A new year, what a compelling time to make changes in our lives! Do you already have a New Year’s Resolution, or maybe several for 2016? Over the years I have made the classic January promises to myself, such as being better at my finances or exercising more. And every year those lofty resolutions dissipate into vapor, usually within the first month. So, what is the one New Year’s Resolution you can make and keep?
For the majority of people, changing who we are into who we want to be is merely an illusion. We want the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but we have no idea what the pot of gold even looks like, let alone the path we would take to get to the gold. Therefore, we buy into the New Year’s hype for new gym memberships, exercise equipment or the latest juicer, only to discover a month later the dust settling on our pot of gold.
I suggest a different resolution for this New Year. Keep it simple. Make the decision to keep one mantra in your daily life for this year: I will take care of myself first.
Most of the women I work with have become experts at taking care of and helping others to the detriment of putting themselves last on the care list. They are frequently saying yes to something when they mean no, apologizing to keep the peace, and are overly exhausted. As women in our current society the demands placed on us have increased over the years. We go to work, drop our children off in at school, only to return to prepare dinner and pick up the house before crashing into our beds at night as we toss and turn organizing our to-do list for the upcoming week.
When we board an airplane the flight attendants remind us of the safety issues, one dealing with the oxygen masks that might deploy in flight. The message is you put your mask on first before helping the person next to you put on theirs. If you attempt to place your child’s mask on before your own you might lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. However, if you heed the attendant’s directions, you make sure you get the oxygen first so you can help your child and others with their needs. This is not considered selfish behavior; it is necessary for survival.
You now have a visual image of what taking care of yourself first looks like. But how can you apply this to your everyday life? You must wake up each morning of this year thinking to yourself, “Today I will put on my oxygen mask first.” Place this mantra on your nightstand, in your smart phone or on your daily calendar. If we are aware of the need to take care of ourselves and fail to do so, we have made a choice to stay imbalanced and unhealthy.
This concept of being aware on purpose is mindfulness. Reminding myself throughout the day to place myself first on the list, helps me create a healthy way of thinking. An analogy compares the neural pathway of a habit to an eight lane interstate system. You enter the interstate and travel without much thought about your route. Our habitual thinking or ingrained behaviors, are like the interstate system. We don’t have to be mindful. Therefore, if I want to change my way of thinking and thus behaving, I have to create a new neural pathway. I have to forge a new road in my brain, one different and much more arduous than the interstate system. This is why many New Year’s Resolutions don’t stick. We stop being aware on purpose and go back to traveling the easier interstate system. We are creatures of habit, because habit is automatic, quick and easy.
To successfully change your way of thinking you will need to find a path that works for you and continue day on that path until it becomes a paved road. After repeated use and practice this paved road can turn into a two lane highway and eventually your interstate system, where the new thought and behavior becomes more habitual. A word of caution, learned behaviors from your childhood still may be your “go to” road in times of stress, much like the trance-like drive to the store, where you look up and wonder how you got there. If your mind is not purposeful in your desired behavior, it will revert back to the old, easy interstate system.
One of the tools I have found to be most productive for changing is to become accountable to another person or a group of women. Can you find someone who will commit to this change with you or to help you monitor the change? Be careful. You aren’t looking for someone to judge you. We have enough of that from the outside world and our own expectations of ourselves, that we don’t need it here. You might consider joining our Facebook discussion page, a place where you can become accountable to a group of women facing similar difficulties to changing. I am a firm believer in community and connection. Without this piece, you will set yourself up for failure.
So, what does that pot of gold look like? Self-care means choosing behaviors that create balance and peace in your body, mind and spirit. It is not self-indulging. Therefore, it’s probably not buying a box of chocolates, shopping for new clothes, nor planning out your life, constantly working to achieve those goals. Unless, these experiences are lacking in your life. The key is BALANCE. Because each of us is unique, what you need to take care of yourself might be different from those around you.
Once you have made the commitment, write down what you have done EACH DAY to take care of yourself. Doing this daily may be the first and only step you take at the beginning. As you begin to get the hang of it, try some more suggestions. Share your list with your support group. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, pull up your big girl panties and commit to tomorrow.
I have constructed four areas of your life where I believe self-care is important with a few examples of each. I am also including a couple of links for more concrete examples.
This is the first one most of us think of when we drudgingly consider a New Year’s Resolution. The problem is we think too big. Start with some small steps. Many of us are aware of our bodies, our culture constantly compares us to the advertisements of what we “should” look like. Therefore, this is the area where the lack of self-care is most visible.
Some Small Steps:
Commit to taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car farther away and walking to your destination. Keep it simple. When you become aware of your body in motion you will be more likely to keep it moving!
Dance in your kitchen while making a meal.
Become aware of what you are eating. Each time you place food in your mouth, be mindful that it’s like the gas in your car. The unhealthy foods you put in your body can be like putting sugar in your gas tank; the car will fail to start.
Emotions are like flowing water. A damn may be used to control the steady flow of the river. However, if torrential rains hit, the water overflows its banks and flooding can begin. Our emotions are much the same way. We might be able to control our feelings until the downpours (stress) begin. When stress becomes overwhelming the dam breaks and our feelings come out “sideways.” By this I mean they overflow into parts of our lives that would not normally be affected by these emotions. For example, you have a fight with your son at home, carry the emotions to work and they slip out as a sharp retort at your coworker or boss. It is important to feel the emotion and deal with it. This is difficult to do, because many of us have grown up being told that crying is for babies or that celebrating your success is being selfish and cocky. Brene Brown says, “When we numb the darkness, we numb the light.” You cannot turn off only the negative feelings, because in doing so you also dismiss the positive ones.
Some Small Steps:
When someone asks you to volunteer your time, energy or resources, take a moment and think about whether YOU want to commit. If you aren’t sure, tell them you would like some time to think about it. If your gut lurched at the thought of committing, remember “no” is a complete sentence. You can compassionately reply, “Thank you for asking but I’m not able to participate this time.” You do not have to explain yourself. Attempting to do so, adds further questions or discussion. Keep it simple!
Set a boundary with a safe person. You might practice the boundary above with your best friend, telling her you are working on saying no when it best serves you.
Laugh. Find a comedy or a friend that makes you laugh, a real laugh, the kind that starts in your belly and hurts.
Have a good cry. Watch a sappy movie when you are feeling sad.
Take a step out of your comfort zone. Try something that has caused you fear. Just one small step!
I believe it’s important to challenge your thinking, to keep an open mind and to grow with ideas that you are exposed to. Don’t forget to take care of your brain power. I have found that by becoming more mindful of my thoughts, I am more likely to adhere to the advice, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”
Some Small Steps:
When confronted with an idea that doesn’t match your belief system, instead of opening your mouth and allowing your words to spill out everywhere, stop and think. “Can I consider any part of their statement to be truth? Do any forms of their idea coincide with my beliefs? Can I respect what this person is saying?” Then you might respond. And if you want to push your ideas down the person’s throat you might best reply, “Thank you for sharing that,” Politely ending the discussion. Many will never see your point of view because they are clouded in their own desire to be right. Let it go and walk away in peace.
Read a nonfiction book or an article on a topic you have been curious about.
Surround yourself with people who think like you, but will challenge you to think deeper.
When we hear the word Spiritual we believe we are referring to God. Most of the time we are. However, I also believe we each have spirit residing in us. When we get quiet and allow our minds to wander or better yet, to stay silent, we can connect with a deep intuition that can guide us through the obstacles of life.
Some Small Steps
Schedule alone time for yourself. If you are incredibly busy, mark out time on your calendar each day for yourself.
Journal about what feeds your soul and then try one of those things.
Sit by yourself in a crowded area and watch the people around you, grateful that for a few moments you can sit and not be accountable for anything. Spend 1 day a week doing this during your lunch time.
Start (or end) each day with a list of 1 thing for which you are grateful. Write it down. No repeats. Try to step up to 3/day when ready.
Each of these suggestions are small steps on your path to finding the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. Look at one small step at a time. When our desires and expectations are too lofty we become overwhelmed with the task. If we can look at the goal as taking a small step repeatedly until the next step becomes visible, then the likelihood of continuing is much greater. Therefore, make this New Year’s Resolution to take care of yourself first – one small step at a time.
Other resources for suggested self-care tips that I liked are: