Self-care. We want it, we need it. And yet, we continue to push it aside. We don’t do it. We procrastinate on it until tomorrow…
Over the past few years of the pandemic, self-care has become a hot topic. We thought working from home would finally give us more time for ourselves and yet, here we are, needing self-care more than ever in order to sustain us through the stress and anxiety we’re currently facing. During my keynotes, I hear so many people tell me that their relationship with self-care is virtually non-existent. Only a few people I’ve spoken with feel as though they’ve mastered it – usually through a daily set routine of eating well, getting sleep, and working out. And this is why I wanted to write a book about the self-care mindset.
This work/life balancing act continues to be the way we think about self-care. Most of us act with the assumption that it’s about having time to do self-care. We tend to think of self-care as habitual, relying on our own motivation and energy to keep us going. We tell ourselves we “should”. We concoct detailed self-care routines – counting on willpower to get us through, and then wonder why it is so difficult to implement something that should be straightforward and simple?
We already know what we have to do in order to take better care of ourselves. The thing is, that’s not really how all this works. Self-care is a mindset that comes before, and goes beyond, a list of well-intended habits. Ultimately, we have self-care all wrong.
RETHINKING SELF-CARE, ONCE AND FOR ALL
The popularity boost that’s been happening around self-care is making the concept even more confusing to harness. When we reduce our self-care to tasks such as taking a bath or working out, we complicate it with the notion that taking care involves taking time out for ourselves, and away from our responsibilities.
Many of us use self-care to recover from a busy day by relaxing or doing something recreational. We escape by spending money on spa-focused websites that sell us products such as candles and creams – all boasting the “self-care” tagline.
And yet, all of this is exactly why self-care is not helping us get through the stress of everyday work and life, and it’s why it still isn’t helping us prevent burnout. Instead we are setting ourselves up to fail. The issue is not a lack of free time because the thing is, self-care doesn’t actually take time because when we implement a self-care mindset into our day, it gives us time back.
SELF-CARE DOESN’T TAKE TIME, IT GIVES US TIME BACK
If we consider the basic structure of self-care –we need water, food, and sleep– you might argue that all of these fall under the umbrella of “taking time”. Yet, when we omit or limit any of those three, we can’t function optimally. Logically, we know that fueling our brain and body, and not succumbing to exhaustion, will help us work, focus, and think better. I’m sure we’ve all sat through a meeting while hangry, and it’s never the best outcome.
And we also need to take pause. Micro-pauses throughout the day where we can optimize how we think, engage, and act with care and discernment.
Have you ever felt stuck while trying to solve a problem? You refuse to get up from your chair until you’ve figured it out, only to finally give up and realize the missing link while taking a shower. The pauses we take throughout the day to refuel our system are not time wasted, but rather time gained back with higher effectiveness and better personal performance. Taking a pause helps us shift from being critical to being curious, which helps us listen better and therefore cultivate better conversations.
The evolved relationship with self-care – yes, I said evolved relationship – is an awareness that running on survival mode is a reactive state we are conditioned to fall into. Between social norms, a company culture that traditionally has treated people as replaceable resources, and our good ol’ human DNA, so many of us are living in a mindset that’s setting us up to fail. Self-care at work is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have, it’s essential, not a luxury. We are starting to recognize that, now let’s harness it.
HUMAN BEINGS, NOT DOINGS.
In order to get past this myth that self-care takes time, we must realize that we humans do our best work when we are properly nourished, physically, emotionally and mentally. This is counteractive to how we normally think, which is why I am boldly calling it “evolved”, and yet, it is the future of how we rethink self-care in order to survive work. Working in survival mode is not only outdated, it causes us to lose agency over our work and our lives, resulting in the loss of not only our health, but also our humanity.
Our relationship with our work is changing, and with that comes a change in how we support ourselves and our people in being at their best and harness our human super-power to care; to engage from a place of empathetic communication, so that we can connect and collaborate for a common purpose. To harness change, innovate and solve complex problems we must do so together and we work better together when we self-care together. That’s the change in culture we must cultivate. Changing the way we work is how we can draw on all the advantages we have as human beings, our ability to pause, think, engage, care, act with discernment, be constructive and creative, solve problems that create change and impact, not just fixing what’s not working right now. Robots can do the doing, we need to be the beings.
OUR HUMAN RESOURCES ARE LIMITED WITHOUT A REGENERATIVE MINDSET
The first step to rethinking self-care is to realize that the old mindset is no longer working. If we continue to use up our energy without refueling, we become a limited resource. We will break down. So many people spend their weekends feeling broken and tired. Imagine using our evenings to relax or spend time with family, instead of numbing out the stress in our mind with extra food, sugar, or alcohol. Instead of feeling exhausted and useless on weekends, imagine being able to use this time to connect with what makes us feel happy and inspired.
What could change if we begin to think of humans as regenerative beings?
If we set out with a mindset that we are valuable, important, and that our contributions make a difference, would we be more willing to do what it takes to be at our best?
For instance, you will find lunch on my schedule, just like any other meeting I have daily. It’s a meeting with myself, my mind, and my body so that I can be at my best for whatever comes next. I let my colleagues know that I will need to have lunch before we meet, because otherwise I will not be able to pay proper attention. Though I’m no stranger to the occasional lunch meeting, I prefer to keep it as my time to regenerate energy before my best self is needed again all afternoon. When I work on empty, I don’t do my best, and I burn out because I’m simply unable to withstand the emotional and mental stressors that come with my career.
We humans are not a problem to solve, but rather an opportunity to harness, and our human resources – both personally and professionally – are pretty awesome. We are all on a team with our very own bodies.
GETTING OUT OF SURVIVAL MODE WORKS BETTER
A client once told me that after I convinced her to start taking a lunch break, not only did she start feeling stronger, focused and more confident, the rest of her team followed suit and team work immediately improved. It was just lunch – no fancy team collaboration workshop – just human beings working better, because their minds and bodies had what was needed to think, engage, and act with care and discernment.
When we are working in survival mode, we become reactive. We cannot access the best of our human skills which are to think, communicate, and to be collaborative. We cannot access our creativity, while being stressed and running on fear, at the same time. We cannot be good leaders when we’re feeling hangry, or tired, or any number of the small discomforts that we dismiss each day because we think we can just keep pushing through. Instead, simply taking that small pause to refuel will get us where we are going, faster.
Making self-care work for us means to demystify what it truly is, and recognize that it starts with supporting our most basic human needs; water, food, pause and rest. Self-care is nothing fancy. It doesn’t cost money, and it doesn’t take time away from us – it gives us time back. We are not supposed to use self-care to recover, self-care is how we work better so we don’t have to recover. That’s the regenerative mindset in action and how we change culture to a healthy one.
I’ll leave you with this: Self-care is not the end goal, it is essential in reaching our goals and that’s what makes us work better, together.
First published on jeanettebronee.com