If you’re anything like me, you are reading this because you are sick of constantly “starting again” with new routines: diet, fitness, finances…you name it! And come January, we are all reassessing our goals for the New Year! I personally think it is a positive thing to reassess where you are, determine where you want to be, and develop a plan to get there, but wouldn’t it be easier just to do it once and STICK TO IT? Let’s face it: we could all live the life we want to live if we didn’t have external factors taking our time, however there are responsibilities on a daily basis that we cannot ignore. If you would like to read more about Establishing a Self Care Routine, I have an earlier post that goes into great detail with a printable to help you get organized! However, this post is for those who have goals identified, a plan in place, and just need tips for implementing a Self Care Routine that sticks!
Start with a Routine that is Perfectly Tailored to YOU
No one can stick to a routine that was designed for someone else. Why? Because it isn’t PERSONALIZED! We each have different motivations, desires, schedules, and demands. Some people can wake up at 4am, others prefer to stay awake later in the evening. When you have a routine that is perfectly tailored to you, it is easier to keep. Evaluate your Self Care Routine and make sure it aligns with your core values.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” — Anais Nin
Let’s break this down a bit further. We each have core values, things that are most important to us and drive our actions. We can break these down into 7 life categories:
- Career and Education
- Money and Finance
- Health and Fitness
- Routine Responsibilities
- Giving Back
- Inner Well-being
Choose routines that align your day with the things that you value the most and this will set you up for success. Determine what is most important to you, what drives you, and what motivates you. By aligning your routines with your internal motivations, you are setting yourself up for routines that you will stick to before even beginning. For example, I value time with my children therefore my weekly self-care routine has time set aside for each of them. During this time I connect one-on-one, find out what they are thinking about, learning in school, what concerns them, what they are watching on YouTube, etc. I look forward to this time and so do the kids, therefore it is easy for me to incorporate and maintain.
Plan ahead and review your plan for the next day the night before
The purpose of writing down an actionable Self Care routine is to plan ahead. Look at the calendar for the next day as part of your evening routine, set timers on your phone for the next day if you need reminders, and stick to the schedule. Make any last minute adjustments based on your responsibilities. For example, if you have a dentist appointment at 9am, but were planning to exercise during that time, adjust your schedule to make both activities a priority. Do you need to pack your lunch and stick it in the refrigerator? Do it. Will setting out your workout clothes make it easier to exercise in the morning? Do it! Set yourself up for success by planning ahead and making it easier to get through the next day to avoid skipping things in your Self Care routine.
Be realistic with your times
I have the problem of thinking “this will only take me 5 minutes” but then I cram so many events into one day that I feel like I am running around like a mad-woman to stay on task! That is the OPPOSITE of Self care! No matter how small or practical your goal is, you will never be able to form it into a sustainable habit with unrealistic expectations. There are only 24 hours in the day. Give yourself enough time to do what you set out to do, pushing other thoughts and distractions out of your way, and focus on the task at hand. Note how long each task will take, plan accordingly, be realistic, and start wrapping it up 5-10 minutes before you are scheduled to end. This will decrease your stress and increase the likelihood that you will continue your new habit to achieve your goals.
Develop SMART Goals and Track Progress
What are SMART goals? Basically, it’s just an easy way for you to set and attain a goal with specific steps! SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results focussed, and Time-bound. You can use this to analyze your goals/new actions in your Self Care routine. Sometimes we cannot stick to routines because we don’t have a definite plan for measuring progress or a timeline to keep us focussed! See the definition for each step and the example goal of saving for an emergency fund! (If you want to see more about establishing a Self Care budget, refer to my previous post)
- Specific: Goals should be simplistically written and clearly define what you are going to do. This is the What, Why, and How of the S.M.A.R.T. model.
- Example: I am going to save $1,000. I am going to put this money into my savings account for an emergency fund so that I do not have additional financial stress for unplanned events.
- Measurable: Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that you have accomplished the goal. Usually, the entire goal statement is a measure for the project, but there are usually several short-term or smaller measurements built into the goal.
- Example: I am going to achieve this by taking extra money out of each pay check every 2 weeks and transferring it to my savings account and commit to keeping it there.
- Achievable: Goals should be achievable; they should stretch you slightly so you feel challenged, but defined well enough so that you can achieve them. You must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal. You can meet most any goal when you plan your steps wisely and establish a timeframe that allows you to carry out those steps. As you carry out the steps, you can achieve goals that may have seemed impossible when you started. On the other hand, if a goal is impossible to achieve, you may not even try to accomplish it. Achievable goals motivate you. Impossible goals demotivate you.
- Example: I will try to pick up a few additional hours per month to achieve this goal. I think I can save an additional $75-100 per paycheck
- Results-focussed: Goals should measure outcomes, not activities.
- Example: I am going to save $100-200 each month and slowly build my savings account up. I will not use that money once it is in my savings account until I achieve my goal.
- Time-bound: Goals should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency, or results in tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal. Without such tension, the goal is unlikely to produce a relevant outcome.
- Example: I am going to have $1,000 saved within 12 months. Once I do this, I am going to reward myself by using a vacation day and spending the entire day doing things that I love to do (sleeping in, taking a walk, having coffee with a friend).
One of my pet peeves is wasted time. If I want to waste time, it will be by relaxing and doing something fun, NOT by drawn out, boring tasks! I find that my best routines are ones that make my day easier and are efficient. If you want to develop a routine that saves time and is productive, try linking activities together. For example, chunk together time of doing weekly finances and budget planning with your Self Care routine planning. You already have your calendar out, you can see what you will be spending money on that week (groceries, out to eat with friends, tuition payment) and you can also review the other responsibilities of the week that will be taking your time. That way, you are already in the planning-mindset and can focus and get everything done at once. As soon as it is completed, you know that your finances and Self care routine are set for the week and you can get everything else done without this hanging over your head. Another example would be planning exercise and mowing the lawn together. Do your workout routine, then since you are already gross and sweaty, mow the lawn then shower and you are done with those things for the day!
Don’t Rush: Take your Time and Slowly Increase your Goals
It is a myth that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. In fact, research suggests that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to develop a habit but the average amount of time is 66 days! For me personally, I find that I can do something for about a month, then my schedule gets busy and that “habit” goes away, only to be revisited when I regroup and have to start all over again. I consider something a habit is when I don’t complete my day without getting this done, or don’t think twice about doing it, like with brushing my teeth! All that to say that developing a new habit takes time. And if you try to do too much at once, you will burn yourself out and quit all together. The better way to develop a routine is to expect that it will take a full year to adopt and incorporate all of the elements that you want to include. I know that seems like a long commitment, but considering that you have had all of the other years of your life NOT living the Self Care routine that you want, you have to start somewhere. Start small, take your time, incorporate more elements as the year progresses, and you will succeed.
Don’t Force it: Adapt and Adjust
If something isn’t working, take a step back and figure out why! Evaluate why something isn’t working by drilling down on the root cause. An easy way to do this is by continuing to ask “why” until you don’t have any more answers and come to the conclusion. See the example below:
Habit that I am failing at forming: Waking up Early.
- Why can’t I wake up early?
- Because I’m tired.
- Why am I tired?
- Because I didn’t have enough sleep.
- Why didn’t I have enough sleep?
- Because I slept late.
- Why did I sleep late?
- Because I had too many things to do.
- Why did I have so many things to do?
- Because I can’t finish them.
- Why can’t I finish them?
- Because I schedule more tasks than I can accomplish for the day.
By identifying the root cause, you can adjust your routine in a meaningful way to achieve the new goal. Adding a new habit into your routine does NOT mean adding more “to do” things into your day! It means minimizing and decluttering your life so that you can choose to spend the moments of your day differently. Address the root cause and obstacles flowing from that cause are removed, making it much easier to stick to your routine.
Engage People around you and Develop Accountability
Tell others what you are doing or involve them as well! It is so much easier to follow through with a new activity if you are accountable! Imagine this scenario: It is a rainy, cold morning. You have your gym clothes set out and were planning to walk on the treadmill and try a few weight lifting machines, but it is so much EASIER to stay in your nice, warm bed and sip coffee for the morning. HOWEVER, if you have already committed to meeting a friend and are planning to catch up on the latest news while you are walking on the treadmill and then do the Yoga class together, aren’t you more likely to force yourself to the car? Exactly. This also means telling close friends or family that you are going 1 week eating only vegan foods, or tweeting about the new skin care products you are using with before and after photos, will keep them asking about your progress! Knowing that you have people who will follow up with you is often helpful motivation to keep going, even on the toughest days!
Cognitive Behavioral Tricks
There are a few cognitive behavioral tricks that can help in your pursuit, especially if YOU are the one sabotaging your progress! Try these when you feel like you are starting to slip:
- Successive Approximation— Just a fancy way to say “break it into smaller steps.” If you find yourself avoiding part of your routine because it seems like such a huge commitment or monumental task, break it into smaller steps. Set yourself up for success by starting small and giving yourself plenty of time to work up to your full goal.
- Writing Positive Statements to Counteract Negative Thoughts— When you are starting a new routine, sometimes we get in our own way by being too hard on ourselves. These thoughts can cripple us from even starting an activity! So try to arm yourself with pre-written positive statements so that you have them available when you need to use them. An example would be this: You are trying to incorporate eating more vegetables into your routine. However, your inner monologue plagues you with thoughts like “it doesn’t matter what you eat, you still won’t be as thin as your sister. Wouldn’t it just make you feel better to eat a few Pringles? No one will notice your efforts tomorrow either way.” UGH! Instead, write down your counterstatement: “I am not trying to compare myself to anyone else. I know that I stress eat and use food for emotional comfort and I am choosing to break this cycle. I am going to eat these vegetables because I am hungry and they are prepared well! I am smart and strong and care about my body. Instead of using chips as an emotional crutch, I am going to clear my head by putting on some music and dancing while I clean up the kitchen.”
- Visualize the best Parts of your Day–When you feel discouraged by breaking your routine or not seeing the results you were hoping for as quickly as you thought they would happen, reframe your thinking. Focus on the best parts of your day and think of things that you are thankful for. You may need to write them down, tell them to a friend, or sit quietly and visualize yourself doing something that made you smile and feel happy during the day. The simple act of writing down these good things can forge new associations in your mind which make it easier to see the positive and continue with your Self Care routine.
- Reframe your Negative Thoughts–This is an activity that you can do throughout the day, especially when you are thinking about a new goal in your routine. You can set your phone to remind you throughout the day to stop what you are doing and think of the positive things around you. This can help you to push your thoughts back into the realm of the positive instead of the negative. Link these thoughts with a new activity, such as taking a default thought of “dreading 30 minutes on the treadmill” to reframing it with “5 positive things that will happen when you use the treadmill for 30 minutes today.” You will quickly find that positivity will spur you to achieve things that otherwise caused you consternation in the past.
So there you have it! These are the most common obstacles to overcome to be able to stick to our Self Care routine. This is not an easy task–if it were, more people would be doing what they want to do! Developing a Self Care routine and sticking to it takes time and practice. However, once you get the hang of it, it is very easy to maintain with just 20 minutes of planning per week (or less!) I hope these tips help you overcome any obstacles you may be facing! I would love to have your comments or hear about other helpful tips that you have used! And of course, I am more than happy to work with you to develop a routine, help you brainstorm to overcome obstacles, and keep you accountable! Work with me anytime. Now keep up the great work!
“A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, ‘Today I’m going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.”