The Importance of Self-Care: The Secret Strategy of Success

By Ann Elliott

Fuel Tank on Empty

First, let’s start exploring this strategy of success by defining self-care. Self-care is the intentional act of taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. In other words, you do it on purpose because it pays big dividends. How can you be at your best when you are depleted? Design your approach to self-care to fit your needs. There are many forms of self-care. Start by taking care of your needs so you can respond to help others. 

The prevailing myth about self-care is that it is unnecessary for success. You can have great success through long hours, stress, and relentless pursuit of goals. At what cost is the big question.

Some leaders believe that a strong leader does not require self-care. Entrepreneurs wear long working hours as a badge of honor. The culture in the workplace in the United States fosters this behavior. The belief that working long hours with no break leads to goal achievement undermines the reality that rest is essential but only if you want to achieve more with less effort. You can accomplish more when you are rested mentally as well as physically.

My client, an executive in a large company, found herself working long twelve-hour days and more. She reported to a division head who expected my client to attend meetings throughout the day. She couldn’t get her other work done. She found herself answering emails well past midnight on many occasions. To compound the situation, the division head emailed at all hours of the night with the expectation of an immediate response. Without adequate sleep, thinking clearly and creatively does not happen. In a circumstance such as this, it is easy to understand why resentment and burnout occurs.

Prevailing myths about self-care

1. Taking care of yourself is selfish 

This has been perpetuated with the admonition to take care of others first. Unselfish people go the extra mile and always put others ahead of their own needs. Women have been especially impacted by this myth.

2. Smart, strong people do not need it 

If you are strong enough, you can push through any obstacle. If you just stick with it long enough, you can succeed. Smart people do not create circumstances they cannot handle.

3. Only women need this 

While women make up about 50% of the population, they aren’t the only ones who benefit from self-care. The other 50% of the population has the same stresses.

4. Self-care is for sissies who cannot take the heat

The bravado of the alpha male syndrome conveys the idea that only the weak need to take care of themselves. The strong don’t need help because they have everything handled.

5. Self-care is expensive

Weekly massages, manicures, pedicures, 30-day retreats, personal chef, personal shopper, and housekeeper are nice. They do not equate to the true essence of caring for yourself.

There are multiple reasons why self-care has a bad reputation. Guilt is a major factor in why people do not advocate for themselves. A long-standing culture in business demanding every waking hour of every waking minute from employees keeps people from practicing self-care. They are not encouraged to do it and nothing in their workplace supports it. Fortunately, this seems to be changing and for the better. I recall reading about a company who cut off access to email after 6 p.m.

Pay me now or pay me later

People do not equate self-care as an investment. They see it as a cost with no tangible benefits. If I am taking off time to take care of my needs, I am not devoting time to my job/my goals/my_____. This is/or thinking.

Reframing the time and effort required for self-care as an investment in their lives, gives the opportunity a new meaning. It also removes the guilt associated with taking care of yourself.

Things Self-Care Can Help You Avoid

1. Costly mistakes 

When you are working against a tight deadline with little sleep, mistakes occur more often.

2. Low Attendance 

People don’t come to work when it gets just too much. Their body and mind are calling for a break.

3. Reduced productivity. 

When your mental acuity is dulled, you do not respond as quickly to ideas. You cannot respond with confidence to a new situation. Making the right decision about the next step takes longer.

4. Burnout

Burning the candle at both ends diminishes your thinking, your reaction time, your enthusiasm, and your energy level. It is now a diagnosable condition. 

5. Frayed relationships

When you are running on empty, being cordial and upbeat takes more effort. The smallest thing creates friction between others on your team. These are people you need to accomplish important tasks. Who enjoys coming to work with grumpy teammates?

6. Illness 

The body reacts to unrelenting stress of pressure to work long hours and to produce expected outcomes. When you have not heeded the warnings, your body will demand a halt.

Where to Start with Self-Care

 Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. First, you must change your thinking and acknowledge that you are worth taking care of. This is particularly important as a business leader with a team. When you take care of your team, they take care of your customers and your business. You can start with small, incremental steps that are manageable. As you develop the habit, you build on your success. You begin to see results right away. Discover how unknowingly you subscribe to the lies of your saboteurs, the thinking patterns that look worthwhile but do not serve you. Take this free assessment

Steps to restore and increase your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing define self-care. It is a smart practice to find opportunities to relax and recharge so you can do your best work. With this strategy of self-care, engagement and retention increases and it’s a win for everyone to include the company, customer, teammates, and you.

1. Get adequate sleep

Your brain performance, mood, and health are related to good sleep. You also diminish the risk of getting many diseases and disorders when you make sleep a priority.

2. Pack a nutritious lunch 

It takes a bit of planning and preparation to carry your lunch to work. Take an hour for lunch and take an exercise break outside. Eating at your desk is not encouraged.

3. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day 

This improves your thinking and diminishes your appetite.

4. Create an ergonomically healthy work area 

Be sure the chair height is right for you. Check the position of your hands on the computer keyboard. Bring live plants into your workspace.

5. Take advantage at work of courses offered on self-care 

Some ideas to consider include mindfulness, yoga, mental fitness, meditation.

6. Invest in yourself through the wellness programs offered at your work

 If one is available, use the gym and the classes offered.

7. Practice kindness and compassion 

When you make an error, treat yourself with kindness. When your colleague messes up, treat them kindly, too. Practice blameless discernment to examine the situation. Determine the next action from a place of clarity, not revenge. See #9 about boundaries.

8. Take time off 

Use your time away from work in ways to support your health and wellbeing. It may be appropriate for you to catch up on medical appointments, handle home projects, spend a day in the park, or read the epic novel you have on your nightstand. A note of caution, this time is not used for responding to work emails and answering calls about your office. Do advance planning to make your absence easy on your colleagues. Put them on notice that you are unavailable. See #9 about boundaries.

9. Establish appropriate boundaries

 Be willing to forgive others. This does not mean you must be in a relationship with the person you have forgiven. Appropriate boundaries demonstrate self-care.  

When you say “yes” do so enthusiastically, not begrudgingly. Say “no” graciously and without guilt when your plate is full. 

10. Focus on one task at a time 

Using the Pomodoro method, you can accomplish an amazing amount in only 25 minutes. This requires laser focus on the task at hand with no outside interruptions.

11. Practice gratitude 

At the end of each day, examine your day. What five things are you grateful for? Add even the smallest things to your list. If you know you are going to highlight what makes you grateful at the end of the day, you will be determining “Is this going on my gratitude list for today?” When you know what to look for, you see more.

Self-Care in the Workplace

The CEO of a small service provider firm understood how to create an environment where employees practiced self-care and were encouraged to do so. He carefully vetted potential new hires who could not only contribute to the profitability of the firm but could fit into the values of the firm. The experience and opinion of new folks was respected and sought out because he realized it would enrich the depth of the firm’s understanding. Staff meetings were held at reasonable hours. He understood that weekends were for personal and family time, no meetings were scheduled on Fridays. All employees regardless of sex were paid equally for doing the same work. Anyone who was out of the office to attend a school event for their child, for instance, no questions asked. The accomplishment of the child was celebrated! A caterer prepared a delicious lunch of healthy food on a weekly basis. The firm used this to build community and relationships amongst the employees in an informal setting.

The Wrap Up

By simply reframing self-care as an investment with big dividends, you easily see why it is a strategy for success. Give yourself permission to take care of your mental, physical, and emotional health. You are worth it.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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