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The 4 Key Self-Leadership Practices for Work Recovery

Research has identified four keys to effective recovery from work – are you currently doing all four?


Work recovery is an essential part of work and life. Effectively recovering from work benefits your own health, improves your focus and productivity at work, and is how you start building your life outside of work.


Organizational literature refers to work recovery as a restoration process. When you encounter stressors at work, your levels of strain increase. Work recovery restores your levels of strain to previous levels.


However, the first thing you should know is that you can only start recovering from work when you are no longer encountering job stressors. This means that if job stressors continue to be present (through long hours, too-high workloads, or even your own thoughts) recovery cannot take place. This is detrimental to your health and means you arrive at work the next day already tired.


That means there are two parties responsible for your potential to recover from work: you (through the self-leadership practices detailed below) and organizations. So, before diving into the 4 key elf-leadership practices, I want to briefly acknowledge the role of jobs themselves.



Organizations have a responsibility to assign workloads and create work environments that you can recover from – preferably, all you need to recover are appropriate breaks throughout the day and a brief period of recovery after work.


If your workload or other job factors create such high strain or interfere with your personal time so much that you cannot recover effectively, that’s an issue with the work environment. This is also yet another reason that applying self-leadership to effectively recover from work is important! You’ll understand what you can do versus what the limitations of your job are. So, let’s get to the point.


4 Components of Work Recovery


The most common framework of work recovery used in research breaks down work recovery into four components. Some are simple and expected but others might surprise you!


Most importantly, you can improve how you do these things through self-leadership! So, wonder what they are? Wonder no more.


1. Psychological Detachment


Psychological detachment means to stop thinking about or giving your mental energy to work when you are not actually at work.


If you’re not psychologically detaching from work, you might ruminate on things that happened, feel anxious about things that might happen, or continue working on your personal time – by doing work or by thinking through problems and solutions in your mind.


Luckily, you can apply the three elements of self-leadership (i.e. self-knowledge, self-goalsetting and self-regulation) to help you psychologically detach from work:


  • Cultivating your self-knowledge can help you psychologically detach because it can help you better understand why you are giving work your time and attention. It's a lot easier to identify a value conflict at work, for example, when you know what your values are.

  • Through self-goal setting, you can ensure that you’re setting realistic goals at work that won’t take over your personal time.

  • Finally, by developing self-regulation, you learn to recognize your emotions and thought patterns, incorporate mindfulness, and build constructive mindsets – all things that can help you identify, respond to, or release invasive thoughts about work.

2. Relax


Relaxation refers to any experience where the activation of your mind and body is low. This can be achieved through meditation, breathing practices, reading, or any other everyday activity you find calming. Scrolling on social media and watching TV can fall under relaxation, but keep in mind that the type of content you consume matters.


Consuming a constant stream of upsetting news is likely not relaxing. Head back to our article on hacking Netflix for self-leadership for some guidance.


Self-leadership can help you relax in several ways:

Through self-knowledge, you can use knowledge of yourself to identify when you need to relax and what relaxation looks like for you. What is relaxing for one person might not be for another!

  • Self-goalsetting ensures that you can relax – with contingency plans in place and SMART goals established you have more space for relaxation because you experience less anxiety about work.

  • However, self-regulation is likely to be the most important piece here: the same practices involved in cultivating self-regulation are things that will naturally help you relax, like establishing a mindfulness practice or setting up new habits so that you experience less stress in your personal life.


3. Mastery


How are you learning and growing outside of work? Mastery refers to experiences that allow you to learn, grow, and experience success outside of work. Any hobby or activity in which you can make progress is considered a mastery experience – like learning to play piano, taking a dance class, or learning a new language. Mastery should challenge you without being overly taxing or high-pressure.


Mastery is my personal favourite of the components of work recovery and self-leadership can help you start cultivating mastery experiences:


  • Through self-knowledge, you can find a mastery experience that challenges you and lights you up – do you value arts, time outside, or meals with family? Take up drawing, a new outdoor sport, or cooking lessons.Self-goalsetting doesn’t only apply to professional goals. Take the same intentionality to something that you want to learn outside of work. Set SMART goals for progressing on personal projects, establish contingency plans for delays, and thinking about what resources you have available.

  • Finally, self-regulation helps you determine the right level of challenge and commit so that your mastery experiences are fun instead of overwhelming.


4. Control


Control captures the experience of deciding for yourself what to do during your personal time. Having and exercising the ability to make choices and manage your own life the way you want is a key part of control. Control is important because it gives you a sense of agency and independence.


Have you ever met someone that says their life is nothing but work, even though they’ve got weekends and vacations? Chances are, that person isn’t exercising control over their personal time.


Control itself aligns well with self-leadership principles. Both are about leading yourself and being intentional in your life:

  • Through self-knowledge, you can evaluate how much or how little control you need and when – part of control is not over-controlling yourself! Maybe you leave Sunday afternoons unplanned.

  • Using self-goalsetting, you can determine realistic and sustainable ways to take control of your personal time. For example, you could set a goal to mediate for 5 minutes on your lunch break every day for a month instead of only scrolling your phone.

  • Finally, self-regulation helps you establish control not only over your personal life but also over your emotions and behaviours, further contributing to a sense of autonomy.


Which of these 4 components of recovery are you currently using well? Which one would you like to establish more?