by Kathi Antonson
Ask 20 Rock is your opportunity to peek into the minds of other leaders. What are they wondering about? Where do they struggle? What are they navigating? See a bit of yourself here and get inspired.
Dear 20 Rock,
I hear so much about “self-care” these days. It feels like it is a buzz word that I don’t really understand. I know I should put something into practice and that it will likely help me perform better as a leader. But what does self-care really look like in practice? I need real examples from other leaders.
A Wobbly Leader
Dear Wobbly Leader,
We hear you. Self-care can definitely sound vague as a concept. For simplicity, we often describe it as taking care of one’s own mental, physical and emotional state.
And allow me to clue you into something that may release a bit of your worry: self-care is a PRACTICE. Meaning nobody is out there with the perfect self-care recipe.
There are, however, leaders who are dedicating time and energy to caring for themselves to enable them to lead others. They continually refine their toolkit of self-care techniques and employ them based on what is happening for them right now.
Self-care is highly individualized. So hooray, you have the complete creative license to create your version! We love real-world examples too. As a jumping-off point, here are real-life examples from the 20 Rock team:
Each day I’ll seek out some time, even if it’s just a few minutes on a walk or a commute, to slow down and take in a view. Usually, this will be the waterfront or cityscape. I spend a couple of minutes recognizing how big the world is, how many billions of lives are happening at this very moment, and I feel more connected to a broader picture. Many of my stressors feel more manageable in that context, and I feel more grateful and connected.
I often wake up with ‘speed brain’ where my mind is circling To Do’s, random worries about the day ahead, etc. I’ve found one thing that helps: upon noticing that I’m waking up, I turn to lay on my back and take 10 slow, deliberate breaths. I often place one hand over my heart and one over my stomach and let my attention stay on the feeling of breathing itself. That’s it. As a practice, it’s subtle but powerful in collecting my mind before getting out of bed.
Getting moving is key for me. It doesn’t have to be a hardcore workout, just stretching or doing 10 minutes of aerobics in the living room or at a park to shake off anxious energy and feel like I’ve done something good for myself. Some days I’ll opt for exercise that is more intense and others for mellow stretches to simply ‘de-computerize’ myself and work out the knots. It all has benefits.
To stay oriented throughout a week, I’ll start on Monday morning by writing out a sheet with my intentions and priorities for the week ahead. This is what I keep checking in with to cross off my tasks, but also to see if I’m upholding intentions about how I want to approach the week.
Talking with a loved one. My mom, my partner, my friends, my coach. It helps me to connect and share with someone else I trust. I also feel less trapped in my own headspace and mood by being able to hear what’s going on in their lives, as well.
Each year I review my values to confirm they are still relevant for me. The core values rarely change, but their descriptions and the ones I choose to focus on do shift over time. I layout my values in a 1-page, easy reference document that I keep visible. When I have to make a big decision, you can be sure one of my starting points are my values.
Alongside my values work, I have a yearly plan. This is normally broken down into 6-8 sections of the areas of my life I would like to develop e.g. business, hobbies, relationships, health & fitness, etc. For each of these sections, I record 3-6 key actions and how I will know I have got there. The plan is big, visual and importantly – fun! No stuffing corporate documents here.
At my best, I will sit and create emotional mind maps at the start of each day. These help me identify the energizers and drainers in my life. The process is incredibly cathartic and helps me to be honest with myself on difficult topics and why they may have arisen. Equally, it helps me prioritize what needs to be tackled first to reduce potential anxiety; critically the process also provides insight on how to handle those situations in a value-driven way. Once I have mind mapped, I find writing the to-do list for the day much easier. My general philosophy is to progress the top 3 things and if I complete those, I progress to the next 3. If at any time I get stuck I try to change my space – go for a walk, grab a coffee – anything to promote creativity.
The BIG Decisions
If I have a big decision to make, I try to work out the question I need to ask myself and then find a quiet, peaceful, relaxing space to be able to make a values-based decision. The answer is the one that gives my body, mind, and soul the most inner peace. For the big stuff – I go paddleboarding for a few hours and simply allow that process to work through.
I spend the first 30 minutes of every day writing, with a cup of coffee in hand. Generally, this is in the form of Morning Pages, a la The Artist’s Way, but occasionally it is to-do lists or setting an intention for the day. This clears my mind and helps me orient myself to my highest priorities. My husband and I have an agreement that if our son wakes during my half-hour of writing time, he will tackle parenting while I complete my writing. Prearranging this half-hour as protected time has been key to maintaining the habit.
Throughout the day I practice task crafting. You can read more about that on our blog, but essentially if I am dreading a particular task I look for opportunities to swap work with a colleague, partner with someone that I enjoy working with, or delegate that task altogether. This feels like a gift to myself! I treat myself to doing the type of work that I love, as often as I can.
I am an extrovert and am fueled by connecting with people. When I look at my plan for the week, I ensure that I have a least two commitments that will fill my extrovert tank up. Sometimes it looks like a mid-week lunch with a friend, sometimes it looks like an evening networking event, and other times it looks like leaving my home office in favor of a busy cafe. When I find myself floundering, this is the first mechanism I check: when was the last time I talked to somebody in real life about something other than my current projects?
Self-care is taking responsibility for our own well-being so that we can sustain energy for the important people and projects in our lives without getting drained, resentful and burned out. It is also an ongoing process, and we get to keep creating it (and borrowing top-notch ideas from other people!) as we go.
A coach is a great partner for developing your custom self-care toolkit. Reach out to us to get started with a coach.
We want to hear from you!
Have a tricky work situation? Want our perspective? Ask 20 Rock to be considered for our leadership support column: firstname.lastname@example.org