Self-Care is Critical to Your Success
As a leader, it is important that you take care of yourself first, to be there in a positive and effective way for not only your people but your loved ones, too.
Successful leaders make self-care a priority so they can perform at their best. What habits and routines have you established for yourself that have enabled your success?
You have risen to where you are now because you are driven and determined to have a positive impact, but what are you doing for you so that you can perform and show up as the best version of you?
As a productive, driven leader, you may not feel like there is enough time in your day to devote to self-care. You prioritize work and family, which may feel selfless and honorable, but you may not be carving out enough time to take better care of yourself. Leadership is an inside out job and it starts with you being in a great place as we have previously explored in our work and articles.
Believe me, I understand the feeling of wanting to devote most of your time to your leadership role as this is where you spend most of your time – at work. The truth is that such devotion is unsustainable. Leaders who fail to take time for self-care burn out quickly. They aren’t suited for long-term success, and they are characterized by a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. Leaders who operate in this way do not lead effectively, nor do they provide healthy examples for their people and the future leaders they should be focused on developing.
I think we can all agree that some amount of self-care is necessary for everyone, especially leaders who want to operate in a consistent manner and guide their organizations to greatness. However, every individual is different, so what might work for you may not work as well for your counterpart in a different department or another organization. With that said, there are some basic aspects of self-care that can be adapted to any leader or any leadership situation.
For starters, your self-care routine should involve a balanced approach that takes both your body and mind into account. We also recommend that it includes aspects of your social and spiritual lives and I have some advice that you can apply to your specific situation. But first, I want to talk about the one thing that stands between you and a healthy self-care routine: Time.
Use Time to Your Advantage
The idea of self-care for leaders comes inside a tricky paradox: Leaders have the least amount of time available to devote to self-care and yet they are the people who often require self-care the most.
I would be surprised if this paradox didn’t resonate with you. Most leaders I talk with are eager and excited to improve themselves and their skills, but they keep running into barriers imposed by a lack of time in their schedule.
The truth is that you may never get the extra time you think you need for self-care. So, it’s vitally important to make the most of the time you do have. Protect this time; do not let it get pushed to the end of your calendar, only to get pushed into next week (or next month or next year!). Time devoted to self-care is just as important to time devoted to critical meetings or team initiatives in the workplace, so please treat it as such.
Once you start practicing self-care on a more consistent basis, you can begin to integrate it into everything you do. In fact, I would argue that this is the whole point. It’s not so much about carving out time for self-care as it is about integrating self-care into everything you do.
Before you reach that point in your self-care journey, you can improve your ability to stay fresh, rested and feeling good by taking advantage of the following tips.
#1 – Develop a Consistent Sleep Routine
When was the last time you experienced a truly great night of sleep? It’s been a while, right? For many leaders, a restful night of sleep is very difficult to find. For some, it seems impossible. That’s because most leaders and people in general fail to prioritize sleep.
You can get better sleep, and you can experience it on a much more consistent basis, however that is dependent on you developing a consistent sleep routine.
This means no more staying up to burn the midnight oil, and it means no more forcing yourself to awaken before dawn so you can be the first one online or at the office.
Create a nightly bedtime routine and be sure to schedule some wind-down time in the hours approaching that bedtime. Make it a habit by going to bed at approximately the same time every night. Ensure your wind-down time doesn’t include searching social media or finishing up last-minute work tasks as that will fire you up vs. help calm you down before a restful night of sleep. Then, when you feel tempted to sabotage your sleep, you will instead stick to your healthy routine. This is one of the major keys to overall well-being that many leaders simply ignore and my advice to you is to ignore no more. Your success and health depends on it.
#2 – Get Physical
Like sleep, exercise is another pillar of self-care for leaders and what I often see is that time tends to get in the way with this one, too.
Again, I think it’s critically important to create routines around exercise that work best for you. Turning it into a habit makes it more likely that you will stick with it and more likely to supply the benefits you are looking for.
To give yourself the best chance of success, start small and take deliberate steps to achieve your ultimate fitness goals. It’s not about having the perfect body, being able to lift a certain amount of weight or run a mile at a certain pace. Rather, it’s about making your physical health a priority, no matter the physical activity of choice.
The additional benefit is that when you build exercise into your self-care routine, you also make it easier to get a good night’s sleep on a more consistent basis. Plus, it will provide you with a boost to your overall energy levels.
#3 – Fill Your Tank with Better Fuel
Sometimes people pay more attention to what they put into their cars than they do their bodies. Leaders are no exception!
I like to think of food as fuel for the machine known as the human body. When you give the machine unhealthy fuel, you suffer and your body sputters. But when you fill your tank with healthy whole foods and items that have been subject to a minimum of processing, you give the machine of your body an edge. It’s like trading in an old beater for a brand-new sports car.
Lastly, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and clarity of thought. You will have more energy and experience less fatigue and feelings of being tired and overwhelmed.
#4 – Be Grateful
Psychologically speaking, there are few things more powerful than gratitude when it comes to practicing self-care.
Our brains are naturally wired to look for the negative first which is why some leaders are often focused on what is wrong vs. what is right or going well. This creates a negative, self-perpetuating mental state that increases stress and strain while sapping energy and removing a leader’s ability to think rationally.
Practicing gratitude can stop this negative process in its tracks. When you take time to be grateful for things, you train your brain to see the world in a more positive, realistic and healthy manner. When your brain swims in a sea of negativity, it can cause you to lead ineffectively. But when you are grateful, you can operate from a place of inspiration and positive energy.
#5 – Establish Healthy Boundaries
Here is a little secret I wish more leaders were aware of: You do not have to say “yes” to everything just because you are the leader and are in a position of influence. You are in the position to negotiate timelines and deliverables, so discuss your responsibilities openly vs. just agreeing to things that might not set you or your team up for success.
One of the quickest ways to deteriorate your physical, emotional, and mental help is to bite off more than you can chew. It is okay to say “no” to things that do not align with strategic priorities. Your leadership will be more consistent, energized and inspiring when you practice discernment. It’s hard to not say “yes” to everything, but I urge you to try and find healthy boundaries for yourself and others.
#6 – Quality Downtime is a Must
I have spent time with countless leaders who felt like they needed permission to have fun or enjoy themselves. I have also spent time with leaders who have no idea what they enjoy or how they like to spend their free time.
Don’t be the leader who devotes themselves so fully to work that you lose yourself in it. You are a human being with a life outside the workplace, so choose to live your life to its fullest.
I encourage you to focus on what you really enjoy in life. How do you like to spend your time? Are you spending any time doing the things you love? Or are you sacrificing fun and enjoyment in order to devote more time to work?
Determine what gives you joy, pleasure, richness and fulfilment in life. Then spend some time doing those things. Yes, you are busy, but that doesn’t mean your free time should be spent worrying about how busy you are. It should be spent living life in the way that energizes you and gives meaning to your story.
How Do You Practice Self-Care?
Do you have any go-to self-care practices that work for you? Have you tried any of the tips I have listed here? I would love to know what you think, so please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 1.855.871.3374 to share your thoughts.