I really do believe that life is an adventure, and that it’s rare for everything to line up and work at the same time. There are periods when I feel like I’ve got great momentum with work, that my children like me and all is as it should be in the world. Then there are times when I can’t remember why I’m standing in the supermarket, or I feel lonely and get overwhelmed. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been working as a high-performance coach for over 15 years, and believe me when I say that I've worked with some of the most spectacular and successful individuals on the planet. CEOs, elite athletes, leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and global thinkers have talked to me about who they’ve been and who they want to be. I have the privilege of hearing their insecurities, ambitions and dreams. So here’s something I know with certainty: we all have our stuff and we're all a work in progress. Just when we think we’ve got there, the universe likes to step in and teach us a lesson.
Something I learnt early on, when I suddenly became a single mum, was that I had to be really clear about my non-negotiables. These are the habits and priorities that I stick to religiously to make me the best me I can be – both for myself and the people in my life. I have a responsibility to my clients to be focused, energised and knowledgeable. My children need me to be emotionally and physically healthy, because I'm their person. I play different roles for different people and my non-negotiables ensure I’m on top of my game as much as humanly possible.
The following are the 10 non-negotiables that I live by. Some of these I learnt from other people and some have evolved along the way. I call them 'non-negotiables' because they aren’t a list of things I do if I have time or feel like it. They're part of my daily practice:
- Breathe – I won’t get too technical here, but yes, I sit and consciously breathe at least five times each day. (Insert ridiculous jokes.) Obviously breathing is a natural reflex, but I’m talking about the kind of breathing where my eyes are closed and I’m inhaling and exhaling consciously and deeply. It’s really a form of meditation. Breathing like this gets oxygen to my brain, slows my heart rate, reduces any stress and makes me feel more alert. There’s nothing like a 'breathing break' to calm my body and mind.
- Learn – Every single day I look for something new to learn. It doesn’t matter what it is. A quote, a thought, a new habit – anything that sparks my interest. Also, I look specifically for something I need to 'unlearn', asking myself: what didn’t work today? I’m obsessed with the concept of lifelong learning. And it doesn’t have to be hard. Recently in the car, I asked my children to tell me something I didn’t know and one of them said, “Did you know there are no snakes in New Zealand?” What???? How did I not know this? New Zealand is so close to Australia – we must have taken their share!
- Walk – The only day I don’t walk a minimum of 5 km is when I'm really sick. Even if I’m tired, have a migraine or feel exhausted, walking makes me feel immediately better. There should never be days when I don’t have time to do this – and if that happens, I really challenge myself to look at my schedule. Walking is my greatest form of self-care. I rarely listen to anything when I do it. It’s just clear space to be present, look at the water, smile at random people and think about things that are calling for my attention. Today, as I was starting with a 6 am call with the US, I got up at 4 am. I sometimes feel that walking is more important than sleep.
- Connect – I'm a hugger and an extroverted introvert. I need and get energy from people. Connection is how I refuel. This might naturally happen as part of my day, but I also seek it out. If I’m feeling anything less than awesome, connection is what I’m normally missing. And it’s not just connection with people – it’s also connection with my environment and nature.
- Focus – We live in a culture with so much busyness. Focus and discipline are part of my self talk. I’m always very clear about where I am allocating my time and why. It doesn’t always work, but generally, my days feel productive and targeted. I also have to be disciplined about downtime – as in, I have to schedule it in. I'm naturally someone who doesn’t want to sit still and I’ve had to teach myself to meditate.
- Give – I know I share this at the risk of sounding martyr-like. Eeek! But every day, I look for how I can give generously to others in some form. It might be giving my time to someone, or writing a card, or sending an unprompted text offering to drop over for a coffee. I’m raising my children this way, too. Look for an opportunity to give to someone else. The world needs kindness and for us to get ourselves out of our own way sometimes.
- Take – I’m working on this. It’s so important to take what you need and to be able to receive gracefully. This came onto my non-negotiables list about 18 months ago and I’m still practising. I’m fiercely independent, but actually, being emotionally healthy means asking for help, being vulnerable and voicing your own needs.
- Listen – Obviously the coach in me is a big believer in listening. The world can be so noisy and we miss so much because our brains are wired to prepare our response, rather than to just listen. Listening deeply is a skill. People so often feel better when they feel heard. Listening is a form of respect. I will say to my children: “I can’t listen to you properly right now, but I can in an hour. If this is important to you, I want to really hear it”.
- Start – I truly believe that change, success and growth come from doing small things every day. So often we wait until Monday or for the ‘right’ time. Every day I think about what I need to start today to be the best version of me. It might be as quick and small as wiping out the cutlery drawer or as big as writing the first chapter of my next book.
- Brush your teeth – Don’t even get me started. I have a thing about clean teeth and I drive my children crazy, always nagging “Don’t leave the house without brushing your teeth, don’t go to bed without brushing your teeth”. I’m sure this is a result of some strange issue I have, but ultimately there’s something important about taking care of your body, having rituals that say I care about who I am in the world. Plus bad breath is just not cool!
Your non-negotiables might be similar or really different. But I’d love you to write them down and be really clear about the daily/ weekly habits that will serve you from here on in. Please don’t judge mine!
– Lisa Stephenson, Founder, The Coach Place Global
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