We rationalize neglecting ourselves, saying, "there’s not enough time," or "too many people need me." But that’s not true. Because self-care is our most basic need.
Let’s face it: Unless you take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care of your loved ones. It’s that simple. It might feel impossible to make time for self-care, but everything is impossible until it's done. Today is the day that changes. These tips are exactly what you need to finally lock down a self-care routine you can stick with.
Think about the things you do every day: You work, you eat, you pack lunch for the kids, you shower.
You manage to get done everything that's necessary—even on the crazy days—because they're baked into your routine. You don’t have to think about how to fit them in. You also check your texts, emails, and Facebook notifications—they’re automatic. So, the trick to fitting in self-care is obviously just to make it part of your routine.
First, let's talk about what self-care actually is.
It's anything that you need in order to be happy, confident, and whole. Nourishing movement like yoga or weightlifting is self-care. The same goes for brushing your teeth, showering, listening to music, reading books you enjoy, meditating, and moving regularly throughout the day. Then there are the more obvious acts of self-love: traveling, getting a massage, leaving the job you hate, and buying the clothes you feel great in.
And self-love pays dividends. The more you show yourself love, the brighter your days become; the more energy you have; and the happier you are. And the only person keeping you from investing more in yourself is you. So, let's fix that.
Prioritizing self-care starts with eliminating the distractions that waste your precious time.
Like anything good for us, we come up with a million excuses not to love ourselves. The most common is a lack of time. But, as they say, you have the same number of hours in your day as Beyoncé. And Oprah. And Michelle Obama. So, if you want to get serious about self-care (or, truthfully, anything else), you’re going to have to do an honest audit of your time.
In a recent coaching session, my client Kate exclaimed, "This is genius! I can’t believe how fast you shifted my perspective—I have hope!" Kate had started to feel like time was passing more and more quickly, and she never had time to do the things she wanted to do. But as soon as I helped her identify the time traps—hers were Facebook and dating apps—she saw just how much time she'd been wasting on things that didn't give her much of an ROI, in terms of self-care benefits.
"Kate, I promise you, it's stupidly simple," I said. "You cut out the fat, then you put on the muscle."
So, what's the unnecessary fat in your life? Here are some of the more common time-wasters Americans face: TV, social media, texting, email, dating apps, small talk, and anything you do just because you've always done it.
Once you’ve identified all of the low-value habits, it’s time to eliminate them—or to limit them as much as possible.
Take me, for instance. I have to check email most days for work. But if I check it more than twice, I fall into a habit of sifting through email when I should be taking care of myself. Same goes for Facebook—except that it’s so addictive I have to cut it out for months at a time.
When I’m disciplined about eliminating and limiting the things that eat up my time, I’m always at my happiest. That means I have more of myself to give to others through my work and friendships.
Once you've nixed those low-value habits, identify the self-care rituals you want to replace them with.
People tend to break their days into chunks—beginning, middle, and end—that’s just how we’re wired. So, all you have to do is come up with simple routines you associate with morning, afternoon, and night. Here's how I do it.
My morning routine:
I pray, visualize, oil pull, brush my teeth, drink a shake, exercise, and write. All of these things give me energy and clarity. When I’m done with my routine, I’m happy because I’ve done the things that make me feel good. Even if I feel like crap when I wake up, I know I'll feel great once I've done my morning routine.
My midday routine:
At lunchtime, I eat a healthy meal, meditate for 20 minutes, walk around the park, read, practice French, and chill out to some music. Even if I’ve had a stressful workday, the lunch routine brings me back to center and reminds me that, no matter my external conditions, I’m always capable of loving myself.
My evening routine:
I shut off my computer by 9 p.m., relax, play guitar, oil pull, brush my teeth, shower, get in bed by 10 p.m., journal for 10 to 20 minutes, plan my next day, and get sleepy by reading fiction.
The single activities that make up my routines aren’t much on their own. But when combined in repeatable routines, they’re overwhelmingly powerful.
Why not take 10 minutes right now to come up with morning, midday, and evening routines you can stick with?
If you’re not sure where to start, pick and choose your rituals from this list. Once you start doing them, you'll tailor them to your needs until they feel just right.
- Exercise (walking, yoga, Pilates, running, biking, swimming, weightlifting, etc.)
- Dressing up, or putting on makeup if that’s important to you
- Listening to your favorite music
If you combine these small acts of self-care into repeatable routines that start from the moment you wake up, the smallest gesture becomes a reminder that you love and respect yourself.
Start planning for long-term self-care.
You need the daily self-care rituals. But this is bigger than that. You have to plan out the big things—camping, shopping, rock climbing, dinner dates, classes, travel, spa visits—whatever really recharges you.
Take another 10 minutes to reflect on your larger self-care priorities. Then dedicate one Sunday a month to the bigger-picture self-love activities.
I need vigorous exercise and guy-time to be happy; so I plan on playing beach volleyball on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I need bone broth for my best digestion and overall health, so I plan on making a big ol' pot of it on Sunday to last me through the week. I need a long massage at least once a month to de-stress and to heal my active body. And I need to be out in nature to feel fully alive, so I plan for long hikes weekly and monthly.
I plan out these things at the beginning of every week and commit a day to each activity.
Bottom line: Plan out the big self-care activities around your physical, social, and emotional needs. You know you best, so listen to yourself. What are the things that make you melt a little just thinking about? Are they things like going to the beach? Maybe it’s riding horses? What about volunteering? Or rock climbing?
Think back to things that have made you feel most alive in your life, then make opportunities to do them. It’s not selfishness; it’s loving yourself. And the more you practice on you, the better you get at loving others.
Plan on having a thirty-minute brainstorm session at least once a month to get in touch with your long-term self-love needs. Sunday afternoons work well for most people.
Like everything in this life, fulfilling your self-care needs requires planning. So plan against the low-value habits that eat up your time. Then plan out daily self-care rituals for morning, afternoon, and night. Finally, plan out and schedule your bigger-picture self-care needs.
If you don’t, who will? And if you need help, I've got your back.
And one more thing: Learn how to say no. You’re talented and smart and fun, so there are bound to be people lining up for little slices of you. If someone’s request interferes with your self-love practice, just say no. A wise woman once said to me, "Someone else's demand is not necessarily your call to action." I recite that mantra to myself whenever someone asks something of me that diminishes my capacity to do what matter to me. Practice that this week.
Want more on living your best life? Check out your June Horoscope, then learn how to get out of your own way and manifest your best life ever.
Daniel Dowling is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His writing focuses on personal development and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and FitBit. He studied sociology and anthropology at New Mexico State University.