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We all have them. But we don’t always honour them, even though we know from previous experience we feel so much better when we do.

Your non-negotiables. Those lifestyle habits created by experience and practice, repeated daily, that you’ve come to recognise are what serve you the best to be your best bright-eyed, bushy-tailed self.

Getting enough sleep, eating healthily, moving enough across your day, and taking time out to effectively manage your stress, provides what’s needed to meet your physiological and psychological needs.

But perhaps you’ve noticed how when you’re feeling pressured and under the pump these are the first items to pack their bags and leave the building, just at the time you need them the most.

If you know this has happened to you and the results are being noticed by others, because no amount of concealer will hide the bags under your eyes, those pesky Covid kilos have stuck maddeningly around your middle and thighs and you’re feeling a bit sluggish and discombobulated, it’s time to ask,

“What happened?”
And importantly, “How do I get my non-negotiables to come home?”


Why do we abandon our non-negotiables in the face of feeling stressed?

You tell me. Because as individuals, what we prioritise as our non-negotiables, what is causing us stress and how we respond will always be different.

Is it because:

  • You’ve got a demanding job and you don’t want to be the whinger who complains about having too much on your plate, even though everyone is also feeling the same way?
  • You’re having to juggle life, work, getting your kids to their pre and after school activities, so you’ve missed getting to the gym three times this week?
  • You’re a frontline health worker exhausted by the constant struggle to help those who are sick, with no prospect of time off for good behaviour anytime soon.
  • You’re feeling lonely and unsupported and finding it hard to maintain interest in your work or to catch up with friends.

Where should you start?

1. Take a reality check.

Here, taking a short interlude to reflect on what’s changed or being missed out on will help you to identify, firstly, what your top non-negotiable item is, and how close or not, you are to honouring this.

If sleep is your Number one and you know you feel so much better when you’ve had a full 8- hours sleep, but you’re currently only managing close to six, (at least on weekday nights) what can you do differently?

2. Ask what’s possible and give yourself permission.

If you must be up by 6 am, that means being in bed and switching off the lights by 10 pm.

When you’ve been used to staying up late, either to catch up on emails or other work-related tasks, that can be tricky.

Easing into that earlier time slot means committing to going to bed initially 20-30 minutes earlier than usual, to allow your system the time it needs to adapt, and then gradually winding back bedtime over the next couple of weeks. Adopting a pre-bed routine with a wind-down, relaxing warm shower and turning off from your technology earlier all helps.

It’s about setting the intention, making the conscious commitment, and aiming for consistency knowing that will be occasions where it doesn’t happen the way you want.

But how much better will you feel when you’re getting the amount of sleep you need more often?

3. Look in the mirror.

When you’ve successfully reintroduced your first non-negotiable and others are commenting on how well you look, look in the mirror, to see what they see. Are you looking brighter, more relaxed, more like your usual self? When you can feel and see the difference it’s all the motivation you need to keep your non-negotiable intact and get ready to work on the next one.


We are creatures of habit and vulnerable to the impact of too much chronic stress, overwork, and worry. Reducing that stress and elevating your overall wellbeing starts with doing those things you know keeps you at the top of your game.

What’s your primary non-negotiable and how do you honour it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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