It’s amazing how often our misconceptions take us down the wrong path.
- We think that the way to get ahead is to work harder than anyone else.
- The path to professional success is personal sacrifice.
- Sleeping less will give us more time for productive work.
- Daydreaming is a waste of time.
- We can just “push through it,” whatever it is.
- Work is work, and our personal lives are our personal lives.
The truth is, we know that getting ahead isn’t about working harder than anyone else. Personal sacrifice can be taken to extremes, damaging or destroying our relationships and our support networks. Sleeping less not only leaves us tired; it can leave us with the same functional ability as if we were intoxicated. Allowing ourselves to daydream can open the door to creative, innovative solutions to problems that hours of holding our heads in our hands while staring at a blank page (or screen) failed to yield. Pushing through may work sometimes; it is far from a strategy for success. And, as much as some of us would like it to be the case, we are not separate people at work and at home. What happens at work doesn’t stay at work any more than what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, and vice versa.
All of this is to say that, whether you are engaged in a change in your personal life or at work, self-care is critical to your success. Quite simply, when properly practiced, self-care allows our bodies and our minds to perform at their peak. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, won’t get tired, won’t ever be angered, or disappointed, or feeling down. It does mean that we will experience these things less often, and recover from them more quickly.
There is no “one size fits all” guide book for self-care, though many authors have become rich promoting their own versions of it. What I can offer you is guidance on things to consider as possible elements of your self-care regimen. (Note that many of these topics have been addressed in the context of other posts to my blog.)
Find–and Maintain–Your Balance: as I once read from a fortune cookie, “balance is more than not falling down.” There are many aspects of balance to work on: personal and professional; alone time and time with others; working and relaxing; sleep and awake; physical vs. mental activity; etc. Maintaining balance is a dynamic process. Not every workday is eight hours; not every weekend is entirely under your control. For this reason, it is important to be mindful of when you are in, and out of, balance. Its all too easy to slide more and more out of balance until all aspects of your balance are askew.
Know Your Stressors, and How to Counteract Them: Some of the things that cause me tremendous stress might be invisible to you, and vice versa. Being aware of what causes you stress, and acting to reduce it, are critical components of self-care.
Eat, Sleep, and Exercise: While these elements of daily living also fall into the “find your balance” description above, it is worth calling them out on their own. Healthy eating, proper sleep patterns, and judicious exercise all contribute to developing and maintaining your well-being.
Develop a Routine: Routines are important contributors to self-care in numerous ways. They free up mental energy; they allow you to ensure that critical elements of care (e.g. eating, sleeping, and exercise) are taken care of; overall, they allow your day-to-day to be less demanding and stressing. Contrary to what some people think, a routine doesn’t have to make life boring; I have one client who sets aside time regularly by holding it on her calendar as “WFIFL” (Whatever Fun I Feel Like). One time it may be a movie, another a nap with a book or a walk in the park; once it was a trapeze lesson!
“Take a Break:” Big changes are tough. No matter how much self-care you put into it, they still wear us down. Just like athletes allow themselves time for recovery, we need to take a break from time to time to re-energize ourselves. This can be a good time to reflect on where we have been and the journey we’ve traveled; to laugh at some of what has happened along the way; to celebrate our achievements; and to prepare for the next part of the journey.
Don’t Walk Alone: Too many of us–especially men–pass judgment on ourselves, fostering the unrealistic belief that we should be able to handle anything and everything ourselves. We see asking for help, or sharing our challenges with others, as a sign of weakness or incompetence. I, for one, see it as a sign of strength, of maturity, and of honesty. Even the gods of ancient Greece had flaws and weaknesses. None of us is super-human. If your change journey is big, find someone to walk it with you. Look for someone who is objectively invested in your success; who will speak clearly, directly, and truthfully to you; and whom you respect.
Have a Sanctuary: Each of us needs a sanctuary for our self-care. For some people, this is a place of religious worship: a temple, a mosque, and church. Others find it in nature. Mine is on my yoga mat and prayer bench; my son’s is at the gym. Finding and staying connected to the spiritual side of yourself is an important element of self-care.
Laugh: Really laugh. Belly laugh. Startle the people down the hall laugh. If you don’t believe that “laughter is the best medicine,” read Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins. Laughter is healing. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Don’t hold in the laughter. Laugh.
How do you take care of yourself when journeying through major change? Comment below.