My primary New Year’s Resolution this Rosh Hashanah was to be better about self-care.
To be honest, that’s because as I sat there, making a list of all the things I want to be better at, they all boiled down to:
I want to be less cranky.
And I finally realized that the simplest way to be less cranky isn’t to exert more willpower and self-control. It’s to do things to make myself feel better. When I feel better, I am a more patient coworker and a more generous and present friend. Also, I feel better, so that’s pretty cool, right?
I wasn’t entirely sure how to be better about self-care, though, and I have to give credit for my breakthrough to Mel Jolly at Author Rx. I subscribe to her excellent newsletter, and this summer she said something that really stuck with me:
I hate making the same decisions about what to do in which order day after day, so I try to put myself on autopilot as much as possible.
Then, a few weeks later, she shared a story about a friend whose young son got easily distracted during his morning routine, so she made him a list:
Put on shoes
Mel did something similar for her morning routine.
The truth is, I already knew what I needed to do to feel better. The problem was actually doing it. I’d come home from the day job all keyed up and stressed out, look at my to-do list, and say to myself, I don’t have time for self-care. So I’d jump straight into work, but I’d be unfocused and stressed out, and end up procrastinating on Twitter while feeling guilty.
OH MY GOD, I realized. What if I set aside a certain amount of time each day (I started with an hour and a half, but it wasn’t enough, so I ended up with two hours), and then made a self-care checklist? If I did everything the same way in the same order every time, and I made a commitment to do it “every day after work unless I had something scheduled with another person”, that would eliminate all the fussing and debating. I would just do it.
And look, I know two hours, three or four times a week, sounds like a lot of time. That’s possibly eight hours, just to make myself feel better.
But you know what? It is so, so worth it. I’m not gonna say I’m always perfect about follow-through, or that I never skip a day, because I totally am not, and I do at least once a week. BUT usually once I do start, I go through the whole two hours, and I feel great afterwards. Not only that, but I’m ready to actually sit down and work at my writing and career!
I use a page protector and dry-erase marker, just like Mel suggested:
It says (btw, sorry for TMI about my sinuses):
Two-Hour Self-Care Checklist
⬜ change clothes
⬜ take out water for neti pot
⬜ take vitamin D drop
⬜ meditation (12 minutes)
⬜ back exercises (5 minutes)
⬜ exercise (30 minutes)
⬜ tidy (20 minutes)
⬜ neti pot
⬜ look at inspiration quotes
⬜ read and drink a glass of water
Time started: ________
Obviously everyone’s list will be different, but I’m gonna explain mine just to show you how the process works. These are all things I’d already been trying to find time for, and “couldn’t.”
1. Change clothes. There is nothing more discouraging that coming home from work in my gross work clothes that smell like food, picking up my laptop, and four hours later realizing I’m still in my jeans with a big chicken salad splotch on the thigh. Changing into cute, comfy clothes makes me feel better AND creates a separation from the day job part of my day.
2. Take out water for neti pot. I love my neti pot, okay? If you struggle with congestion or allergies at all I totally recommend it, especially in winter when central heating is probably drying out the air in so many places you spend time. Also, being able to breathe more deeply more easily helps with stress. I won’t go into any more details but if you’re curious you can learn more here.
3. Take vitamin D drop. Vitamin D is the one that your body gets from the sun. I live in Seattle where there’s not a lot of sun, especially in the winter. Almost everyone here is vitamin-D deficient. I’d been trying to remember to take my drops for literally years and nothing worked. Now I’m taking them at least a few times a week!
4. Meditation (12 minutes). I was very skeptical of meditation for a long time, but once I realized that it’s seriously just closing your eyes and focusing on your breath until you clear your mind, I was like…oh. Why was I skeptical all this time? Seriously, it’s awesome. Personally, I get antsy after the 12-minute mark and I can’t always focus, but even if all I do is breathe deeply for ten minutes while still planning a blog post or thinking about something that happened at work, I can feel the difference in my body. Instead of being tense and jittery, I feel empty and relaxed and slowed down. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some great tips.
5. back exercises (5 minutes). I have scoliosis and a physical therapist once gave me some exercises to help my posture, which I really liked but of course I never did. Now I do!
6. exercise (30 minutes). For me, this means taking a walk, which is the only form of exercise that is both free AND doesn’t bore me to tears. I like to walk in the hilly residential neighborhoods near my house. Hills make for better exercise, and because not a lot of people are home during the day, I can hear my music AND sing along to it at the top of my lungs without getting weird looks. Only listen to podcasts that won’t stress you out!
7. tidy (20 minutes). If you struggle with dirt and mess and aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Unfuck Your Habitat.
If you feel like just cleaning isn’t enough, that you have too much stuff and aren’t sure what to do about it, I literally had a life-changing experience with Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It can help you do a total re-set on your emotional relationship with your stuff and your space. Get it from your library and give it a try! She’s very idiosyncratic but I think if you approach the system flexibly and are okay with not taking everything 100% literally…I’m not kidding, it changed my life.
Now that I have a reasonable amount of stuff, daily tidying is so much easier–and I have so much less guilt when things do get messy.
I made a high-energy playlist that’s about 20 minutes long. I put it on and start tidying, and I stop when the playlist ends. (I think I got this idea from Unfuck Your Habitat?)
Here’s what’s on mine:
1. Sami Zayn’s theme song (the most motivational music ever)
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – “First Time”
3. Taylor Swift – “Stay Stay Stay”
4. Dessa – “The Crow”
5. Leonard Cohen – “The Future” (angry, operatic Leonard Cohen is SO GOOD for cleaning to)
6. Beyoncé – “Daddy Lessons”
(If you do the math, you may notice that actually this is longer than 20 minutes. If I’m in the zone and want to keep cleaning, I listen to “Daddy Lessons”. Otherwise I stop after “The Future.”)
8. neti pot. Enough said.
9. look at inspiration quotes. I have some inspirational quotes at the front of my planner. I put them there to keep me on track this year. I did them up in nice fonts and put stickers on them because it made me happy.
My quotes this year are all about…controlling what I can control and doing my best, and letting the rest go. Reading them every day puts me back in the big picture of where and who I want to be, and what I’m actually trying to accomplish. It reminds me not to focus on the negative.
If you believe in yourself, nobody can screw with you. Don’t take shit from anybody, don’t let anybody tell you no, don’t accept negativity from anybody. A lot of people want to put their negative vibes on you…don’t take any of that. You do what you want to do, do your own thing, you know? —Dean Ambrose
Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control
Who lives, who dies
Who tells your story
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. —Pirkei Avot, 2:21
“You see a river rushing by without end. You see a sad collection of women with thimbles, all dipping out an inconsequential amount… But we’re not trying to empty the Thames,” she told him. “Look at what we’re doing with the water we remove. It doesn’t go to waste. We’re using it to water our gardens, sprout by sprout. We’re growing bluebells and clovers where once there was a desert. All you see is the river, but I care about the roses.” —Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal
10. read and drink a glass of water. If I have any time left, I read a book that’s just for fun and drink a glass of water (you can always be more hydrated!). I don’t always have time left.
So that’s that!
Good luck figuring out a self-care routine that works for you. You are worth it.