I had circled the date on my calendar for over a year. It was a huge landmark for my career. The next twelve months were going to build up to that day, and it was going take every ounce of my influence and effort and hustle to make it a reality. If I could make it happen, it was something I could hang my hat on. Truly, failure was not an option. I simply needed to surrender my life to achieve the goal.

So I did. I leveraged everything I could towards my goal. And I won. It happened. I finished the project, and did it even better than expected.

Then.

Nothing.

Have you been in that moment? Have you felt that when a project or event or goal became a fait accompli it seemed all that was left was an adrenaline hangover that threw you dangerously close to depression? Did you feel the guilt of success?

Why does this happen?

It happens when we choose to win at leadership but lose at life.

These aren’t mutually exclusive things, to be certain. It is possible to be a successful leader and have a healthy life, hence this website and this post. However, there are times when a choice has to be made, and the sacrifice is steep: to win at leadership you’ll have to choose a losing game plan for life.

Let’s have real talk for a minute. Are you ever going to regret winning with your spouse, kids, or health? No. Is there a chance that winning at your position could leave you unsatisfied? Most definitely.

If you’re feeling like you’re losing at life, there’s at least a chance it’s because you’re opting to win at something else.

I want to give you some incredibly simple, incredibly powerful tips that can help you win at life–even when ministry gets busy. These aren’t spiritual tips. I already wrote the post on how to make time for God in the grind–which is obviously of supreme importance. These are boots-on-the-ground, practical things you can do today that will generate more wins for you in life.

Hug your family longer.

I’m serious about this. I’m not saying just to give them hugs. I’m saying hug them longer. Scientific studies have revealed that hugs of 20 seconds or longer lead to the release of oxytocin, a hormone which lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. It also increases bonds and reduces the likelihood of lying for selfish gain in men. Testosterone inhibits oxytocin, which is why men often can be more emotionally disconnected. All the more reason men should hug more and longer.

Hugs aren’t just for those with the physical touch love language. Hugs are a universal language that is physiologically engrained in every human being. We are built for connection, and the physical closeness we feel during an embrace triggers a deeper knowing of our bond. Deeper bonds with your spouse and your kids is necessary for winning at life, and it can start with long hugs.

Make fun a priority.

The adage states, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I don’t think “dull boy” is the right term. Jerk is more like it.

What we spend the most time doing is what we think about. What we think the most about is what fuels our hearts. What fuels our hearts jumps back into our actions, and so continues the cycle. My own experience is a testament to the reality that when we don’t intentionally prioritize fun, we will skip itĀ for work.

When we choose fun, we choose to let go of work and allow others to step up. If you’re like me and you’re self-employed, choosing fun over work means something might not get done at all or it might be done late. Who cares?

Your family needs you to not be a stressed out, jerky, work junkie. This doesn’t just apply to ministry work but any work. Whatever task that defines your identity must be demoted so that fun–in the appropriate intervals–can rule the day and give you a winning perspective on life and family.

Dethrone busyness.

You aren’t a more important person if you’re busy all the time. I know no one says that out loud, but we think it. I worked with an intern once who said that she felt best about her life when her day was filled with productivity. This isn’t bad, but the line between genuine productivity and mere busyness is often a blurredĀ one.

When I first went into full time ministry, I remember being most impressed by the people who were the hardest to schedule for a meeting. For some reason I assumed that because their calendars were jammed that they were successful. Ten years later, I realize that most people who are scheduled from dawn to dusk are unhealthy and unpleasant; they lack boundaries and find their identity in their busyness. If you just got defensive reading that sentence, it might be time for a gut check. You’re hearing this from a recovering busyness addict.

A mentor of mine sagely said, “If I’m too busy to give someone who is hurting twenty minutes of my day, or if I couldn’t attend to the needs of my family at the drop of a hat, I’m too busy and I’m unhealthy.” Hearing those words was a turning point in my own ministry. It was so simple that it’s stupid. Busyness is not success. It is a barometer for dysfunction.

Eat good food.

I know the proper thing to say here is to eat healthy food. That’s important, too. Unless that healthy food tastes like cardboard. Then it’s terrible advice. You need to eat good food, and you need to eat it well.

I spent a summer in France when I was in college, studying the language and exploring the culture. One of my biggest takeaways from that experience was mealtime. Dinner was an event, daily. Soup before dinner. An entree. Then salad. Then cheese. Then dessert. Every single day. Not every entree was extravagant. Most weren’t. Yet the multiple courses forced us to slow down, eat more intentionally. Taste our food. The meal wasn’t a means to an end. It was the end itself, and the goal is conversation as much as it is eating. I have distinct memories of entering meals tired and frustrated by a difficult day but leaving the table refreshed and in a new frame of mind.

Eat good food, well. I’m nearly convinced that how we eat our food is just as important as what we eat. My wife and I have two small kids. We are happy to eat food while it’s warm. Yet we make a point to eat together st the table for dinner every evening. Our son can’t just get down and play while we are still eating. No one is excused until we are all finished. Meals matter because people matter. Those who win at life, I would wager, spend more time at the dinner table than those who are losing. I can’t back this up with any proof, except the proof of my own life. The more time I spend with my family around the table, the more connected I feel to them and what matters most.

The moment you turn these tips into a to do list they lose their effectiveness (notice I didn’t number them). It’s like touching the Elf on the Shelf. They’re guideposts back to health, not a checklist for winning.

I would be a hypocrite if I said I do all of these things well. In fact, these are all things I actively work on right now. Jon Acuff once said in an interview I watched that one of the biggest myths about being self-employed is that you work for yourself. The reality, he says, is that you just added a thousand different bosses. There is a very real temptation for me to choose building my new career over choosing to play with my family. While I can’t expect to do well if I don’t work hard, I believe that my success with my ministry to churches and leaders will be amplified when I’m healthy and thriving at home. The same is true for you, whether you’re a senior pastor, a volunteer youth leader, or a stay at home mom. Your success at your job is amplified or diminished by how much you’re winning at home.

The reality is that winning at life boils down to choosing the right things consistently over time. Choose the Lord over family. Choose family over work. Choose work over laziness. Put things in their proper place. These tips, however, can help you get back on the road towards winning at life by winning at home.