September: Self Care Month in Review

Self care month began boring, turned ugly, then finished nice and smooth.

I had 4 resolutions for September:

-Get more sleep (go to bed by 10:30)
-Take a daily 10-minute walk outside
-No sugar or alcohol
-Veggies at every meal

I successfully avoided all alcohol and sugar, which was surprisingly easy to do. I don’t really even miss them at this point, and I think I might just continue avoiding them indefinitely. I also succeeded in eating veggies at every meal, something I will definitely keep doing. I feel less hungry, more energetic, and I just really love the flavor and variety of the vegetables I’ve been eating. It’s kind of a pain to wash and prepare them, but I think I can build in a few more efficiencies that will make that part easier.

The daily walk outside hasn’t become a habit. I have focused more on spending time outside, which has led me and the kids to play outside more and to do more outdoor activities than we otherwise were doing. We’ve been hiking as a family every weekend, which has been a wonderful time and a chance to get together with friends while exploring the Wasatch Front. I’ve also begun sitting outside with my tea or coffee and watching the sunrise. I don’t get to do this every morning, but I’ve been doing it at least three times a week for the second half of the month. Having this quiet time outside really helps me feel ready for the chaos that comes after the kids wake up.

The sitting outside in the wee hours has been facilitated by the earlier bedtime I finally managed to keep for the second half of the month. I don’t always make it to bed by 10:30, but since I started going to bed earlier, I’ve made it to bed no later than 11:00, except on the nights my daughter was ill.

Like with my mindfulness practice in August, I found that during September, I once again kind of hit a wall about two weeks in, at which point I had a little crisis and then turned a corner into a more comfortable place. The more sleep thing turned out to be wonderful once I finally started doing it. It also helped to start getting better about keeping my mindfulness resolutions, which I’d kind of set on the back burner for the first couple of weeks. Breathing and being aware of judgments has really helped me keep things in perspective.

I’ve learned a couple of important and new things. One is about the value of self care when things are going well as a way of building up reserves to be able to cope when things become more challenging. When my daughter was ill last weekend, I was pleasantly surprised at how calm I remained and how energetic and capable I felt. I don’t know how long those reserves would have lasted had her illness been longer than it was, but they got me through a few late nights and restless sleep.

The other thing I’ve learned is that I don’t think my goal with this project is really happiness, per se. I don’t have a problem with being happy, and I do hope that making these changes will help me get more joy out of life, but I don’t feel that my endpoint is “happiness” anymore. I want to increase my awareness in the moment so that I can have richer experiences. I want to improve my ability to express my emotions—including happiness—and share them with my children in a constructive way. And I want to build up my life and deepen my connections in such a way that my life is more peaceful and fulfilling. I think the likelihood that these things will lead to happiness in the long run is fairly high, but I don’t think the short-term result is always happiness. I don’t want to use happiness as my goal in each moment because I think that might lead me astray.

For example, Wednesday night I felt tired. We spent a lovely afternoon with friends at Red Butte Gardens, walking around in the sun, playing in fountains, sharing a picnic lunch. Wednesday is also the day I’ve got planned to visit the gym and do my little workout. After all of our fun, I found myself thinking that feeling so worn out would be a reasonable excuse to skip my gym visit. I wanted to hang out at home and read my book and get up-to-date with my favorite blogs, maybe check my blog stats every five minutes.  But I chose to go to the gym. When I returned, I was still tired, but I felt relaxed, strong, and content. I don’t think I would have had as positive a feeling after spending the evening in front of a computer screen or even curled up with my book, as lovely as that would have been. And I have the added satisfaction of putting that healthy habit in the bank so I’m ready for those days when I need a little extra energy. Had I looked only at “happiness” as my goal, I don’t know that I would have made the same choice.

Another example is facing emotionally painful situations. In my experience, when confronting unresolved trauma, disagreements, or just negative interactions, things get worse before they get better. If I went for happiness only, I may decide that I have enough happiness already and choose to cut my losses and avoid the painful situations rather than working through them to find greater meaning.

I’ve read a number of books this month. The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore, The Search for Fulfillment by Susan Whitbourne, and The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. I’m also about halfway through Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which so far is blowing me away.

Tomorrow I start a new month! Check back for the plan for October. I’m excited and cautiously optimistic.

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