Simone Biles, age 24, is an elite artistic gymnast with a vast collection of medals and titles that she’s acquired throughout an impressive athletic career. So, it came as a shock to many when she decided to pull out of the team and all-around finals and not to compete in the uneven bars or vault individual finals in the Tokyo Olympics to prioritize her mental health.
While her decision is surprising, it highlights the importance of self-care and setting boundaries, even (or perhaps most especially) for the highest achievers. For those of us who struggle with perfectionism, whether mentally or physically, there is a crucial lesson to learn from Biles’ actions.
3 Tips for preserving health while pursuing goals:
Identify your positive tension threshold
Yogis often talk about the “point of pleasant tension,” as the time in a yoga stretch where you “find your edge”—you can feel yourself pushing to the point of experiencing a burning sensation in your muscles, but not so bad that you’re exerting effort to the point of pain. This point of pleasant tension is where you’re most likely to experience the optimal effects of your yoga practice. To translate finding this point from a physical practice to your mind, try to think about times in your life when you’ve really pushed yourself, then take note of when it worked well and when it led to burnout.
Check if the goal you’re chasing still matters to you
Too often people are giving everything up in order to achieve goals that mattered to them in the past but are no longer relevant to their needs or desires in the present.
Take a step back to re-evaluate how your values or life situations have changed since setting your original goal. If you realize that all your work is going towards an aim that no longer serves you, then you may be able to give yourself “permission” to walk away from that goal and strive towards a new goal that better reflects your values and desires.
Make sure you practice truly excellent self-care
A lot of ambitious people tend to want to “play through the pain.” This could mean, for an athlete, pushing through an injury until the trophy is won, or for a working professional, pushing aside their feelings or exhaustion to address a work-related emergency.
Having this sort of perseverance is certainly an admirable trait, however, it can be a dangerous habit. Those who constantly push their needs aside may actually forget that they have feelings at all. This could lead to burnout, leaving them vulnerable to mental or physical injuries.
Make sure that you take the time to consider the emotional or physical toll your work has on you, and allow yourself time before and after a stressful event to reflect on the emotions that arise for you around this activity. After you identify your emotions, it’ll be easier to create a self-care plan to address them.
These self-care plans could range from taking a week off at the gym, booking a spa day, or just taking some time off to reconnect with friends and family. The point is to ensure that you don’t become so engrossed by professional goals that you forget to engage in self-care.