It’s Wednesday, and Karen, the VP of Sales and Marketing, hasn’t gotten nearly enough done this week. Her kids are out of school, but camp doesn’t start until next week. She has a presentation due that needs serious creative attention, and one of her key team members just gave notice. The majority of her colleagues would buckle under this pressure, but not Karen. She’s got a secret weapon and she is breezing through the day.
“How does she stay so centered?” her peer from operations wonders …
“If that were me, I’d be freaking out,” whispers another colleague from the IT team.
So what is her secret?
Karen practices intentional self-care. She knows that being selfish is the nicest thing she can do for her clients, her company, and her family. Why? When she is taking good care of herself, she writes more creative and thoughtful client proposals, she is calm in the face of adversity, and when someone is “going reactive” on her, she can stay centered and focus on a solution vs. matching the other person’s energy.
Self-care is the art of taking good care of one’s mind, body, and spirit. It is foundational to leadership and necessary if you want to keep your composure when your world heats up. Self-regulation is a limited resource. Self-care includes, but is not limited to; sleeping 7 – 8 hours a night, physical activity, taking time for reflection, good nutrition and hydration, and some play. If these are things you are dreaming of, and believe you don’t have time for, you may be working under some false pretenses.
I often hear clients say, “I only need 5-6 hours of sleep a night.” While this may be true for a very thin slice of the population, research shows that sleeping 4-5 hours a night for a week in a row induces an impairment equivalent to having a 0.1% blood alcohol level. The kicker is that when you are sleep deprived, you lose your ability to accurately judge your productivity, so you can’t even tell that your performance is sub-par.
Another common comment is, “I don’t have time to exercise.” There are a lot of creative ways to get physical activity. If you aren’t a daily gym rat or yogi, try walking 10 minutes each day after lunch. Or schedule a walking meeting if it’s a phone call. Interested in starting yoga but want some practice at home? Try www.doyogawithme.com for free 15 minute classes you can do at home before work. My new personal favorite exercise tool for busy execs is the Peloton bike. It allows you to spin at home on your own schedule along with a host of other live and on-demand group fitness classes. Physical activity helps blood get to all parts of your brain, and it’s energizing. The best part is that it helps to blow off stress on tough days.
NUTRITION / HYDRATION
Let’s face it; a handful of almonds and your fifth cup of coffee do not count as lunch. If you can’t make time to get out for a nutritious lunch, stock your office with string cheese, fresh whole fruit, and mixed nuts and fresh water for emergencies. Bowls are great lunches too. Throw some greens, brown rice, cherry tomatoes, cheese and what ever leftovers you have in a Tupperware container and voila, you’ll be winning at the lunch game. When we don’t eat or hydrate properly, our concentration and patience suffers. Do your co-workers a favor and feed yourself so you don’t end up “hangry” at your next meeting.
REFLECTION / PLAY
After you hit the basics, up your self-care with dedicated time to reflect. This might be meditation, a quiet walk in nature or time to think. Reflection helps us take stock of how we are spending our time and gain perspective on the events of the day.
Finally, adding some time for play will fire up the brain. Play is defined as anything we do simply for the joy of doing it rather than a means to an end. According to Stuart Brown’s study on play, “Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity.”
You’ll rarely hear someone say, “Oh, fantastic, Ed is starving and operating on 4 hours of sleep! He’s going to be a power house today.” When you take care of yourself, you show up as a more engaged, focused, and resilient version of yourself. If you feel guilty about taking the time for yourself, do it for your company, your colleagues and your family. They will thank you!