Many years ago, taking care of my health and well-being was down my priority list. I ate ok, generally slept well and got a modicum of exercise. Nothing was entirely out of balance, nor was it humming along perfectly.
I regularly cancelled a gym session because of meetings or snacked late at night because I hadn’t eaten well during the day. Sadly, it took until I started to work for myself to realise that this approach couldn’t work. Why? I finally realised that the work wouldn’t get done effectively if my health didn’t work. The two weren’t loosely correlated but strongly correlated.
Consequently, I flipped how I saw self-care. I no longer saw it as a luxury and, therefore, optional but as essential to my ability to do good work. It had become mandatory.
So often, I see leaders who are running their day on adrenalin. When they come to me for support, they are often so busy with a long list of priorities they find it challenging to allocate time to care for their mind, body and spirit. They forget that putting their self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership.
Ask yourself honestly:
- How much time do you devote each week to looking after yourself?
- Do you feel guilty when you take time out to prioritise your health and well-being?
- Do you regularly cancel exercise because of other priorities?
- Are you last on your ‘to-do’ list, either professionally or personally?
If your answers reveal that self-care is low on your to-do list, you will likely feel run-down, tired and overworked. You may say to yourself, ‘I’ll get on to this tomorrow’, but tomorrow never comes. Instead, one day you’ll wake up and find that exhaustion, adrenal fatigue or some other health issue has stopped you in your tracks.
Caring for others is impossible if you’re not caring for yourself, whether that’s in your role as a parent, friend, leader, colleague or something else.
Yet, we often feel guilty about taking time out for ourselves. Self-care isn’t selfish. You don’t recklessly discard the feelings and concerns of others, but you recognise that you matter. Your needs matter. In most situations, if you don’t care for yourself, you can’t be your best for those who need you most. And if you don’t prioritise you, who else will?
If you seek to balance the pressure better, here are six steps to putting self-care back on the top of the agenda.
Find your Goldilocks Zone
A certain amount of pressure is good for you because it helps motivate you to act and keeps you focused. When you experience the right amount of challenge and interest, chemicals are released in your brain (noradrenaline and dopamine), making you more alert, motivated and ready to learn.
Researchers and educators often refer to this as the Goldilocks zone. This is the zone of optimal performance where you are working on a task or learning something that is neither too hard nor too easy. Like the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s ‘just right’.
Taking care of yourself isn’t about removing all the challenges and pressure from your day, but about checking that you have the optimal balance between stretch and stability.
Pick your frame
You can’t control what happens to you every day. You can, however, choose your response by noticing your feelings, reactions and where you focus your attention. You can reflect or ruminate.
Whilst both practices require you to look backwards, the emphasis and focus differ.
When you ruminate, you run the scenario in your head repeatedly – trying to rewrite the event and its ending. Your thinking process doesn’t conclude. Research shows that rumination can lead to various adverse outcomes: depression, anxiety, and over-eating and drinking, for example.
When you reflect, you think about the situation, focus on uncovering what you have learned, how you were feeling and identifying what you would do differently next time. It requires a growth mindset so you generate insights into the cause of the situation and is outcome focused.
During the day, consider in what direction you are focusing your energy. When you spend too much time fixating on things you cannot change, you will be wasting energy that could be devoted better elsewhere.
Read more: Balancing Your Weekdays And Weekends