In a world that values busyness, it is often easy to prioritize personal responsibilities over personal fulfillment. Phrases like I wish I had the time and once things settle down justify an all-too-common postponement of happiness and self-care.
In the following excerpt from Night Call, acclaimed psychologist and author Robert Wicks details a five-day guide to self-care designed to fit even the busiest of schedules.
Day one: savor alone time
Time alone or within ourselves— “alone time”—needs to be appreciated in the broadest sense (not just in the extreme where someone goes off by him- or-herself to an isolated spot) in the living opportunities that present themselves during our current normal daily routines. When alone time is appreciated, explored, and enjoyed in the right way, we can lessen our projections, become easier on ourselves, and decrease our discouragement when immediate gratification or success isn’t granted. Instead, we may feel a sense of inner ease and intrigue about the life we can live that is before us right now rather than constantly being postponed into some uncertain future. As we can see in the following reflection by Christopher Peterson, the author of A Primer in Positive Psychology, life need not, should not, be postponed— even for apparently practical reasons:
Like many academics, I spent my young adult years postponing many of the small things that I knew would make me happy, including reading novels for pleasure, learning to cook, taking a photography class, and joining a gym. I would do all of these things when I had time— when I finished school, when I was awarded tenure, and so on. I was fortunate enough to realize that I would never have time unless I made the time. And then the rest of my life began.
Day two: replenishing yourself
The seeds of secondary stress (the pressures experienced in reaching out to others in distress) and the seeds of true passionate involvement are actually the same seeds. Once again, the question is not whether stress will appear and take a toll on those seeking to be compassionate and caring. Instead, it is to what extent we take the essential steps to appreciate, limit, and learn from this very stress to continue— and even deepen— our personal lives and roles as helpers and healers.
To renew themselves on an ongoing basis, there are basic elements of a self-care protocol that most everyone needs. Some of the basic elements might include the following:
- Quiet walks by yourself
- Time and space for meditation
- Spiritual and recreational reading, including the diaries and biographies of others whom you admire
- Some light exercise
- Opportunities to laugh offered by movies, cheerful friends, and so forth
- A hobby, such as gardening
- Phone calls to family and friends who inspire and tease you
- Involvement in projects that renew
- Listening to music you enjoy
Day three: debriefing
For therapists and counselors, a daily review or self-debriefing helps them get in touch with the feelings they have had in their treatment sessions. They seek to discover if their intense encounters with the persons they serve triggered distorted thoughts and beliefs. By looking at their own reactions, they not only learn things about themselves but also appreciate the people and situations they encounter in new ways. Such a review would benefit all of us even if we are not in the helping or healing professions.
In more detail the process of a structured reflection or self-debriefing, which could be modified according to individual needs, includes the following steps:
- Pick events during the day that stand out
- Enter into the event and describe what happened (the objective) and how you feel (the subjective)
- Avoid the temptation to be discouraged, blame others (projection) or yourself (self- condemnation); instead, see what you can learn from the event about yourself and your vulnerabilities, needs, addictions, fears, anxieties, worries, and desires
- Reflect on these insights in light of what you believe (your philosophy, psychology, ethics, and/ or spirituality)
- Decide how these insights should change you personally, interpersonally, and professionally
- Alter the way you behave in light of these new insights
Day four: attending to mindlessness
When we see and embrace mindfulness in an ongoing way, not only do we benefit, but those who we reach out to in life do as well. For example, it allows us to be more perceptive concerning what is present in ourselves and others without judgment so we can experience situations more fully.
To accomplish this in reflecting on our lives or in meditation, we need to approach ourselves with no preconceived notions of what will happen or a “gaining idea” in our minds as to something we wish to achieve. Consequently, recognizing the following types of mindless behavior and attitudes as persons wishing to honor our caregiving roles as well as the need of self-compassion is a good beginning:
- Getting too easily upset—often over the wrong things (failing to be successful even after we have been faithful to doing what we can) and missing what life is offering us in all interactions and events (an opportunity to learn from our reactions and as well as information from outside ourselves)
- Seeing interruptions only as disruptive rather than as informative or possible, unexpected opportunities to see or experience something new and differently
- Possessing habits and rules that continue to sap life’s freshness for us
- Spending too much time in the silver casket of nostalgia or rushing through precious moments of our lives under the impression that living this way is “only practical” and temporary, although these “temporaries” can link together to form a lifetime of mindlessness
- Only fantasizing about both “the spirit of simplicity” and “letting go” rather than seeking to instill them in our own lives in real, concrete ways
Day five: friendship and journeys in letting go
All of us go through periods when we feel left by ourselves, without “friendly forces” to help us gain perspective and know we are worthwhile, competent, secure, and (maybe most of all) understood. Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist once said that “one of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.” Sometimes friendship implodes our sense of “lostness” during a dramatic event in our lives.
Letting go means catching ourselves in the act of holding on to a feeling or reaction that is not from a good place within ourselves. A psychotherapist once shared with me, “When I find myself being tempted to be small-minded or mean-spirited, I remind myself of the invitation to be magnanimous, where I find my better self.” This better self is one that is more open, one that doesn’t deny difficulties but also doesn’t see things in polarities of right and wrong or good and bad. The better self is able to be receptive to a richer and more nuanced experience of life, and this is certainly a place where friendship can support such an attitude.
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