming a publisher. When my dream job in management turned out to be more of a nightmare, I stepped away and contemplated my next steps in life.
I had always loved home design and looked at the different career paths I could follow. I decided on kitchen and bath design and used my marketing skills to talk myself into a job at my neighborhood Home Depot — trading my silk pantsuits for an orange apron.
My grandmother was definitely an inspiration in making this career choice. I watched her frustration in being stuck in an overpriced apartment because it was the only one in her area with a separate shower; she was understandably afraid of falling while climbing into or out of a tub. (Falls are among the deadliest injuries seniors suffer.)
I decided that I wanted to work with older clients to create safe, accessible bathrooms and kitchens so they could live independently at home. Now I also offer wellness design consulting services to builders and developers who want to serve the same clientele.
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?
Beyond my family, which has helped me in so many ways, I have to credit my first boss at The Home Depot who took a chance on a novice and launched my design career. At the time, I was the only associate he’d ever hired ‘off the street,’ as he put it, for a coveted kitchen and bath position! (Most of my colleagues had started in appliances, décor, plumbing or one of the other design-oriented departments.)
When I was completing my first book, New Kitchen Ideas That Work, I was excited at the idea that my career that had started in Home Depot’s kitchens department would culminate in the books section. I even thanked that boss in the Acknowledgements pages. Sadly, Home Depot had eliminated the book sections of its stores not long before NKITW published , and I had to ‘settle’ with a best-seller at arch-competitor Lowe’s.
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?
At the height of the pre-Recession housing boom, I was working at an extremely busy showroom designing mostly large whole house projects. We worked in-house, having project managers who’d go on-site to measure and plan check. Those were the days before most people had smart phones and on one of the rare times I went out to a client home in a lovely suburb, I couldn’t figure out how to escape his subdivision! The homeowner saw my eyes glaze over after a series of confusing turn instructions and decided to jump in his car and have me follow him back to the main road. I still chuckle with amused embarrassment when I think about it. My takeaway: Get thee to an Apple Store for an iPhone. I got one of the early models, and am still getting upgrades and new phones when needed.
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?
I’ve been really impressed with this new generation for how many are turning their passion and creativity into entrepreneurial careers. The old approach of working your way up at leading companies no longer applies for everyone, but I think the lessons my parents taught me still do: Work hard. Go above and beyond what’s expected of you and leave people delighted. Be your word in all you do. Treat others at every level with respect and consideration. Listen more than you talk.
A few lessons I’ve learned from colleagues, mentors and painful experience are to take care of the people who take care of you. If someone gives you a big break, make that person look good and glad to have recommended you.
Also, listen for your developing voice; while everyone focuses on their “brand,” voice goes deeper to your commitments, passions and knowledge. When you can communicate those with authority, you’ve achieved professional success.
Another important lesson I learned along the way is the importance of balance in life. I was a workaholic in my 30s and 40s and my health and relationships went completely out of whack as a result. It took the shock of a divorce to realize that I needed to take better care of myself and not worry about my career in almost every waking hour. I’d urge anyone seeking success to give time and energy to their relationships, causes, health and self at the same time.
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?
There are really two that were pivotal. The first was Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager. He makes the point that gratitude, purpose and taking care of your responsibilities are the three biggest components of being happy in your life. I’ve found that focusing on these three areas of life have enabled me to experience happiness even when times are challenging.
The second is the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I read that book during my divorce and realized how non-present I had been in much of my marriage. It has definitely created a positive shift in my life. However challenging circumstances may be, and however strong the urge to mentally escape, I force my mind back into the present.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Probably the most impactful was “Risk being uncomfortable.” I heard it in my 20s while working for motivational speaker Gil Eagles. It has spurred career opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t pushed past my comfort zone, and it has inspired athletic achievements that would be impossible without it — like summiting Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, and completing the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m working on a presentation for the International Builders Show in February 2021 that will be a virtual expo for the first time ever. I’m excited to be part of something new and exciting, and to share the benefits of creating wellness design-focused homes and communities for the Active Adult (50-plus) home buyer. I’m hoping that this helps increase the stock of healthy homes for seniors; there’s a tremendous shortage of accessible dwellings for them, and accessibility is definitely a key component of wellness design.
I’m also still planning to summit Kilimanjaro for my 60th birthday. I’ve had to push the date back twice because of the pandemic, but it is going to happen when I can safely travel to Tanzania, and my goal is for my training and adventure to motivate other 50-plus women to look differently at what they can do to stay healthy and active in the second half of their lives.
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?
When life is very stressed — as so many of ours are right now during this pandemic — our healthy habits help sustain us. A habit means one less decision we need to make in a hectic day; we just do it automatically and that supports our well-being.
Several of these habits that anchor my life are my morning gratitude prayer that gets me into a positive mindset no matter what comes up later, followed by my five-minute core workout. Even if schedule snafus arise during the day, I got that fitness moment in.
Another habit I’ve adapted for my work week is what I call “dancing between drafts.” It’s the practice of finishing a task, like completing this interview, then turning up the music in my office and bopping vigorously for the three or four minutes of a favorite song. I started doing that while writing my first book nine years ago and have continued it ever since.
This year I’ve started the habit of using my evening TV time to do some additional core work and stretch. This helps keep me limber and moving when my old self would just sit and snack.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I’ve learned that habits are essential to simplifying my personal and work lives. The more efficiency-based habits I have — whether it’s getting ready for a training hike or getting an article written on time — the fewer decisions and time I have to expend on the simple stuff; that lets me focus my mind and energies on important matters.
Here’s a quick example: Every sourced article I write starts out with an outline of whom I’m considering interviewing for each category (e.g., builder, doctor, retailer), whom I’ve asked, who has responded and what they’ve said. These outlines are color-coded, so I can see at a glance where I’m at, who I need to reach out to again, and whether it’s ready to write.
One of the newer success habits I’ve had to build up these past nine months is preparing for videotaped interviews and presentations in my home. They’re not something that have been a part of my career in the past — and they’ve become very common lately. (Being naturally camera-shy, these habits have been really calming for me, since I can then focus on what I want to say, rather than worrying about whether I forgot to set up my ring light, adjust the blinds or have a water bottle handy.)
I’ve created a habit of getting everything set up the night before morning recordings, or two hours before afternoon sessions. Having an organized home has been my ally in this endeavor, as I know where all my components are and can gather them together whenever they’re needed. Organization is a feature of Functionality, one of my Five Facets of Wellness Design.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The best way is to see what works for you and adjust as needed. The military says, “Adapt and overcome.” I’ve found that approach to be extremely useful, especially in challenging, changing times.
I’d also advise not starting habit-building with your wallet. So often, people rush out and buy things to support starting a new habit — maybe it’s getting active with an expensive exercise bike or getting organized with a stack of fancy bins — then realize that these expenditures weren’t needed and just added cost and clutter to their home.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t invest in yourself. I believe strongly in doing that, but get clarity about what you have versus what you need before you break out the credit card. You may already have the elements of success on hand.
To ditch a bad habit, focus instead on a replacement habit you want to create and give your energy to building the new one.
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.
When someone says, “I want to eat healthier” or “I’m going to get more active,” they’re usually not thinking, ‘I’m going to redo my kitchen or bedroom,’ but those spaces have tremendous potential to support or sabotage important wellness goals. Let’s look specifically at kitchens because they tie so strongly to forging healthful eating habits. So many clients have shared that they can’t stand being in their kitchens because they’re unpleasant, cramped and cluttered. Clutter comes from bad habits — usually, dumping papers, phone, keys and other non-kitchen items onto a counter when you come home. (Just about every kitchen remodel I’ve ever worked on started with a pile like this!)
By organizing your kitchen into cooking, food storage and prep/clean-up zones that make it easy to find what you need quickly and easily, and moving items that don’t support those functions out of work areas, you’ll make your kitchen more efficient for creating your healthy eating habit.
I mentioned bedrooms above. As a doctor shared in my Wellness by Design book, you are not going to perform well in your personal or professional life if you don’t get enough quality sleep. Bedrooms need to be optimized for this purpose above any others — including working from home. Electronics often emit blue light that can impact sleep cycles. Outside lights can penetrate the room’s darkness if window coverings don’t block them out. Mattresses that are too old or a room with an inhospitable climate can also impact sleep quality and quantity.
Getting enough sleep has to become a habit — supported by a healthy bedroom environment — or the performance level needed won’t be achievable and your health will suffer too.
This can be challenging in the best of times, but it’s especially so right now with children going to school at home, partners working out of spare rooms, and perhaps an elderly relative staying in the house until it’s safe to return to a nursing home.
There are many more tugs on everyone’s schedule and attention, and the stress level is ratcheted up to unbearable levels. The best habit I can recommend is taking a daily five or 10 minute meditation break. This healthy practice can be nurtured by creating a self-care space filled with Comfort & Joy (another of the Five Facets of Wellness Design) items, ideally including natural elements like plants, and offering outdoor nature views. Biophilia, as these nature components are considered, can be restorative, and helpful for stress relief.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Be intentional about creating a home environment that supports the healthy habits you want to achieve. It might be adding things, like when I needed to lose 100 pounds. To help me reach that goal, I kept my fridge and pantry filled with healthful staples within easy reach; I added organizers to all of my drawers to make healthy meal prep more efficient; I added countertop appliances like a food scale, combi-steam oven and slow cooker that made healthy meal prep easy, and I laid an anti-fatigue mat on the floor to make meal prep a less tiring, joint-stressing experience.
It might be removing or replacing things instead, like the chair you smoked in for years if you’re determined to quit, and the smoky drapes and carpeting that can trigger the urge to light up again.
In short, look at your home as an ally in your plans to create beneficial new habits. What needs to change for a habit to succeed? What can you improve to make the goal more achievable?
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
Be sure to get regular movement into your workday. I learned the benefits of this when I was writing my first book nine years ago. I’d sit for hours researching, writing or editing. Before I finished my day, I’d feel tired and achy, which wasn’t helping the quality of my work.
I got in the habit of “dancing between drafts,” as I call it. Between each defined task — like finishing a section or sourcing all of the countertop material photos I needed — I’d turn up the music on my computer and bop around my office. These three or four minutes of enjoyable physicality sprinkled during my workday would relieve physical and mental tension, helping me return to work with more energy. Nine years and two books later, I still do this!
Getting my gear ready the day before a training session or event away from home has become an essential success habit. It’s easy to forget a needed piece of equipment or paperwork before heading out from the house, so having those ready to go in the car relieves stress on race or summit morning. (It also works for business appointments and job interviews.) Planning a day ahead gives you additional time to discover and address anything that needs to be repaired, replaced or acquired.
This next habit helps both areas of my life. Going into the new year, I resolved that I’d be more active during my workdays (i.e., “dancing between drafts”) and in my workday evenings too. The habit I’ve developed for those is to use TV commercial breaks for active stretching and core work. Rather than just flipping through my phone or fast forwarding, I use these regular intervals to increase my strength and flexibility.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Being mindful is a foundational habit that supports all of the others. I learned this a decade ago when I was constantly distracted by the stress of my divorce and relocation. I resolved then that however difficult my circumstances might be at the moment, I’d stay present to what was going on rather than drifting into the past or future. As soon as I felt my mind wandering, I’d bring myself back to the moment by focusing on some pleasurable element in my environment. (That could be a piece of art I have in my space or the scent of fresh flowers on the dining room table.) That’s another reason why it’s important to fill your space with pleasurable elements that support your joy.
WELCOME YOURSELF HOME
One tip I share in my book is to add elements that delight you at your home’s daily entrance. For millions of us, that’s our garage — and they can be dreary spaces. I added a fun Welcome sign and a custom rack filled with my race medals to greet me when I return home.
As I noted above, clutter can make a space unwelcoming and inefficient. Decluttering your entire home at once can be daunting, but look at a key room or area where you need to create a habit and declutter it. That can be a garage bay that needs to serve as a fitness area or a corner of a bedroom where you’ve resolved to meditate daily. Clearing them out will make it easier (or possible!) to support your habit.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Sure, you can watch TV and scroll through your social media feeds. Neither requires great concentration and I’ve done both for years. You probably have too. But if you need to create or review something important, eliminate any and all distractions before you start the task. That could mean addressing the comfort and quiet of your workspace, hiding your email inbox, and getting meaningless chores out of the way first.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
I mentioned this above, and science confirms the importance of sleep, but you may still be lacking in that area. Determine how many hours your body and brain need to perform at their best and create a habit of achieving that minimum. That could mean going to bed earlier before workdays. Most people don’t have the luxury of setting their start times, thanks to jobs, pets or kids, but you can probably set or change your bedtime.
If I have to wake up earlier than I usually do for a video interview, for example, I’m going to go to bed that many hours earlier the night before, (sometimes with the help of melatonin, since my body is wired for night owl mode). That way, I’m performing at my best and not crashing during the day.
FUEL FOR PERFORMANCE
You may know that one annoying person who eats whatever she wants and never gains a pound. Chances are, (a) that’s not you, and (b) if all she consumes is junk food, she may stay thin, but she’s not performing at her best either. Your brain, organs, bones and muscles need nutrients to function properly. Your job or sport has its own energy and performance requirements. Food is fuel, liquids are hydration and you should be providing both on schedule and in the right amounts to accomplish your goals.
I’ve had several training hikes in the past where I wasn’t properly fueled and “bonked.” Not reaching my summit goals was tremendously discouraging. It hasn’t happened since I adjusted my fueling levels.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
To avoid multi-tasking, you can practice being intentional about your scheduling. All of my important tasks — whether it’s an article that needs to be drafted or an interview to be completed — are deadline-driven and entered into my calendar at a time when I know I can set aside focused time to complete them.
When it comes to my fitness, I’m very intentional about my strength training in particular. To focus on each muscle group and the proper form for each exercise, I never multi-task. Concentration is essential.
Sleep and fuel needs are determined by life experience. Observe what’s working, do some expert research and adapt as needed. I find it’s helpful to isolate elements, so you’re only testing one variable at a time. For example, try a new energy bar on a day when you’ve gotten your regular amount of sleep the night before.
Finally, never ever ever try new practices on event day!
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’ve really felt that Flow in writing this latest book and talking about it. These are ideas and information that I’ve wanted to provide for a long time — and having been given the opportunity to do so by one of the largest book publishers in the world — has given voice to my purpose and passion.
The unintended timing of this book’s publication in a pandemic has made me more committed than ever to share this information as widely as I can. I feel pretty strongly that wellness design should not be just for the well-to-do; that everyone deserves a safe, healthy place to live. I think of myself less as an “expert” than an “ambassador” or “missionary” on a continuous pursuit of discovery. It’s exciting.
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.
This movement would be toward wellness design for all. That could mean enhanced building codes, new multi-generational communities, wellness standards for single family homes, and an affordable housing movement that prioritizes wellness design.
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 going to be ambitious and cite two people. The first would be Dan Buettner, who developed the Blue Zones concept of healthy living into your 100s. (I’m proud to have written a guest post on wellness design for his newsletter!) I’d like to create a template for new construction Blue Zones communities that would incorporate Buettner’s longevity elements in multi-generational, multi-income, mixed use developments.
The second person I’d like to meet with would be Mike Bloomberg, who created the Center for Active Design, a leading nonprofit in the affordable wellness community space. I can see him seeding a project like this.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My books, articles, blog posts and speeches are all linked from my website at jamiegold.net.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.