This is a wonderful time of year to take stock and reflect on the kind of lifestyle choices we want to make. Harness that natural inclination and make some new year’s resolutions integrated with self-care, setting goals that truly nourish you. Here’s how:
Get clear on what self-care really means
While we have all heard of the term self-care, as a concept it can still feel a little fluffy. The simplest definition is nourishment for the head, the heart and the body. It is a life-giving act that restores, sustains or improves your health. Self-care delivers what you need in this moment, whether that is soothing, calming, energising or focusing AND it also nourishes the person that you are becoming. This can be a useful distinction to make. One glass of wine savoured in the evening might constitute self-care, but three, followed by a late night and your future self won’t be thanking you. Also, don’t just equate self-care with pampering. Let’s be honest, self-care is not always comfortable, sometimes it is the last thing you feel like doing! Sometimes it is putting your feet up and reading an uplifting mag, sometimes it is a soothing yoga pose, sometimes it is stepping up and addressing what lies beneath your anger and self-care can also be committing to that planned run when you’d rather sloth on the sofa. Make sure that your chosen self-care activity nurtures your present and future self and this will stop it from becoming self-sabotage.
Give yourself permission to engage in self-care
Use the mantra: ‘self-care is health care’. Without our health, what do we have? There is nothing indulgent or luxurious about it. In fact it’s our responsibility to lovingly tend to the needs of our body and mind. If guilt keeps tapping you on the shoulder, try the mantra: ‘It’s not me first, it’s me AS WELL’. Remember too that when we treat ourselves with tender care, we are more likely to be kind, resourceful and compassionate in our interaction with others. It truly is the ultimate win win.
Overcome the willpower gap
I think its fair to say that we all know what we need to do to feel healthy and happy, but it’s another thing to make it happen… why is this so? Because we simply don’t have the willpower reserves to cope with volume of decision making and temptation we face in modern life. Welcome to being human! There are three ways we can overcome the willpower deficit, enabling us to take life-giving action more often.
The first is to make sure we are getting adequate sleep and rest. Most adults need 7-9 hours sleep to function well. If you are well rested you are likely to make decisions in keeping with your goals. When you are sleep deprived and frazzled, you are more likely to put off the gym visit for another day, reach for the second cup of coffee to get you going and rely on the G&T to soothe you at the end of the day. Notice how poor sleep leads to a cascading of poor decisions and you’ll understand why my mantra is ‘sleep for sanity’ for good reason!
Secondly, minimise the number of choices you need to make in your day – this is all about planning and organising, from what you wear in the morning, how you’ll exercise and what you’ll eat. Lastly, dial down the volume of temptation by getting clear on your personal purpose, your ‘WHY’. Tuning in with your future self will clarify your ‘why’.
Conjure your future best self
Spend some time contemplating your future best self. Get clear on how you want to feel and how you’d like to be in this world. You can think along the lines of how you want to be as a parent, a partner, in the workplace, friend, or sibling. What qualities do you aspire to possess and feel how this connects you with your purpose. See this vision of yourself and truly get to know them, and even have a dialogue with them!
Consider, what kind of lifestyle choices would they make? What are the actions that take you closer to this person you aspire to be? In times of challenge or when you’re tempted, ask yourself what would they do? Every time you make that choice you are one step closer to being the person you aspire to be. Developing a relationship with your future self will tap you into a great reservoir of wisdom, compassion and resolve.
Set the right kind of goals
Once you’ve clarified how you want to feel, the next step is to craft some goals. Not any goal will do though! A poorly constructed goal can fail to ignite you, or worse, overwhelm and demoralise you. Frame your goals using the following characteristics and your goals will motivate and galvanise you. According to research from Positive Psychology the best goals to enhance your sense of wellbeing are:
- Intrinsic – goals that are personally rewarding and inspiring to you as opposed to ‘extrinsic’ goals which are a reflection of what other people want for you.
- Authentic – goals that are rooted in your own deeply held values, interests and beliefs and those that fit with your personality and strengths.
- “Approach” rather than ‘Avoid” – frame your goals positively so that they involve ‘becoming’ or approaching a desirable outcome rather than avoiding an undesirable outcome. A goal to ‘eat less chocolate’ will prime your brain for… chocolate! Frame the goal positively, so that you approach your desired outcome, priming that behaviour. Think of some kind of swap that you can use in place of a cheeky chocolate munch – maybe a savoured herbal tea and the goal now becomes ‘drink more tea’.
- Harmonious – make sure that your resolutions complement each other rather than conflict or compete with each other.
- Reasonable and flexible – take into account your current circumstances and opportunities.
Building your self-care toolkit
If you want to achieve any goal, any change or development, you are more likely to succeed when you are energetically topped up. Self-care is the fuel to help you last the distance and to enjoy the journey. I would love everyone’s new years resolution to be daily nourishment! Great things blossom from this place. The best way to make self-care a part of daily life is to look for ways you can infuse every day activities with a sense of nourishment, like an affirmation of self-worth. Rather than a morning shower full of ruminations on your ‘to do’ list, let it be a meditative experience where you focus on the cleansing property of the water and the warming sensation. Choose to dress yourself in clothes, colours or jewellery that fill you with zest. Use a room spray as you prepare for the day, throw in a few yoga mountain breaths paired with a mantra and you are energised and ready! Scan your day for opportunities to replenish and take action.
To make the commitment to daily self-care, I created a framework that helps us identify some kind of nourishment that is available to us when we need it the most. I call this the ‘Vitality Wheel’ and it has 8 spokes each reflecting a different way we can top up our energy bank. These spokes include:
- sleep, rest, relaxation and breathing
- mood boosters
- coping strategies
- physical environment
- movement and nutrition
- social connection
- goal setting and accomplishment
- values and purpose
Use these categories to get thinking more broadly about what self-care means for you and you can read more about practices that will bring to life each spoke of the Vitality Wheel in my book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’. Jot down activities that soothe, calm and de-stress you as well as ones that focus the mind, uplift and energise you. Writing out these self-care ideas help form a psychological contract with yourself and the next time you are in a moment of need just referring to this list will connect you with something available to you and get you back on track sooner.
Remember too that self-care needn’t be elaborate, grand, expensive or time consuming. Seek out little micro moments of nourishment and that might just have stress bouncing of your shoulders with greater ease. It can as simple as a swoosh of your favourite lippy, scent you love, a piece of uplifting music or just watching the moving cloudscape for 30 seconds.