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I recently heard someone say that the theme of 2022 seems to be, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” It’s a funny line, but there’s truth in it — the last few years have been tough. The world continues to throw us challenge after challenge, and the result is stress for us humans — a lot of it. Unfortunately, the impacts of climate change that we are already experiencing, geopolitical tensions, and what feels like a widening divide in our society makes me think that sources of our stress aren’t going anywhere soon.
So what are we to do? Often we’re told to practice “self-care” in response to stress. And yes, taking care of our own well-being is important; but to be candid, I’m not a fan of the term “self-care.” Because when you’re a “responsible” person, it’s easy to feel like we have responsibilities we need to fulfill for others first. Our family responsibilities, work responsibilities, home responsibilities, volunteer responsibilities — the list goes on and on. For many of us, those “responsibilities” carry a lot of weight and are prioritized. That’s why I don’t call it “self-care” anymore – I call it “self-responsibility.” As in, what responsibilities do I have to myself? Because only then will I have the “resilience bank account” needed to deal with the sh*t the world throws at me so I can take care of the people I care about.
Now, everyone is going to be a bit different in what their needs are, but I believe there are some areas of self-responsibility that are core to every human’s well-being. Here’s the categories on my “self-responsibility” checklist:
- Movement – Go on a walk, do strength training, do some yoga, but whatever it is, MOVE EVERY DAY. So long as it’s safe for you to do so, get that heart rate up a bit. My current routine looks like this:
- Monday: Strength training with my trainer (who kicks my butt!) & walking the dogs
- Tuesday: Run/walk, with a focus on pushing my pace or length of run intervals for a shorter overall distance & walking the dogs
- Wednesday: Strength training at home, with guidance from my trainer & walking the dogs
- Thursday: Yoga/Mobility following one of my favorite YouTube videos & walking the dogs
- Friday: Long run/walk with my husband & walking the dogs
- Weekends: hikes/walks with the dogs, maybe some yoga, perhaps a bike ride or some other fun activity
Your routine doesn’t need to look like mine! But what I will tell you is that prioritizing and creating habits around movement makes it way more likely to happen.
- Rest – Your body and mind need rest. Step one: get enough sleep. That means 7-9 hours. I have a consistent routine that has me asleep at 10pm almost without fail. (Yeah, I’m fun at parties.) Step two: take breaks from work. Stop working a ridiculous number of hours. Take vacations. Now, I understand that many of you reading this are entrepreneurs and it can take a lot of time and energy to get (and keep) the business going — but studies have shown that your productivity per hour drops after 50 hours per week and after 55 hours per week it is so low that you may as well not be working at all. So let’s figure out a better way to get things done. One of my favorite books on the subject is Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.
- Nourishing food — Honor your body by eating good, healthy food. Rule of thumb I love? Make sure at least 50% of your plate is veggies. The more you nourish your body with healthy food, the more your body will crave it. I promise. There’s plenty to be said about nutrition, and you’ve probably heard it all. So I’ll just quote Michael Pollan from his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And look, I know that it can cost more to eat healthy, fresh food. To the extent that you’re financially able, please prioritize it in your budget. You’re paying a little more now to avoid big healthcare costs (and heartache) in the future.
- Play — Too often we’re putting off “fun” for work or our responsibilities towards others. But play is incredibly important for our well-being. Honor who you are and what brings you joy. Play for me can be reading fiction, hosting a game night with family (and laughing a lot!), playing “tag” with my dogs, or goofing around with my niece and nephews. Play a game. Go to the theater. Dance! Laugh! Have fun! Schedule play into your week every week. (Better if it’s at least a small moment of “micro play” every day.)
- Connection. Spend time — without the distraction of screens (ex: phones) — with people who bring you joy. Life gets crazy, so we need to be intentional about making this happen. A few suggestions:
- Schedule a regular “date” with a friend. Weekly walk and talk, monthly coffee meetup, or Sunday night dinners. You can always cancel or reschedule if you’re going to be out of town, but having it on the calendar as a recurring item means it will happen more often than not.
- Add a calendar reminder every week to reach out and schedule time with friends & family. Maybe every Monday evening you get a “ping” to make plans for the upcoming weekend.
- Find hobbies you share with a friend, then find a regular group, club, or class you can attend together.
Our brains are wired to prioritize connection. Make it a priority.
- Centering – We all need to practice being present and coming back to our center, which I consider to be our authentic, grounded self. Ideas to help you center:
- Do some mindful breathing — it works even if you only have a minute or two.
- Meditation — I use the app Headspace, but there are many other options out there.
- Walk in nature — it always, always calms me down and brings me back to center.
- Get a massage — use it as an opportunity to be present by focusing your attention on the sensation and pressure instead of letting your mind wander.
- Lay back and watch the clouds go by like we did when we were kids — this is one of my favorite things to do in the summer if I have an extra 5 minutes!
Quick — have a minute? Try this simple mindful breathing mantra from Thich Nhat Hanh right now: “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.”
- Gratitude — Studies have shown that a regular gratitude practice helps our overall wellbeing. A gratitude “practice” can take many forms:
- Keeping a gratitude journal and writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.
- Sending a “thank you” note, text, or email once per week.
- Writing a gratitude letter to someone who has helped you in the past, then sending it to them.
- Sharing one thing you’re grateful for every day with your family around the dinner table or with your partner right before bed.
Like so many things, a gratitude practice can be whatever you want it to be! Find a
practice that feels good for you.
I know it sometimes feels “irresponsible” to prioritize yourself over other perceived responsibilities. So let me share with you one of my favorite quotes from Jim Rohn: “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
You have a responsibility to yourself not only because you care about yourself (which is enough), but because you care about other people in your life and making a positive impact in the world.