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The 5-Step Guide to Self Care for Busy People

The 5-Step Guide to Self Care for Busy People

Self care is necessary for our physical and mental health, yet often it’s the first thing we drop when we find ourselves stretched for time. Without adequate self care, we are less likely to be the best possible version of ourselves, and our relationships, work, and experience of the world suffers as a result. Although it might feel like the opposite, the times when we feel least able to pay attention to our self care are the times when we most need it.

If you’re feeling stretched for time, it can be difficult to know how to start fitting self care into your week. Here is the 5-step guide to self care for busy people:

1. Start with your needs first

Self care is conventionally portrayed as pampering yourself, however, what it’s really about is meeting your human needs. This could be a need for relaxation, a need for quiet, a need for connection, a need for stability, and much more. Before you engage in any kind of self care related activity, think to yourself: what needs do I want to meet here? What do I need most in my life right now?

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Not only will this help you truly care for yourself on a very fundamental level, but it will make your self care more efficient. Instead of engaging in random self care activities in an attempt to feel ‘better’, you can pinpoint exactly what it is you need right now and go straight to meeting that need.

2. Schedule it

“I don’t have enough time” is one of the most common reasons I hear from people who are struggling to engage in self care on a regular basis. The antidote is this belief is to make time. Perhaps this sounds easier said than done, but one certain way to create time for your self care is to schedule it. Find a gap in your calendar during the next week and schedule in an appointment called “self care time”. Then, most importantly, stick to it.

Be realistic with your scheduling: if all you can see is the odd 10-minute gap, use that. Depending on what your current needs are, your self care could simply involve closing your eyes and breathing deeply for a few minutes to relax.

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3. Prioritise

While we’re on the subject of time, let’s talk about priorities. When we feel like we don’t have time to do something important, it’s either because we’re not making time, or because our priorities are out of alignment with what we actually need. Everything we do with our time is a choice. It might feel like we ‘have’ to do certain things, but, in reality, we have complete control over how we spend our time.

You can fit self care into your schedule, no matter how busy you are, by deciding it is a priority. Whether this means making it the first thing you do each morning, forgoing TV or Facebook time, saying ‘no’ to certain commitments, or potentially displeasing others, you can fit self care into your weekly routine if you prioritise.

4. Be assertive about setting your boundaries

When you start deliberately taking time for yourself and saying ‘no’ to commitments and requests, you might experience resistance from people around you. This can be emotionally challenging, especially if you’re not used to saying ‘no’ or placing your preferences above other people’s. If you’re faced with this kind of resistance, you need to be assertive about your needs and boundaries.

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When you start setting down boundaries about what you are and aren’t willing to do, it can be hard to stand your ground in the face of push-back from those around you. Remember: you can take half an hour for yourself, and the world will still be there when you return. And when you do return, you’ll be in a much better, healthier position to deal with the world around you.

Self care is not a luxury. It’s not selfish and it’s not indulgent. Self care is absolutely necessary to your physical and mental health.

5. Focus on little and often

Like exercise, meditation, learning, and other beneficial activities, self care is far more effective when you engage with it little and often, as opposed to big chunks every now and again. Practising some kind of self care activity that takes 10-15 minutes a day is far more helpful than one that takes two hours once a month.

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As well as the simple deep breathing exercise I mentioned above, other quick self care practices include meditation, short yoga routines, journaling, dancing around the room to a track of your choice, leaving uplifting quotes around your home or office for when you’ll most need them, creating a set of affirmations, or finding a change of scene.

Self care doesn’t have to involve a lot of money, nor does it require a lot of time. If you’re struggling to fit self care into your routine, start small, prioritise, and listen to what you need.

What are your tips for creating a regular self care practice when you’re stretched for time? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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