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On Sustaining Ourselves: One Moment at a Time

June 4, 2018

Yesterday was one of those days. Multiple deadlines, back-to-back meetings, dozens of unanswered emails in my inbox.  When I looked up at 4:45 pm (only because I had set an alarm so that I wouldn’t forget to pick up my children from daycare), I realized that I hadn’t eaten since 10:30am.  Everything I know about what it takes to be healthy and productive flew out the window.

 

I left the office to pick up my kids in a daze, chomping on a cheese stick for sustenance; my mind racing in extreme planning and execution mode.  I had 10 minutes to decompress before I got to the kids.  I tried to concentrate on mindful breathing, but it didn’t do much.  Not surprisingly, my interactions with my kids once I picked them up were less than ideal.  I’ll spare the details, but they included some yelling (me and them) and lots of frustration (me).

 

Finally, after dinner and getting my children into bed, it was quiet again.  My instinct was to head straight back to the desk, finish up a few more emails, get a little more done. Just a little bit more.  But some quiet part of me said, go outside. Go outside before the sun sets.

 

So I did.

 

I started my run with the same intense energy, moving a mile a minute.  But as I charged my way up the hill near my house, I paused at the top to catch my breath. I turned around and noticed a few things. The air was fragrant with spring blossoms, freshly cut grass.  The sky was painted with the most beautiful hues of purple, pink.  A light fog was slowly creeping in.  The peeper frogs were out in the marshlands, singing their song.  The day was ending but something else was beginning - the evening air was alive and vibrating with activity.

 

I stopped to listen, feel, and observe the evening sky.  My run and the details of the next very important action item forgotten. I walked the rest of the way home, moved by my experience, immersed in the night air.  Much calmer and present.  I chose not to return to my work, went to bed early, and started today fresh and grounded.

 

I relearned something on that walk that I continue to relearn, over and over.  I cannot do my best work, or be my best self if I neglect the things that sustain me.   I am not an endless supply of energy, as much as I wish I was.

 

None of us are.  We all need time to rejuvenate, renew, reset.

 

It’s part of our responsibility as leaders.  It is one of the most persistent challenges.  I get it.  Life is busy and there are so many competing and important demands on our time.  But we cannot sacrifice ourselves – we don’t do anyone any favors by running on empty.

 

Here are three of my favorite practices that help me to keep this front and center.

 

1)  Getting outside. Time outside, even 10 minutes of it, often puts me in a different state of mind.  Much research has shown that time in nature (yes, urban nature too!) reduces stress, anxiety, increases vitamin d, and improves concentration.

2)  Practicing focused breathing. Sitting for just five minutes a day using focused breathing has transformed my life. In the moment, I am better able to make decisions and stay clear on what my priorities for the day.  The cumulative benefit is that I am better able to pay attention and act on those quiet moments of insight.

 

3) Playing a favorite song.  For me, music is an instant pick me up.  I have a set of playlists with my favorite songs for every occasion on Spotify…songs for inspiration; higher energy; calm.   When I pair the music with some dancing, even better!  A five-minute dance break can make all the difference in recharging my perspective and getting me moving. 

 

What helps to sustain you in your life and work?  What do you have in place to support your ongoing ability to recharge?  If you don’t have something in place already, I encourage you to identify a practice that you can engage in regularly for 10 minutes a day.  It doesn’t sound like much, but I know from experience that with regular practice, it will make a tremendous difference.

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