My mom had a saying when I was growing up. “Son – Listen to your body.” What I understood her to be saying is that I should hone my skill of taking notice of the small cues my body gives me in order to better care for myself. For instance, if my throat is a little sore – maybe I need a little extra rest or some extra vitamin C. If my legs are achy or crampy maybe I need to stretch a bit. If I’m feeling lethargic – maybe I need a little extra exercise. The philosophy was that by learning to listen and responding to my bodies subtle cues – I would tend to give it what it needed to stay healthy and strong.
I’ve heard this advice my entire life – so I figure everyone else has been hearing this too. The older I get – the more I’m convinced that is not the case. I speak to people on a regular basis that seemingly have not honed the skill of listening to what is going on inside of them. Quite the contrary, it almost seems that they have been encouraged to NOT to listen to the subtle cues within them.
No doubt – there is a school of thought that says that we should work through pain. We’ve all heard the mantra “No pain, no gain.” I would be among the first to affirm that there are seasons when stretching is required for growth. We all have to push ourselves harder than usual in order for progress to occur. But a life devoid of hearing, recognizing and acknowledging the messages of pain can and will lead to problems over time.
Maybe we are driven to work hard to the detriment of our own wellbeing. Maybe we don’t get the rest we need or the food/hydration that our body needs to function well. Maybe we may have lived in a physical or mental state of disrepair for so long that we’re not even sure what health looks like. We know something is not right – but we assume the doctor will tell us if it’s not. In doing so, I wonder if sometimes we abdicate the work we are most qualified for to someone else – even those considered to be experts
I’m certainly not saying that there aren’t times we need the advice and help of a doctor. But I am inviting us to consider that the discipline of self-care is a skill worthy of honing in ourselves – and that by developing it we can potentially be our own greatest asset.
Here are a few suggestions that I’m sure my mother would endorse.
- Get curious about subtle aches, pains or when something just doesn’t feel right. Ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Is this overwork? Is this stress? Is it diet? What is this trying to tell me?
- Experiment with acts of care. Could I be helped with an extra hour of sleep? Changing my diet? Taking a walk? Turning off the TV? Journaling? How might I experiment to find out? No one is better suited to figure out their own self-care than we are. Experimenting with these things can give us real data to work with.
- Adapt discoveries of care into disciplines. If we find that a little extra rest or a change to our diet actually helps us feel healthier the next step is to figure out how we might preemptively add these things into our lives as an act of discipline. It’s not enough to know that something will help us. We have to do the work of adding that action into our lives to bring results.
- Keep honing the skill of listening. Listening to our body is a lifelong work. It requires effort and commitment to continue to hear well. But the more we hone this skill – the easier it is to understand and respond.
Leadership and self-care on absolutely linked. Our commitment to better hear and respond to our own bodies will help us be more effective individuals.