When I was in fifth grade, I was so excited to start playing the flute. I walked quickly towards the band room for my first group lesson. I assembled the flute and was instructed to blow air across the lip plate. The other students squeaked out a sound, but nothing for me. I tried again and no sound. It ended up taking me about 4 weeks to actually get one sound out of that flute. During that time, nine year old me wanted to quit. Yet, my music teacher told me to keep practicing. She told me to keep trying and to continue to positioning my fingers as if sound was coming out.
Showing up to practice each day was just as important as what I actually did during practice. Even if I had a not so great day, it mattered that I showed up and stuck with the process. Over time, I eventually got a note out and grew tremendously as a flute player.
While we understand the importance of practice as adults, it can feel more difficult to embrace in real life. After all, we have bills to pay, endless to do lists, and so many people who need us. The idea of practice can be overwhelming as we try to incorporate new routines into our lives. No wonder it can feel so hard to create new habits which can take 18-254 days to form!
And it is no different with self care. Making space for self care is a practice. We have to commit to caring for ourselves which often bumps up against what we we were taught, our internal beliefs, our current schedule, and other’s expectation of us.
I remember when I listened to a beginner meditation video and the instructor said, “If your mind wanders during the meditation gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Don’t try to make yourself stay focused perfectly. Just guide yourself back.” They did a motion with their hand that mimicked that action. That felt so simple to me and relieving. It wasn’t any pressure to have to stay the course perfectly.
Rather, the practice was to bring my awareness back to my breathing and the present moment. Of course, over time your mind becomes accustomed and it feels natural, but it takes time to get there. Instead of focusing on how hard it is, we just have to bring ourselves back to the practicing of being in that moment.
Self care also requires this same type of patience. You could be on a consistent schedule with your self care rituals, then suddenly stop doing it for a host of reasons. Instead of beating yourself up, and then probably not re-engaging with your self care, you can bring yourself back.
Instead of getting bogged down about why you haven’t been doing it, just be aware. Then, do something that makes sense with the time you have. My therapist encouraged me to do this and it was successful. Instead of overthinking about why I couldn’t stick with my self care ritual, she said to first just do the self care thing(in my case take a bath) that I had been skipping out on. Once I was actively engaging in the activity, then I could reflect on why I was having difficulty being consistent. It was much easier to reflect since I was doing something calming and relaxing. And the key was to bring myself back to what I most wanted.
Taking care of yourself is a practice. There are so many messages that tell you otherwise, so it takes real focus to have a consistent, self care practice. If you have grown accustomed to not seeing you as a priority, it can take time to learn new beliefs about how you view yourself and your care. It may take a while for it to feel normal to practice self care without guilt.
Even when you get off track, you can always bring yourself back. The returning back is the practice.
When you notice that you have neglected your self care remember a few things:
Awareness is a gift. Celebrate that moment when you pause and acknowledge something isn’t feeling quite right for you. This is a much more graceful approach than criticizing yourself for getting to this point.
Ask yourself: What can you do in this moment? How can you make your self care a priority in this moment? Small steps matter my friend. It might be taking a breath or stretching or reading a funny joke.
Once you bring yourself back, then re-affirm your commitment to your self care. Put reminders in your phone or calendar for the remainder of the week for your self care practices. Or have a close friend hold you accountable.
Your self care practice is and its an ongoing, ever-changing thing. Give yourself grace as you learn how to make it a regular part of your routine.
Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep taking good care of yourself.
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