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July 16, 2014

Self-Care: Taking Care of Others by Taking Care of Yourself

When we are able to build

Open spaces

In the same way

We have learned

To pile on logs,

Then we come to see how

It is fuel, and the absence of fuel

Together, that make fire possible.

- Excerpted from “Fire” by Judy Brown

Last September, I spent two rewarding days helping some of our sector’s most passionate leaders – those working to end violence against women and girls – to focus on their own self-care. I co-facilitated these self-care workshops with Norma Wong as part of the Move to End Violence (MEV) initiative. MEV believes that “if the ‘people power’ of organizations are unable to take care of themselves in a self-generative way, then it will be difficult to carry out their collective missions and fuel a movement that ends violence against girls and women.” To this end, we explored at these workshops what it means to create, commit to, and sustain individual and collective self-care practices that are “foundational to our power, our resilience, our creativity, our health, and our collective impact.” Below are some concepts from the sessions that you can use to explore self-care in the teams, organizations, and systems you work in.

Self-Care for Sustainability and Impact

Self-care is more than getting a massage or having a spa day (which are wonderful things to do, by the way). Rather, self-care is in every moment and cannot be sustained as a compartmentalized activity. It’s based on what we value and cherish, and it’s more than just survival. Self-care is about choices – choosing what work we say “yes” to and what work we say “no” to – and considering the future consequences of those choices. It’s about paying attention not only to how many logs you are putting on the fire, but also to how you are creating the space for air to circulate so that the fire grows. To take best care of yourself, your self-care strategies need to be integrated and factored into your approaches and responses on the front end – then you can act strategically, sustainably, and with impact. The better you are at seeing the trajectory of the consequences of your choices – which can only happen in the space between the logs – the more effective and capable a strategic thinker you will be. This is self-care for sustainability and impact.

Habits and Practices

We often get in our own way of self-care, and our habits – unconscious and repetitive acts – can be our undoing. At work, you may have habits like scheduling back-to-back meetings all day, eating at your desk while working, or sitting in a chair for hours at a time. In the context of self-care, you want to move away from unconscious habit and toward intentional practice. To do so, you first need awareness of what habits might be getting in the way of self-care (I named a few of mine above – I’m sure you can add to the list). If you feel like you don’t know what your habits are, reach out to trusted colleagues, partners, and friends and ask for feedback.

Once you have a better sense of what your habits may be, then you can begin to cultivate some intentional practices. In MEV, we define practice as a repetitive act that is consciously practiced for an explicit benefit and can be improved over time. You’ll want to identify practices that are doable, can be started soon, energize you, and are specific. So what might some self-care practices look like? Practicing 10 minutes of meditation daily, spending 15 minutes outside of the office every day during the workday, eating lunch in your workplace’s communal space with other colleagues, scheduling at least 15 minutes between meetings so you can prep and/or debrief for the next one, and setting aside 5 – 10 minutes at the end of your workday to reflect on what you accomplished and what you might want to focus on tomorrow.

Questions to Consider and Additional Resources

In these workshops, participants also discussed what collective self-care practices need to be put into place within organizations to support sustainability and deepen impact. But let’s talk about organizational self-care in a future blog post. In the meantime, here are some questions to consider as you explore what self-care could look like for you (and, if you’re practicing self-care already, hopefully these questions will help you deepen your practice):

  • What do I do to take care of mySelf?
  • What do I do that doesn’t take care of mySelf?
  • What would it be like to be in a consistent state of Self-care in my work?

And, here are some additional resources on this topic:

  • “Self-Care: So Difficult At Times, Yet So Important,” blog by Tony Porter, Co-founder of A Call to Men
  • Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky
  • Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less by Marc Lesser

The conscious commitment to an intentional self-care practice has helped me think more strategically about my work -- rather than just responding to opportunities, I can create them as well. It has also allowed me to be more present to client needs and continuously amplify and improve how I do my work (as a leadership coach and designing and delivering CompassPoint's leadership programming). In the "space between the logs," I've been able to learn, experiment, and innovate - which I couldn't do before when I operating the margins.

I invite you to set aside some time to think about how you can better attend to your self-care. You deserve it.

[Note: This blog also appeared in Compass Point's blog in September 2013 and is reposted here with permission.]

Art by lizar_tistry