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Too much to do and too little time is the modern-day catch-cry. Everyone is so busy, there’s precious enough time to juggle all our work and family commitments let alone schedule in time for ourselves.

And when we do, we bear the burden of guilt, feeling selfish as if we’ve committed some kind of social sin.

It’s time for a reframe because it is our lack of self-care that is resulting in poorer lifestyle choices leading to a loss of energy, drive and fulfilment. Catch-22.

Self-care acknowledges our humanity.

As humans, we have a number of basic physiological and psychological needs. Our state of mind, our cognition and ability to undertake our tasks is hugely influenced by those basics of enjoying healthy nutrition, getting enough exercise and good quality uninterrupted sleep, and knowing how to regulate our emotional responses to the stressors we deal with every day.

Investing in self-care results in us feeling more vital and energised ready to commit to what we need to focus our attention on.

So where to start?

We all have different schedules and agendas, so there’s no one size fits all, but here are some suggestions to consider.

1. Give yourself permission

If you’ve been telling yourself the wrong story, it’s time to change it up and give yourself permission for some self-love and care.

2. Check in at Hotel Reality

So your intention was to get to the gym three times a week, but you know that you haven’t been for the last 6 months, let’s not kid ourselves that having the intention equates to what’s happening. It’s time to be honest where you’re really starting from.

3. Set an achievable goal 

It’s easy to write ourselves a set of really big goals, but remember this is about behaviour change and it’s not always easy to create and sustain those new habits for the longer term. Better to make your targets a stretch (to drive your neuroplasticity and keep your interest) but not a snap where deep down you don’t believe they are possible.

Start small and keep the bar low to help you tick off small wins as you go.

And remember if you’re in a particularly busy time at work or life events have taken over, it may be prudent to wait to a better time to start.

4. Determine your WHY

This is critical because it will determine how much time and effort you’re really willing to commit to this process. Try drilling down into the question “why is it important for me to get enough sleep?” and ask it at least three different times because the real reason may not be immediately obvious. 

Because your why is probably not because you know getting enough sleep is important, but it could be that when you get more sleep you notice you’re more even-tempered and less anxious about things.

Remember too that times and situations change. What seemed like a really important goal initially may be less relevant. Feeling comfortable to tweak, change or even abandon some goals is appropriate.

5. Give yourself a framework

Having a plan that is written down either on paper and put in a prominent place, or on your computer will help to clarify your thoughts around what is feasible to achieve on a daily basis, and outline your weekly targets. 

Starting with the end in mind makes it easier to then work backwards to know what needs to be achieved week by week. That’s why having a start and completion date can help. The deadline will help keep you on track and think of the start date as your starting gun to get you over the procrastination line.

It’s time to grab your calendar and schedule in the date, time and duration for your practice.

If increasing your physical activity is your goal, depending on where you’re starting from look to increase the number of times per week and the duration of training by 10- 15 minutes until you reach your intended goal and then stay with it.

Having Plan B is always useful because if you can’t get to a training session one day perhaps there is an alternative activity you could do instead.

6. Stay accountable

Share your intentions with an accountability buddy or trusted friend, someone who will call you up and ask “how’s it going?” Making the changes a team of family effort can also work well, especially when one member is having an off day and needs a bit of extra support.

7. Show some self-compassion

We all stuff up sometimes and some days our plans never leave the station. That’s to be expected. Rather than beating yourself up for “failing” see it for what it is, a lapse. Then start again. Your change journey will invariably have some roadblocks and obstacles. Expecting them means you are forearmed and prepared to deal with them more effectively.

Treating yourself with a little self-compassion may feel unusual, but think of how you would console a friend in the same situation.

8. Reward your progress

One of our strongest motivators is seeing how far we’ve progressed. That’s why pencilling a regular time for reflection once a week is a great opportunity to consider, what has worked well, what didn’t (and why that might have been) and then to prepare for what needs to be done next.

9. Rinse and repeat

Embedding new ways of doing to be at your best is a continuing project. What was ideal for your twenties my not suit you at a different stage in your life. That’s where the magic of having a brain that can adapt to change is so helpful. You’ll never get stuck in the era of bell-bottom jeans and wide collar shirts when you’ve recognised the need to move into the 21st century.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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