While taking my trash can to the curb to be picked up, I chuckled over the bold letters declaring “NO HOT ASHES” on the top of the lid. I chuckled because it seems like pure common sense to not put hot ashes into your trash can, right? Clearly there have been issues, or these words would not be molded into the top of my trash can.
The words on my trash remind me of the tag on my blow dryer urging me to not dry my hair while taking a bath, or the warning on plastic bags: This bag is not a toy. To avoid danger of suffocation, keep out of the reach of babies and children. Again…common sense, right?
While these examples might seem obvious, even a bit silly, I frequently find that leaders often lack common sense when it comes to self-care. They might see the value of self-care and even intellectually grasp how coming from a cared for place positions them to be a more effective leader, however, figuring out how to squeeze it in is another story.
The reality is that leaders are pulled in a dozen different directions simultaneously. There will always be that important call, urgent situation, or deadline vying for your attention. That is just part of life. Yet, when you make taking care of yourself a consistent part of your life, there are some incredibly worthwhile benefits. You will be in a far better position to deal with problems. It will force you to improve how you prioritize tasks, as well as eliminate or delegate things that aren’t worthy of your attention. And perhaps best of all, practicing self-care elevates your mood, allows you to be more creative, and makes you a whole lot more fun to be around!
When you neglect taking care of yourself, not only does it leave you depleted with little energy to offer those you lead, it also sets a poor example. Part of being a leader, whether you lead at home, work, or in ministry, is being someone worth following! Someone who models an inspiring life!
So what is self-care? Well, it is a little different for everyone, but it is consistently taking the time to care for YOU in these ways:
Getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, and exercising are all ways to care for you! What’s the benefit? Less stress, leaving you less vulnerable to health problems, fewer sick days, a better mood, and a more positive outlook on life.
Being aware of your feelings requires you to slow down. When you don’t stay in touch with your emotions, unresolved feelings leak out and create problems, especially with those closest to us. Cleaning up after the “leaks” costs you time and damages relationships. Neglecting your emotional side leads to anxiety, depression, reacting in destructive ways, and lowers your productivity.
As a Christian leader, everything you do hinges on your relationship with God: when that suffers, so does your ability to lead. You might be tempted to skimp on this critical relationship, offering up hurried prayers instead of taking the time in His presence that will refuel you, help you avoid mistakes, and ultimately offer you insights that will save time. Don’t underestimate your need to live “from Him!”
You were created for relationship, yet leaders are often Lone Rangers. Engaging in relationships with others adds richness to your life, provides the support you need, and allows you to grow in ways that can’t be accomplished except in community. Ignoring the people in your life results in strained relationships, bitterness, un-forgiveness, resentment, and decreases your compassion for others.
Learning, growing, and solving problems makes you a better leader and a more interesting individual. Read a book, take a class, and spend time with others who like to discuss topics of interest to you. Work a puzzle, try Sudoku, or research an area of interest.
Little details, when overlooked, can turn into big problems. Keeping your finances in order, keeping up with your health insurance, taxes, and other practical aspects of your life might not be what you ordinarily think of when it comes to self-care. However, when you ignore this aspect of your life, it creates stressful situations that take a toll on you! Consider it a gift to yourself when you stay on top of the practical aspects of your life!
What’s that activity that just makes your heart happy? Are you filled with joy when you get to paint, hike, or read a fat novel? Maybe you are in your element when you are woodworking, cooking, or gardening. Perhaps a massage, a bubble bath, or knitting is more your speed. Whatever it is for you, be sure you are making space for that in your life! It will fuel you and enable you to do what God’s called you to do better!
In Christian circles, we often shy away from self-care. It seems selfish. The truth is that without self-care you dramatically lessen your effectiveness and limit how God can use you. As a leader, you set the tone. What you do trickles down. If you are running on empty, the likelihood of those below you running on empty increases. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.
Incorporating new habits into your life is not easy. Start small. Pick one area to start caring for you, the area that might have the biggest impact. For example, if you decide to care for yourself physically, you might set a goal to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. What changes in your lifestyle would be necessary to make this possible? Who can hold you accountable? Practice making this a regular part of your life for a week or two or three. Notice the benefits.
When you feel like you have made the first habit a regular part of your life, you may wish to move on to adding an activity that makes your heart happy to your routine. Again, what changes in your lifestyle would need to be made? What do you need to cut out of your life to make this possible? Who can check in with you to encourage you to stay on track? Be sure to notice the benefits!
Stop neglecting the leading of you! Want a healthy team? Be a healthy leader. When taking care of yourself is a priority, you are prepared for what lies ahead.
We all have the same number of hours in our day, and each of those hours will have more impact when you approach them from a well-cared for place. That’s just common sense!
Try it out. You may fail, but as all good leaders know, success comes when you get back up and try again. See what God can do in your life and leadership when you lead yourself well.
What’s your first step towards leading yourself well and practicing self-care?
© Can Stock Photo / ojogabonitoo