Define Potential Blog

Self Care: an attitude, not a to do list

4 September 2020

Self-care is getting a lot of airplay right now.  Society is recognising the toll that COVID-19 is taking on our mental wellbeing.  Self-care is promoted as one of the ways we can manage and mitigate the impacts.  According to Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT), self-care is “the active and deliberate personal action we take to maximise our mental, emotional and physical health1.”  Self-care can look different for each individual, and may include physical exercise, mindfulness, social connection, hobbies, contribution, nutrition and sleep.

When the COVID-19 shutdown started, I was very dedicated to self-care.  Every day, I walked, meditated, did Tai Chi, connected with friends, knitted, increased charity work etc.  But as the months have passed, these activities that started out as nourishing self-care activities, have devolved into just more things on my to-do list.  I am rushing through them, not paying attention, finding it all a bit repetitive.  My self-care is no longer self-care but rather has become a task to be checked off.

So, what to do about this?  How can we add ‘self-care’ in, without adding to the to-do list?

Why is self-care so important?

A self-care routine can help maximise our physical, mental, social and emotional performance.  According to the Black Dog Institute, self-care helps prevent stress and anxiety, increases resilience and improves effectiveness2. Implementing self-care individually or as a team is not just about feeling better – the research shows that that it actually improves productivity and performance.

Self-care: from task to attitude

Last year I completed the Mental Health First Aid course. As part of our homework we were asked to complete a self-care activity that evening.  As it is for many people, the evening is not a great time for me to add more tasks to complete.  On this particular day, the course finished at 5, my husband was away travelling, I had to get the kids dinner, clean up the kitchen and then leave to coach the netball team.  The addition of a self-care activity to my night’s to-do list was a bit onerous.  But I am one of those unbearable people that will ALWAYS do their homework. So I did.

Without the extra time to fit in an additional task in my evening, I turned one of my pre-existing to-dos into my self-care homework. Because I had to cook dinner for us all regardless, I chose the task of making dinner as my self-care activity. I resisted my usual habit of rushing in, cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen and getting out again and doing it all myself.  Instead, I implemented self-care by asking my kids to help me.  This qualified as self-care in my mind because:

  • they are old enough to actually be quite useful,
  • asking for help is something I am not usually good at, and
  • their help would take pressure off me.

And it worked.  My son got started chopping the vegetables while my daughter began boiling the pasta and I was able to make the pasta sauce whilst cleaning up the kitchen as we went.  Instead of rushing through this evening ritual, by asking for help I was able to slow down and take the opportunity to have a conversation with my children and we actually ended up having quite a lovely evening.  I had effectively turned a chore into a relaxing and enjoyable activity.

How can you apply this in the workplace?

In addition to doing your best to look after yourself, many of you are leading teams of people who may be working from home, home schooling, or experiencing anxiety or depression as a result of COVID-19 and other factors.  As a leader, how do you genuinely check in with your staff and ask how they are incorporating self-care into their work life without adding to their to-do list?

How does considering self-care as an attitude rather than a task change how easy it is to fit in self-care activities?  For me, this shift in perspective changes the dialogue from ‘what are you doing to look after yourself (or my team)?’ to ‘how can I go about my day in a way that is kinder to myself? And more gentle with myself and others?’.  When meeting with colleagues in your team, it is important to find a way to check in on their wellbeing in a way that is authentic and not just a ‘tick-a-box’. Being able to gauge their well-being will inform you about their productivity and performance in the workplace and help you work with them to achieve outcomes in a way that supports mental wellbeing.  This can build resilience and reduce stress, rather than burning people out.

A classic example is the weekly team meeting. Following are some ideas you could think about to integrate some team self-care.

  • Schedule in some downtime:  Allow yourself and each staff member to nominate a day per week for an ‘early mark’ to do something nice;
  • Have a team meeting outside.  If appropriate for all staff members, include a walk (with enough notice for people to bring walking shoes;
  • In addition to checking what’s on the to-do list, ask what could be taken off a list – by asking for help, re-prioritising, delegating, delaying or even deleting.

A tool for leaders to create a wellbeing plan in your workplace:

The Global Leadership and Wellbeing Survey (GLWS) is the perfect tool to support managers, leaders and team members at this time.  This tool measures wellbeing across a range of factors both inside and outside the workplace.  It can give you a place to start to look at where you could improve the wellbeing of individuals and teams including:

  • Authentic relationships:  with colleagues, family, friends, the community
  • Meaning, purpose and direction:  our overall sense of leading a life with purpose
  • Resilience and equanimity:  our inner strength and emotional evenness
  • Vitality and energy:  physical health, nutrition, exercise and sleep
  • Balance and boundaries:  balancing the demands from all aspects of life
  • Intellectual flow and engagement:  our intrinsic interest and focus at work

The GLWS report & your team

The GLWS will provide individuals with a ‘report card’ assessing wellbeing. It will highlight the areas that are working well and those that can be improved upon. An accredited facilitator will take you through the combined results and help you create an action plan designed to address areas that may dramatically improve wellbeing and maximise results for that individual.  Next, a team report can offer tools that can be implemented to create wellbeing together – contributing to both agency over wellbeing as well as a sense ‘that we are in this together’ – while significantly improving individual and team performance.


To learn more about the GLWS or explore self-care and well-being for a team in depth, please contact me on 0431 969 226 or [email protected].

Kate Neser, Executive Coach – Define Potential, Director – Kate Neser Executive Coaching and Consulting

Kate is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and holds a Level 3 accreditation with the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership, and has a Graduate Diploma in Ontological Coaching with the Newfield Institute. Kate has worked as an executive coach since 2010, after managing a successful career in the public sector for nearly twenty years. Kate specialises in executive coaching, interpersonal communication and leadership and management development.


1 27 August 2020

2 27 August 2020

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