Running a business has a lot in common with driving a car. Sure, you can limp from destination to destination for months. But neglect those oil changes or stop fueling the gas tank consistently, and you’ll be on the road to Sideline City.
In the same way, plenty of startup founders discover they’ve been running on empty for too long. Often, this realization hits after a health scare. Stress can easily cause entrepreneurs to lose or gain weight, and long-term burnout has been linked to everything from diabetes to heart disease.
The simple solution to avoiding a total physical breakdown — making self-care a priority — isn’t always so simple, though. Many individuals sacrifice their own needs to hit their company’s goals. And they’re lauded for it: Our society has accepted long-term sleep deprivation and personal neglect as the price of success. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, leaders who want to make it to the finish line need stamina. Ideally, that wouldn’t come from guzzling energy drinks or downing cups of joe. A better way to maintain the energy you need to grow your business is to adopt a sustainable system of caring for No. 1.
If you’re desperately trying to regain harmony and balance, take these three steps to show your body and mind a little love.
1. Make health and fitness a daily to-do.
Have a calendar? Block off 15-minute or 30-minute intervals dedicated to self-care and unplugging from devices. Hold these times as sacrosanct. Armageddon itself shouldn’t sway you. Merely being untethered from your phone for 30 minutes can allow you to reconnect with your thoughts.
At first, you might feel selfish doing something that seems to only benefit you. Here’s the kicker, though: It benefits everyone around you, too. “More often than not, leaders who don’t prioritize their health either become unbearable to work with because they’re dehydrated, or tired, or stressed, or ‘hangry’ — or they start to get sick,” says Danielle Harlan, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. If a one-hour morning yoga session keeps you from flipping out on a colleague or losing your cool during negotiations, it’s worth it. Plus, people who work out regularly tend to enjoy bursts of adrenaline, even at 2:00 p.m.
Worried these daily routines will sidetrack your end game? They don’t have to take up all your waking hours. Your healthy to-dos could be as brief as eating a pre-prepped protein-topped salad for lunch every day or hitting the sack 30 minutes earlier.
2. Join a self-care support group.
As research from the University of California, San Diego has shown, breast cancer survivors who were trying to make healthy changes to their post-treatment diet measurably increased their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fiber (and reduced their fat intake), thanks to the support of a phone counseling group. You, too, can benefit from support for your wellness efforts. Why try to hold up your self-care routine solo? Joining a mastermind group of business leaders who also want to get healthier can offer the motivation you need.
Not only will you have people holding you accountable to your fitness goals, but you’ll expand your business network in the process. As you forge new relationships, you’ll gain a valuable advantage as the people in your group share their expertise and backgrounds.
Can’t find a support group near your home base? Don’t give up: Start one yourself. You’re certainly not the only startup founder in your community, and it’s a relative certainty that your peers are struggling to maintain healthy habits, too. Seek out a few leaders, and make plans to meet weekly at the gym to begin.
3. Look for healthy living discounts and perks.
Want another reason to take your diet and exercise seriously? There are many, not least the intrinsic benefits. Healthier leaders tend to weigh less, have fewer blood sugar spikes throughout the day, tackle problems more easily, and lower their risk of disease. But don’t ignore the financial perks — healthy leaders are often able to spend less on necessary items, such as health insurance.
Life insurance company Health IQ, for example, has begun awarding discounts to consumers who lead healthier lifestyles. This is a radical departure from the notion that all 30-somethings or 40-somethings tend to care for themselves equally, an assumption that supported age-banded premium rates.
Other insurance companies are following suit. BlueCross BlueShield offers wellness program incentives to its members and their families, while UnitedHealthcare offers its Healthy Savings program members automatic savings at the grocery store. Essentially, when members make nutritious purchases, they save. Both programs encourage wellness and fiscal responsibility, a great tie-in that your inner entrepreneur will appreciate.
When you’re in the driver’s seat, the occasional 70-hour workweek might be a necessity. Nevertheless, unless you want to hinder your future success, you need to take your health seriously. Make now the moment in time you change your priorities toward self-care so you can care for yourself and your business.