Self-Care how-tos for busy people

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. 
— Dag Hammarsjköld

What comes to mind when you think of self-care?  Perhaps a mental list of ‘shoulds’ that you’ve picked up along the way but haven’t gotten around to doing.  The problem with should statements is that they typically start from a source outside of ourselves, or are framed in a way that we aren’t buying.  When we think about self-care from the place of compassion and empathy, not only for our own sake, but for the ripple effect of caring that it has on all we encounter, then it becomes something that we long for.  When we pay attention to it, notice how we feel and how it affects our ability to show up in the world, we’re more inclined to use practices that support ourselves than to turn away from them.

Practicing self-care is a way of acknowledging personal responsibility for your own wellbeing.  Sometimes, the belief that we don’t have time to care for ourselves, or that prioritizing self-care is selfish, gets in the way of our doing it.  A simple shift in perspective might help you adopt a more compassionate view.  Instead of thinking of self-care as selfish, try considering it as a self-full practice.  When we feel balanced, energetic and grounded in love, we are much more likely to live wholeheartedly and contribute to the world fully and creatively.

The key steps to begin the practice of self-care are awareness, intention and action.  It’s helpful to think of these as a continual feedback loop. First, awareness is raised, then we set an intention to address it, then we act on one thing.  Once we’ve successfully integrated that action into our lives, we notice other things calling our attention and repeat the steps.  The practice of self-care is a continual process on the journey to flourishing and thriving.

Key Steps to Self-Care:

Awareness

 If you keep yourself in ‘go mode’ all the time, you might not be aware of how hard you’re pushing yourself.  If coffee and sugar are required to get you through the day, if you feel like you’re constantly rushing, or if you feel disconnected or exhausted by the end of the day, you’ll likely benefit from a self-care practice.  A great place to start noticing what you need is by focusing on your breath.  Begin by simply stopping and noticing your breath.  Feel breath enter your body, feel your body fill with breath.  Next, imagine breath flowing in and out of your heart. Imagine light entering the body through the heart as you inhale, and filling your whole body as you exhale.  Spend just two minutes with heart focused breathing in this way, then ask yourself: “What area is most calling my attention right now?” or “How can I better care for myself right now?” 

Listen and let your heart, your inner knowing, guide you to one area calling your attention right now. Trust what you hear. It might be a call for more sleep, more connection, creative time, movement, healthier food, time spent journaling, meditation or solo time, feeding your senses with time in nature, a relaxing bath or music.  Try to accept the answer without judging it.  Once you’re clear on the answer, get curious with it and consider what life would be like if you allowed yourself this practice.   Consider the impact that self-care will have on all aspects of your wellbeing – your energy level, your emotional stability, your mental clarity, your physical body, and your connection to others and/or something greater than yourself.

Intention

To ensure that your new awareness about self-care isn’t a fleeting idea, write down your intention to practice self-care in this area.  You might find it helpful to expand the writing to include why caring for yourself in this way is important to you.  You might also find it helpful to share your intention with someone who supports you. Articulating intentions is a way of holding ourselves accountable to our deepest needs.  Without articulating, whether in writing or verbally, we give ourselves an out – a way of making excuses that seem rationale at the time we make them to not doing the practice.  Caring for ourselves intentionally is a practice of both compassion and empathy. Compassion is necessary to acknowledge that even small changes aren’t easy and there may even be some benefit from doing things the ‘old way’.  Maybe your ego is fed by knowing that you outwork everyone else, even though you’re depleting yourself to do so.  Acknowledging this is okay and being gentle as you come to new understanding is a key practice of self-care.  Empathy, for yourself, but also for anyone else you know who faces similar challenges is also an important part of the practice of self-care. You might find having an attitude that these practices are for all beings with similar struggles is a motivator for keeping you on the path. Knowing that others in your life will benefit from your self-care practice is also fuel for inspiration. 

Action

The final step towards realizing self-care is action.  Chances are, if self-care practice is new to you, that you’ll be more inclined to start with a giant leap than a baby step.  Instead, consider a Kaizen step, a step on the path to continual improvement. Taking a simple small step instead of a giant leap increases the likelihood that we’ll be successful.  Once we’ve achieved success with one step, we complete the cycle of awareness-intention-action, and make it more likely that we’ll continue on the path of self-care and high level wellbeing.

Examples of Kaizen Self-Care Steps

Sleep – instead of “I am going to get more sleep,” if your sleep schedule is erratic, a Kaizen step of: “I will set my alarm clock for the same time every morning for the next two weeks.”  Once one step is accomplished, you can set steps related to quantity and quality of sleep.

Eating – instead of “I’m going to eat healthy,” a Kaizen step of: “I will eat one more serving of fruits/veg per day than I currently am” (if the ‘what’ of eating is an issue for you),

OR if you’re an on-the-go eater and the ‘how’ of eating is an issue for you, a Kaizen step of: “I will eat one meal a day without any distractions and allow myself the time to taste, feel, and accept the nourishing energy from my food.”

The possibilities of Kaizen steps on the path to self-love and self-care are endless. The important part is to simply start.  One step at a time, bit by bit, embracing the practice of caring for yourself with love, compassion and empathy will surely lead to a higher level of wellbeing for you.  As your awareness continues to expand, you’ll likely start to notice the ripple effect of your practice on those around you.  Once there, you won’t be inclined to forgo self-care practices and will see them in a new light that sustains your commitment to it.