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Three Ways to Take Care of Yourself (And Do a Better Job)

From Clear Thinking Communications and Susan Parker
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Article: Three Ways to Care of Yourself (And Do a Better Job)

I check the time. It's 8:30am. I know I shouldn't call my colleague yet. Each morning she meditates and does yoga. She gets to her office no earlier than 9:30am. Every year, she and her husband take a three-week hiking trip to a faraway exotic spot. She won't let anything get in the way of her morning routine or her yearly trip. It's what keeps her sane, she says.

At 10am, I call her to talk about a project we're collaborating on. She is friendly, focused and a pleasure to work with.


I think about my colleague as the summer is winding down and it's "back to school" season, whether we have children or not. Our schedules get busier, the pace of work picks up and in the midst of all that, we can get pretty frazzled. When we run from project to project and meet one demand after another, it can be hard to bring our best to our work--and lives in general. We can feel like we're merely coping rather than bringing our most creative game to the field.

The beauty of summer is that sometimes we give ourselves permission to slow down and take care of ourselves. We go on vacation, take long weekends, and for those of us who live in the north, we simply revel in being outside as much as possible while the weather is still warm.

Taking care of ourselves is something that is easy to forget to do. But it's vital if we want to be as effective as we can be. We must take time out to do things that make us happy and fill our spirit.

After a particularly busy summer, I've been thinking about how to make sure that I stay re-charged and give my best to my clients and colleagues. Here are three things I've found that help keep me fresh and energized. Try them and see what happens:

Do something quiet. With so many distractions and the never ending stream of Tweets, emails, updates and urgent messages we receive, it can be hard to unplug and just "be." Science is showing that we do our best thinking when we step away from all of that noise and let our unconscious percolate on ideas. Doing something quiet is one of the best ways for us to keep our minds fresh.

For me, that means trying to meditate for 20 minutes each day.  When I keep up a steady practice, I find that I can think better. I am also less reactive to the vicissitudes of life.

For you, something quiet might mean walking your dog, or going to a favorite place in nature, even a city park, and just sitting. Whatever it is, leave your smart phone behind. Just be by yourself.

Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., author of Conquer CyberOverload, who has spent years researching the brain, writes that constant connection crushes our creativity and adds to our stress. Our overloaded brain needs a break, she asserts.

Writing on a Psychology Today blog, Cantor states:

"We're virtually always connected to our gadgets, which are either giving us an alert or tantalizing us with something new. With most people today, the minute we finish inputting one thing, we're inputting the next. As we're walking out of a meeting, we're checking our messages. On the way home from work, we're listening to the news or a self-improvement tape. We don't have time to think anymore, to ponder, to mull, to integrate or to consider."

Cantor continues, "Research shows that well-timed breaks to low-information environments not only restore our brain's efficiency, they promote creativity and problem-solving. Focusing on a problem is good, but to make that creative leap, to think outside the box, we need to relax that focus and allow ideas to come to the fore that we didn't initially think were relevant. Low-information activities like interacting with nature can attract our attention and disperse our focus 'modestly,' just strongly enough to allow creative ideas to pop into consciousness."

Do something by yourself. It can be great to do things on your own. When you are by yourself, with no demands, you remember what gives you energy. You can also do exactly what you want to do without worrying about the needs of someone else. If you want to have ice cream for lunch, you can. If you want to go to a flea market and spend all day poking around and not be concerned that your spouse is bored, you can.

A friend of mine recently decided to go to a museum by herself on her birthday. She wanted to see the art the way she wanted to, without worrying about adjusting her pace--or interpretation--for anyone else.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, writes that these "artist dates" are crucial to nurturing our creativity.

"We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them," she writes. "I call this process filling the well...In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do--spiritual sit-ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery."

On her website, Cameron describes in more detail the importance of an artist date and how to carve out time for one.

Do something fun. Find something active to do that you know will make you smile like a kid again. Last summer, our family went to a resort that had an amazing water park with enough exhilarating slides and rides to keep us moving and happy all day. The adults had just as much fun as the kids. Before the official end of this summer, I'm going to a mountain resort and try out zip lining through a forest. I can't wait to feel that combination of fear and exhilaration as I go hurtling down the mountain. I also started playing tennis again after a layoff of several years. Every time I play, I'm happy and re-energized.

Doing something fun helps our brains as well, according to experts.

Play time is one of the seven essential daily mental activities, say Harvard researcher Dan Siegel, M.D. and David Rock, M.D., executive director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.

Siegel and Rock describe play time as "when we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in our brain."

Remember the kinds of things that exhilarate you and do them. Then, make time to keep doing at least one on a regular basis.

As the summer winds down, find ways to care for yourself--and make a promise to do things that nurture you even as we move into the busy fall season.

None of us can be constantly plugged in, responding to crises, running from one thing to the next and do our best work. We just can't. Take care of yourself.


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