6 Practical Ways to Make Self-Care a Reliable Part of Your Life

14 daysAfter my second child was born, I gave up a 13-year mind-body practice cold turkey. I just didn’t have time to do one thing that wasn’t directly related to keeping those kids fed, rested, housed, and cared for. At least that was my rationale. And it felt so true.

So I stopped going to yoga class, doing yoga at home, or sitting and meditating. And that’s when my overwhelm got so much worse. That’s when I started requiring two or three glasses of wine a night to take the edge off. Which then interrupted my sleep (which was already pretty out of whack with a newborn in the house). Which then impacted my mood. Which had me snapping at my husband. Worst of all, I totally lost touch with any greater vision for myself. I am not going to lie, it was awful. A real low point.

So when my clients and potential clients and readers tell me, “I just don’t have time for any kind of self care at the moment, and I can’t handle the thought of adding something else to my to-do list,” I get it. I really get it.

I’ve talked a lot about why we all need to get over this line of thinking that we’re maxed out; that all the ‘important’ stuff has to come first before we get to the somehow secondary work of taking care of ourselves. Getting clear on why it’s important to take those couple of minutes here and there is crucial for actually making them happen. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Here, I want to talk about the how.

These are my very best tips for making damn sure you are taking time for yourself to get quiet, get clear, and get right. There are 6 here, but all you have to do is pick one and commit to it for 2 weeks. You will immediately see and feel the benefits in your own mind, body, and spirit. And I do mean immediately. Then, when you stick to it for a finite period of time, you will start to see how your taking care of yourself ripples out to benefit the people closest to you too. And nothing is more inspiring than feeling the benefits.

Ready? Here they are (in no particular order):

•   Set up some structures 

For you yogis out there, you know how when you bind a pose, you find greater range of motion? Giving yourself the structure of having your clasped arms holding you in a twist frees your muscles from the role of supporting you, so they can release.For you non-yogis out there, here’s the gist of the above paragraph: structure creates freedom. When you sit down and map out your self-care activities in a typical week or month – for example, you always do a couple stretches after American Idoland before you go to bed; or, you schedule a lunch with a friend on Fridays; or, you devote Monday evenings to shopping for healthy food at the grocery store, you vaporize the need to wonder when you’ll do the things that make you feel good. They’ll already be booked. Can you imagine never having to wonder when you’re going to make it to the grocery store again? How much space that would free up in your brain?

Personally, I see a personal trainer on Thursday afternoons. I put it in my calendar and then I automatically schedule around it. I’m going to add in a Tuesday yoga session over lunchtime – either at a studio or here at home. I also get a monthly massage, a bi-monthly haircut, and talk with my coach twice a month. Those dates change each month, but they are planned at least a month out. I also leave my yoga mat unrolled in my closet so I’m inspired to do a pose or two at least once a day (the sight of it, just waiting for me, inspires me to use it a lot more than I would if it were rolled up and out of the way).

•   If you’ve never given yourself the experience of sitting down with a blank calendar and a pen and mapping out when you’ll do the things that are important to you, you’ve got to try it. It is so empowering.

Commit to sticking to the schedule you set for at least two weeks so you can get feedback on how it’s working. You can always tweak that weekly schedule, but you won’t know how to do it most effectively if you don’t take your best guess and just start.

Added perk: You get a great sense of rest and support from knowing that you’ve got your self-care planned and on the books. So even when you’re in the midst of a hectic day, some part of you knows there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, which makes any level of chaos more palatable.

•   Commit to a plan 

When you get a haircut, or a massage, or hire a babysitter, book your next session before you leave. Trust me on this. Think about never having to decide whether or not you really need that massage. Or about not having to remember to get your hair appointment, only to get to the point where you can’t take it one more day but there’s no availability for another week. Or about wondering why you and your husband are bickering, only to realize it’s because you haven’t had a night off in way too long.

When you get your self-care on the books well in advance, you stop being a scheduling victim. You tell the universe your plans. And I promise you, whatever you arranged those weeks ago will always feel like it’s showing up right on time. For example, I’ve got my monthly massage today – an appointment I made 4 weeks ago. And this blizzardy weekend I shoveled more snow than ever before in my life, and my muscles are talking to me quite loudly right about now. It’s the perfect time for a massage; and yet, if I’d waited until I had the muscle soreness, I’d likely have had to wait another several days to get it remedied.

Added perk: When you book your appointments well out in advance, your likelihood of getting the exact spot you want goes up a gazillion percent

•   Tie it to daily events 

When my kids were super young (3 and 1), I was forced to get creative about how I got my mind-body practice in. I started meditating while I nursed the baby to sleep, and while I did my nightly sweeping. When my daughter went through a phase where she insisted I stay in her room until she fell asleep, I started doing simple yoga poses on her floor. Not only did I get the relaxing benefits, I started looking forward to parts of the day that I had otherwise been dreading or resenting. Powerful stuff.You can even meditate while doing the dishes (which is a whole lot better and more enjoyable than silently hating your husband while you do it.)Added perk: When you embrace your daily chores, it removes a big source of angst in your home life.

•   Let go of how long it “should” last

If you’ve read my manifesto, you know I believe that the one full breath you take when you notice yourself becoming annoyed by something is a more powerful practice than 90 minutes of vigorous yoga. Let go of the idea that you need to meditate, or do yoga, or whatever, for a certain amount of time for it to count. It’s just an excuse.Deciding to do something good for yourself is the hardest part of the whole endeavor. Once you get started, you’ll likely stick with it for longer than you initially thought. Unless, of course, you think you have to have a whole hour at your disposal. In which case, you’ll probably never get started.

Added perk: You get to give yourself a moment of peace at the exact moment you need it. You don’t have to put off your relief until you have a larger chunk of time.

•   Set intentions 

To elevate any menial task into a mind-body practice, set an intention before you start it. For example, you can set an intention to empty the dishwasher as a form of exercise, and enjoy the sensations of bending down to put stuff in the dishwasher and reaching up to put stuff away on the higher shelves.Or, set an intention to focus on your breath while you fold laundry, and be prepared for deep thoughts and insights to bubble up seemingly on their own.Or, decide to just enjoy your kid’s company during the bedtime process, and watch how you don’t have to fight them to get their jammies on.

Anytime you set an intention, it’s like setting a parameter for your thoughts. It helps you stay conscious of what’s running through your mind and gives you a place to rest your focus. Which is basically all mind-body practice is– choosing to place your attention on something other than the same old mental chit chat.

Added perk:Using intentions in your household life is great practice for putting them to use in your work and relationships.

•   Flip your view of resistance 

I’ve been practicing yoga since 1995, and nearly every time I do some form of practice, I try to talk myself out of it. Still! I wrote about this some last week in Your Resistance Is…Perfect. To sum up, I’ve now learned to take that resistance as a sign that it’s something I really need to do. Reminds me of a Joseph Campbell quote I just love:

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” – Joseph Campbell (Click this link to Tweet this quote!)

Every excuse you come up with about why it’s not a good idea to take some time to do something that replenishes you is actually an indicator of how badly you need it and how much you stand to gain by doing it.

Added perk: When you start seeing resistance as a sign to take action, you’ll spend a lot less time stressing and wearing yourself out.

How do you make self-care a real, bankable part of your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Let’s inspire each other to stop putting the good stuff off.

2 thoughts on “6 Practical Ways to Make Self-Care a Reliable Part of Your Life

  1. I grew up on a farm so you had to be organized.I carried that over into my “grownup” age. After I was married I still planned my day the night before. I kept a running to-do list for if I EVER got a free moment or two. I still plan my days even though my children are grown and I still have my job. You have to prioritize and don’t overwhelm yourself. Leave a little time for “emergencies”. Your children are little just so long, so you need to enjoy them. Make them a part of your daily stuff. They will learn and you will get things done. AND IF YOU DON’T TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, IT IS HARD TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR FAMILY. I try to live in the moment EVEN though I plan my day. It is all I have and you too!! Love your newsletters. Got your book for my daughters because they seemed to be “stressed”. Hopefully they are living the the “chilled out” life.
    Kathy Mullinnex

  2. Hey, Kate! Thanks for this post! Through the course of a chronic illness, I began to practice yoga informally at home and take better care of myself. I’ve fallen in love with this relaxed, yet structured, life! I’ve been blogging a lot recently about the necessity of maintaining a simpler lifestyle and your post provides great steps toward doing that. Hope you don’t mind if I reblog (linking to you of course 😉 ) your list. Please check out my blog if you are interested.

    Namaste.

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