Personal well-being is not a game that can be won. There is no finish line to eating healthily, nurturing supportive relationships, or connecting spiritually. . .self-care is, quintessentially, a life-long journey.
Which may be why many people (including me!) have so much resistance around prioritizing consistent action for a holistically healthy self. I like tasks I can cross off my list and projects that come to a celebratory end. But so much of life requires daily awareness, intention, and continuous innovation. How can you create sustainable, consistent health choices?
I’ve started to notice a pattern, both for myself and for my clients, about how sustainable, consistent, positive changes happen in the arena of holistic well-being. These days I am working on incorporating regular meditation into my life. A year ago, the missing piece for me was regular, get-your-heart-rate up exercise. Several years back I was sorely lacking an aligned professional identity, which had a huge impact on my overall well-being.
It doesn’t matter what is missing, but it does matter that you do something about it. Here are elements that lead to truly stepping up your self-care game:
#1: Awareness of what is missing. Using meditation as an example, I have been aware of the benefits and process of meditation for many years. I’ve dabbled in workshops and have friends who practice regularly. But it remained something great for someone else until I undeniably noticed how impossible it felt to simply sit down and be still at any point in the day. I was addicted to being busy! This was a creeping awareness that grew over time, but there came a day when I couldn’t not see it. And with that awareness came the insight that my never-ending task list was protecting me from feeling something important to my human development. So ask yourself, “what are you aware of but ignoring?”
#2: Building momentum. Just because you know what is missing doesn’t mean you know how to create it! Often times we have to be in the unknown for a while, as uncomfortable as that may be. For me, this often looks like checking way too many books on the topic from the library or searching for online resources. I sign up for classes. I share my new awareness with friends. And as I talk through what I am noticing again and again (thank you friends, for listening!) a first step usually emerges.
#3: Try something new. For me and my journey with meditation, this was a guided meditation app on my phone set up as a 10-day challenge. When I was figuring out how to incorporate regular exercise into my busy life, I tried a trial membership at a gym. When I was searching for my next career step, I set up numerous informational interviews with people who I admired. It matter surprisingly little what you try, as long as you are stretching yourself in a new way. Taking new action based on your new awareness is like stepping across a threshold into the change you want to create.
#4: Stay flexible and innovate. The first thing you try is rarely the thing that sticks. This is partially because it can take trial and error to learn what works for you, and partially because our lives and our needs are always changing.
#5: Forgive yourself and keep going. If you have any streak of perfectionist in you, this spoiler alert is for you: you are not going get this “right.” I declared 15 minutes of meditation five days per week for several months. Some weeks it was five days and some weeks it was three days or even none. Or I used my meditation time rehearsing conversations in the head instead of being with myself at a higher elevation. Oh well. The big picture is that I am practicing. I am caring for myself more than I was yesterday. I am learning. I am being honest. I am not stopping.
The steps outlined here may be occur linearly, or it may be two steps in one direction and them a jump to backwards. But if you stay steady and embrace the grace of practice, you will one day soon notice that regular meditation, creative expression, or whatever it is you need to take amazing care of yourself is now a normal part of your routine and life.
I believe that caring for yourself exquisitely may be one of the most generous gifts you can give to your family and the world. When you’re needs are met, you can give your gifts and let your light shine.