As I hit the final stretch of grueling book revisions (and use them as my excuse for not posting much in the last few months), I'm realizing all over again the importance of self care, especially for those of us in rigorously creative fields.
I can only speak for myself (since I don't have much experience being anyone else) but I personally find it much harder to be kind to myself than to be kind to others. Growing up, most of us are taught to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to others. But we're not necessarily taught to show ourselves the same mercy.
It seems preposterous to beleaguer someone, work them to the bone, hold them to impossible standards, and then expect them to produce truly creative and meaningful work. How then does the argument change when we replace the third party with ourselves? Somehow we think that if our behavior only affects ourselves, it is justifiable to be a tyrant and a bully. To abuse and neglect ourselves in the name of productivity and hard work.
I readily admit that I am long guilty of this offense, of punishing and pushing myself without reprieve, all so that I might feel I'm working harder, driving myself further, ruthlessly expecting perfection at all times, or at least a good showing of blood.
So how do we change this vicious cycle? How do I change? However much I may poke and prod at possible answers, don't be fooled, I have no idea either. Or perhaps I haven't the courage to give up my familiar and brutal ways in favor of something more sustainable, something kinder and gentler. Or perhaps I'm simply a masochist, so entrenched in my ways that I fear if I change, I will lose my edge.
Let me be clear: I fully support hard work, devotion, and rigorous drive, especially when pursuing one's passion. But there is a limit. In all things, there must be a limit. Otherwise we'll simply drive ourselves mad with work, with a quest for perfection that doesn't exist. I digress.
I don't know the big answers about how to change a lifelong relationship of abuse with the self, I don't know how to alter deeply set familial or societal expectations, but I know small ways to be kind to myself. To relent and to rest. To call a truce even for a short while. This is simply my list of nice things I can do for myself, small gestures to remind me that I love and care about myself, reminders to be gentler with myself in the future:
1. Take a hot bath (bonus points for bubbles or good-smelling bath salts/bath bombs).
2. Go for a walk/hike outside.
3. Get up from my desk, stretch a bit, maybe do a crossword or read for a while.
4. Don't work through lunch or eat at my desk.
5. Light candles. Enjoy their warm light and their gentle scent.
6. Wear a dab of nice perfume. Stop to breathe and smell it every now and then.
7. Play with my dog and cat. Extra points for puppy snuggles.
8. Take time to bake. Enjoy the simple meditation of making bread or cutting out pastries.
9. Read a fun, light-hearted book (nothing too dark or serious)
10. Paint/doodle something fun, just because I want to (like moths or silly comics).
11. Listen to happy music, something that makes me want to sing along.
12. Do easy crafts (especially if it involves gluing googly eyes on things).
13. Take a night off. After dinner, don't let myself do any more work for the day.
14. Say "no" more. Don't feel obliged to say "yes" to everything and everyone. It's okay to be selfish sometimes and enjoy a day off/a lighter workload/etc.
15. Go dancing! (even though I'm not very good, I still love dancing tango with my husband).
16. Sew clothes just for myself, but if it gets frustrating, stop and take a break.
17. Remember what I enjoyed doing as a child. Try to do more of that.
18. Take more naps.
19. Go swimming just to enjoy being in the water (as opposed to strenuous laps).
20. Take a few minutes to stand outside and think of all the things I'm grateful for, and to remember the many blessings that fill my life.
This week, I challenge you to come up with your own list of 20 (or more) ways to be nice to yourself. 20 small actions that will encourage you to step back and take a moment to breathe, to relax, and to care for yourself. I believe in you.