How to integrate self-care into your life to become an unstoppable leader

It may come as a surprise to you that we’re hard-wired to be selfless, rather than selfish, according to new research. 

Look no further than airlines: Alongside them requiring you to wear a facemask while flying, you’re also instructed to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others during an emergency. Airlines drill this message into us because humans are naturally inclined to help others in times of need – while neglecting their own safety in the process.  

While altruism is great for humanity (especially in these times), if you don’t save yourself first, you simply can’t help anyone else over the long-term. 

The live-saving measure employed by airlines also heavily applies to leadership. You cannot possibly be a conscious and empathetic leader if you don’t take care of yourself. You cannot elevate others to greatness from a state of disrepair. 

Unfortunately, for time-strapped leaders who deeply care about their team’s success and well-being, self-care is one of the first habits that gets thrown out the window. Yet if you truly want to foster your team, self-care can’t be optional, or a habit you practice on the rare light workday – it must be mandatory. 

Self-care doesn’t have to dramatically impact your schedule, either. You don’t have to sacrifice team meetings for spa days. Through the right framework, it can become holistically integrated into your workdays. And as you start to reap the benefits, it will actually save you time and boost efficiency throughout; making the habit easier to incorporate. Here are 3 ways to get started:

Engage the rejuvenating part of your brain

Our minds have two nervous systems that control our thinking – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers (and it doesn’t distinguish between a dangerous animal and stressful deadline). 

While useful in certain situations, running at full-throttle 24/7 – as many of us are apt to do – will result in burnout. Additionally, according to Harvard Medical School, over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body and impairs your thinking. And the more you engage in this toxic habit, the more it becomes automatic.

A simple way you combat this – that you can do in the office, or even during a meeting – is by engaging your parasympathetic system through proper breathing exercises. This system acts like a brake; slowing down the accelerator and promoting “the rest and digest” response that calms the body and mind after danger has been averted. 

It’s been proven that consciously focusing on slowing down your breathing engages this side; reducing stress, increasing attention and expanding conscious thinking. 

An easy way to start: the “4-7-8” method – breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Start by just setting two minutes aside in your calendar: 

  • Empty the lungs of air 
  • Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
  • Exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds
  • Repeat the cycle 

The backbend is also a great daily practice since we spend so much time in a forward position and leaning forward.  Backbends are energizing and strengthening and open up the shoulders and chest as well as lengthen the spine, all areas where many of us hold tension; allowing for more movement of breath into the body.

Unplug your phone; plug into your mind

Thanks to the pandemic and remote work, work-life balance is more blurred than ever, and smartphones have become a new body appendage (if they weren’t already). Now, as someone who’s run two companies at once off a phone and answered emails at all hours of the night, I know this is a major ask. So all I’m challenging you to do is 5 minutes a day, which can still make a big difference in taking your mind off code red. 

And during those 5 or ten minutes, while you recharge your phone, you can supplement the habit by recharging your mind (yes, those batteries need rejuicing too). As I’ve extolled before, just a few minutes of being mindful and present can make a world of difference. Studies show that just ten minutes of mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety, improve your memory, and offer a plethora of other benefits.

Here’s what it looks like: Pick a word you hold sacred and love to meditate on. Set your timer for one minute. Get comfortable. Start. Close your eyes and meditate on your word. If your mind wanders notice if you are in the past or the future. Then bring yourself back to present by refocusing on your sacred word.

As you relax into this and become more confident you can increase your practice for three minutes. And once you start to notice the benefits, it will become easier to chunk out time and make this an integral part of your lifestyle.

Rediscover the lost art of fun and play

As children, we would dream wholeheartedly and our minds would openly search for fun and imagination in any given scenario. (Like when a  cardboard box was a gateway to another dimension.)

As adults, we lose that sense when we get grounded in reality. And while that reality allows us to pay the bills and change the world, unleashing your inner-child and having fun will not only allow you to rest and rejuvenate, but will bring a much-needed fresh perspective to your mindset, your leadership, and your consciousness.

As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” When was the last time you did something solely for fun, without a clear schedule or objective? 

If you can’t answer that question, pick up a toy or even just a good book and let your brain take a break. There’s a reason why Google lets their employees play with Legos and do scavenger hunts during the day — taking a few minutes to play will spark creativity, reduce anxiety, and renew focus when you return to the task at hand.

And lastly, remember that even though self-care can be fun, extremely beneficial, and relaxing, after a lifetime of doing, simply giving ourselves the freedom and space to rest takes a little retraining. But if you stick with it, your teams, your output, and most importantly, you own well-being, will thank you for years to come. You’ll find that habits for health and well-being are just as important as your work routine.

Want to grow your impact? Understand this: Your impact is in direct proportion to your ability to rest. 

For just five minutes each day, try these habits on for size. Please send me what you discover.

Want to take control of your well-being with simple, easy and attainable facilitated online practices that can be incorporated into your daily life? Contact us to learn more about our new VistaKind Experience.