About two years after starting my business, I worked with productivity coach Jason Womack. One of the prompts from his book, "Your Best Just Got Better" was to write a list of 12 things you do that relax and rejuvenate yourself.
So I scrawled, "Things that relax and rejuvenate me" across a blank page in my journal and began to write.
Overwhelmed and stressed at the time, I struggled to even come up with three things.
I failed the test.
Fast forward about 6 years and I have been told by friends and family on a number of occasions that they admire my continued commitment to self-care.
Acknowledging that I was failing at caring for myself and as a result hurting my abilities to succeed as an entrepreneur was an important wake-up call. I couldn't keep going on like this (that and my body has a way of creating hard-stops, i.e. constantly getting sick if I persistently push myself too hard).
Eventually, I was able to come up with a list of 12 things to relax and rejuvenate me - I did that by thinking in retrospect about things I'd done in the past which had such a positive effect. That list served as a daily reminder to make self-care a priority.
As the pandemic hit, I was determined to continue to prioritize self-care. What's more, I quickly realized that I needed additional time and space to decompress from the stress of the pandemic.
How does one manage to do this when there's literally less time and space for it? By identifying and surmounting barriers.
The biggest barrier I hear to practicing self-care is not having the time. We all know that time is just an excuse. Everyone only has 24 hours in their day. And even just 15 minutes of self-care results in significant and noticeable productivity gains. The lack of time is a problem with prioritizing self-care.
So what's the real barrier?
The real barrier is a pervasive attitude problem. And there are a lot of different hurtful attitudes about self-care. There's the common misconstruction that self-care is a selfish act.
Everyone knows the saying, "Put your own oxygen mask on first," yet we don't live by that in the least bit. In fact, I think it would be an interesting study to simulate a plane crash and see how many people traveling with someone that's dependent actually put their own oxygen masks on first. Of course, the purpose of the study would need to be disguised, like all good social experiments. Alas, I digress.
Dig a little deeper and there are many other barriers of belief. I have heard from clients a discounted sense of self-worth that leads to putting off self-care. In this instance self-care is the booby prize for success. There's no need to prove yourself worthy of self-care. You just are, inherently, worthy.
A close cousin is the belief that there are too many other priorities that trump self-care, this one is best described as "but first" syndrome. But first I have to finish this report. But first I need to make a sale. But first...is anything and everything besides self-care, such as cleaning 10-year-old grime out of your oven.
Another relative is the effervescent "I'm too busy" badge. This is really about sustaining one's comfort level. Being busy is comfortable. Self-care, slowing down, stillness, are all uncomfortable, awkward feelings (at least at first). When we're too busy we don't have to face things. Instead, we bulldoze our way through, like the snowplow trying to push three inches of frozen ice off the roads, it doesn't work.
Furthermore, many of us (myself included) are adrenaline and dopamine junkies. Adrenaline gives us the rush of energy while dopamine makes us feel oh-so-good momentarily. The tyranny and immediate gratification of addressing the urgent is addictive. It feels much more satisfying at the moment to "get something done" than to go for a walk outside. Even though, what goes up, must come down. Putting off self-care for the never-ending stream of urgent demands only results in a crash landing.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to prioritizing self-care are cultural norms and what gets modeled for us. In the job I held before starting my own business, you won bonus points for being busy, busy, busy and self-care was only prioritized after burnout was achieved. It's no wonder I tried to sustain a sprint after starting my business, it was what I had known.
This is why it's so important for leaders to consider what they're modeling. Actions speak louder than words. Proclaiming that you want team members to make self-care a priority but refusing to do it yourself is insufficient.
For the last five months, I've interviewed leaders about how COVID has impacted their businesses. The ones that are thriving all have one thing in common. As one leader put it, "helping lower the expectation of everything needs to get done right now. And helping them understand that self-care is also part of what needs to get done."
These teams are highly productive and they support each other's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. They do so in ways that fit their culture.
Another leader shared, "we coined a new term and process last year, which was DEA'GOD, which means Drop Everything and Go Outside, Dammit."
Whenever someone says DEA'GOD, the other person has permission to step away from their computer and take care of themselves. No questions asked, no need to explain oneself or push any further or get something to a good stopping point. Just step away and go for a walk.
"We all supported each other when someone needed to...take a break."And as a result, this team has thrived despite the stress and challenges of the pandemic, because they made self-care a priority.
There is not one right way to model prioritizing self-care. However, there is one thread that ties these efforts altogether and that's having boundaries. It's much easier to make self-care a priority when boundaries are established and respected. This includes setting boundaries about when and how we work. It's also a matter of setting boundaries about how far we push ourselves.
When leaders model setting and holding boundaries that make self-care a priority, their team follows. And when a team is continually restoring and rejuvenating their wellbeing they are collectively able to accomplish more. That's why self-care is the secret to thriving during COVID.
Are you ready to make self-care a priority? Join us for the next Journal Jam and give yourself the gift of rejuvenating and restoring your spirit!