As a business owner and leader, it is easy to get so caught up in everything you have to do to keep the business running effectively and profitably and ensure your staff and customers are happy that it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. Dealing with staff and clients, creating systems, managing cash flow, networking, growth and strategy, and the list goes on. It can feel like a never-ending marathon, with each day presenting a new set of obstacles to overcome. What’s left of your time is usually shared between your other commitments, like spending time with family and friends and managing your household, which often leaves little to none for yourself. This begs the question, are you neglecting your health for the sake of your business? And if this is the case, which it is for so many, how do you break the cycle?
The importance of taking a holistic approach
As a business strategist, consultant and business owner myself, I see business owners who put themselves last almost daily. Many completely neglect themselves and pour all of their time and energy into everything else around them. My experience working with hundreds of business owners and anecdotal evidence suggest that sacrificing oneself for the sake of the business is not sustainable. If you can see yourself in this description, you will almost certainly be faced with ill health and possibly even burnout at some point.
I am currently working with a client who yo-yos between looking after himself and focusing all his energy on his business and family, causing him significant suffering. When he neglects himself, he puts on weight, his moods are erratic, he gets easily stressed, his relationships suffer, and he is less focused at work. He is learning that when he takes the time to exercise and eat well, things turn around for him in all aspects of his life.
Whenever I work with business owners and leaders, I take a holistic approach to support them in managing their lives, not just their businesses. So, in addition to assessing the business for areas of inefficiency and room for improvement, I also consider the owner’s family, relationships and personal health. That way, we can come up with ways to ensure they can be effective in everything they do so they no longer have to sacrifice their health for their business and can live a full and balanced life.
The widespread risk of neglected health
When I start working with clients, it is usually for one of two reasons: they are faced with many challenges and obstacles, so things are going wrong, or they have experienced rapid growth and can’t keep up anymore. Either way, the primary reason for their challenges is that they have pushed themselves to the side and not looked after their physical, mental and spiritual health, which in my opinion, all make up our overall health.
In 2018, 47% of Australians had one or more chronic illnesses (ABS). This figure is likely to be much higher now as it has been steadily increasing over the years. Given that most business owners operate under conditions known to cause ill health, such as chronic stress, insufficient or poor quality sleep and working too many hours, to name a few, it is safe to say that you are more at risk of developing ill health at some stage if you do not change the way you are being when it comes to your health.
Taking ownership of every aspect of your life and not letting one area overtake the others requires a shift in your awareness and transforming the way you are being. One key thing I observe with many of my clients is that their level of responsibility around their health, wellbeing and other areas of their personal lives lowers the more their business grows. In other words, they let what is happening with their business dictate what happens in other parts of their life.
You might be wondering at this point what I mean by transforming the way you are being. Let’s consider being responsible as an example. According to the Being FrameworkTM, responsibility as a Way of Being is distinguished as follows:
“Responsibility is being the primary cause of the matters in your life, regardless of their source. It is the extent to which you choose to respond rather than react to them. Responsibility is distinguished by how you honour the autonomy that you have as a human being and is considered the power to influence the affairs, outcomes and consequences you are faced with. Responsibility is not about blaming or determining whose fault it is. Instead, it is to intentionally choose, own, cause and bring about outcomes that matter, work and produce results while also being answerable for the impact and consequences.”
When I refer to transforming the way you are being, in this case with responsibility around your health, it’s about developing a healthy relationship with responsibility, which is distinguished as follows:
“A healthy relationship with responsibility indicates that you have the power to influence the circumstances you find yourself in and/or cause. Others may consider you capable of appropriately responding to matters, which is a prerequisite to producing and bringing to fruition effective results. You fully accept ownership of both outcomes and consequences and have the capacity to make informed, uncoerced decisions. You are unquestionably the active agent in your life.”
Whenever I start working with a new client, I support them to understand that they have the power to shift the outcomes of their life, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in. Shifting those outcomes can take some time, especially if they are deeply ingrained within the business and their lives, and it invariably requires them to make some adjustments, which isn’t always easy to do. However, it’s worth the effort because one of the keys to sustainable success in business is for the owner to take care of themselves first before focusing on everything else. The saying, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ rings true here.
5-step exercise to start prioritising your health as a business owner
So, what can you do if you feel like you have started to neglect yourself and put everything and everyone above you?
My advice is to:
- Create your vision. Start by working out exactly what you want your life to look like. For example, what would your life be like if you were looking after your health, spending time on all the things you enjoy doing and value, and being there for your family and friends etc.? Be specific. Create a detailed list of all the things you want.
- Assess where you are now. Consider where you are currently and how your life looks and feels. List the current state of your life in as much detail as you can. Include your business and personal life in your assessment.
- Identify the gaps. Compare what you want your life to look (your vision) with what it currently looks like.
- Create an action list. Write a list of action items that originate from the gaps identified in Step 3. You may even like to put a timeline around each action item.
- Take action. There’s no time like the present. Use your list to start taking action, one step at a time.
Change is challenging for most people, and some business owners find having a list of action items confronting and overwhelming. But I encourage them to see it as empowering because it lets them know exactly what needs to happen to get to the point where they will feel like things are working in all areas of their lives.
For most business owners, the hardest part in all of this is knowing how to find the time to work through their action list when they have so much other ‘stuff’ to deal with. I always tell my clients that all of that ‘stuff’: the work problems, staffing issues, suppliers, clients, and so on will always be there. Even if you solve them all, there will be new challenges to deal with because that is the nature of running a business. You can operate in survival mode for the rest of your life, neglecting yourself and giving everything to your business. Or you can choose to be responsible by accepting the nature of business, paying attention to all areas of your life and getting more balance in the here and now.
My suggestion is to just start. Choose one action item on your list and integrate that into your day or week. It’s a good idea to begin with the step you believe will be most manageable. If you can fit one new thing in every day, like going for a walk or some other form of exercise, do it. Even if you can only manage it once a week, do it. In a few weeks, add something else and then repeat until you have ticked off all the items on your list and are doing them regularly. This may take weeks, months or even a year, but that doesn’t matter because life is about the long game.
Assess how you are feeling as you work through your list. Are these things making a positive impact on your life? If so, keep going. If not, tweak them or remove them. Healthy habits are formed through repetition. Before long, you will notice the benefits and won’t want to stop.
Getting out of the rut of not looking after yourself as a business owner is achievable. You just need to be responsible about it and make yourself a priority. If it all seems too much and you feel burnt out, consider taking some time out at a health and wellness retreat to reset and recharge. I run retreats at my family-owned and operated business, Thinami Retreat in Northern NSW, Australia, which specifically caters to business owners and supports them to get back on track with their lives and health. I can set you up on the right path for you, and then you can implement the changes into your daily life, either on your own or with ongoing support. Contact me here to learn more.