The secret to top performance is no secret at all. To be at the top of your game, you have to take care of yourself.
So … how well do you take care of you?
It’s a straight-forward question, and one I’ve asked clients hundreds of times. Sadly, I’ve never encountered a woman who didn’t get a little bit flustered answering it. That’s because all of us girls buy into some version of the notion that taking care of ourselves is a selfish thing to do.
And that is completely and totally wrong.
This is one of my soapbox issues, because I believe it’s the most dangerous and disempowering social lie we’ve been taught to buy into. Women are culturally conditioned to be caretakers from birth. One of our first toys is a baby doll, and throughout our lives we get kudos every time we put someone else’s needs ahead of our own.
You’re applauded for taking care of everyone around you, and given atta-girls for neglecting your own needs, so it’s no surprise that you neglect yourself. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore your own well-being forever. Burning the candle at both ends will eventually run you straight into a brick wall of burn-out. Your body is a finely tuned piece of machinery. It has care requirements, and if you ignore these mandates for too long, it will eventually give out on you.
You’ll get signals of course. Maybe you’ll have a hard time fighting off a cold, feel exhausted by mid-day, or struggle with aches and pains. If you don’t heed these early signs as a warning to take better care of yourself, you could get hit with a real health problem, or struggle with your mental wellness.
While self-neglect is socially celebrated, it’s a huge crock of crapola that teaches your brain you don’t matter. This insidious pattern of ignoring your own needs as a badge of honor starts small, but snowballs over time. Maybe you disregard the urge to go to the bathroom until you complete ‘just one more task’, or look away from your hunger pangs until you’re a starving, hangry maniac.
Neglecting yourself will ultimately knock you on your beautiful bottom. You must short-circuit this self-defeating habit. This blog will help you do it in three simple steps.
Step 1 – Upgrade Your Understanding
I wrote this blog to change your mind about self-care. It isn’t selfish at all. It’s the scientific basis of performance. You must take care of your physical fundamentals to be at your best, but you probably haven’t thought about taking care of yourself from this perspective.
Consider this. If you were a professional athlete, and it was your job to stay in tip-top shape, how would you care for yourself? Would you prioritize your sleep or establish a solid nutrition plan? Would you hit the gym every day to make sure you could compete at the top of your sport? What habits would you condition if your primary goal was peak performance?
My private coaching clients are typically high achieving professionals who hire me to help them ace a difficult project or plan their next career move. These get-stuff-done women are focused on results, so when I ask about their self-care habits during our first session, many of them look at me sideways. They don’t want to talk about why they’re so tired, or how much sleep they’re not getting. They just want me to help them secure their promotion or land their next client.
As a performance coach I know that securing the promotion and landing the client are directly linked to how my client is taking care of herself, because her physical and mental health are directly correlated with her professional performance. So I deal with her eye rolls and heavy sighs, and we slog through the self-care-is-not-selfish discussion.
If you … like my private clients … are eager to focus on your goals, and toying with the idea of skipping this blog, please don’t. A well-taken care of you will slay your goals and feel great while doing it. You deserve vitality, and you can create it no matter how old you are or how poorly you’ve taken care of yourself up to this point.
I want you to become obsessed with how miraculous your body is, and I need you to get that every single thing you do (or don’t do) to take care of it impacts the way you function in real life. This is not about being a pampered princess. (Please.) It’s about taking care of yourself like you’ve decided you’re going to bring your A game. I want you to try on the notion of caring for your physical body like you’re an athlete … like it’s part of your job to focus on your well-being. Once you’ve upgraded your understanding, our next step will give you a how-to framework to follow.
Step 2 – Master the Four Rules of Wellness
Please allow me to introduce you to The Four Rules of Wellness. I think of these self-sustaining habits as the non-negotiables of well-being.
Wellness Rule #1: Sleep is a survival skill.
Our first non-negotiable is about how much shut-eye you’re getting. Sleep is truly a survival skill. Studies show that most of us need between seven and nine hours each night. While that may sound like a tall order, the benefits of a good night’s rest act like an insurance policy for your health. Adequate sleep helps you maintain your weight, improves immune function, lowers the risks of diabetes and heart disease, and helps you think more clearly.
Many times, not getting enough sleep is just a function of scheduling. Determine what time you need to get up in the morning, and count back by at least seven hours. This becomes your bedtime. I need eight hours of sleep each night, and I like to be up by 6:00 am, which means I go to bed between 10:00 and 10:30 pm most nights. If I stay up later than that, I allow myself to wake up a little later as well. Sleep is my number one self-care priority.
Wellness Rule #2: Food decides how you feel.
How much of your life force have you wasted feeling bad about your body? How many years of your life have you spent on a diet, talking about a diet, or reading about one? How much money have you flushed down the fad diet toilet? For real. How many diet books have you purchased, or quick weight-loss potions have you tried? Personally, I’ve lost count of all the weight loss programs I’ve attempted, and I’m afraid if you calculated the money I’ve spent on magic pills and powders we’d find out I could have put a child (or two) through private college.
Food is fuel, and your body needs it to run just like a car needs gas. You must eat to survive, but you’ve been taught to feel guilty about feeding yourself. You’ve been conditioned to count calories, eliminate entire food groups, and label every food as good or bad in pursuit of the perfect body. I’m here to suggest you’ve been shooting for the wrong goal.
Instead of eating for your weight, I want you to eat for your health. Instead of counting calories, I want you to track nutrients. Instead of proclaiming yourself good or bad based on what you just put into your mouth, I want you to determine if you feel good or bad based on what you just ate.
Wellness Rule #3: Exercise is YOU TIME.
Many of the women I’ve worked with have looked at working out like some kind of punishment. You’ve been taught to use your workout to whip your body into shape or to pay for eating too many calories, and that sets you up to fail. How often do you think you’re going to make yourself to do something that hurts, even when you know it’s good for you? That’s right. Never.
We have to change what exercise means to you. Working out is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel, and moving your body is a fast-pass to feeling good. Cardio activity releases endorphins and dopamine in your brain. Stretching calms your mind and increases flexibility, and weight training increases your libido and improves brain function and muscle tone. Translation, regular exercise calms you, makes your brain happy, and makes you want to have sex … which can make you feel really good.
Wellness Rule #4: Hydration is life’s simplest hack.
Perhaps the simplest strategy I’ve encountered in the worlds of wellness, fitness and personal development is this … drink water every day. Your body is sixty percent fluid, and seventy-three percent of your brain and heart are made up of the stuff. Dehydration makes you feel tired, and causes dry skin, dizziness and muscle cramps. Worse still, it negatively impacts your heart and lungs, which can make it difficult to breathe, and even induce a rapid heartbeat.
The benefits of hydration are enormous. When you give your body adequate fluid, you help maintain your most critical systems. You think clearly. Your cardiovascular system functions optimally, and your muscles and joints work better. Adequate hydration assists with detoxification, and even supports weight loss.
This is a simple solve. Manage your hydration proactively. Current recommendations for an adult woman call for between eleven and twelve cups of fluid every day, which can come from plain water, beverages, and food with high water content. You read that right. Coffee, tea, juices and sports drinks all count toward your fluid goals. I start each morning with a hot lemon water, and finish a 1.5 liter bottle of water every day. My hubby jokes that it’s my baba, and just like a baby, mine is never far away from me. You may want to test out a similar approach.
Step 3 – You must find a way to release your stress.
Stress is an inevitability, so there’s a good bet you’re going to deal with your fair share of it. At the end of a hard day, how do you let off steam? Do you numb a bad afternoon with a few glasses of wine, or take your frustrations out by chomping chips and salsa? Maybe you check out by shopping on-line, or obsessively checking your social media feed.
Coping mechanisms are the things you do to manage stress. Many times you engage in these behaviors on automatic pilot without really thinking about what you’re doing. If Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough soothes you when you’re stressing, you’ll find yourself inhaling B&J when you’re freaking. Right out of the carton. In front of the refrigerator. As if you’re in a trance.
At their core, coping mechanisms are the tools you use to feel better when you feel bad. We all have our own go-to moves when it comes to coping. Some habits empower you and move you toward your goals. Others disempower you and keep you stuck. If you don’t design proactive strategies to release your tension, it’s easy to default to low grade options.
How are you coping?
Are you soothing yourself in healthy ways, or have you fallen into a few less than empowering habits? There’s no need to beat yourself up if you discover you’ve been relying on a bad habit or two. That doesn’t mean you’re a mess. It just means your approach needs an upgrade. There are a surprising number of proactive ways to relieve stress. I’ve made a list of my favorites right here called Six to Soothe. Pick your poison.
Stress Soother #1: Giggle it out.
Laughter really is the best medicine. It strengthens your immune system, relaxes you, and releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural feel good chemicals. If you follow my social media feed, you know I post a funny quote every day, because laughing is one of my favorite things. Give it a try for yourself. Watch a funny movie or a stand-up act. Tickle your kids. Get lost in a few YouTube cat videos, or read silly quotes like the ones you find on my Facebook or Instagram pages. Giggling gives stress the boot.
Stress Soother #2: Get quiet.
You don’t have to meditate or listen to your theme song to combat stress. You can also just close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, or sit quietly while you drink a cup of tea, or silently enjoy a walk in nature while you listen to the sound of your feet crunching on the ground. Contemplation calms.
Stress Soother #3: Smell something delicious.
Aromatherapy can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Lemon is energizing. Peppermint has been used to treat headaches, and lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety. What a simple and divine way to relieve your stress. Smell your way there! Light an aromatic candle or some incense. Diffuse essential oils, or use a perfumed lotion. Take a hot scented bath. May Calgon take you away.
Stress Soother #4: Hug it out.
Physical touch prompts the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Sex has even been linked to lowering blood pressure. You read that right. Having sex is a great way to relieve your stress. I highly recommend you have some. If that’s not in the cards, cuddling, holding hands, or getting a massage reduces stress too. So does hugging your pet. Go ahead. Reach out and touch someone, and let your stress subside.
Stress Soother #5: Talk about it.
We all want to be heard and understood. Sharing your feelings can help you feel supported and give you new perspective. Constructive venting helps you process your emotions and make sense of your situation. Lean on your sweetie or your best friend, and never be afraid to hire a professional for help. Mental health experts provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore difficult subjects. I’ve personally done some of my most powerful healing on the couch of a good therapist. Take your stress levels down with a safe chat.
Stress Soother #6: Channel your inner artist.
Artistic activities are calming. Coloring impacts the same part of your brain that meditation does, and colors themselves can change your brain waves. Any pleasurable activity that requires in-the-moment focus will help you relieve stress. Try cooking, baking, gardening, crafting, knitting, scrapbooking, or painting. You don’t have to be Picasso either. Create for pleasure’s sake, and you’ll feel calm wash over you.
I hope I’ve convinced you that self-care is not selfish. It’s science. As you finish this blog, may you take at least one idea with you to help you take better care of you.
That’s it for now. Remember that I never want you to blindly take my word for anything. Only you know what’s right for you. I just happen to have a few coaching tools that can help you get closer to that wisdom. Give this lesson’s advice a test drive in your life, and let me know how it goes. There are three ways for us to interact.
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My mission is your empowerment. That’s why I’m here. If you haven’t already joined my community, please do it by entering your email (www.kimberlyfulcher.com). Until we meet again, know that life is happening for you, and you’ve got this!