Dr. Sasha Shillcutt: Getting An Upgrade; How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus

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The ability to compartmentalize is huge. I am a mom of four, a busy doctor, an entrepreneur, and an author. There is no way I could do all I do without separating the work that needs to be done and batching it. So, I take time to plan my time, and I honor myself by sticking to my work plan. Another good habit is getting outside each day. Sometimes I cannot get outside, so I find a sunny window to sit in and read something even for 10 minutes. We know this improves your overall mood and releases positive endorphins when you get a little sunshine. Start today! It will change your outlook instantly. And last, show yourself grace. Ask yourself, do you embrace self-compassion? We know self-compassion is far more effective than self-criticism when it comes to achievement. How is your self-talk?

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

Dr. Sasha Shillcutt is a renowned cardiac anesthesiologist, gender equity researcher, TedX Speaker, author, podcast host and CEO of Brave Enough, where she leads over 20,000 women on living connected and courageous lives.

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

parents inspired me to become a physician. Growing up, I was the first daughter in my family to graduate from college and pursue a graduate degree. My parents made it very clear that I could achieve whatever I wanted, if I was willing to work hard. Looking back, I see how my parents truly gave me a growth mindset. They definitely valued hard work over “talent.” They didn’t let me wallow long if I failed at something. When I said I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, their response to every setback was, “how are you going to learn from this so you can still move forward?”

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?

I have had incredible people along my career path who have both mentored and sponsored me in critical times. One of the most important is Dr. Julie Silver, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Silver mentored me during my pivot from a traditional career as a cardiac anesthesiologist to becoming an activist for gender equity and an entrepreneur. She gave me a great piece of advice, that I have used through many difficult decisions. She told me not to wait for others to invest in my dreams or to give me permission to pursue a new, exciting, yet scary path. She encouraged me to set aside resources, time, and money to invest in my own professional development, regardless of what those around me think. Her wisdom was just what I needed to find the courage to step out of the traditional path in academia, and build my company, Brave Enough.

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?

One mistake that comes to mind is how I wrote my book, Between Grit and Grace. I determined I wanted to write a book, and like some fairy tale, I took a week off, sat down and hammered out a few chapters. I was pretty upset at myself that I did not finish the book that week. I reached out to a friend in the publishing business and she said, “I do not know how to tell you this, but this book won’t work. This is not the way you get a book published.” And she was right. Essentially, I didn’t do my homework on publishing a book, and I made the mistake of assuming it was how you publish a research manuscript: you write the entire manuscript and submit it. I wasted an entire week and a hundred hours of work. I was devastated and angry at myself, but I learned a valuable lesson. You need to crowd source and identify your blind spots before you invest yourself into something that is costly. Your time is costly. Think of your time the same as you would think of hiring a consultant or expert, and be wise with how you spend it.

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 would tell her to take a moment, and exhale. There is a season for everything, and often we compare our current list of accomplishments to someone else’s list who’s 20 years ahead of us. I would also tell him to enjoy the journey, and that every five years, you should probably ask yourself, is this what I am supposed to being doing now? We may find ourselves at low points in our career, and it is normal and healthy to pivot every now and then. Making a career path change does not mean you were on the wrong one to begin with; it means you are open and flexible enough to try new things and own a dynamic career.

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 am a firm believer on having a mission driven focus. I will work circles around anyone IF I know my purpose in the task and I believe in the overall mission. So, I think it is critical that once a year I think about my personal mission statement and overall vision for the year. I have found Michael Hyatt’s book, The Vision Driven Leader, to be a great workbook to go through once a year and ask myself the hard questions, like ‘what is my purpose this year?’ It allows me to look at what I think I am doing, and where I am actually spending most of my time. If there is a mismatch between the why of my work and the what of my work, I reset.

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

My company is about helping women lead themselves, and through that, live with less guilt and distraction and more power. So, this means I am in many ways, an activist for gender equity and I find myself in rooms often times where I am the only woman. It can be stressful as the only woman to bring up things like the gender pay gap in a room where we are discussing salaries, for example. One quote I always speak to myself when I am scared to use my voice is by Maya Angelou, “I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand.” It reminds me instantly of my ‘why.’ I realize I am negotiating or educating not for myself, but for my daughter, my sisters, and essentially, all women. It gives me courage.

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

I recently created a new group for professional women, called The Table. Essentially, it is a networking group for women to stop in and take what they need to lead in their workspaces and simultaneously, put their wellbeing first. We are just kicking it off, and I am really excited to help women learn how to set work life boundaries and improve their self-advocacy skills. It is not on social media, which is a perk in its own right. Think of it like a virtual women’s club but with encouragement, positivity and of course, style.

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?

I am huge on creating habits. We know that we are more likely, as humans, to do healthy things when we automate them. For example, no one tells us to brush our teeth every morning and evening, we just do it. But we had to be taught this when we were young; over and over our parents would say, “did you brush your teeth?” until it became a habit. So, one of the most important habits for me is my time in the morning. I added 30 minutes of self-care to my morning about seven years ago after suffering from career burnout, and it has been life changing. Sometimes I write, sometimes I read, exercise, or listen to a podcast and drink coffee, in the quiet and dark. It is so healthy for me to regroup prior to the day.

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

Another habit I have is what I call my Sunday prep. Each Sunday I take 15–20 minutes and look at the week ahead. I figure out what needs to be changed on my calendar and send emails. I look ahead and find where what I call my ‘white space’ will be, which is critical for me to create, write, walk, or spend time with a friend. If I cannot find white space, I take a step back and see what I need to cancel. I have learned this habit is critical for my internal wellbeing and to be in control of my time.

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

I think accountability helps habits form. If I know there is an area of improvement I need to commit to, say, healthy eating or meal prep, the best thing I can do is tell someone else to hold me accountable. I am more likely to follow through. The same with stopping bad habits. For example, I think a lot of people hide their bad habits because we are taught to hide our imperfections, which is actually dangerous, because most of the time they will come out eventually, especially if we let them grow in silence. Why not tell someone we trust what we are struggling with, so they can offer support? Most of the time when I have come out of dark times in my life, I didn’t recover on my own. 99% of the time, I had help, and I asked someone to help me.

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.

Spend time every single day by yourself. Sit in silence. Unplug. This will not fix all of your stress, but it will bring immense clarity to you. I call this taking your wellness pulse. I coach professional women how to do this, and after 12 weeks, they all tell me the same thing: they cannot imagine their life without this protected time now. It is so powerful when you realize how much agency you actually have.

The best thing you can do to boost your performance, whether in relationships, work, physical or mental, is sleep. Sleep is the most underrated medicine on the planet. Having good sleep hygiene is the basis of any successful career or personal life. As someone who has to work 24 hours in the hospital at times, I can tell you, your sleep is so important. If you miss sleep, immediately find time to rest and create a dark, screen-free environment. Limit your alcohol, and have a bedtime routine so your brain knows, ok, I am getting ready to shut down.

For focus, this is where I find it critical to have a list of big items that I am working on, for example writing a book, and not let little items, like email, steal my time. You will never accomplish the big items on your list if you spend all your time trying to clear out your small item list. If you have 1–3 hours, use it for the big items. Ignore the small.

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

If you use my Sunday prep planning tip, you can look ahead and plan for when you will — say, check email for the week. I literally do not check my email every day, nor do I respond. I set two days each week that I check email and respond. This teaches people not to expect an instant response from you, and you create a habit where YOU are in control of your inbox, not the other way around.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

The ability to compartmentalize is huge. I am a mom of four, a busy doctor, an entrepreneur, and an author. There is no way I could do all I do without separating the work that needs to be done and batching it. So, I take time to plan my time, and I honor myself by sticking to my work plan. Another good habit is getting outside each day. Sometimes I cannot get outside, so I find a sunny window to sit in and read something even for 10 minutes. We know this improves your overall mood and releases positive endorphins when you get a little sunshine. Start today! It will change your outlook instantly. And last, show yourself grace. Ask yourself, do you embrace self-compassion? We know self-compassion is far more effective than self-criticism when it comes to achievement. How is your self-talk?

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

Take time to plan your work week, and when you do, plan in fun, rest, and relationships. No one is going to make your life well, only you can. One thing that helps me is I set a daily reminder on my phone, around 11 am, to ask myself if I have seen the sun. It makes me take a moment to breathe and find a sunny window to stand in and break up my work mode for a moment to be mindful. Another habit I would strongly encourage is to write three positive affirmations about yourself somewhere you can see them first thing in the morning, like on a mirror. I read them to reset my internal self-talk.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

For me, decreasing screen time is a habit that is my most difficult to keep in check, and yet the most important. I am very aware of how many minutes I am spending online a day, as the more screen time, the less focused I become. A great habit is to make sure you are not starting your day online and that you are not ending your day online. So, you can put your phone on a charger outside your bedroom at the same time each night, to assure you are unplugging. Another habit that helps me is to place something next to by bed I can read for a few minutes to help me sleep, which is so important for focus. If for some reason, I cannot fall asleep, I will read a book for 5–10 minutes (not my phone!) and it soothes me.

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

I think the more we unplug, and create boundaries around our devices, the more we see those in our view. One practice is having some ‘rules’ for yourself, say, no phones at the dinner table, or no phones if someone is speaking to me. We are so used to people looking at their phones, that we do not even get offended when we speak to someone and they are looking down. So, I try and put my phone in my pocket or place on my desk when someone is speaking to me, reminding myself of the importance of human interaction.

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?

For me, I experience a state of Flow when I am on a stage, teaching a group of people. I never feel as energized or that I am living my purpose as much as I do when I am public speaking, which for me really is public teaching. It doesn’t mean it is not work; in fact, it usually means I have spent hours preparing my talk and teaching points but I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and the crowd and the energy inspires me. I always leave the stage in a total rush, my energy through the roof, with new ideas and talking points. To achieve a state of Flow more, I think you need to start with your mission and your why. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? If you can figure out how to do that with even 10% of your work effort, you will experience Flow.

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.

I would like to see women present and involved in all decision making around the world. Women are creators; we are innovators and we are excellent leaders. We tend to think of everyone, not just who is in our view, which is critical to improve our world today. And yet, we are often not invited to the table, so we do not have the opportunity to share our ideas or our talents. We know that companies who have women at every level of leadership and in board rooms have greater financial outcomes and gains. We need to be there, so if I could do one thing, I would love to be the woman who shared the report card with all companies on how they are doing, and then give them a list of women to advance within their view!

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 :-)

If I could pick one person it would be Reese Witherspoon. I think she is brilliant, strategic, funny, and also incredibly brave. She is not afraid to be authentic, yet is a woman who lends her platform to advance other women. I would love to pick her brain on how to effect change in healthcare, as I think there are similarities to the gender gaps she has overcome in the world of entertainment, and how to leverage your platform to support others.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me at @becomebraveenough on Facebook and Instagram and on Twitter at @rubraveenough. You can find my work, courses, and the events I lead on becomebraveenough.com.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Written by

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Written by

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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