Right now, it is 10 a.m. and I am still in my pajamas from yesterday. Why, might you wonder? Well, my mornings typically kick off with a frantic dash to prepare my child for the school bus, and then immediately following I sit down at my desk and get sucked into work and email. By the time I look at the clock, it’s already noon, and I haven’t given a second thought to taking care of myself.
This scenario has sadly become a recurring theme in my life. It’s ironic, given that I work for a company that specializes in productivity and performance. How have I allowed myself to prioritize work, family, and friends over self-care? Is it the societal pressure to put others first or do I grapple with self-esteem issues? Perhaps this belief that strong individuals make sacrifices stems from my upbringing.
Psychology Today asserts that our behavior, including self-care, stems from our beliefs. We often neglect self-care because we perceive it as selfish or believe we haven’t earned it, lack the time, or have no control. But here’s the catch: when an airplane’s oxygen masks drop, we’re instructed to secure our own masks before assisting others. There’s a mere 8-12 seconds before potential incapacitation. Yet, here I am, in my pajamas, 12 seconds away from burnout.
Amidst the whirlwind of my racing thoughts, I often find myself daydreaming about a life where self-care and everything else falls into place. On my ideal day, I wake up early, make my bed, exercise, meditate, eat healthily, read, connect with loved ones, seal a significant deal that moves my boss to tears, and wrap up the day in a hot tub or with a captivating book. My family is content, my house is immaculate, my wardrobe is organized, and my inbox brimming with praise. If only, I tell myself, if only I could have that, then I would be truly happy.
Realistically, I know that happiness isn’t waiting at the end of this tunnel. Still, it begs the question: What if I lived my ‘perfect day’ every day for a sustained period? What would I learn about myself, my beliefs, and my habits during this journey? Thus, I embarked on a quest to make this perfect day a daily reality…. for 12 days.
My daily routine began to revolve around the actions that constituted my ideal day. Before work started, I made my bed, exercised, showered, prepared nutritious meals, tidied up, followed my skincare regimen, and meditated. In the afternoon, I dedicated time to reading and nurturing creativity, while the evenings included more healthy meals, quality family time, cleaning, skincare, gratitude practice, reading, and sufficient rest—all while maintaining the quality of my work.
Seems easy enough, right? Here’s what I discovered during this experiment:
You complete what you track.
Author Peter Drucker wisely said, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” Over these 12 days, I realized that tracking had the most significant impact on my success. To stay on top of things, I needed to start my day with intention, not play catch-up later. I began to track my habits and commitments on paper, which played a pivotal role in my success. Key performance indicators (KPIs) for self-care are just as worthy of tracking as work-related metrics. I even incorporated recurring self-care tasks into my Outlook calendar.
If it takes 2 minutes or less, knock it out.
Embedded in our programs and practices is the two-minute rule: if you can complete a task in two minutes or less, tackle it immediately. For example, spending a few minutes tidying up in the evening saved me from wasting hours on a Saturday cleaning. This shift in behavior was highly rewarding, as it made a substantial impact on my day-to-day life. Process the mail in two minutes, make my bed in two minutes – there’s no excuse not to!
Habits ease decision-making.
Researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make thousands of decisions each day (roughly 227 on food alone) and sometimes even small decisions can become mentally exhausting. Habits help us deal with these complexities. The more habits we cultivate, whether good or bad, the less mental energy we expend. The habits I established during those 12 days significantly reduced decision-making time and mental exhaustion. This explains why my work quality remained consistent while I invested more time in self-care.
Happiness is a choice, not a reward.
Yes, you saw this coming. I embarked on this experiment with the hope of instant happiness being the result. While I did find moments of joy in completing these tasks and focusing on self-care, it didn’t dramatically increase my overall happiness. However, it did clear my mental space, allowing me to be more present, adopt a service-oriented mindset, and experience gratitude – all of which contribute to happiness. I was less overwhelmed by my racing thoughts about what I should be doing, which gave me more time to choose happiness.
Today marks the early afternoon of my 13th day in this experiment, and I’ve continued to complete over 80% of my perfect day items. I’ve made my bed, exercised, stayed hydrated, meditated, and, most importantly, I’m not lounging in my pajamas.
Author – Stephenie Rockwell, InteraWorks Director of Culture + Client Experience
InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, and teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent, and energy to produce results that matter most.
We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.