I’ve been doing some self-care research lately. I’m always curious what other people consider to be self-care so I’ve been looking at pinterest boards, reading blogs, looking at the websites of other self-care coaches, and doing hashtag searches on Instagram. What I’ve found is that there are some common themes (take care of your body, rest more, create meaningful personal time) and unique ways of expressing those themes for each person.
Some of the self-care advice resonates with me and many of those self-care suggestions are ones I actually practice. For example, I love reading for pleasure, creating art, journaling, sitting in meditation, and moving my body in a healthy way every day
Some of the self-care suggestions do not interest me and would not feel like self-care if I tried to practice them. Getting a weekly mani-pedi is not even remotely appealing to me, but I can understand how that habit could feel incredibly nourishing to someone else.
There is one common self-care advice that I completely disagree with and wish self-care coaches would stop suggesting.
That common piece of self-care advice is scheduling self-care.
I think this is one of the biggest mistakes you could make if you are trying to take better care of yourself.
This suggestion seems fairly benign and productive even.
“Clear your schedule to make time for self-care.”
“Carve out some time for self-care in your busy schedule.”
“Fill out your planner. Set aside days for self-care.”
Here’s the biggest issue I have with these well-intended and entirely unhelpful suggestions:
This makes self-care seem like a special event or special occasion. And clearing a little space in your calendar for a random act of self-care won’t help you create a self-care habit, which is what you want.
Another thing to consider is that scheduling is self-care will make it feel like just another “to-do” on your list, which won’t make your self-care very appealing and will make you feel guilty if you don’t do it.
Scheduling self-care is a short-term bandaid to the depletion, dissatisfaction, and general disconnect from yourself that you might be feeling.
If you do manage to eke out the time for your random act of self-care, you’ll ride a little self-care sugar high but you will come crashing down as soon as your regularly scheduled programming is back in place.
Instead of scheduling self-care, you need to learn how to STACK Self-Care.
Stacking self-care means you add a new a self-care practice in to a pre-existing routine. This way, you are much more likely to actually do the self-care you want to do AND you have a built-in reminder.
Here’s an example:
I had been trying to add a daily abhyanga practice unsuccessfully for a long time. Abhyanga is an ayurvedic practice of full body oil massage. Usually the oil is heated up, although I don’t. Sometimes it is infused with oils intended to support your dosha, which I sometimes do. Anyway, I wanted to add this practice in and finally realized that the best time to do it was first thing in the morning, right after waking up during my morning routine. Every morning, I have a consistent routine. First I pee (doesn’t everyone?), then I scrape my tongue, then I dry brush, and now I do my abhyanga. The first 3 in that sequence have been established for a long time, years in fact. Adding in the abhyanga was super easy and I’ve been consistent with it now for half of a year. By stacking my new self-care practice into an existing routine, I remove the randomness from the act and create a sustainable habit, which helps to make me feel good every single day.
While there are self-care acts that can and should be scheduled, like a massage or a hair cut or pretty much anything that requires you to make a plan with another person, most self-care acts are more successful when stacked rather than scheduled.
I’m making the case here for self-care that could be considered “boring.” These small acts of self-care are simple enough to integrate into your current routines, but powerful enough to make an impact on your life each and every time.
Just because self-care isn’t a luxury or extra fancy doesn’t mean it’s not self-care.
In fact, these boring self-care practices are what lay the foundation for you to stack in fancier self-care that might only be a few days a week instead of every day.
What makes the difference between self-care and general care is attitude. Intention is everything. I don’t think much when I’m brushing my teeth. I just don’t want any more cavities. When I rub oil into my body early in the morning, it’s an act of love and intentional care.
Even “boring self-care” can be meaningful if you want it to be. Just because you do something spontaneous and fancy and expensive that looks a lot like self-care, doesn’t mean that it actually is self-care if it’s more stressful than nourishing.
A few suggestions for stacking your habits:
Make sure that the routine you’re stacking a new habit into is very established. If the routine isn’t well established, the new habit will be less likely to survive.
Some habits are not daily habits. I soak and scrub my feet 3 days a week on the days my kids get a bath. I leave the bathwater instead of draining it. Once my kids are asleep, I use the bathwater for my foot soak and scrub—so long as my 15 month old hasn’t pooped in it, which so far so good, he hasn’t. It’s the first thing I do as part of my bathroom evening routine on those 3 nights.
Don’t force it. If you test out a new self-care habit stack and after a few days it’s just not working, be ok with it not working. Try adding the newest self-care act to a different routine during the day. Or maybe the whole habit stack needs a reboot.
Self-Care habits are not set in stone. Once a habit or a stack of habits no longer serves you, change it. Self-Care is no longer “care” if it doesn’t make you feel good.