Standing in front of the mirror counting and cataloging frustrations. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling, running list after list of what didn’t happen that could have, or what wouldn’t happen because it couldn’t.
It’s all normal.
The list of frustrations can include anything from the simplicity of not taking out the trash to the complexity of giving in when boundaries have already been set.
The thing is, without perspective, everything is personal, and this makes it easy to beat up an already bruised existence.
So maybe it’s time to change the way you look at yourself.
Think about it. How much more can you see from a second or third floor window than you can from the first floor? It’s the same with who we are.
If we never look at ourselves through a different frame, we’ll always appear the same.
If we stare at ourselves in front of the mirror or lie in our beds all of the time thinking the same self-deprecating thoughts, we’ll never set ourselves up for a new kind of series where we catalogue all of the ordinary that makes us extraordinary.
Now, the beauty of perspective is that it isn’t necessarily a given, which means that it can be cultivated.
Why is this great?
Because it means that if we don’t like ourselves today or if we like ourselves, but want to like ourselves even more, then we can learn how.
So here are three steps you can use to shift perspective, care for yourself, and find the time to do so.
Step 1: Think Greater Purpose
To write a book, create a piece of art, perform choreography or a Greek tragedy, there are hours and hours of drafts, sketches, and rehearsals poured in over time – days, weeks, months, and even years. On average, a marathon runner’s pace of writing a book is about sixteen hours per week over a nine- or ten-month period.
Writing a book is hard work. It’s iteration after iteration, and what sustains you is the greater purpose – the motivation behind it.
So you have to want to take care of yourself.
Most people think it’s selfish to practice self-care when there are husbands, wives, children, and chores to take care of. Caring for the self feels egotistical – or at least hedonistic.
And maybe that has something to do with how we were raised in our society, but maybe not.
Think of the writer from before. For the author to dedicate sixteen hours per week to writing, they have to believe in the greater purpose of what they’re doing.
If we could see the greater purpose of tending to our needs, then maybe we’d be more willing and likely to do it.
When we care for ourselves, the greater purpose attached to that is the well-being of ourselves and others. The better we care for ourselves, the more we are able to give to others willingly.
To understand this, think of ignoring your wants to please your partner or someone else. What happens?
You get annoyed at yourself for putting your needs to the side, but you also get frustrated with the person you’ve allowed to take center stage. The more you let others needs come before your own, the more you’ll resent them for it.
Tending to ourselves makes interactions less an act of self-sacrifice and more of an enjoyment, something to look forward to.
So the greater purpose is to be a better friend, wife, husband, mother, father, daughter, son, person.
The greater purpose is to be present while talking to your partner, listening to what they have to say, to enjoy time spent with your family, to interact authentically in relationships. Taking care of ourselves means we improve our relationships with others.
With the motivation to care for ourselves cemented, how do we then put it in motion?
Step 2: Time for Practice
When I was growing up, I played a lot of sports. And I had practice every day after school.
Practice was there to prepare us for games, which then pushed us even further in our development to go on to regionals, then state, then nationals.
While I understood this concept in relation to sports, I never thought about it in terms of who I was. I simply thought that I was already supposed to be great at being myself. But what I learned is that just like sports, caring for myself is a practice.
Self-care rituals will be different for each person. So to figure out what works for you, start asking questions.
How do you want to be cared for? What kind of activities are nurturing to you? What are things that make you feel good? What are memories of things you’ve done that made you feel good?
After a couple minutes, take another piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write “Small Acts of Self-Care,” and on the other side, write “Big Acts of Self-Care.”
Pull from your brainstorm.
Some things that would be under the small acts may be putting on lotion after a shower, pouring yourself a cup of tea, smiling at yourself in the mirror. Some bigger acts could be enrolling in a martial arts class, taking a walk, buying a new pillow, throwing out what doesn’t make you feel good.
The idea is that the more you practice the smaller acts of self-care, the larger acts will start to seem small as well.
Once the list is complete, pick four acts, one for each week of the month, and commit to doing them. When the month is over, assess how you feel.
What will likely happen is that you’ll feel like you had more time during the month than you’ve had in the past. And the reason is because by taking a bit of time for yourself, the time you spend with others is now quality.
Step 3: Work with the Time You Have
For any want or achievement, you have to find the time to practice.
Whenever I talk about carving out time, I always hear something to the effect of “But I don’t even have enough time to carve out of!” And yes, it might feel like that.
Here’s the kicker though: You do.
No one can ignore their responsibilities, but you do have control over how you use your time. So here are some ways that you can use the hours that you already have in a day to build in some self-care:
- Not everything is urgent: Prioritize what is urgent. Divide it from what is non-urgent, or what needs to be done today versus what can feasibly be done tomorrow.
- Actually take your lunch break instead of working through it. Go for a walk or to a dance class. Sit in the park or read a book. Take the hour for you.
- Say no if you don’t want more responsibility.
- Before turning on your computer, say three things that you’re grateful for. Or keep naming things that you’re thankful for while your computer warms up and turns on. See how many you can come up with!
- If you have your own office, put on a song and get up and dance for a couple minutes. Or do it even if you share a cubicle!
- Stop gossiping and judging other people.
- At the end of the day, take a minute to clean up your work space. Maybe splurge on some fresh flowers to put in a vase to brighten your day.
- After you shut your computer down for the day, sit in your chair, close your eyes, and take five deep breaths.
- Again: Not everything is urgent. Prioritization is key.
- Say no if you’re not in the mood to get a drink with friends, have people over for dinner, or go out.
- Make your bed. Get some decorative throw pillows if they’ll make you smile.
- Take time to do something artsy, like drawing or putting on music and dancing around.
- While you’re washing dishes or brushing your teeth, tell yourself three things you like about yourself. Try to come up with different ideas every day.
- Before going to sleep, close your eyes and think of a happy memory.
- Before you get out of bed in the morning, close your eyes and think about what kind of day you want to have, maybe choosing some positive words to keep in mind for the day. Listen to your emotions and what they are telling you.
Even small acts of self-care can be revolutionary. Don’t be afraid to take some time for you.
There are challenges to putting the above into practice, the biggest one probably being time.
But the more we learn how to see ourselves as something to nourish, the more we practice, and the more time we feel we have.
Over the last year and a half, Cynthia Kane has relearned the following: how to jump up and down when she’s happy, cry when she’s sad, laugh when something’s funny, take a compliment, smile at strangers, and be open to the fact that everyone is going through it all the time. For more, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @cynkane. Read her articles here.