Ep 20: Powerful Questions to Enhance Your Self-care

Posted June 27, 2023

Show Notes —

Are you someone who neglects their needs and struggles with implementing self-care?

Many nurses and midwives struggle with burnout and not taking appropriate care of themselves. 

There is a real art and science to making behaviour change and properly taking care of ourselves.

In this episode, Nathan will share with us some empowering questions that we can use to coach ourselves to start living a healthier life and prevent burnout.



  • The way we talk to ourselves dictates our behavior.
  • Asking questions or different questions enables us to have different outcomes in our life.
  • When we have too many competing goals, our brains cannot focus on one thing.
  • When we allow ourselves to be guided by our feelings, we often do not follow through with the things that are important to us.
    Example: Don’t feel motivated, therefore don’t go to my dance class.
  • In the episode, Nathan goes through the following questions as a process you can follow (listen to the episode for more context and explanation):
    • If I am being honest with myself, if I rated my current approach to my own well-being on a scale of 1 to 10, what score would I give it? (1 = dissatisfied, 10 = very satisfied)
    • Ask, “What actions am I taking that enabled me to come up with that number?”
    • What will it take to get from the original number I gave myself to go up a couple of notches on that scale?
    • Who and what is most important to me in my life? How does my current approach to my own well-being impact what is important to me in my life?
    • If my health were to improve by 10%, how might that benefit these things that are important to me? Just consider for a moment your current state of health.
    • If I were to focus on just one area of my well-being, one place of my self-care, which one feels most important to me right now?
    • What is a minor action I could start taking today? What is one small step I could take?
    • What is a realistic goal for me to start making significant gains with this aspect of my well-being?
    • When I have tried to make these changes, what opposite goals, challenges, and barriers have I come up against? 
    • What are some of the excuses that I intended to give myself?
    • What do I need to tell myself to set me up for success? What is it that I need to hear to help me take these small self-care actions?

So now you have a plan – go out and do it and share your success with someone in your life! 


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Transcript —

Nathan Illman 00:00

There are many nurses and midwives out there who are struggling with burnout and not taking appropriate care of themself, neglecting their needs, neglecting their health, and consequently just feeling tired with a lack of energy and struggling with their physical and mental health. Now the questions we ask ourselves will determine the actions we take and the way we treat ourselves and our bodies.


Nathan Illman 00:34

In this episode, I’m going to be sharing with you some empowering questions that you can use to coach yourself to start taking better care of yourself to start initiating some healthy habits and behaviors and understand your values and what’s important to you to help guide you in that process. My name’s Nathan Illman. I’m the founder of Nurse Wellbeing Mission, and I’m here for another episode. It’s a solo episode this time, I’m really looking forward to this. I’m gonna have a lot of fun talking about this stuff. It’s what I use with individuals when I’m doing my coaching, and it’s what I use with myself to coach myself on a day-to-day basis, and is the kind of questions I’m gonna share with you today. I asked myself to take the kind of actions that lead to me overall living a healthy, happy, and balanced life. Does that sound like something that would be of interest to you? I hope so. So continue listening.


Nathan Illman 01:39

So let’s just give a little bit of context as to what we’re gonna be focusing on today. The idea of questions really we’re covering here, inner self-talk, so the way we talk to ourselves dictates our behavior. Thoughts often proceed to action. A lot of the time we’re not even aware of the stream of thoughts that is going through our mind. So the first step in all of this is to actually become a bit more aware of what you are thinking and how you’re thinking is affecting your behavior, which then affects how you feel, right? And it is asking questions or different questions that enable us to have different outcomes. So sometimes I see people going. It’s stuck in quite a rut because they’re asking themselves disempowering questions, and then people often lead to these cycles of self-criticism, which keep them even more stuck. So perhaps when someone who’s wanted to go out for that evening walks as a form of exercise. And instead, they stay sat on the sofa, they’ve done a long shift at the hospital or whatever. They’re sitting in front of Netflix. They don’t end up doing what they had intended on doing. Rather than asking themselves an empowering question to try and overcome the barrier of that lack of motivation, people will then start to berate themselves sometimes for having sat around and not doing what they intended on doing. And that can create anxiety and shame and guilt and just feeling quite low, and that does not help to motivate us in the long term. So, let’s get started with a series of questions that you can start asking yourself right now as you listen to this or at a later time if you wish, uh, when you’ve got a pen and paper ready and it’s gonna help you to think about yourself, care in a different way. That is my aim for this episode.


Nathan Illman 03:37

So, the first question, and this is something I like to use of myself and coaching clients all the time, is we begin by being honest with ourselves. We take a look at the reality of the situation. So I like to begin with, saying, if I’m being completely honest with myself, just by saying that, and then having a question after it gets underneath these layers of denial and kind of excuses that we create for ourselves. So if I’m being honest with myself, if I had to rate my current approach to my well-being on a scale of one to 10, what score would I give it? So one would be I’m really, really dissatisfied with how I’m approaching my well-being. And when I say well-being, that can be your own interpretation of that. That can be both your physical and mental health, or you can include your relationships and that if you like. So one would be very, very dissatisfied, and 10 would be really super satisfied. If you’re at a 10, you are probably taking consistent actions every day to meet all your needs. You’ve probably got healthy boundaries in place. You’re probably exercising regularly. You’re probably doing things to manage existing health conditions if you’ve got them, uh, or you are doing everything you can to prevent the deterioration of your physical and mental health. But one, on the other hand, Is likely to be a real absence of health-related behaviors. Perhaps you feel stuck in a rut. Maybe you’re feeling burnt out, anxious, and maybe even worse, maybe feeling depressed. So give yourself a score. And the next question I want you to ask yourself, so let’s say, for example, you gave yourself a five. I want you to ask yourself, why did I give myself a five and not a three? So I want you to compare the score you gave yourself with actually a lower number. Why a five and not a three, or why a seven and not a five? And I want you to come up with some ideas in your mind as to really what you are doing, what actions you are taking that enabled you to come up with that number, the original number you came up with. So it might be, well, I’m a five and not a three because I do go once a week to a gym. And you know, in the past month I have made some effort to connect with old friends and, you know, at least couple of times a week I make sure I eat a salad. And actually, a three would probably be. You know, I’m, I’m barely eating much fruit and veg and I’m going to the gym once a month. So you’re giving yourself a bit of a comparison to give yourself a bit of a baseline benchmark. 


Nathan Illman 06:20

The next question I want you to ask yourself is, okay, what would have to happen to take me to get from the original number? I gave myself the original rating, so what would it take me to get from a say five? To a seven. So just go up a couple of notches on that scale. What specific actions would I have to take? What, how would life on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis look differently if I were to be rating myself as a seven? Now what this does is it helps us to imagine some of the things that are important to us about our health and well-being. Some of the specific actions. And it gives us an idea about how we want things to change, an idea of where we want things to change. So it might be that, for example, to get from a five to a seven, for you, it might be to actually start that new hobby that you had been intending on doing. It might be that you had wanted to give paddle boarding a girl or something. You know, if you, if you live by the seafront like I do in Brighton, maybe there’s a new thing that you wanted to try, so that would help get you up from it. You know, whatever it is, a five to a seven, or maybe it would be to eat a plant-based meal maybe twice a week or something. That would help you get up a couple of notches on your own personal scale. So if you’ve got a pen and paper, I really encourage you to write this stuff down as we’re going along. Cause it’s gonna be really important to keep that to hand and also to come back to, so we’re gonna sort of shift gears a little bit. Now, but then we’re gonna use this next part to come back to what we were just talking about. I want you to close your eyes if you can. Obviously, if you’re driving, do not close your eyes. If you’re at work or somewhere else where it could be dangerous, do not close your eyes. And I want you to ask yourself this question, what is most important to me in my life? Just let that marinate for a few moments. Don’t rush it. See what shows up for you. So you might also want to ask yourself, who is most important to me in my life? Now, I want you to ask yourself, how does my current approach to my own well-being impact the things that are important to me in my life? How is it helping me or how is it hindering me? So what I’m getting at with these questions is I want you to really imagine and take an honest look at how your health, or perhaps your lack of health might be impacting important aspects of your life. So really about how this impacts you being the kind of person you want to be or how you’re showing up in different parts of your life.


Nathan Illman 09:24

So for me, I am a parent, right? So if I weren’t taking good care of my physical and mental health, then for sure being stressed out and snappy and reactive would be impacting my role as a parent, as a dad, and as a husband. So I would be thinking, my response to that question would be, okay, well I’m not taking good care of myself. I’m tired, I’m stressed out. And actually that that is impacting my role as a parent. So for you, I want you to consider how your current approach to your well-being and your health is impacting your role as. You know, a nurse, a midwife, it could be a lecturer or teacher if you’re working in education. And then think about other aspects of your life. Maybe you are a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, or a parent. So when you answer that as honestly as you can, you can imagine it. Using visualization if you want. How is my current approach to my health and its consequences affecting the important aspect of my life?  Okay, so the next question I want you to ask yourself is, if my health were to improve by 10%, just 10%, how might that benefit the things that are important to me in my life? So again, just really consider for a moment your current state of health. You might wanna consider some of the things that you are struggling with. So do you have, kind of chronic pain issue that perhaps you haven’t sought treatment for, or you’ve, you’ve had some recommendations, but you’re not really following them? Think about how that’s limiting you. You know, that pain in the morning, that pain when you are at work. Think about. You know, maybe gastrointestinal, digestive stuff. You know, do you have a bit of a dodgy belly quite often? How is that affecting you? How is that affecting your mood and stuff? Think about your current sleep routine, whether you’re on night shifts or not. Have you got a solid routine that is supporting optimum rest? I. Are you feeling tired in the mornings or during the day? And how is that affecting day-to-day life? So now I want you to imagine that things were just 10% better. So what would that look like? 10% more energy, 10% less pain, 10% happier. How would that impact your life and your relationships and the things that are important to you? Really try and get a crystal clear image of that. So for most people, just 10% more is quite a significant amount. And when we are thinking about. Making changes in our lives. Of course, we’d all love to feel twice as happy as we currently are, or, uh, you know, have twice as less pain if we’ve got some sort of pain condition. But unfortunately, often that’s not realistic for most of us. We wanna start small. So that’s why I’m asking you this 10% question. Okay. 


Nathan Illman 12:38

So let’s start getting more specific and think about how we can start taking action, right? So ask yourself this. If I were to focus on just one area of my well-being, one area of my self-care, which one feels most important to me right now, so that could be physical activity and exercise. It might be that you used to go to the gym or you used to go. Bike riding at the weekends, or you used to go swimming or something, and that’s been neglected. It might be your diet, for example, or it could be sleep, or it could be the extent to which you are socializing in your personal life. So just pick a kind of air of well-being and self-care that feels most important for you right now. Now I want you to ask yourself. What is the smallest action I could start taking from today or tomorrow that would help me move in the direction that I would like to, with respect to this one area of my well-being? So what we are doing here again, is we are coming down to the minutiae. We are getting very crystal clear and very specific about a change that we want to make. Often I see people saying, oh yeah, you know, I wanna start going to the gym, or I wanna cut out me. Oh yeah, I really should stop watching Netflix till midnight. I wanna sleep better. And they have all these things. And of course what happens is when we have too many competing goals in our mind, our brains are just not able to focus on one thing. So what we tend to find with behavior changes is that by focusing on one thing, we are much more likely to be effective. So what is one small action you could take? It might be I can go out for an evening walk this evening, or it might be I can prepare a salad for dinner this evening rather than ordering the McDonald’s that I was likely to have.


Nathan Illman 14:51

Next, I want you to ask yourself. What is a realistic goal for me to start making significant gains with this aspect of my well-being? So often when I’m working with people one-to-one, I’ll ask people to come up with a bit of a goal with respect to their well-being, and then, More often than not, the first goal that people come up with tends to be over ambitious When we are doing, having these conversations with someone else, or when we’re just doing this self-work, we like to be ambitious. We like to shoot for the stars, right? And there’s nothing wrong with having ambitious goals with things. But often what happens is we go for super ambitious. We say, I’m gonna, I’m gonna go to the gym five times a week. And then, of course, most people just aren’t able to commit to that. You know, you are only human. That is a lot of effort to do that, to stick to such a commitment. And then when people start to fail, they get into this cycle where they just say, oh, I knew I wouldn’t achieve that. Oh, there’s no point. And people get very deflated and abandon the goal altogether. So I often ask people to come up with an initial goal, say over the next week, what is realistic for me to achieve with respect to this area of my well-being and self-care. And then I’ll just do a bit of light prodding and say, Is that realistic for, you know, thyself? Think about your past behavior, your past process, when you’ve gone through this kind of thing where you say, I’m gonna do something. How likely is it really that you will follow through what you’ve just said? And then often people say, yeah, you know what? Actually quite busy this week because I’ve got this, uh, publication that I’m writing, uh, and I’ve gotta do a presentation. Oh, and my kids have, uh, swimming practice that I need to go to. So we start to realize all of the obstacles, right? So come up with a more sensible goal.


Nathan Illman 16:49

Now, I want you to ask yourself, in the past when I’ve tried making this kind of change, what obstacles, challenges, and barriers have I come up against? I want you to think about practical barriers and also internal barriers. So, What are the kinds of things that compete for your time when you’re trying to implement these kind of changes? Is it commitment with your children? Is it not being able to say no with people asking you to do overtime at work and internally, what are some of the excuses that you attended to give yourself? We all do this. It’s normal, so let’s have some self-compassion for that. We all give ourselves excuses and reasons. We kind of talk ourselves out of doing something. So I want you to ask yourself that and to write this down. If you’ve got a pen and paper now, I want you to ask yourself this. What do I need to tell myself in these moments in the following week to set me up for success? What is it I need to hear to help me take these small actions of self-care, small actions to improve my well-being? What is a kind motivational thing that I can say to myself? So this question, hopefully, will help you generate a bit of that internal, inner motivation. A question I ask myself frequently is, what is it I need to hear right now? What is it? What do I most need to hear? And that opens up so much in our mind. It enables us to have a different perspective on our current situation. Sometimes it enables us to think like, okay, you know, what would my mentor say to me? In this situation, or what would my less tired self say to me in this situation? So what is it I really need to hear right now to motivate me? Okay.


Nathan Illman 18:52

So hopefully that has given you a tool then you can use when you’re thinking about implementing this new action that is gonna help you with your self-care and well-being. Now I wanna come back to that part around your values and what’s most important to you. So a key, fundamental thing that I really wanna share with you is when we allow ourselves to be guided by our feelings. Then often we don’t follow through with the things that really are important to us. So what I mean by this is when we don’t feel motivated by doing something, we feel a bit low. We feel a lack of energy. If we use that feeling itself to guide the behavior, to guide whether or not we do something, we just really are setting ourselves up for failure. So we’ve all had experiences where we, despite feeling rubbish, despite feeling low, despite feeling tired, you get up and you go and do something. And that’s because that thing is important to you. That thing is important enough and we can tap into that. Right. So we can be guided by our values and not by our feelings. So that’s why when we spend a bit of time thinking about what is important in my life, what is important enough to me to want to make these changes with my health, and when we tap into that, It helps us to take action. So I’ve already shared with you something for me, which is really important. So that’s being a parent and being a husband, you’ll have these important roles in your life as well. So not just a nurse or midwife, but aspects of your relationships outside of work. So for me, doing exercise pretty much every day of the week is something I know. Boosts my energy, puts me in a really good mood, and enables me to be the best dad and husband I can be. So in the moments when I’m feeling a lack of energy and not feeling any motivation, which happens probably more than half of the days per week, I will say to myself, okay, why is this important to me? What’s important to me in my life enough to do this exercise and then because I’ve done this and asked myself this question so many times I just get quite kind of brief flickers of images in my mind, of me being in a great state with my son or with my wife. And for me, that is often enough to take that first step to get off the sofa or get out of a chair and take some action and go and start that exercise.


Nathan Illman 21:42

So I’m gonna encourage you to do that when you’re not feeling like you want to do this act of self-care. You don’t feel like you want to pick up the phone to call someone, or nobody calls anyone these days, do they to text someone or just reconnect with someone? Notice any feeling of resistance or lack of motivation or tiredness, lack of energy, whatever it is, and use that as your cue to make the behavior change or make the decision in that moment about whether you do that thing rather than how you are feeling. If you can go and practice that one concept in your life. To not be guided by feelings and be guided by values. I assure you, your life will improve, your health will improve, your relationships will improve, your work life will improve. Everything will improve. So, go back. Listen to the questions that I’ve asked in this episode. Ask them to yourself again. Write down your answers and go ahead and start making these small changes. Because it’s the tiny, small changes that we make each day. We create new habits that lead to the big impact, the 10%, the 20%, the 30% increase in how we feel. So just don’t accept your current state as you are right now. Do not resign yourself to how you’re currently feeling. You can change, you can make a difference in your own life, and that will help you make a difference in the lives of other people too. If you have enjoyed my enthusiasm and my motivation in this episode, this is exactly what I bring to people when I do one-to-one coaching. I have a coaching program for nurse and midwife leaders who are feeling burned out, who’ve been neglecting their own self-care and are wanting to take that to the next level, to shift things around, and to develop a healthy relationship with themselves so they can lead with confidence and, and lead in the way they want to in their role. If you’d be interested in finding out about that, you can just get in touch with me. You can find me on social media. On Instagram @_nursewellbeingmission, and you can find me on LinkedIn, it’s just Nathan Ilman. You can email me, it’s nathan@nursewell-beingmission.com or find me on my website www.nursewell-being mission.com. This has been a whole lot of fun. If you don’t already subscribe to the podcast, I really recommend doing that. You’ll get more well-being tips, more of my motivation and enthusiasm, and access to some amazing interviews with some fabulous guests in your industry. I hope you are well wherever you are, and I look forward to coming back to you and bringing you the next episode in the next couple of weeks.