The Google dictionary defines competitive advantage as “a condition or circumstance that puts a company in a favourable or superior business position”. It is something that entrepreneurs seek constantly to give them an edge in their market. While everyday life isn’t generally framed as a competition, I think most people are trying to find ways to live better. We all have responsibilities. We have competing demands on our time and attention. It is easy to get lost in the daily shuffle and settle into habits (some good, some bad). It’s easy to be “busy” and put our needs at the end of our never-ending to-do lists. Only when we are burning out or sick do we rise a bit higher in the priorities.
Doesn’t it make sense that we will function at a higher level if we make our own well-being part of the equation?
Self-Care is a Choice
There will be times that we have to pull a 14 hour day or go to a family event that is going to cause stress or chauffeur kids to a birthday party and two extracurricular activities. But this doesn’t have to be the everyday norm. We get to choose much of what we commit our time to and if any of it goes to our own well-being. Usually, it doesn't.
Self-care is a choice that most of us don’t make. With that in mind, think about the following:
- Do you make really good decisions when you are tired?
- Are you highly productive when you are exhausted?
- Do you easily tolerate the inevitable annoyances of the day when you are feeling drained?
- Are you creative and inspired when you are low energy?
I suspect that most people would answer NO to those questions. So why then is self-care something that we don’t prioritize? Why is it something that we consider selfish? Self-care is how we avoid being tired, exhausted, drained, and low energy. There is a reason that you are told to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.
Consider that instead of being selfish, self-care is something that will make you better at all the other things in your life. I am not saying that you should shirk your responsibilities, blow all your money on extravagant vacations, and visit the spa every week. Rather, think about how you can keep your proverbial gas tank full.
How can you expect to do your best work and give your attention and care to those you love when you are running on empty?
How to make self-care a competitive advantage in your life
We are all doing our best to succeed in life and business, but we make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be. There will always be situations in our lives that we can’t control, but we can make choices about how we handle them. We can choose to give ourselves space to be the best person we can be, given our particular circumstances. This comes from including self-care as part of our lives.
Reframe self-care from a luxury to a habit
It is common to view any kind of self-care as indulgent and mired in laziness. We feel the need to justify any downtime we take and carry guilt when we finally collapse from exhaustion. Self-care is something we are allowed on occasion, perhaps on the one vacation, we take every few years or the afternoon we take off from work when we are sick.
In fact, there is an entire narrative in entrepreneurship centred around who is "busiest", working the most hours, and most exhausted. It is often talked about as though you deserve a badge of honour for running yourself ragged. To me, it is just silly.
What if we changed the narrative to working hard AND making time for a balanced life? What if we instead talked about self-care as something that we should integrate into our daily lives? What if we spent a bit of time every day to relax, eat better, read a book, exercise or hang out with the people who matter to us? I suspect we would all feel a lot better. I also suspect we would all also perform better than many of those around us.
We need to reframe self-care from an occasional luxury to part of our regular habits. We also need to understand that self-care is not just for us; it is also for all the other people in our lives that rely on us. Our partners, kids, families, friends, colleagues, and employees all reap the benefits of a rested, recharged us.
Here are some tactics to help make intentional choices to build self-care into your life so you can kick ass, take names, feel good and be the person you want to be in your business and for those you love.
1. Clarify what self-care means to you
Self-care doesn’t have to be massages and pedicures (though it could be). It can be anything you want. All that matters is that you are making time to do things that recharge and energize you.
- Think about where you get your energy from – This is related to introversion and extroversion. Introverts are drained by being around others and recharge by being alone. Extroverts are drained by being alone and recharge by being around others. This is a spectrum and varies from person to person, but knowing roughly where you sit can help you make decisions about what kind of activities work best for you. I am introverted so I know that things like reading, home yoga, and playing video games with my husband are good recharge activities for me.
- Don’t be afraid to try new self-care tactics – We all have things in our head, many of them reinforced through media, about what self-care should look like (e.g. sitting in a bubble bath with a glass of wine). Some of them might be a good fit for you, some might not... Make a list of things that you know help you recharge and consider adding a few things you haven’t tried yet. For example, I started outdoor running last year. I was not in the best shape and the first few times I went I wanted to keel over and never get up. However, I kept going and discovered that I actually really like it. It appeals to my inner introvert in that it is something I do alone and it clears my mind.
- Understand that self-care doesn’t have to be an activity – It can be talking through a challenge or letting someone take care of you. It can be sharing a hard thing with someone you trust, not because you want them to solve it, but because it helps to not carry it alone. It can be saying no to something that you can't easily fit into your schedule.
2. Intentional calendar management
We all live eventful (my replacement word for busy!) lives. We have jobs and friends and family and the myriad of commitments that come with each of those. That said, we get to make decisions about many of these commitments.
- Keep a reasonable calendar – If your calendar is a sea of meetings, appointments, events, kids activities, etc. think twice about what you add to it. I am careful as my weeks fill up and to make sure to not overbook myself. There will always be more. There are business events and kids activities and birthday parties and volunteer commitments and…and…and. You only have so much time and so much to give. Leave space for you too.
- Book self-care – One of the ways to build self-care into your life is by actually booking it into your calendar. Maybe it is date night with your partner; maybe it is fitting in a yoga class; maybe it is reading a book for an hour, undisturbed. See if you can find a place in your schedule to fit that time, and make sure you take it.
3. Communicate your self-care needs and ask for help
We jam-pack our schedules and then feel like failures when we don’t achieve it all. This makes adding self-care to the mix even more daunting. One of the ways to make sure your intentionally booked self-care time happens is to talk to the people in your life about your self-care needs and ask for help.
Things like asking for a babysitter, saying no to an outing when you are tired, pushing a meeting request back by a week instead of jamming it into an already full week.
This is where people get stuck. They don’t want to be seen as selfish and asking for help is hard. That said, if you can communicate your self-care needs to others, it follows that you can ask them to communicate their self-care needs to you. Give and take. If we help give each other the opportunity to recharge, we will all function at a higher level.
Self-care is a competitive advantage because you will handle every part of your life better if you feel rested and have the energy to take on the day-to-day challenges and joys of business and life. You have to choose to make self-care a priority and the first step is reframing it from a luxury to a habit. Then you can take time to understand what self-care means to you, work it into your schedule, and ask for help to keep it there.