It can be easy to let self-care fall to the bottom of the list of priorities, but actually, it needs to remain near the top. Self-care, to some, may feel indulgent—as though you are neglecting other priorities for selfish reasons. However, in caring for your body, mind, heart, and spirit, you actually enable yourself to do more for others.
Habits of self-care are one of the most practical, important elements of leading at your best.
Think about this in finite terms. Say that you can measure your energy in terms of buckets. If you start your day on four hours of sleep, no exercise, a hurried breakfast, and no time for mental preparation, you might have three buckets of energy to get you through the day. That’s going to be problematic if you’re heading into a day that will require eight buckets from you, even if you do manage that limited allotment of energy effectively.
But what if you could start your day with eight buckets at the ready? Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest the time required to increase your store of energy from the get-go? That’s the payoff of self-care. You have more to give to others.
Four Areas of Wellbeing
In The Power of Full Engagement, authors Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr identify four key areas which are crucial for optimal performance:
Physical Wellbeing: Exercise: run, walk, bike, take a class like yoga or Pilates, take the stairs, play pick-up basketball, golf, park your car far from your workplace entrance and walk the extra steps. Consider finding some opportunity to naturally move and activate your body every sixty to ninety minutes. Physical wellbeing also means getting sufficient sleep. Much has been written in the last several years about not only the critical importance of getting sufficient sleep but also the detrimental impact when you don’t get enough.
Mental Wellbeing: Reflection or quiet time: meditate, practice deep breathing, read, journal, and some other mindfulness exercise where you take some time for your mind to be in a place of peace, calm, and stillness.
Emotional Wellbeing: Strengthen relationships: spend quality time with your family members, take time to talk to your employees about their personal lives, call your best friend, get coffee with a mentor, reach out to an old friend to catch up.
Spiritual Wellbeing: This is about “feeding one’s spirit”: it does not necessarily require you to be a religious person but recognizes the importance of connecting with something bigger than yourself. Reflect on the meaning and purpose of your life, attend church or meditative services, engage in prayer, connect with nature, volunteer at a food bank or a blood drive, catch inspiration from some uplifting story or quote.
When you make meaningful investments in these key areas, you’re creating a positive, upward spiral that fuels positive energy, enabling you to do all the things that great leaders must do.
An Example of Self-Care
About three to four times a week, when I wake up in the morning, I get on my Peloton exercise bike and do a class. After my workout, I sit on my porch and listen to a daily meditation for about ten minutes. I check in with my gratitude app and spend some time thinking about what I’m thankful for. Then I conclude my morning ritual with a simple prayer: that I may be a blessing to all, and be blessed by all those I encounter.
Throughout the day, I try to find a few “pockets” of time to practice mindfulness. One of my favorite ways to do this is to go sit under a big Magnolia tree that’s right outside my window. Even just two minutes of quiet under the tree can be grounding for me. Something like that doesn’t require much except intention.
I love to play piano, and it can be restorative. I pull up my “Favorites” playlist and play just one song. Sometimes I do “box breathing,” which is a Navy SEALs technique: you inhale on a count of four, hold it for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold that for a count of four. I do that breathing exercise for at least two minutes, and during that time, I’m not trying to do anything other than be still and pay attention to my breathing. I stop the incessant “monkey mind” and give myself some upward spiral momentum. I could make myself even healthier by having an evening ritual where I reflect on the good that happened in the day.
An Upward Spiral is Inevitable
Consider how you could incorporate habits of self-care into your day. As you think about how to fuel your own upward spiral, consider what works for you. What activities in your life elicit positive emotion? What are some ways you can get creative about finding opportunities for movement or mindfulness? What two-minute activities could you do throughout the day that would help feed your positive energy? There is no right or wrong choice.
Whatever activities bring you happiness are the ones you should incorporate into your day.
To work at your best—to work in a place of curiosity, openness, discernment, and positive energy—you must have the discipline to take care of yourself. If you’re exhausted and burned out, your perspective is limited; your energy is tapped. But effective energy management can help you maintain a strong sense of purpose and engagement.
When you learn to manage your energy effectively and plug into the upward spiral through habits of self-care, you will inspire your team to implement some of these practices, leading to their flourishing as well. When challenges come, you will have the energy to take them. You’ll be able to engage with focus, thoughtfulness, and determination. And as you navigate trials with agility, you will come to possess one of the defining hallmarks of the greatest leaders: resilience.
For more advice on effective ways you can self-care, you can find Changing Altitude on Amazon or at www.ChangingAltitude.co.
Dr. Dennis O’Neil has decades of applied leadership and teaching experience as an executive coach with leadershipForward, a professor of strategic leadership, and a trusted advisor to CEOs, public and non-profit boards, senior government and military officials, and multinational organizations. Dennis combines his experiences with leading research to focus on the client’s most compelling needs.
Greg Hiebert is the co-founder of leadershipForward and the bestselling author of You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have. He’s served as a leader and mentor for an eclectic mix of organizations like the United States Military Academy, the United States Army, McKinsey & Company, and the Yale School of Management. His coaching approach incorporates deep levels of authentic and courageous dialogue to create conditions for personal and organizational transformation.