3 Steps to a sustainable self-care practice

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions; frankly, January 1st is just another day closer to spring for me. But I am all about new beginnings and manageable, valuable life improvements. Today is the perfect day to start taking better care of yourself. Self-care is NOT selfish; it is not a luxury. It’s a way of refueling your mind and body, which is critical for equipping you to better deal with life’s inevitable stresses.

Are you already listing excuses for why that won’t work for you? Wait! Start with this most important tip for practicing self-care.

Done with the excuses? Let’s get started:

Step 1: Choose your practice

Know thyself – right now. When is the last time you actually took inventory of your interests? Do you know what relaxes or re-energizes you now (not the you from before you had children)? Maybe it’s a short run or a long nap, playing a game or playing death metal, meditating or dancing like no one is watching, reading or watching reality TV. Right now, I challenge you to make a list of activities that can restore your well-being. Think big, think small, list any possibilities.

I’ll wait.

Now, go back through and tick off a few of the choices that are doable in your current circumstances. You may not feel comfortable getting a pedicure or a massage right now, but you could ask your partner for a (no expectations) foot or back rub. You may not be able to take that trip you always wanted, but you could spend some time planning the itinerary or looking into places you’d like to stay. In the meantime, move all of those not-currently-possible options to a dream list and file it away for now.

Remember, it’s a good idea to prioritize your basic needs: sleep, nutrition, exercise, medical care. These form the basis for lasting benefits from any other activities you’ll choose. I know these are sometimes not as easy as they should be; do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you haven’t felt like yourself in a while, I would highly recommend a visit with a physician you trust who could help you get back on track.

Step 2: Plan your practice

Schedule your time and protect it. Work with your partner and family helpers to fit it in. Tell your children what you are doing and why it is valuable. Add it to your calendar, set reminders on your phone, and tell a friend about your commitment so you are less likely to renege.  I may not know you personally, but I’m guessing that you are often honoring commitments to others; this time, honor the commitment to yourself.

It’s called a practice for a reason; do it regularly. Create a routine you can stick with. Be specific in your planning to include the amount of time and frequency. If your schedule varies day-to-day, plan when your time is each day. Remember that some time spent in self-care is always better than none. If it’s all you can do, start with five or 10 minutes per day. Does that not feel like enough time to reap the benefits? In my experience, that’s probably because you’ve got a backlog from too long of having none. Plan some longer stretches initially to get yourself caught up.

Step 3: Track your practice

This may feel superfluous, but research shows that this additional step gives you a sense of accomplishment that is necessary for building and maintaining a new habit. I’ve found it also holds me accountable when I’ve fallen off of the wagon and helps to motivate me back into action. Your self-care tracker can be as simple as checking off a day completed. I like to track my activity and the amount of time spent on a piece of lined paper hanging on the fridge where I see it often. (Because I’m #fancy.) If you like pretty things, there are many downloadable habit trackers here. There are also numerous apps available.

Bonus: one final tip

Remember the power of “no.” In addition to adding a new behavior, maybe your most effective self-care involves eliminating something harmful from your day. That could look like saying no to your phone first thing in the morning or at night, canceling a social media account or unfollowing some people, or politely declining a commitment or social engagement. Eliminating habits that stress you out is immediately beneficial but can also leave more time for a new self-care behavior; it’s a win-win.

What are your tricks for staying on-track with self-care? Share in the comments below.

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