Self-improvement is kind of my jam.
From the time I hit about middle-school, I have voraciously read any self-help books I could get my hands on and even pursued 3 concurrent Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology, Sociology, and Human Services. The frailties and possibilities of the human mind will never cease to amaze me.
As time went on, I found myself reading more and more about ways to further improve my life, and I imagine it’s a journey I will be on until I take my last breath.
Of course, every now and then, I find myself in a funk. No matter how good we have it, life will always throw us a few curveballs and provide opportunities to strengthen the skills we pick up along the way. If I’m being perfectly honest, the hormonal cocktail that has accompanied this pregnancy sparked one of those funks for me. Suddenly, I found myself questioning my goals and dealing with some issues that I had thought were already resolved. After taking some time to wallow in the bog of bad feelings, I decided it was time to use this low-point as a reset button of sorts.
I quickly realized that the routine I had settled into was neither productive nor healthy. I had all but abandoned all of my self-care strategies and had pretty much stopped pursuing my goals. I was no longer living, just existing.
I decided to start pulling myself out of this rut by completely overhauling my routine, and I have to say, it has had an amazing impact. Before we dive into the particulars, I want to caution you against trying to follow anyone else’s routines to a “T”. We all have our own unique strengths as well as our own limitations, and our schedules and lifestyles are not identical. As such, it is much more practical to look at a wide variety of things that have worked for others and create your own plan based around what resonates most with you. This will likely take some trial and error, and there will be times you fall away from your intended plans. The important thing is to recognize the missteps and take action to correct them. Just keep on keepin’ on!
Identifying An Unhealthy Routine:
Before you can start making changes, you have to know what needs to be changed. This means taking a good long look at how you’re spending your time and energy and figuring out where the problems lie.
For me, it started with my mornings. I’d wake up at 5, make my husband’s coffee, then turn on the TV and park myself in front of whatever show I was currently binge-watching. I’d sit there, half-watching the tube, as I scrolled through Facebook or Twitter. I’d read a ton of articles and the subsequent comments, soaking in the arguments and formulating opinions. I’d wait forever to eat, constantly telling myself I’d get to it after I finished looking at this post…and then I’d click another link. Then my daughter would wake up and I’d realize that I’d wasted 3 or more hours and scramble to get in gear. Nothing was getting done, and it chipped at my confidence and left me agitated.
The rest of the day was spent trying to catch up and worrying about whether or not I would, in fact, catch up. Clearly, changing my morning routine was the first step.
Creating A Positive Start To The Day:
It should come as no surprise that how we start our day can affect its entire trajectory. If you start with stress, you’ll likely end with stress. Why not start with a positive outlook?
The first step I took was replacing the mindless TV watching with Ted Talks. I know a lot of people prefer to start their mornings with quiet meditation, but that just didn’t work for me. However, listening to inspiring messages and learning something new before any negative self-talk could set in created a positive tone for the day. I use this time to eat some breakfast as well.
Next, I scroll through Pinterest and look at inspirational quotes and positive messages while I let my brain wake up and my food digest. I follow this with looking over my running gratitude list and adding new items. Then I take a moment to look over the day’s to-do list and figure out how I want my day to flow.
With my intentions set for the day, I do a very simple workout (about 15 minutes) and hit the shower. This here is a big one: I use the shower time to focus on washing away negativity and starting the day with a clean slate. I then launch into some body-positivity exercises as I get ready for the day, which I will share in a future post.
By the time I’m dressed for the day, I’ve only spent an hour or so preparing my mind and body for the day ahead, versus the 3+ hours I was spending on nothing before. From there, I get to work, which for me means sitting down to write. And the best part is? I’m actually motivated and happy to be doing it!
Carrying That Feeling With You:
Over the course of the day, there are going to be moments that challenge the positive mindset you’ve created. One of the best tools I’ve found is taking a minute to focus on your senses and ground yourself in reality, and then making a conscious decision not to let whatever the stressor is get to you. Train yourself to correct negative thoughts by replacing them with positives. Pull up your mental gratitude list. Take a look at your Pinterest board full of positive quotes. Be firm in your intention to have a good day.
Another important aspect to carrying this positivity with you is to know your limits and avoid overbooking your day. This one has always been a bit of a challenge for me. It’s easy to overestimate what you can realistically do in a day, and even easier to drive yourself into burnout striving to achieve it all right now. Set smaller, more achievable goals and trust that the baby steps will lead you to desired results in due time. Think about what really needs to be done and don’t stress about what you can’t get to today.
Take breaks when you need to. Switch things up if you’re zoning out and not bringing your A game to a task. Find a way to make it enjoyable if it’s something you can’t avoid. Do what you have to do, but don’t let it drag you down!
Schedule time for fun:
Do something that is just for you every day.
EVERY DAY, GUYS!
I don’t care if it’s quietly eating a candy bar or blasting your favorite song in the car on your way home from work. Read a book at lunch, play a game on your phone while you wait for your potatoes to boil. Do something that makes you smile!
It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t have time, but 5 minutes is all it takes. If you can find more time, take it. Take a class, call a friend, play a game with your spouse, watch your favorite guilty pleasure movies, paint something even if you’re not good at it. Play is so important!
You absolutely have to make your own pleasure a priority. No one else is going to do it for you, and feeling like you are living only to meet the needs of others will do nothing but make you feel drained and resentful. Life’s stressful enough without adding to it by denying the need for simple enjoyment.
End On A Positive Note:
I cannot stress this enough: set an end time for your day.
This is something I stumbled upon when my daughter was about 2 years old. I was working on something, be it housework or blog posts or a myriad of other projects, from the time I woke up until the time I forced myself to go to bed. I was constantly stressed and couldn’t figure out why. After all, I was making all sorts of progress, I should have been happy!
I decided then that after 7 o’clock I was done. No housework. No replying to emails. No work, period. I still adhere to this guideline, and it’s been a lifesaver.
I also make sure we have dinner as a family at the table every night. It’s a time for us to come together and discuss our day, and allows me to reflect on how grateful I am that we are all in this together. The rest of the evening is spent on hobbies or relaxing, sometimes together, sometimes separately. I try to keep my focus on enjoying our time and being more loving, forgiving, and understanding instead of letting the stress of the day affect my family. This requires some gentle reminders to myself, as we all faulter in these goals from time to time, and some days I miss the mark completely. It’s then that we have a chance to own our mistakes, apologize, and start over.
Before bed, I make my to-do list for the next day. I then take some time to reflect on the past 24 hours. I congratulate myself on the things I accomplished, even if it’s been a “bad” day and the only thing I did was get out of bed. I go over the highlight reel of the day in my head, looking for the tiny moments of joy as well as any big moments: my daughter said something cute, I heard this song, I ate this delicious thing, I survived the grocery store. I think about what I have to be grateful for and what I want to carry over to the next day. All in all, this takes about 10 minutes as I wait for sleep to come, but it makes a huge impact. If I fall asleep before I make it to that point, I simply move it to the morning.
Accept “Bad” Days:
Sometimes life gets in the way and we don’t stick to our routines for one reason or another. When this happens we have two choices: we can feel bad, dwell on our “failure” and give up. or we can shrug it off and jump back in. You don’t even have to wait for tomorrow to start over, just start where you are as if you haven’t missed a step.
Of course doing all of these things every day is “ideal” but honestly, “most” days is good enough! Allow yourself some wiggle room. Plan for lazy days, sick days, fun days, or anything else that could throw you off and just keep rolling.
Whatever you do, remember that this is a journey. Some of these tips may work for you, some may not. Just keep striving to be the best, healthiest you you can be and things will be fine.
Now it’s your turn. What do you do for self-care? What goes into building your routines? Tell us about it in the comments below!