Building a rejuvenation practice that works
If your to-do list is always too long, your workday is always too short, and you’re always looking for that one productivity hack that will let you do it all … you might find that the answer is doing less.
Meet Tracey Lovejoy, coach and founder of Lovejoy Consulting and co-founder of Catalyst Constellations. In her six years as a full-time professional coach (and before that, as a researcher, leader, educator, and strategist in the corporate world), she’s helped leaders, teams, and purpose-driven individuals develop strategies to pursue and achieve ambitious goals. One of the ways she helps her clients is by helping them create a strong, consistent rejuvenation practice. Here’s Tracey’s take on what rejuvenation means, why it matters so much, and how you can build your own practice.
What’s a rejuvenation practice?
It’s a series of activities in your routine that allow you to maintain your physical and mental energy, reduce stress, and allow for creative problem-solving. Tracey says that an effective rejuvenation routine will use a variety of activities that each have specific effects. For example, your ideal routine might include running to reduce stress, meditating to increase energy and creativity, and working jigsaw puzzles to help with problem-solving.
You’re probably more familiar with the term self-care, which Tracey says is an accurate enough term but one that she prefers to avoid.
I’m at war with the notion of self-care because it’s easy for us to deprioritize—it’s really easy for us to put self-care in the “selfish” category. We do recognize its purpose and its criticality and yet … my theory is that in the cultural norms of the United States, the notion of productivity to an external being or organization is our number one value. Whether that external being is our family, our community, our church, our workplace … we don’t give a lot of priority to taking care of ourselves.
We take minimum care of ourselves. We brush our teeth, we get dressed. We try to get enough sleep and exercise, but even that’s a struggle. The other aspects of self-care … they’re important to us, but they fall to seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty-five, or seventy on our to-do list.
And so, I find that if we keep this idea of rejuvenation in the category of self-care, where it’s selfish or a luxury, then it’s hard to build it into our schedules. When people realize it actually impacts their effectiveness at problem-solving, or leadership, it’s easier for them to justify it.
Tracey says that most of her clients are very passionate, driven people who are deeply invested in their work. An effective rejuvenation practice is especially challenging—and important—to people who fall within this group.
Why create one
There are many reasons to prioritize self-care, but Tracey has found that her clients have an easier time implementing a practice if they believe it makes them more effective at work rather than less so.
Luckily enough, it’s true—in addition to reducing stress, improving your health, strengthening your relationships, and a whole host of other benefits, a rejuvenation practice can also make you more productive, effective, and creative at work.
Tracey says, “The number-one thing I saw in my research was that people who have a regular rejuvenation practice are able to minimize the cycles of burnout.“ Burnout—a state of profound physical and mental exhaustion—can cripple your productivity, so finding ways to keep it at bay will allow you to work more effectively and consistently.
Avoiding burnout isn’t the only work-related benefit, however. Tracey says research shows that a rejuvenation practice can improve cognitive function by improving memory, increasing creativity and problem-solving skills, and allowing you to maintain focused attention.
Building your own rejuvenation practice
Now it’s time to get tactical. How do you build an effective routine into your schedule?
Tracey says says that the process of building a practice is often very similar from one person to another, but the results are entirely different. “Your routine itself is going to be unique to you, because off-the-shelf advice very rarely works for any of us.”
So, rather than looking for specific advice, find a process that will guide you to your own unique practice. With that in mind, here are the specific steps that Tracey recommends and practices with her clients:
Step one: Identify activities
A balanced rejuvenation practice will include a range of different activities that serve diverse purposes. As a starting point, Tracey suggests, “Find activities that help you de-stress, build energy, and solve problems. These activities won’t all be the same for each category (though they may not be mutually exclusive).”
If you’re not sure what activities will offer these benefits, ask yourself the following questions: What do you enjoy? What makes you laugh? What has made you feel better in the past? What’s something you wish you had more space for in your current schedule? Are there any new activities that you’ve been wanting to try, or new things you want to learn?
Step two: Add one activity to your routine
Once you have a list of activities you want to explore, pick one—just one—that you’re going to commit to. Tracey says that when you’re trying to build a habit, it’s important to start small and then slowly build towards your ultimate goal. “People are more successful if they commit to one thing and do it consistently than if they go hard and try to do seven at once and then burn out. It’s really about the routine.”
Once you have picked an activity, spend some time visualizing your day or week and finding specific steps you can take that will make it easier for you to follow through on your goal.
For example, if you want to eat healthier, you might plan something like this: “I’m going to buy groceries on Saturday, prep my work lunches on Sunday, and stock my office with healthy snacks.” If you want to exercise more and you know you do better when you have someone to hold you accountable, look for a walking buddy or hire a personal trainer.
Step three: Reflect and iterate
Plan on checking back in with yourself (or a coach, if you choose to work with one) after a couple of weeks. This is the time to ask yourself what worked, what didn’t, and how you’d like to adjust going forward.
This step is especially important if things didn’t work out. Maybe you didn’t get around to the activity you had planned to add to your routine, or you did, but you didn’t have much time for it. Maybe you did the activity, but it didn't have the result you hoped.
When something doesn’t work out, Tracey says, it’s easy to spiral into shame, doubt, and self-blame. Instead, she recommends acknowledging that self-care is hard (seriously, practically no one feels like they always get it right), and learning from the experience.
So, take the time to really pick apart the obstacles you encountered and the areas where your experience fell short of your goals. Then, find something else to try. Tracey says that when she works with clients on this step, they get incredibly tactical and dive deep into the day-to-day patterns and habits of the client.
Step four: Rinse and repeat
Once you have built one activity into your regular routine and you’re feeling comfortable with the new habit, go ahead and try adding another activity that serves a different purpose. For example, if your first activity was a weekly yoga class that helps you de-stress, maybe the second activity is a daily walk that keeps you energized.
Tips and shortcuts
If you run into trouble with any of the four steps outlined above, or you just want to give yourself a bit of an edge, here are some specific tricks you can use to increase your chances of success.
Take the first step
One of the biggest challenges, of course, is getting started. Tracey says that often the people most in need of rejuvenation are feeling exhausted and burnt out. “They're probably at a point where they don’t want to impose more structure and do more work.”
If that sounds like you, focus on taking things one step at a time and prioritizing simple activities that increase your energy or reduce stress. Once you have these activities firmly cemented in your routine, you can start to experiment with more challenging or complex activities.
Leverage your existing routine
Have you ever heard of habit stacking? This is a habit-building routine where you take an existing task or habit that you perform regularly, and you add on a new element. For example, let’s say you always take a coffee break at 3 pm, and you usually go to a coffee shop that’s just down the block. If you want to get more exercise, you might decide to start going to a coffee shop that’s five blocks away.
The theory is that combining new habits with existing habits eliminates a lot of the mental work that comes with building a new habit—rather than trying to carve out an entirely new time and set of triggers for the new habit, you’re just taking an existing part of your routine and slightly expanding it. It’s definitely worth experimenting with if you want to make incremental improvements to your daily routine.
Prepare for setbacks
One of the biggest things you can do in order to successfully build healthy habits and create a rejuvenation practice, Tracey says, is to be prepared for setbacks and moments of waning motivation. “Scientifically, looking at the formation of habits—when you set a goal, if you can think about what you’ll do when you hit a barrier, you’ll be more likely to succeed when you hit it.”
What does this look like in practice? Let’s say you’ve decided to start taking a half-hour walk every afternoon after lunch. For the first couple of weeks, everything is going great … you’re making it out every day and you feel wonderful. But then, of course, something comes up—maybe you have a huge project due soon so you have a super busy week and you’re working every spare moment. What are you going to do then?
If you already have a plan in place—whatever that plan may be—it’ll be easier to adapt and stay on track.
Another common challenge, Tracey says, is staying motivated without external validation or motivation.
“Habits around anything that’s completely self-motivated are difficult,” she says—and part of that is because “determination is a depleting resource. We don’t have inexhaustible will.” It’s easy to spend our limited motivation and determination to meet goals where other people are depending on us.
If all of this sounds familiar, look for ways you can create accountability. Tracey says that she’s had clients who had a lot of trouble building and maintaining exercise habits … until they hired a trainer. If it’s in your budget, consider hiring a coach or trainer who will hold you accountable. If not, look for accountability partners among your friends and family.
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