I figured out I wanted to start a business after my daughter was born. Fresh out of college I unexpectedly became a stay-at-home mom with a lot of education and no idea what to do with it. Like any other human being, I struggled balancing dreams with real life responsibility, and it often resulted in an explosion of pent up emotion and an unanswerable urge to run away from everything in my life. I felt like I was dying for fresh air and room to finish a thought before someone else needed my attention.
Two years later and it’s become my job to come alongside other people seeking this same kind of space. It’s easy to make physical fitness about the body–fat loss, muscle gain, etc etc–but what if it could be more? If you talk to successful entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo and Tim Ferriss you will learn that they seek to take care of their bodies because they know how it affects their minds and hearts–the source of their creative work.
When we deal with stress the brain triggers a reaction that ranges from speeding up your heart rate to suppressing your appetite, in order to get you through the experience alive. Welcome to survival mode. In the instance of your back squat, the response is temporary and actually very beneficial. But in the rest of life, stress that sends us into survival mode is dangerous to your health and your happiness.
We’re entrepreneurs. Our livelihood depends in many ways on our ability to focus, make difficult decisions, and press into fear. Stress can diminish our capacity to do any of that. You will start to notice more scatterbrained behavior, overly emotional decision-making, and trouble controlling your impulses. You will start filling your time with being busy instead of creative. If you take a step back and look at how your day is spent, you likely won’t be happy with what you see.
Saint Iranaeus once said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” And when I consider that quote, I see so clearly how entrepreneurs embody it–choosing to pursue things that might seem ridiculous to others because they’ve experienced that spark of what life could really be like when they take a step toward the edge of their comfort zone. But stress squashes it all and we go retreating back to what we know, chasing after what is comfortable and disengaging.
Stress is unavoidable, which is why self care is so important. Embracing its existence and taking steps in relieving it grants us the opportunity to keep going in our everyday life with freedom of mind, heart, and body. But we don’t want to take a stereotypical approach to self care–no blanket statements or one-size-fits-all. Self care takes patience and a willingness to practice because you will have to get to know your own preferences and how those fit into your real everyday life.
What are the things that take your mind out of survival mode? What habits do you currently have that need a new approach? Here are some starting points to stimulate your thinking. Take small steps and choose to commit to practice (and don’t let Instagram tell you you’re doing it wrong).
1. Practice presence of mind.
Start with setting a few alarms throughout the day or choose something you do everyday like showering or chores to re-engage your heart and mind in the present. So often we’re off wandering in the past or worrying about the future. Resist! Look at your thoughts and your current emotions, observe them for what they are (sometimes it’s really not a pretty sight!) and choose to redirect to your present life. You aren’t condemning those thoughts and feelings; you are acknowledging them. From this state you can choose your response and move on.
2. Ritualize your work warm up.
Since pain is inevitable, you need to have a process for leaving stress behind as you seek to engage in your creative work. Yes, even this is self care. You have to acknowledge that there are things outside of your control and let your mind unwind it’s grip before you can expect to sink deep into focus. A good idea is to actually warm up with a task that you tend to skip over, even something as simple as updating your finances. Give yourself a small win by checking off that simple task that grates your nerves. And we’ll get a little scientific here – make observations about how your rituals affect your work time. Make small changes here and there to really hone in on the kinds of things that get you ready to go.
3. Infuse your day with energizing habits and be present (not working!) while you do them.
Choose to move and nourish your body because that will bring strength and alignment. This greatly affects the mind. Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, a heavy weight lifting session, or a few minutes of yoga in your pajamas, use your body and be courageous. Similarly, eat foods that will fuel your body and help your mind to focus on your work (instead of wandering back to the kitchen for more). Go for tasty foods that are a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Drink water (alongside your coffee). These will keep you satisfied longer.If you like to have something special, make it a ritual – like a square of chocolate when the kids go down for a nap, or a glass of wine while you plan for the next day’s work before bed. Choose to get to know your preferences and temper them with knowledge of what your body needs to thrive.
4. Finally, practice self care in community.
Self care doesn’t always have to be about escaping people. Talk to someone you trust about how you are treating yourself. If you have a specific goal, tell them about it and explicitly ask them to help you stay accountable. This doesn’t take the fun out of it; it reminds you that you aren’t alone and there are people rooting for you–not because of what you can produce but because of who you are.