Hearing Arianna Huffington speak about her new book Thrive last month was like hearing the outspoken child in Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes expose the fallacy of the invisible fabric by speaking the obvious truth that no one dared to say. In the story, the child was not affected by the pretense, the denial or the illusion that kept the others silent, so he was free to speak his mind. Once he did, others felt free to follow in the truth. In this case, Ms. Huffington was exposing the obvious yet unspoken truth about our need as individuals to have a balanced life that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, and the illusion she shattered was the failed work/life paradigm and the resulting burnout and poor health that has resulted from our chaotic, unhealthy, work-addicted lifestyles.
As both a holistic health coach and former Fortune 500 executive with several a-ha moments of my own, I connected with nearly every word she said. Of course, the critics were quick to judge, but here is the thing about epiphanies and a-ha moments for those who have not had one. The moment of the epiphany, the actual a-ha, brings immediate conceptual clarity and certainty in the mind. But to manifest that knowledge into changes in the physical and practical areas of one's life takes time, moves more slowly and is a continual and at times lengthy process. It has less to do with being perfect at it and more to do with a deep shift in your consciousness that guides you towards a new set of principles.
You do not have to have a traumatic event to get a wake-up call, though these are often the trigger. You also don't have to wait until society reaches the tipping point when balance and well-being will become mainstream ideals, which I believe they will. You can make changes right now that will strengthen your sense of self, restore a feeling of control, and set a great example for others to follow.
Here are five great ways to get started:
1. Care as much about yourself as you do other people you love. Don't make the mistake of thinking that taking care of yourself is something that only happens when no one else needs you. That time won't come. Show yourself the same compassion, nurture and commitment as you do someone you love. If you would tell a loved one to take a break, get some rest or let something slide, do the same for yourself. Make sure that your definition of being "busy" includes doing relaxing and health promoting things just for you, even if it means saying "no" to someone else.
2. Listen to your body. We have become miserably out of sync with our body's cues. Some of you may not even recognize them anymore. Studies show that middle-aged women are experiencing increasingly high levels of chronic, unresolved stress and the consequences are serious: infertility, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, metabolic disorders, auto-immune diseases, cancer, and obesity. The risk of nearly every one of these is increased when under prolonged stress. But the good news is many can be prevented, improved or even reversed with a healthy lifestyle including plenty of rest and recovery, good nutrition, regular exercise and reduced stress. Listen to the cues and make your health your hobby.
3. Set boundaries. You teach people how to treat you. So then, be careful how you set your boundaries at work, at home, in your community -- in all areas of your life. At work, be consistent about what your will and will not do. Take control of your schedule and don't let a week of late nights turn into a habit. Spilling work stress into family/personal time is not a viable option. It affects everyone in the house, including children, and strains relationships. At home, make sure the workload is evenly distributed. Everyone should contribute and do chores they can handle. Don't be talked out of meeting your needs in order to accommodate someone else's. Say no to things that clutter your calendar and detract from what really matters to you. Healthy boundaries are good, so put some up and respect them.
4. Don't confuse technology with humanity. We don't run on the same platform. Advances in technology have fooled many of us into believing that our human nature and physiological needs and responses have somehow changed along with it. Not so. Your boyfriend may be able to break up with you in a single click on Facebook, but that doesn't change the process or pace at which your emotions process or heal from the hurt. Your smart phone can easily alert you to emails and notifications at bedtime, but that doesn't change the fact that regularly elevating cortisol (a stress hormone) levels late at night when the body is trying to go into a rest and recovery mode will take a negative toll on your health. Honor your humanity, exploit technology, not the other way around.
5. Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people. Just because everyone in the world may not think as you do (yet) doesn't mean you cannot live according to your principles. Find some like-minded people in and out of work and do things in groups, encourage each other to leave the office on time, do outdoor or walking meetings when appropriate, have a friend check in to remind you of your goals and hold you accountable. Surround yourself with positive influences. I read an article last night that claimed to prove "stress can be caught from others" (I love when medical folk try to explain non-medical things). Anyone who has observed how easily one person's negativity can kill the mood in a room knows this is true. Your energy affects others and theirs affects you. Limit time spent with people who leave you feeling worried, anxious, negative or upset.
And here is a bonus suggestion -- If you are in a position of influence, use it. Managers, give your people as much laterality on the little things that make their lives work more smoothly as you can, it will come back to you tenfold in the way of engagement and productivity. Provided the job is getting done well, be generous with giving time and flexibility. Time is an extremely valuable benefit and goes a long way toward reducing stress and making your team feel trusted and appreciated.
Most importantly, make the commitment and the promise to take better care of yourself. Yes, you! Then watch how quickly you will influence and empower others to do the same.