Michael F., age 48, arrived at Canyon Ranch in Lenox for the first time in an impressive state of exhaustion. He’d been plucked suddenly from his routine, which included global travel at least half the time, more business meetings than seemed possible, the responsibility of running a major corporation, and a long-term 24/7 relationship with his BlackBerry. The serenity of the Ranch environment, a lack of urgency, and the notion that life could exist at a slower pace were a shock at first. Soon, though, he realized something was happening that made him feel pretty great. He decided there was a lot he’d like to learn during his stay.
Jeff Rossman, PhD, says that Michael’s initial reaction is not uncommon among highly successful Type A men who visit the Ranch. Often they take home much more than they expected from a “simple” vacation.
“Someone who is successful, smart and educated is usually open to learning new things,” says Jeff, the Director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. “Even men who have been ‘dragged’ here by somebody find that the environment affects them. They're goal-oriented people, so they want to make the best use of their time here. They're ready to learn something that can make their lives better.”
Jeff explains that the prototypical Type A personality is “driven, competitive and doesn’t stop to smell the roses.” Most of these attributes are not harmful to their health, but some can be damaging.
The A list
The term “Type A” was coined in 1959 by two cardiologists, Ray H. Rosenman and Meyer Friedman, who discovered that their heart patients wore out the waiting room chairs in a different way from other people; the fronts of the seats showed wear instead of the flat part or the back. The doctors studied this and pinpointed a personality type that, literally, lives on the edge of the seat. Research has since pointed to the specific aspects of a Type A profile that correlate with heart disease.
“Being goal-oriented and wanting to excel are attributes that are not harmful to your health and can help you reach your goals,” Jeff says.
“You might channel that into sports or music, for instance. A Type A person might also have chronic anger and aggression, however, which can cause tightened blood vessels, sticky platelets and elevated heart rate – a perfect storm for coronary disease.
“This personality type may also experience negative stress such as frustration, fear and feeling out of control. Those emotions can contribute to a weakened immune system, pain and other health consequences.”
Jeff meets with many men eager to learn how to relax and optimize their natural tendencies.
“Education is the big factor for these guys,” he says. “Many of them come to my talks and are surprised by what they learn about managing stress and relaxation techniques. They want to use their energy in positive ways and are looking for strategies that are proven to work.”
Many Ranch guests choose private sessions using biofeedback, a technology that directly shows how physical and emotional factors are connected. Jeff says evidence-driven men resonate to the visual biofeedback display that shows exactly what’s happening in their bodies at each moment. “Guests tell me that they’ve heard about the benefits of meditation but didn’t appreciate it until they saw the effect on their heart rate and muscle tension. Then they want to practice it and take it home. They don’t see making lifestyle changes as restrictions – they see them as ways to gain greater flexibility and freedom.”
Motivation & action
Type A personalities are usually motivated to modify their behavior because of either health concerns or a desire to improve relationships with a spouse, children, friends or colleagues. A heart attack will obviously get anyone’s attention. The workaholic may eventually find that his family is suffering because of his crushing schedule and inability to relax. Jeff offers practical strategies that can help even the most high-velocity guy to slow down a step.
Mindful awareness. Nonjudgmentally paying attention to this moment (instead of dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future) can build acceptance and appreciation. “This helps people to worry less and be less self-critical,” Jeff says. “It’s a great way to reduce stress and feel happier.”
Breathing. “People like this technique because it’s easy, practical and very effective,” Jeff says. He recommends slow, rhythmic breathing as a quick way to calm down. “Paying close attention to your breath can get you unstuck when your emotions are getting hijacked. It takes the steam out of a stressful reaction and calms you physically.”
Change of perspective. Jeff often helps people to simply look at things in a different way. “If you’re upset about something, a fresh point of view can help you find a more constructive way to handle the situation. It’s about thinking more flexibly.”
If somebody sets a goal for making change, Jeff suggests writing down strategies on 3-by-5 cards to carry around for frequent reminders. On one side the person might say Keep my heart healthy, then he writes his own strategy on the back of the card. “I ask questions to encourage clarity,” Jeff says, “but the individual comes up with his own strategy.”
A new man
Jeff is happy to report that Michael F. – who arrived at the Ranch worn out, overweight, hyper and drinking too much – made a remarkable turnaround. While at the Ranch, he turned off his BlackBerry and used his high-achieving drive to push himself on challenging hikes that brought him back to nature. He realized his pedal-to-the-metal lifestyle wasn’t working for him and went home with a plan to travel less, sleep better, lose weight, meditate and live healthier.
“Michael returned to the Ranch a few months later, “Jeff says, “and I hardly recognized him. He seemed like a different person from when he arrived the first time. Still successful but making changes and definitely more in balance.”