This post examines the true benefits of self-care and why doing less can help you feel like you are enough.
When I was originally brainstorming ideas for this post, I wanted to share a “self-care starter kit”. The idea seemed nice. A collection of items you can keep on hand to help you take better care of yourself. But over the last two weeks of hosting the Self-Care Challenge, I’ve made some pretty big realizations when it comes to self-care in actual application.
I realized the goal isn’t to be good at taking a bubble bath or to consistently schedule in time to color. It isn’t to become a “self-care master.”
The goal of promoting the idea of self-care is simply to give yourself the opportunity and the permission to enjoy your life every single day, while it’s actually happening. To make sure that your to-do list is serving you, not ruling you.
If you’re a big to-do lister you’ve probably noticed that it’s never really done. So the idea of enjoying your day once you’ve finished what needs to be done is nice in theory, but it rarely, if ever, actually happens. Not only that, but when you put all your energy and worth into your productivity, you end up feeling like you’re never enough. There’s always someone out there doing more than you. There’s always something more you could do. Right?
At least that’s how it was starting to feel for me. Even when I had a “good day” I still wanted more. And when I wasn’t as productive as I had planned? I felt I had failed that day. I would look back at a week or a month and ask myself what I had achieved. Rarely, did I ask myself if I was happy while I was doing it.
I’ve had this idealized vision of what working for myself would be. In my vision, I’d spend days learning and engrossed in work that lit me up. In reality, I was always checking my to-do lists and wondering “am I doing this right?” I’d be running around trying to get everything done in time, anxious, frazzled and inevitably deflated.
Ok, so what does this have to do with self-care and doing less?
I looked back at times in my life when I’ve been particularly happy without trying to force it. The common thread with all these times is that I’ve done less.
It’s funny, because at the beginning of this year I declared (for myself) that it would be the year of less but better. I loved that idea, but I put it in the back of my mind and got to work.
Now that I’m in London and I really am doing less, less structured work, less sponsorships, less everything, I’m so happy. I’m doing work that lights me up. I’m doing it in my own way. I’m doing it with more ease than ever before and at a higher quality. And I’m happy. So so happy while I do it.
I still have a to-do list. Right now it serves the primary purpose of getting ideas out of my head and onto paper. Then, each day I see how I feel and attack projects accordingly. I’m able to bring the right energy to each project, because I’m more aware of where I’m at that day.
Mixed into all of this less-ness is doing prioritizing myself every day. I check in with how I’m feeling, what I need and what I don’t need. Sometimes I crave the high energy of a crowded coffee shop, or the challenge of a spin class. Other days I sleep in, move slowly and work when it feels good. Some days I’m learning and consuming while other days I’m intensely creating. For me, this is really what self-care feels like.
What if I can’t control my schedule?
Ok, so this is all fine and dandy when you’re living in a city alone and can control your own schedule. But I know this is not many people’s situation so it’s not practical to tell you that everyone should just “do what feels good” 24/7.
I also know the challenge encourages lots of different specific activities. But hopefully they help participants understand what feels good and energizing while seeing what just doesn’t really speak to them. And ultimately I hope the challenge helps participants see that making time for themselves should be a priority every day.
Moving forward, my big lesson you can take from practicing self-care this is:
Examine your relationship with productivity, and where YOU fall on your priority list.
I’m learning that self-care is far less about the activities themselves, but the act of making yourself a priority each day. Being aware of what you need and adjusting accordingly.
If you’re still a little lost on how this can apply to you when you’re in an environment that demands work gets done on a certain timeline, here are some suggestions:
Ideas for Prioritizing Your Happiness at Work or School
Can You Look at Your Morning Differently?
Figure out how you like to start your day. Do you really love working out in the morning or are you dependent on the “feeling of being productive” first thing? Would you get the same joy from intentionally sleeping a little bit longer and feeling less rushed?
Can You Take an Energizing Break?
Would you feel more energized and less stressed if you had the opportunity to have a break in the afternoon at work? Could you have a conversation with your boss letting them know that it’s something you would greatly benefit from and do a trial run to see if your work (and happiness) improves as a result.
What Can You Stop Doing?
I remember when I was in college, there was a point in time when I was a leader in 5 different clubs. I felt a rush from being “busy” and the identity of being a leader, however I didn’t actually feel good doing any one club. So when I came back from my semester abroad (when I did no extra curriculars) I chose just focus on my campus jobs. As a result I actually enjoyed work because it had my full attention.
Can you change shifts?
If you work in a job with shifts, like I did when I was a barista, do you feel more grounded and energized at a certain time of day? How would this effect your happiness, quality of work and overall attitude. Maybe you can switch from always doing the morning shift to having a couple mornings a week off so you can practice more writing or whatever makes you happy in the morning.
Can you work remotely?
Are you at a job that you’re able to work remotely on occasion? Would having the chance to travel more often, while still working make you happier? Is that a conversation you could have with your boss?
Can You Take Notes?
Ok, maybe you have no idea how to go from where you are to where you want to be or even know where you want to be. That’s absolutely ok. Maybe start to take notes every day when you notice you’re feeling in the groove. When you’re feeling happy. What time of day is it? Are you around a lot of people? Are you by yourself? What helped you get into that groove? Over time you can use these observations to start building habits and strategies to get yourself into that space more often.
At the End of the Day
Whatever situation you’re in work or family wise, take some time this week or this month to sit down and be totally honest with yourself. How would you like to feel throughout the day and what’s your current reality. What conversations with yourself, your family or your boss could you have that would help you make you a priority in your life. Are there areas where you’ve always felt like you needed to do more? What if you started doing less instead?
This my friends, is where I think the self-care magic happens. When you put yourself first, you can do the things that make you happy then do the things that need to be done with joy. When you’re happy, you can show up to your life in the most impactful way. And when I say happy I don’t just mean the happiness that comes from pure pleasure, but the happiness that comes from feeling like you have enough, you do enough and you are enough.
What does prioritizing yourself look like right now for you?