Ask An Expert: Self-Care for Leaders
Debrena Jackson Gandy, Masterminds
Question: Given that I’ve been working especially hard over the past few years, with no raises in sight, what can I do to replenish myself? How can I justify rewarding myself, and what are some easy self-care practices?
Over more than 20 years of having a passion for self-care—leading seminars, keynotes, and other events on self-care and experiencing the profound difference self-care has made for me and thousands of others—it has become increasingly apparent to me that self-care holds the key to leading a joyful and fulfilling life.
Self-care is not only one of the cornerstones of a joyful life, it is also a cornerstone of effective leadership. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, leaders who are good at tending to themselves are, in turn, better at tending to their employees, to their organization, and to any challenges that arise in their work. For many, genuine and enduring self-care requires a tremendous shift; self-care is a specific orientation to living your life and is based in a commitment to turning inwardly first.
Self-care is about tending to your interior first, to recognizing that you are mind, body, and spirit. Each of these aspects of self requires its own form of care and nourishment. A self-care orientation to life means that, on a DAILY basis, your commitment is to fortifying, nourishing, and renewing your mind, body and spirit. It is about filling your own inner cup first and keeping it filled. We each have the presence of life force in us and energy moving through us that requires specific types of attention and care for it to remain strong and flowing, and for our inner tank to remain on “F” for Full instead of “E” for Empty.
And ohhhh, what a difference it makes when we break out of the typical cycle of burning the candle at both ends, feeling pulled in several directions, being stressed out, rippin’ and runnin’, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling depleted.
Overturning the Myth
To establish and then maintain a self-care orientation, one of the myths that we must bust is that self-care is selfish. The truth of the matter is that NOT tending to ourselves lovingly and responsibly causes us to be selfish. Not the other way around. Often we don’t consider the needs of our spirit, or consider our well-being, until after we reach a near-breaking point or we are almost at the end of our rope. Then we may have a breakdown, withdraw from others, get sick, or become depressed.
Actually, the more demands there are on your time, skills, body, mind, and spirit, the more INTENSIVE should be your commitment to self-care. This is doubly important for leaders. If you maintain a commitment to self-care, your employees benefit. What employee wouldn’t be interested in a more patient, focused, and attentive boss?
Keys to Self-Care
There are FIVE key points to remember that will support you in making the shift to more of a self-caring lifestyle:
- Understand that you are your own greatest project and your greatest masterpiece. You are worthy and deserving of care and positive attention. Consider self-care an investment in self that yields many powerful returns.
- When self-care is a cornerstone of your life, everyone wins. Living life from a self-care-first orientation supports you and also elevates your attention, resulting in effectiveness and clarity in every area of your life. There are no losers.
- There are many tangible benefits to practicing self-care. You’ll find yourself having more patience with yourself and others. Completing tasks in less time. Having more energy. Being more creative. Staying more centered and relaxed in the midst of challenging situations or when dealing with challenging people. Or, just to name a few more possible outcomes, experiencing a drop in high blood pressure or losing excess weight.
- Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit empowers you to better care for others—without resentment. This might be the most satisfying benefit of all!
- A self-care orientation to life requires that we continuously check in with ourselves and ask key questions. How might this affect my energy? How might this affect my experience of joy?
Another great self-care practice is to tune in to what restores, renews, and rejuvenates you by asking yourself, “What brings me joy?” And then make a conscious effort to start INTEGRATING more of these types of activities and experiences into your life.
The Gift of Time
In our fast-paced lives, even devoting twenty minutes of time to yourself, as a self-investment, can provide returns tenfold. What’s most exciting is that making the shift to a self-caring lifestyle doesn’t have to cost you a thing.
- Enjoy an unrushed cup of coffee or tea.
- Step away from your desk to get some fresh air.
- Identify an employee that you’d like to recognize, and do so.
- At your desk, close your eyes; stretch your arms over your head and bring them slowly down to your sides.
- Go on a TV fast and suspend watching TV for three days. Shift this available time to enriching time with a friend or family member.
- Sit still and do absolutely nothing. Enjoy the rich, restorative power of quiet.
- Start your morning with FIVE deep breaths, inhaling so that your stomach is slightly protruding, and exhaling through pursed lips, until your lungs feel completely empty. At the end of your fifth deep breath, you will feel decidedly more relaxed, peaceful, and light.
- Take a walk by yourself for 15 minutes or more. Notice and pay attention to the little things along the way.
- Put yourself on a Gratitude Diet—five doses a day of “I feel gratitude for ____.” Gratitude is powerful because it causes you to take time to focus on what IS instead of what ISN’T. It directs your attention to what’s present instead of what’s absent.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember, the goal is not to treat self-care as yet another action item on your to-do list, but for it to foster a mindset and level of awareness that gives rise to more restorative and satisfying daily choices, wiser ways of managing your energy, and cultivating an inner experience of joy as the norm and not the exception.
If you make it a habit to take care of yourself and operate from a place of joy, you will find you’re better equipped to give the best of yourself to those around you, and you will start to experience deeper fulfillment and satisfaction in your life.
Debrena Jackson Gandy, national best-selling author of Sacred Pampering Principles and All the Joy You Can Stand, keynote speaker, business consultant, trainer, self-care consultant, and success mentor to thousands, is a member of the University Consulting Alliance. You can reach her through the Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.