Does Your Self-Care Routine Need a Dose of Discipline?
Life is demanding of our time and energy. In a single day, we can play multiple roles and be expected to complete lengthy to-do lists, from taking the dog for a walk and packing healthy (kid-friendly) school lunches to paying bills and meeting rigorous work deadlines. Many of us get into this rhythm of life where our days become more like groundhog’s days. We get into a flow of checking off the same (or similar) to-do lists every day. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this (especially if you’ve created a groundhog’s day you love!) other than the fact that many of our daily, repeated to-do lists lack one essential element—a self-care discipline.
Somehow, we are able to make time for everyone and everything but ourselves, and this can come at a cost to our psychological and physiological health.
What Is a Self-Care Discipline?
Before we go any further, we first need to redefine discipline. In this context, discipline simply implies that the practice you are creating is important and should be adhered to. Once created, a discipline (similar to a habit, which takes time and practice to cement) should become a non-negotiable in your life. It should be weighted as a top priority because you are a top priority. Self-care is a very broad term that can include practices (big and small) that benefit your emotional, spiritual, and/or physical health. The key to a self-care routine is that it is done regularly and exclusively for you.
We are complex beings, and our lives are multidimensional. There are a number of areas in your life that would benefit from dedicated attention.
Health & Wellbeing (e.g., mindset, movement, nutrition, regeneration)
Relationships & Community (e.g., friends, family, neighbors, coworkers)
Experiences & Recreation (e.g., adventures, new experiences, hobbies, interests)
Service & Impact (e.g., join a non-profit organization, help others in need, adopt an animal)
Career & Growth (e.g., polish your resume, apply for your dream job, further your education)
Spiritual Life & Purposes (e.g., meditate, reflect, consider your higher purpose)
The Benefits of a Self-Care Practice
The benefits of a self-care discipline are immediate and cumulative. Taking a daily pause from hyper-productivity mode is necessary to not only decrease your chances of burnout and reduce stress but also increase happiness, boost energy, and support creativity. When we burn the candle at both ends, both our mental and physical health can suffer. Self-care has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as reduce depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that a self-care discipline can promote resiliency, longevity, and the ability to cope with stress and challenging situations better.1
What Gets in the Way of Self Care?
The short answer is life gets in the way of self-care. With so many daily obligations and responsibilities, we often run out of steam when it comes to self-care. Self-care usually sits at the end of the list, where it keeps getting bumped to the next day and the next. A common excuse is lack of time, but self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming. In fact, you can incorporate little self-care practices throughout your day instead of making a big to-do about it at the end of the day when it’s not time you lack but energy.
The real question is, though, why are we our least priority? There is a scientific reason behind this—the present bias.2 According to the present bias, our brains naturally prioritize short-term over long-term needs. We are more naturally inclined to care about feeling good in the present moment than we are about our wellness in the future. A self-care discipline is rooted in both the present and also the future, though. Regularly taking care of ourselves (emotionally, spiritually, and mentally) is essential for not only present but future wellness. The future side of it, though, can make us de-prioritize it without even really realizing that is what we are doing.
The solution? Stop thinking of self-care as something you do for your future self. Do it for the present you, and the future benefits will just naturally occur.
How to Create the Best Self-Care Routine for You?
Start small. The best way to create a successful self-care routine is to start with one practice at a time and build on it as each practice you choose becomes a non-negotiable discipline. Self-care should be enjoyable, so trying to incorporate too many new things at once into your already busy schedule might make it feel overwhelming or unsustainable. Your self-care routine should be unique to you and can evolve as your life does. The self-care practices you choose to incorporate into your life are not as important as the fact that you are setting aside time for yourself on a regular basis.
To get you started, here are 30 ideas, choose a handful and make sure that you are giving TLC to each area of your life that make the most difference to your health and your happiness.
Examples of self-care practices can include:
Stretching or yoga (all types and lengths)
Sticking to fitness routine
Swimming (for fun)
Practicing breathwork and mediation (moving and still)
Enjoying body care (dry brushing, saunas, soaking in tubs, EFT/tapping, facials, massages, etc.)
Writing daily morning pages
Starting a gratitude journal
Listening to podcasts
Drinking hot tea
Preparing healthy meals and snacks
Supporting your gut health
Spending time in nature
Gazing at the stars
Watching the sun rise or set
Planting and taking care of a garden
Playing with your pet
Establishing technology-free time
Pursuing interests and passions
Learning a new skill (an instrument, a new language)
Researching something that sparks your curiosity
Taking a masterclass
Engaging in something creative (painting, taking photos)
Making a vision board
Spending quality time with a close friend
Managing your finances
Decluttering your home
Taking a nap
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
Monique Tello, M. (2017, November 16). Self-care: 4 ways to Nourish Body and soul. Harvard Health. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/self-care-4-ways-nourish-body-soul-2017111612736
Wang, Y., & Sloan, F. A. (2018, October). Present bias and health. Journal of risk and uncertainty. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6594564/