We are all unique individuals so we are each unique in terms of what drains us, as well as what restores us.
We’re living in a world of constant movement, with countless demands and driving forces that keep us going day in and day out. The different experiences that we have impact each of us differently – what is depleting for you, may be restorative for someone else and vice versa.
For example, imagine someone is tired after a long days’ work. They’re agitated and feeling worn down… when suddenly, *ping* their phone goes off. It’s a friend inviting them out on the town. Think of this like a choose-your-own-adventure book because the response to this invitation could be very different for different people.
One person may find the experience of going out with friends to be restorative: it fills them back up and they’re energized when they wake up for work the next morning. Their response to this invitation is a resounding “yes!”
Another person may find socializing after a long day to be depleting: time alone at home is what restores them and has them feeling energized the next day. Their response is “thank you for thinking of me, I’m going to pass.”
For yet another person, it may depend on the specific people, and the specific activity, to determine whether this “night out on the town” is restorative or depleting. Their response might be “Tell me more…”
What is true for all of us is this: we all require rest, restoration, and replenishment.
What is self-care?
The term self-care has been overused and can sometimes be associated with special indulgences like long bubble baths, massages, spa days, or other once-in-a-while activities. While these activities can be great, sustainable, ongoing self-care is about checking in with yourself in a really basic way, every day. These might be simple questions like: how am I feeling today? Is today the day for more rest? Or to get more done? Do I need extra hydration? An early bedtime? Connection with a friend?
Self-care is the act of observing what it is that you need and taking action to fulfill those needs. It’s multidimensional and multifaceted – it’s personal to each of us and the key to being successful with your own self-care is understanding yourself and what you need at a very simple level. Small, daily actions and attention to your self-care can make a big difference.
Why is self-care important?
When you decide to invest in our own self-care you’re making the choice to, as I like to say, “protect the asset” (the asset being you, of course). Understanding and taking care of your needs helps you to show up energized and ready for your family, your relationships, your work, and your community. It’s about making the choice to truly take care of those things that you can control because, as we all know, you will experience stressors in life that are completely out of your control.
So, what can you control? Your baseline stress levels; how you manage and respond to stressors; and how you proactively take care of yourself. This is all a part of true self-care.
When we take care of ourselves, we’re assisting our bodies and minds to be healthy as we ebb and flow with the joys and demands of life.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard about self-care, you know you should do these things, and yet…you don’t actually practice self-care on a consistent basis. You take breaks, eat healthily, go to bed early “when you have the time.” When you are particularly stressed (and your body needs self-care more than ever) might be precisely the time when you brush aside these practices as fluffy or a waste of time. This is what leads to perpetual cycles of fatigue and depletion.
When we recognize the importance of taking a proactive approach to keep ourselves at optimum levels of health and well-being, we can maintain consistent energy and focus across all areas of our lives.
I love this article from Harvard Business Review by Liana Davey. In it, she says “…most leaders I interact with have a sense of the fortitude, energy, and stamina they require to be successful, [yet] few of them make investments to bolster those things. Is that true for you too? You know that sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, physical exercise, human connection, and time to relax are important, but do you carve out time for them? Or… do you tell yourself, “It’s so busy, I can’t afford to…(spend seven hours sleeping, or stop to get lunch, or keep up with hobbies.” That framing, which casts investments in your resilience as contrary to the best interests for your organization, is doing both you and your organization a great disservice….” (bold and italics are my addition). And I would extend this beyond work, and say that you are doing yourself a disservice across all areas of your life by not prioritizing your own well-being.
Designing your own self-care plan
When considering your own self-care routine, consider these 5 categories and both your personal and professional lenses. Across these five categories, what restores and energizes you?
Note to leaders: This is a great activity to do with your team. Each of your team members will be unique in terms of what depletes and restores them. Share practices, tools, strategies and techniques with one another at your team meetings. If you’d like support having these conversations with your team, or would like to do a deeper dive on individual and team resiliency with your team, reach out to me here.
- Physical – this about your physical needs. Think about pacing, hydration, sleeping habits, movement and exercise, nutrition, and meal times. Ask yourself:
- Are you living at a pace that is conducive to your natural rhythms?
- Are you getting enough sleep, water, and nutritious food?
- Emotional – who can you turn to for emotional support when you need it? This might be specific friends, a support group, or a trusted counsellor, coach, or psychotherapist. Ask yourself:
- Social – consider your social circles and activities and the amount and type of connection and socialization that works best for you. Ask yourself:
- How much socialization is optimal for you?
- Are you creating space in your calendar for connection with friends, family, and community?
- Mental – think about strategies that can help you prioritize what’s essential and manage stress, anxiety, overwhelm, or disruptive thought patterns in your life.
- Do you have practices that help you to manage your thought patterns (like meditation or journaling)?
- Are you making time to explore creative interests and hobbies?
- Spiritual – these are activities or habits that enable you to connect with yourself. It could include meditation, reflection, creative practices, or spending time in nature.
- Are you practicing rhythms and rituals that work for you?
- What small actions or activities bring purpose and fulfillment into your life?
Remember: Any time we begin a new routine, practice or habit, we run the risk of over-doing it in the beginning. If you’re anything like me, you may get really excited and over-zealous about embracing a new practice. This enthusiasm is great at the start, and may give you the initial impetus to commit to the practice, but enthusiasm can wane. It’s important to set realistic and manageable expectations when starting out. You don’t need to put an elaborate plan together or dedicate a significant amount of time to your self-care plan. Keep it simple. Start with simple commitments in each of these categories above and build out as you need to by adding different things as you learn what best supports you.
I’m a big believer in approaching your life by your own conscious design. In my upcoming book, The Big Scale Back: Success and Balance By Your Own Design, I’ll be sharing my framework (and personal journey) in creating a life by your own design. Learn more about the book, and sign up to get notified when it’s available (you’ll get access to special bonus resources as well!).