5 Tips to Help Leaders Practice Self-care.

August 2, 2020

We so often think that working harder and longer and staying connected 24/7, will allow us to get more done, be more successful and maybe get that next promotion. 

This mindset is simply wrong!

Why self care is not selfish!

As a leader, if you do not take care of your energy levels and mental clarity then you are not going to be able to give your team what they deserve.

You at your absolute best!

Being an endurance sport enthusiast and competing in triathlons myself, I have often applied the lessons I have learnt as an athlete to leadership. Athletes know that their body and their mental resilience is key to their success, and because of this, their key focus besides training is recovery. Their focus on recovery allows them to consistently absorb all the hard training, without getting injured or mentally fatigued, allowing them to train hard consistently.

On the other hand, success in leadership is about having a positive long term impact on your team and the people around you. Leaders know that their energy and mind is key to achieving this. Similar to sports, self-care in the form of sleep, exercises, hobbies, diet and family/ friends, plays a critical factor on your energy levels and mental clarity over the long term.

So if you want to be at your absolute best for your team, then take care of yourself first.

The importance of sleep.

So often you hear stories about all these top executives that survive on only a few hours of sleep a night, while flying around the world and going from one meeting to the next. Whilst this is true, it sadly creates a general perception at work that if you want to be successful in your career, you need to be as “tough” as them and give up getting enough sleep so you can work endlessly. 

This does not and should not have to be the case though. 

Simply consider the benefits of regularly getting 7-8 hours of sleep:

  • Improves your memory
  • Boosts your creativity
  • Sharpens your attention span
  • Lowers your stress
  • You are able to control your emotions better
  • You are less likely to be sick.

Instead of working endless hours and sleeping less to achieve success. Why not sharpen your mental saw by sleeping more, allowing you to work more efficiently and fewer hours?

Of course there will always be those that seemed to achieve all their success in their career by sleeping consistently less than 6 hours. But, I would ask yourself the question, could they have been more successful, had they prioritized getting 7-8 hours of sleep? 

So challenge yourself to getting 7-8 hours of sleep regularly for the next months and see how you feel afterwards. 

You have nothing to lose, and you will most likely be surprised at the difference it can make.

The importance of exercise.

With our packed schedules at work and family commitments at home, it can often seem impossible to find time for exercise. But what a lot of us forget is that squeezing in a little bit of exercise into our weeks, can actually help us have time to do more with our day, whether at work or with family and friends.

Regular exercise (doesn’t need to be more than 20 minutes a day) will bring you the following benefits:

  • You will feel happier
  • Increases your energy levels
  • Helps improve your memory
  • Allows you to think faster
  • Helps you to manage your stress levels
  • Helps you in controlling emotions
  • Improves your sleep quality
  • And, you are less likely to get sick 

Similar to getting enough sleep, exercise will help you sharpen your mental saw, allowing you to be more efficient and effective as a leader. As a result you will be able to support your team better, whilst also being able to spend more time with friends and family. And remember, you get all these benefits while you are also taking care of your health.

Next time you have 20 minutes to spare, consider squeezing in a short work out. You will get the time back later in the day by being a more effective leader!

The importance of family and close friends.

With our jobs becoming more demanding through our ever connected world, we often forget to disconnect and spend time with friends and family. A survey done by Forbes showed that when it came to reducing stress 36% of the respondents said that social interaction with friends and family helped them reduce stress. 

In order to be a great leader you need to learn how to manage your stress levels, otherwise you risk transferring your stress onto your team.

Spending time with family and friends is a great way to do this and it also provides additional benefits which will make you a better leader:

  • It encourages you to make positive choices both at work and in your life
  • It improves your mental health
  • It increases your self esteem

With all these benefits in mind, don’t underestimate the positive impact a bit of quality time with friends and family will have on you as a leader and your career. I have found that especially when you are going through challenging times, it will be your family and great friends that will be there to support you and help you get through it. 

Make sure to schedule some quality family and friends time into your calendar!

The importance of hobbies.

Often you might feel that as a leader you are not allowed to make time for hobbies outside of work, because if you have free time to do a hobby then you are not working hard enough.

Again this is the wrong mindset! Encouraging hobbies forms better leaders and will also allow employees to be happier at work.

Some of the many benefits hobbies can provide:

  • It encourages/forces you to take a break and not think about work
  • Provides a new challenge which stimulates your brain
  • It is a way to be social
  • Allows you to reduce your stress levels
  • Helps you improve memory
  • Makes you more interesting, which can inspire others

I have found hobbies to greatly help me come back to work refreshed. Coming back to work refreshed allows you to be a better leader, as you are able to be more supportive of your team and make better decisions. You will also encourage and inspire others to spend time on their hobbies, if you openly speak about yours as a leader. This will help them feel happier at work and in life and as a result they will also produce better work.

So find a hobby that you enjoy, schedule it into your work week and benefit from feeling more refreshed when you come to work.

The importance of longer breaks.

Short breaks, long weekends and 1 week holidays are great, but do they really help you feel totally recharged when you come back to work?

I know it doesn’t do the trick for me! Don’t get me wrong I love the long weekends and 1 week holidays, but they never end up leaving me totally refreshed! The first week of the holiday is usually a gradual ramp down from the intense pace that I am used to when I am at work. And it is actually only the second week of the holiday where I feel I am really relaxed and have totally put aside all work related thoughts. 

It is also during this second week where I:

  • Do my best thinking and reflecting.
  • Am totally present with friends and family
  • Feel my batteries being fully recharged

For me this two week holiday always happens over Christmas and New Year.

I know every country has different annual leave standards, but I highly recommend trying to take at least one longer break every year and benefiting from really being able to relax and fully recharge. 

How to get started with self-care

As leaders you are faced with so many daily decisions. Your team, bosses and peers want something from you nearly every minute of the working day. This consumes a ton of mental energy! Which leaves you with very little left for making decisions around self-care. The trick here is to develop routines for any of the five tips mentioned above. If they become a habit, they will no longer require that mental energy to make a decision and you will find it a lot easier to stay consistent.

For example sleep, if you start setting yourself an alarm as a reminder to go to bed on time in order to get 7-8 hours of sleep, you will find after a few weeks that this becomes a routine, no longer requiring you to make a conscious effort.

Try building routines around self-care and you will find it a lot easier to remain consistent and as a result you will get the benefits of feeling energised, focused and overall less stressed.

Give it a try, you have nothing to lose!

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