So, here’s the thing about self-care.
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s easy to view self-care as one big task. As a single item on the checklist of things I have to do today. And it’s always something huge. Like stop some unhealthy habit. Just like that. Just muscle my way thru it and quit. And I want to see results today. Or at least next week. Not 3 months from now, but right away.
Turns out, self-care doesn’t exactly work like that.
It’s the little things, the tiny incremental steps that we do to take care of ourselves. It’s the choice to pass on foods that are not going to make us feel good, or, rather that are going to make us feel like crap, and choose something that will have my body thanking me afterward.
It’s the choice to go to bed instead of staying up an extra 10, I mean, 15… oh, wait: 30 minutes! looking at my phone.
It’s taking some big breaths and releasing some of that tension that I’ve been feeling.
Case in point:
Over the last six months I’ve taken two different classes specifically focused on realigning my body and addressing some pelvic floor issues I’ve been having. One of the things my instructor repeats and reinforces on a regular basis is that change in our body (physically or mentally) doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen even over a period of 11 weeks. It happens in tiny and incremental ways.
When I reflect over the progress I’ve made in these classes, I can see the incremental progress I’ve made on lessons 1 and 2 in the first course (and, of course, there were more than 2 lessons!)
With the encouragement of my instructor, I’m learning to give myself permission to make tiny incremental progress, knowing that all of those tiny bits of change will add up together into larger change. That it will snow ball, helping me make the progress I want to make towards my larger goals.
New Year’s resolutions, anyone?
Often we make big New Year’s resolutions, we set big goals, and when we don’t see Big Monumental Change very quickly we get discouraged and want to give up.
Today I’m here to tell you: don’t give up. Don’t abandon your goals. Just break them down into the tiny incremental changes you need to make to reach your goals.
Maybe you can’t balance on one foot with the proper alignment right now and you need to hold on to something to assist you for now. Chances are pretty high you won’t always need to hold on to something. Incrementally you will get stronger. That change that you are trying to evoke, the muscles of change, metaphorically speaking, will grow stronger. New habits that are trying to develop in Tiny Incremental Little Steps will grow stronger and will grow, and as they do, they will become easier to maintain.
So take your goal. Break it down. Think about that little step you need to take to just lean in the direction of your goal today and tomorrow. And Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday and Sunday.
And when you come to next Monday, you will be ready to lean just a little bit further into your goal, into that change.
You are creating space in your life to take care of yourself.
Now, all of this applies to any kind of change.
Whether it is some kind of monumental goal like learning to run a triathlon, and then actually executing and running a triathlon, or whether it is something a lot smaller (and yes, just as powerful) like learning not eat your emotions for example. This is about learning separate whether we’re actually hungry or whether we’re craving something because of the emotions we’re feeling.
It seems small but it actually can be a lot bigger than that.
Incremental change: we lean into it just a little bit at a time.
But what happens when we fail to address the elephant in the room?
The biggest piece, the part of self-care that I think is the hardest is eliminating self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is really getting me angry lately. Self-sabotage is insidious because it blends in like a chameleon.
It’s the way we cope. It’s the unhealthy ways that we cope when we are having a hard time, and it undermines all of our efforts to get healthy. Then a month, or 6 months, or a year later we wonder why we haven’t made the progress we were supposed to be making toward the goals we were actively working toward.
Instead, we find ourselves treading water instead of moving forward, and unexpectedly limping along instead of making progress.
Self-sabotage is the piece that makes us want to give up
Self-sabotage is the piece we don’t see that eventually makes us want to throw in the towel, to give up to not even try, and to wallow in a pit of self-pity big enough to strangle us.
I had some goals for my health this the past year that I haven’t met. I know that part of that is due to things that I could not control that were just part of my life my circumstances and that I cannot change. But some of those things that kept me from meeting my goals were definitely things that I could change. There were definitely things that I could have incremental chosen not to do.
I realized, sometime in late December, that I was turning out to be my own worst enemy. And I decided to do something about it.
Starting in January, I did begin making some of those healthier choices, leaning into that change, trying not to allow self-indulgence to sabotage overall goals.
All of this has been very vague and metaphorical, so I will get specific.
Last year I learned (or, confirmed, rather) that I have some adrenal health issues. The adrenal glands manage stress in our lives (our fight/flight responses) and mine are pretty much burned out. I really don’t have the capacity to handle much stress at all. I say that in vague terms but I actually have tests that show that not only are my cortisol levels low, they are lower than low, and definitely down in the danger zone.
Over the last year of taking supplements, I have been eating well for the most part and generally trying to healthier. And I think I was starting to get better. Then a few weeks ago I retook my cortisol test. For that test I had to go off of all my supplements for a few days, and during those few days, I began to strongly suspect that I wasn’t as better as I wanted to me. Unfortunately for me, the results confirmed that..
Year in review:
When I look back over the last year I can see how there were things that I did that undermined my goals. Especially during the last six months. Starting at about Halloween, I started eating more candy, and other treats, and then of course came Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and it just never stops.
Did I mention something about emotional eating? Because the months between November and March are fairly difficult for me. Between those months I experienced the anniversary of my oldest son’s death and then his birthday in March. The truth is, during those months I hate to go to bed. I avoid it. I stay up late watching TV, spending time on my phone until I just can’t possibly hold my eyes open any longer. In January I was at least using that evening time to journal my grief, so it was emotionally productive, but still.
Considering the fact that sleep is one of the important factors involved in healing the adrenals, I can see now that those choices, while they made sense at the time, were definitely sabotaging my bigger goals of healing.
So now it’s time to face the music.
It’s time to lean into the wind of self-care, to make incremental change. Starting in January, I quit eating sweets and I can truthfully say that during the months between January 1st and now I have had something with sugar in it maybe 5 times. 5 small little times, not big binges. Starting last week, instead of staying up late looking at my phone, I go to bed. I turn off the lights, and go to sleep.
In another week or two, it will be time to lean into that change just a little bit more. When I do, the incremental changes I have made up until this point will help me make more incremental change
When it’s time to celebrate, I will celebrate changes that I have made. The small wins. Because every little win adds together to make a bigger win.
So. What are your wins?
What small changes are YOU leaning into?
When you pull your weighted blanket around yourself tonight (or when you order one), you say “I am taking care of myself. I am making self care a priority.” And THAT is worth celebrating.