Well-Being: The Key To Unlock High Performance

Do you know what F1 Drivers and F500 Leadership have in common? The importance they place on Well-Being!

However, many of us chase success and financial wealth at the cost of our own well-being. We understate the critical link well-being plays in sustainable achievement & success.

In Episode 12, Ashish and Anil speak with an amazing guest about the importance of investing in our health and wellness to achieve high performance. Annastiina Hintsa is the CEO of Hintsa Performance, the world’s leading well-being company, helping top athletes, F1 Drivers, and F500 Leaders achieve sustainable success. During her career, Annastiina has closely observed and experienced the challenges relating to sustainable performance in an uncertain, high-pressure, fast-paced global context.

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What does Happiness mean to you?

Annastiina Hintsa: I just absolutely love that question. Happiness for me is living a life that looks like me. Living a life being present and grateful for the things that I have, the people that I have in my life, the relationships that I have in my life, finding joy in those little moments – I have a 1 year old son who is an incredible source of joy, and personally, happiness also is finding fulfillment, finding meaning and purpose in what we do. And for me personally, I drive a lot of meaning from my work.

“Living a life being present and grateful for the things that I have, the people that I have in my life, the relationships that I have in my life, finding joy in those little moments”

Share your own story and journey from working at McKinsey to leading one of the world’s leading well being companies.

Annastiina Hintsa: The two kind of go hand in hand I guess; the story of the company, Hintsa Performance, and my story, we kind of grew up together if you will. 

We call ourselves a high performance coaching company, but in reality, our fundamental belief is that wellbeing leads to better performance. My father even called success the byproduct of wellbeing. Founded by my father, Dr. Aki Hintsa, about twenty years ago, actually 1997 is when he first started coaching clients in Ethiopia, which is where our stories start. My parents  worked in Ethiopia, my father was an orthopedic surgeon. A missionary doctor there during the 90’s and he always had two passions. One was around sports.  His secret dream before he became a doctor was to be an ice hockey player and that was sort of something that he carried throughout his entire life, a passion for sport, and, linked to that, a passion/fascination with the human capacity and adaptability of our mind and body. We are  capable of so much more than we usually think.

“Our fundamental belief is that wellbeing leads to better performance”

My Father was, in particular, amazed by the performance of Ethiopian Athletes, long distance runners and that’s where it all started. He started working particularly with one athlete – Haile Gebrselassie. Some of you will recognize Haile, some of you won’t, but he’s arguably one of the best long distance runners of all time and my father really got to know him and understand him and worked together with him. They trained together and he realized that it was such a highlight and foundation of his success. 

It wasn’t just about amazing genes and high altitude training, it was genuinely about living a holistic, balanced life and that was a foundation for what he called sustainable performance. That’s sort of where I grew up and I had the privilege of growing up there. After that I worked together with my father and then did my own thing. I did my studies, worked for McKinsey & Company and then in 2016, I rejoined Hintsa full time.

Talk to us about your story at McKinsey; well-being is truly in your blood and, even with that foundation, you found yourself not living a life with which well being was a part of it

Annastiina Hintsa: We all know what we “should be doing right”? We know what we should be eating. We know how we should be sleeping. We know what we should be doing to look after ourselves. And yet not all of us, not many of us, are actually doing it. So I joined McKinsey as a junior consultant super eager to get on. I actually really loved what I did, I was super passionate about the project that we were doing, the people that I was working with, the access I was having to travel. All of it was exciting and thrilling. Loved it. But I was also burning the candle from both ends. I literally found my fitbit from that time years later, and I was sleeping 4.3 hours per night on average. I was already working at Hintsa at the time I found the fitbit, so I just quickly destroyed all the evidence and hope that nobody would ever find it!! 

So I was definitely not adhering to any of Hintsa’s philosophies or principles. I was eating out of hotel mini bars. The best thing that I could find was Snickers bars with peanuts. So that’s basically what I lived on. My exercise was mostly just one airport terminal to another and, depending on the airport, that could be a lot or very little exercise. Not healthy, not healthy at all.

“We all know what we should be doing right? We know what we should be eating. We know how we should be sleeping. We know what we should be doing to look after ourselves. And yet not all of us, not many of us, are actually doing it…”

It was a November morning, It was ten years ago, 2011, when I was running down the stairs and I don’t remember what happened in between, but I passed out. I rolled down the staircase, woke up at the bottom, and I vividly remember touching my head having blood in my hair and my first reaction was to search for my laptop. Oh my god is my laptop okay! I was actually seriously hurt and I’m more concerned about my laptop than my own head! That was my wake up call for me – I can’t go on like this.

My next thought from there for me was I realized that I wasn’t actually feeling anything at all. I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t sad, but I also wasn’t happy. I wasn’t really feeling anything and that was the second thing that told me that I can’t go on like this.

Ashish Kothari: Even though we know what is taking place in our life sometimes, knowing is not enough, knowing is not even table stakes. This is at the heart of what we are doing at Happiness Squad. 

It’s about doing and fundamentally integrating the 9 Hardwired for Happiness practices into your life so it becomes a way of life. Even though you grew up with wellbeing in your blood, it is so easy for you to lose yourself. For many people like me, I came to the world of wellbeing only five years ago. I didn’t even know the science of sleep or movement. In fact, my first wellbeing book for listeners was Stina’s father’s book, The Core, which I literally have sitting next to me. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you live right? I think that’s important…knowing is not enough.

It’s about actually really practicing. It doesn’t matter what you know, it’s about what you practice and what you do. The second is that even though we think about physical, mind, body, spirit, when we starve our body, we starve our mind. There’s a lot of things that start to happen. The cost is just not physical. Physically, we’re not well. Stiina mentioned she was numb right? We cut off our emotional spirit, literally our bodies go numb, our emotions get numb. In fact, it becomes so much that we don’t even know that we’re not happy. We just muscle our way through. 

“Even though we know what is taking place in our life sometimes, knowing is not enough, knowing is not even table stakes. This is at the heart of what we are doing at Happiness Squad”. 

If aliens looked at human beings, they wouldn’t call us human beings. They would call us human doings! We are just busy rushing around. We forget being and when we are there, we can really check in holistically so that’s the other thing that happens – we just become so much less almost 20-30% of the humans we are. We don’t feel, we can’t connect with others, we ourselves are not happy. This is so much a part of us and that’s why this investment in wellbeing is about a journey to wholeness. It truly, a journey to wholeness and to really live and achieve at our fullest potential and that’s why wellbeing leads to success as Stiina’s father always highlighted.

Ashish Kothari: Today you are the CEO of one of the fastest growing companies. You’re doing tons of amazing work in wellbeing, you travel around the world, you’re at a global company, you’re a mom you and have a 1 year old , you do a lot of philanthropic efforts, you do a lot of speeches, you’re one of the top evangelists in the field of wellbeing, so you are all over. 

Talk to us a little bit about where you are now and how you shifted by integrating wellbeing to allow you to actually be able to do all so much more? Because this myth of high-achieving careers and well-being don’t go together, I think it is a myth.

Annastiina Hintsa: Yes, that is a total myth. It’s the complete opposite. The way I see it is that wellbeing is a prerequisite for you to perform, for you to be able to do that job. Whatever it is that you’re doing.

And to clarify, I actually stayed at McKinsey for another 9 years after my burnout. I went back and I figured out a way of making it work within that system.

“We have all these good intentions. But there’s often a gap between that knowledge and behavior. That’s the hardest part, we need to bridge that gap with whatever works best for you.”

That for me is an important part of the story. It is possible to combine the two, but yes you do need to figure out your own way of making it work and I think the organization, team and leadership also play a role. So I think that you need both. You need the individual and organization in order to make the equation actually work in the end. 

How do you integrate well-being into your life? What is your daily schedule like? 

Annastiina Hintsa: I need my morning. Mornings are a sacred time for me, if I get my morning right, I’ll get the rest of the day right! If I start my morning by reading my emails or responding to my slack or whatnot, it is a downward spiral. 

I don’t look at my cell phone before I’ve taken a shower. That at least gives me time to make sure that there is one step that needs to happen before check emails

As any kind of parents of young children will know, it’s a forced early wake up. That’s the usual time we chill out with our kiddo. It’s a wonderful thing because you are so present in that moment. It’s something that I didn’t know before obviously, but there is no other way for you to be and you’re just watching this new human being learning new things and figuring things out for the first time and it’s just joy. It’s just incredible to watch. That’s my morning from 7am to 9am. I’m a mom and I do what my son would like.

“…this myth of high-achieving careers and well-being don’t go together, I think is a myth”.

I cannot really start with meetings, I need a little bit of time to plan my day. So that’s another kind of key learning for me – I start my meetings at 10:00am. I take the first hour to really kind of figure out what I really need to get done that day – what success looks like today. 

I’ll try and fit in at least 1 walking meeting per day. It’s an easy way to get in those steps that I completely plummeted during the pandemic, but it’s also an easy way to keep yourself energized because, at least for me, I get that afternoon slump a little bit. 

Ashish Kothari: Find your boundary and find your way to really be there. We are not born to work, when work is our calling, that is what we can do as well, but life is so much more than that even in that realm. Family always matters, find time for yourself, find time for your family. Set hard boundaries. 

Over the past 9 seasons, 96% of all F1 races have been won by Hintsa coached drivers. What is the the foundation of Hintsa’s approach?

Annastiina Hintsa: Better life leads to better performance – that’s what we believe our mission is, to help individuals live a better life and, as a byproduct, as a consequence of that more holistic, more balanced life, they will succeed in whatever it is that they do. Be it, leading a fortune 500 company, or be it being a formula 1 driver, or being a mum. It’s a system, it’s a framework that was originally developed by my fatherIt is a very intricate model. 

It consists of 6 different elements of wellbeing and, at the foundation, at the very center of it, you have what we call “the core” which is really your sense of identity. Do you know who you really are? As in, who are you? Not, what you do? What is it that really drives you, gives you meaning in life. What is the kind of purpose that you strive for? And then finally, are you in control of your life? Are you able to actually live, spend your time and energy in accordance with those values? That’s the core, that’s what defines the bedrock and the foundation of the philosophy.

“Better life leads to better performance”.

It’s also your source of inner motivation because, once you are able to link some of those habits and things that we think about when we do think about wellbeing, around that circle we have 6 elements – sleep and recovery, nutrition, physical activity, bio- mechanics, mental energy and general health, all interconnected or all interlinked, you impact one of them, you impact all of them, it’s a multiplication, it’s not an addition, it’s not a sum. 

All of those are driven by that core. You know you should be able to link all of those elements to that core, to your why, find your why. When you were struggling for motivation, trying to find that sort of vigor. Why do I really want to do this?

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For more insights on how to integrate the practice Well-Being into your daily life in just a few minutes a day, we encourage you to discover the Happiness Squad Foundation Masterclass. New members enjoy a free one month trial at community.happinesssquad.com.

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With the focus on enhancing joy, health, love and meaning in your life, my transformational approach is interdisciplinary and integrates learnings from spiritual wisdom traditions, philosophy, positive psychology, neuroscience and organizational development.

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