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5 Things I Learned About Self-Care—And How It’s Making Me a Better Leader

5 Things I Learned About Self-Care—And How It’s Making Me a Better Leader

“8 Ways to Practice Self-Care When College Is Taking a Toll.” “55 Gentle Ways to Take Care of Yourself When You're Busy.” “17 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself.” Search for self-care on Google, and you’ll find hundreds of articles just like these, for everyone from stay-at-home mothers to busy college students to overwhelmed entrepreneurs. In the midst of all the day-to-day craziness, it seems none of us have the time to take care of ourselves.

As a solo startup founder, I understand the struggle all too well. Even when your body tells you it’s time to take a break, there’s always more to do. There’s that networking event. That intensive programming class. That paper that isn’t due until next week, but that you can get done right now. There’s always stuff in the pipeline, and all of it seems to be more important than your well-being.

This year, I decided to make a change. In order to function at my best (because my team deserves nothing less!), I needed to pay more attention to my overworked mind and body. Here’s what I learned about self-care—and how it's making me a more motivated and disciplined leader.

1. Self-care takes tons of discipline.

Self-care doesn’t mean sleeping in for 12 hours, or neglecting your work to take care of yourself. It means prioritizing your wellness so you can handle your obligations better, with less stress and anxiety.

Sometimes, this means going to the gym when you don’t want to, or ignoring that ridiculously delicious smell from the local bakery. If you’re a workhorse like me, it might even mean clocking out on time (gasp!) in order to recharge for another day of intense work. Ultimately, true self-care requires looking past your wants and desires, and pinpointing what you truly need to be at your absolute best.

2. Choose just one thing to focus on.

As strange as this sounds, taking care of yourself can be overwhelming. If you try to do too much at once, self-care can become a chore—just another thing to check off on your overflowing to-do list. That’s why it’s important to start small, and choose just one self-care activity you want to master. I’ve decided, for example, to make fitness my focus. Every morning, without excuse, I wake up at 5 AM to workout, and feel all the better for it!

By mastering just one area of self-care, other positive behaviors will naturally follow suit. Waking up early every morning, for instance, gives me more time to catch up on industry updates, and pushes me to eat better in order to maintain my fitness gains. If you can truly master one self-care routine, you’ll gravitate towards other positive behavior.

3. Motivation is important—but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

Sure, those pretty Instagram quotes are great for sharing. Yes, it’s nice to listen to hours of inspirational TED Talks. But simple motivational mantras don’t do anything for your well-being unless you can actually get out there and do something.

In other words? Motivation is nothing without structure. If you find yourself sharing or liking more motivational quotes than actually acting on them, re-evaluate your approach to self-care. There’s nothing romantic or flowery about waking up at 5 AM every morning, or walking past loud garbage trucks and mystery puddles to get to the gym. But I do it anyway—because it’s the action that matters.

4. Accountability is everything.

Whether you’re trying a new diet or hacking away at a Snapchat addiction, an accountability partner can provide that extra push you need to stay on track. Find a roommate, colleague, or relative who won’t go easy on you—and will check on you when you try to slip under the radar.

Even without an accountability partner, there are measures you can put in place to keep you going strong. I place my phone, for instance, on the kitchen table before bed, in order to prevent myself from spending hours on my phone right before I go to sleep. An added benefit? I’m forced to get out of bed and shut off my alarm, which makes me less likely to snooze the morning away.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

I’ve seen tons of positive change in just a few weeks, all because I decided to focus on my fitness. I’m eating better, feeling stronger, and even becoming (slightly) more punctual. Most of the positive changes, however, have happened slowly and gradually. No matter what anyone tells you, there is no silver bullet for self-care—no magic potion that helps you change your habits overnight.

So don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get it right immediately, or sulk when you sleep through your gym alarm. (Just don’t make it a habit!) Self-care is a complicated and never-ending journey—and you should be proud of yourself for getting started.

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