Benchmarks of Self-Care
If we were to image life as a journey, self-care could be the wagon that carries us along our path. At what point do you tend to notice that you have fallen off the wagon? Is it when the boards in the base of that wagon start threatening to break? Is it when the wheels are so rusted that you exhaust yourself each day pushing it from behind? Is it when the entire thing is so rickety and dismantled that you can’t even remember what a functioning wagon looks like? This is how we can be in our everyday lives; we often don’t notice that we need maintenance until we are feeling broken.
What would it be like to oil the wheels once we hear them squeaking, rather than pushing a just few more miles? Do any of these sound like you:
- “I’ll take a day off next month, this deadline is really important”.
- “I should go to bed…ten more minutes on Facebook and then I’ll go…okay ten more minutes and then I’ll go…”.
- “I don’t have time for hobbies. I don’t even have time to make lunch anymore.”
Unfortunately, if you have commitments, such a job, caretaking responsibilities, or school, the other side of being “productive” is that you are busy. The first things to get cut in your routine when you start to feel pressed for time are the things that don’t show short-term rewards. More often than not, this means you are cutting the things that actually bring you the most overall benefit. Having 6-8 full hours of sleep, committing to 2-3 hours of exercise a week, dedicating time to spend with loved ones, saving time to just relax, reserving energy for sexual or intimate experiences – all these are common practices that become expendable in order to reach life’s many deadlines. Sure, by cutting these things you may have made more time to get things done. The downside is that we are not actually “making time”; we are stealing time from ourselves. We sacrifice our health and overall wellness for the sake of meeting external goals, expectations and deadlines.
What about internal goals? What about the things we value that are important to our wellbeing? How do I maintain my self-care in the face of the very real pressures of life?
I often work with folks on a concept I call “benchmarking for self-care”. Benchmarking is the process of thinking about your values and considering what the minimum requirements in order to achieve that value. In the same way that organizations have standards of service, we can create standards of self-care to live-in to. As a goal-oriented person, the idea of having concrete structures in place works very well for me. If you are anxious, overwhelmed, skeptical, or just need some compassionate accountability, benchmarking might also work for you.
Basic tips for benchmarking:
- Be realistic: If you are not going to get up early to do yoga 4 days a week, you are setting yourself up for failure if that is your benchmark. What can you do? What do you want to do?
- Be flexible: Sometimes things come up and you have to make a change in your routine. That is okay, change is a part of life. Find ways to get as close to your benchmark as possible. Can you compensate for having to work late on Thursdays by making sure your weekend is extra restful?
- Be committed: these benchmarks won’t be useful if you aren’t willing to put the effort into maintaining them.
- Be vocal: let people know if they are asking you to step outside of your boundaries. It can also be helpful to have an accountability partner to help notice when you might be struggling.
- Be honest: The biggest way to interrupt your progress is to lie. If you are having a hard time meeting your benchmarks for basic self-care, be honest with yourself about where you are, what you can do, and whether you need to make a bigger change. This could mean thinking about a different career, getting more help at home, or saying no to extra-curricular commitments.
- Be kind: Change is hard, and focusing on yourself in this way can be very difficult. You will be challenged by the demands of your life, and you may fall short, especially in the beginning. Regression is not the same as failing. Don’t give up on yourself, you can do it.