There were days when I'd work a ten-hour day, and still have the time and energy to brave the 405 at the height of rush hour traffic to meet up with a friend for dinner.
That was in my twenties.
Now, in my thirties, there are days when I'd try to fit in a fifteen-minute meditation after work... and promptly fall asleep half way through.
After a few times of jolting awake in my car, parked in front of my apartment, with no recollection of how far I'd gone in my body scan, I decided that something needed to change.
Ever notice just how much messaging we get about adding things into our already-packed schedules? Or doing more with our already limited energy?
Exercise for thirty minutes at least five days a week, they say. Cook at home more instead of picking up take-out. Meditate. Do yoga. Go out with friends. Take a bubble bath. Do something creative. Go get a message. Carve out time to curl up with a good book. Paint your toe nails. Play video games with your homies. Stand on your head, rub your belly, do somersaults, and on and on and on. (Kidding.)
All this is for the benefit of "work-life balance" and health. And this is all well and good; all these activities are inherently fantastic options for taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally and spiritually.
And every once in a while, you might really want to take a two-hour hike, or invest a few hours into shopping for and learning how to cook a super healthy spaghetti squash meal from scratch.
But most likely, you won't be doing these things on a daily basis--especially if they're not already part of your existing routine.
The common "add in and do more" approach to creating a more balanced lifestyle doesn't really take into account that our resources might be limited.
We might not have the time to actually do the 50 self-care activities that internet "listacles" are telling us to do, we might not have the physical energy to do intense workouts at the gym after work, we might not have the mental energy to learn a new recipe or plan a get-together with friends, and we might not be willing to spend the extra money on a pedicure.
And if these things aren't things we normally do, it's even harder to actually get going!
Fortunately, well-being doesn't necessarily demand that we overload our schedules with "positive" activities to counteract the stressful or draining parts of our day. More is not always better, or even effective.
How we go through our regular daily tasks, however, is key to getting and staying well.
Once I settled into this mindset shift, I noticed some really specific ways my daily life started to change.
First, I consolidated healthy habits with other things that I wanted to do.
I started cooking a lot more at home, for example. But doesn't that take more time and energy, compared to getting take-out?? Well, not for me, it turns out. I'm lucky enough to have a partner who is a great cook, so I get to be the assistant in the kitchen, meaning I get to do mindless things like mincing garlic while he orchestrates everything. And because there's two of us, we often finish cooking a dish that we can feed off of for the rest of the week in the same amount of time it takes to wait for delivery that we'll finish in one or two sittings. But perhaps the greatest reward I get from cooking at home is that it's quality time with my S.O.--and no pre-planned, pre-scheduled "date night" required.
We're cooking a healthy meal, saving money, I don't have to make any big decisions (like where to eat... hardest choice ever), AND I get to enjoy quality bonding time? Four birds, one stone. I win.
I also started doing ordinary, monotonous tasks more mindfully.
This means I'm paying attention to my senses so much that whatever I'm doing starts feeling seriously luxurious. I bought body wash and shampoo with scents like lavender and mint, so my shower felt like a spa. I sipped on a good cabernet and put essential oils in my diffuser while doing weekly paperwork. I felt the breeze on my skin and watched the green leaves twirling in the trees while I took out the trash. Who knew that taking out the garbage could be such a calming, centering experience?
Finally, with brand new self-care activities that I wanted to try, I ended up tacking them onto existing habits instead of creating a whole new time slot for them in my schedule.
As embarrassing as this is for me to admit, I started reciting poetry to myself during my morning commute. I was really into spoken word poetry for a while, and knowing that I wouldn't have the creative energy to come up with anything after work, and not being able to get up early enough to do it before work, I ended up putting on my poet's hat on they way to work. I literally recorded myself on my iPhone while sitting in traffic, and then transcribed everything once I got home at the end of the day.
Same thing with meditation. Since I knew that I had the habit of dozing off later in the day (red flag for exhaustion, amiright?), I started meditating during the five minutes while my tea or coffee was brewing in the morning. I make tea or coffee almost every single morning, and I'm usually just staring into space or puttering around the kitchen while it's brewing. Prime time to check-in with my body, mind and heart, if you ask me.
So you see, the title of this post is misleading. Yes, sometimes the best thing to do might be to secure a big, uninterrupted chunk of "me time".
But here's the thing: you don't need to have such a big fat struggle with the almighty Time in order to get started down the path of well-being.
It's not so much about making the time, as it's about enhancing the time you already have.
Feeling well is directly related to your small daily habits, not your once-a-week or once-a-month or once-a-year commitment to scheduling downtime, exercise, etc. I'm not saying a retreat or getaway isn't just what we need sometimes. I'm saying that if you truly want sustained well-being, the only way to get it is to choose to take healthy and self-nurturing actions EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
And it's absolutely okay to start small. In fact, starting small is the best way. Start realistically. Maybe even take just one or two actions a day in the beginning.
Just to review, here's the 3 time-enhancing strategies that worked for me when I decided to start taking my own well-being seriously:
Tack the new onto the old.
How are you going to use one of these 3 strategies to incorporate more self-care into TODAY? What's worked for you in the past? I'd love to know.
You can do it. And more importantly, you deserve it.
It's time to stop letting your busy schedule talk you out of living in a way that makes you happy and healthy. You're the boss, after all.