Driving through the Colorado mountains on a road trip recently I started reading a book I got in the mail from amazon. Usually during downtimes, like being a passenger in a car, I’m compelled to find some way to make good use of my time. The demands of being a working mom have taught me that I don’t have the luxury of “downtime”. I started the book with the idea that the focus would be on time management, efficiency life hacks, organizational tips etc. All those things that self-help books tend to dig into. So when I started reading I was left a little surprised. The entire book was based on well-being and self-care.
The book starts with a challenge to take an honest and critical self-assessment of your well-being. I thought, I eat pretty healthy, I get decent sleep, I exercise. But here is the thing: whole well-being is more than this. I dug a little deeper. Maybe my self-care was only scratching the surface. Did my mind and my body need more? Was I actually holding myself back by believing the narrative that I am too busy for self-care?
In the “The Power of Full Engagement” Jim Loehr and Tony Swartz initially looked at well-being through the lens of professional athletes. Our culture values busyness and constant movement. A professional and life marathon basically. But here is the thing: even a professional marathon runner needs a break. And in fact the very best and elite athletes understand and practice intentional and even ritualistic disengagement in order to be fully engaged when most needed. Instead of a marathon maybe we have to see our life as a series of sprints with equally intense moments of disengagement and rejuvenation.
The book frames this idea through energy management in four key areas that build on each other: physical, emotional, mental and Spiritual. They argue that to be fully engaged we must have frequent and intentional disengagement that tap into each one of these areas with one building on another. I realized my definition of well-being had been so narrow as to only focus on the bottom of the pyramid. Perhaps this is why I never really felt fully rested or fully present in my relationships. This was a jarring truth. I took pride in building meaningful relationships. I even have on my resume that one of my skills is building relationships.
The lie I was telling myself that I had to constantly be productive and that meant I was performing at my best was preventing me from moving beyond physical self-care to emotional, mental and spiritual. And one of the impacts was not being fully engaged with my colleagues, my husband and even my daughter. This showed up in a surprising way when I took my daughter to work one day. The first thing she did was climb up into my chair, pick up the phone and start typing. Here was my mirror and I didn’t like what I saw.
Loeh and Swartz go on to more precisely define each of the four areas as well as rituals that lead to being fully engaged in each one. What I ultimately took away was we have to disengage in meaningful and intentional ways in each of these areas to be our best at work and at home. This is also highly individual. Maybe this means actually working out less or taking an inventory of your values or, dare I say, drinking less coffee. While I am starting to find clarity in what this means for me I know for certain that to show up and be who I want to be I can no longer buy into the myth that being busy means I am performing at my best.
“Great leaders are stewards of personal and organizational energy.”