How to give your ‘very best’ every day

If you stay up at 4 a.m. to study for a test or skip meals to prepare for a presentation at work, you’re doing it all wrong, according to Brian Cornell, CEO and chairman of Target.

Instead, take his approach to doing the “very best” every day: sleep and eat “just like you would if you were playing the US Open or the Super Bowl.”

“It’s the night before the game. I’m going to get a good meal. I’m going to rest. I’m going to be at my best,” Cornell said on a recent episode of How Leaders Lead. with David Novak” podcast hosted by Yum Brands Executive Chairman David Novak.

Cornell, 64, has run Target since 2014 and has led the retailer through rapid e-commerce expansion over the past decade and more recently through the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, Target’s annual sales hit $106 billion, up more than 35% over the past two years.

The CEO said he’s fallen prey to some fairly common bad habits: spending his day with little sleep, drinking coffee with meals, and not leaving time to exercise or relax after work.

Workplaces can easily create a culture where these unhealthy habits feel perfectly normal, Cornell explained. But they’re detrimental to your long-term health and can affect the quality of your work: A 2016 study by researchers at Hult International Business School found that lack of sleep in workers negatively affects decision-making, creativity, processing, adaptability, and the ability to perform other harmful physical functions and emotional side effects.

“They’re tired, they’re exhausted, they haven’t eaten and you can’t expect them to do their best,” Cornell said.

Cornell eventually found that approaching each day like he was attending a major sporting event helped him “rewire” his approach to work-life balance, he said. He learned it from a program called the Human Performance Institute, which worked with professional athletes before moving on to work with executives, he added.

The program taught Cornell that he needed to eat whole, nutritious meals, build some form of exercise into his day, and get the right amount of sleep, typically eight hours — which is normal for many professional athletes.

This helps Cornell maximize his energy every day, he said. Anyone can make that change in their life, whether it’s a high-level executive, a middle-level employee, or even a student, he added.

“I’m really trying to balance the importance of my energy and make sure I’ve never had a bad day,” Cornell said. “But to do that, I need to get the right amount of sleep, eat well, and exercise.”

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