'Self-care' what is it for me, how do I fit it in and is the value in the process or the product?

So, during this lockdown that doesn’t feel like lockdown, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I say to the people I work with and then reflecting on how good (or not good!) I am at applying this to myself and my life.

I often talk about how it’s ‘ok’ to value our own needs and that ‘self-care’ can be whatever works for you. I don’t do well with yoga or running or meditation or ‘mindful colouring’ despite all the evidence that these are effective ‘self-care’ activities. For me, they just don’t make me feel good so don’t make me feel like I’ve cared for myself.

I’ve also been thinking about process versus product. A lot of self-care advice out there is about being ‘in the moment’, not thinking about other things, worrying about the future or the past. Just taking time to ‘be’ not to be focussed on goals beyond the present moment; being immersed in the process.

With both of these trains of thought in mind, I got round to analysing my own idea of self-care and what priority I give it. Turns out, I’m pretty rubbish at prioritising and valuing my own needs in the busyness of life. I often juggle, I often jump from one task or role to the next and I rarely focus on doing one thing that is just for me.

I’m not suggesting I don’t enjoy lots of the things that I do, more that I don’t routinely,

consciously and intentionally make space for doing something with the express purpose of looking after my health and wellbeing.

So, I’ve made some changes. I don’t mean to suggest that this is easy to change but I took what I know about myself and worked from there.

Things that helped me were:

1) I book and pay for a number of weeks’ worth of Pilates classes at a time:

- That way it’s just done, in the diary, and I don’t have to remember to think about it so it’s less likely that three weeks will go past before I get round to booking again

- I feel committed and so more likely to prioritise going as I don’t want to cancel and ‘let anybody down’

2) I book a regular day and time:

- I’m trying to create a habit for myself but also a new habit for my family that means it’s easier to create space for me to go to my class

3) I go to zoom classes (no other option but actually it really works for me)

- There’s less time needed because I don’t need to get anywhere

- I’m lucky enough to have a quiet space to Zoom where I won’t be interrupted

- I actually quite like being on my own to exercise: I’ve never enjoyed the sound of my own breathing and feel less self-conscious on mute in the Zoom class

So, for me, the key things to consider have been-

Accountability – the commitment of time and money means there is an external consequence of not doing something rather than an internal consequence of not doing something

Habituation- more habit means less thinking for me and my family. This is key to making things happen in my life

Environment- Zoom allows me to access this particular occupation in the environment that best suits me, my needs and the demands on my time

Process or product?

Pilates has also led me to focus on the process rather than the product. It’s a slow process (for me anyway) and so the impact is gentle, almost negligible week to week. I do feel better after the class, but this can rapidly dissipate.

BUT I’ve learnt that that doesn’t matter: the value is in the process of the doing not the end product

So, I’m going to try and get more of that in my life. I naturally tend to orientate towards activities with a tangible end product, evidence of time well spent, justification for me taking that time to do something I want to do. If the end product has a value beyond me then even better- calligraphy for example, I make cards for other people. I get to enjoy the process, feel connected to other people but crucially, it also gives other people something nice; it’s not just about me and my needs.

Who knows where the origins of that particulatr psychological quirk lie but actually, I don’t need to know.

What I do need to do is explore what it feels like to engage in occupation for the process not the product, allow myself time to just be in the moment just for me not for anyone else.

So, what to do… knitting!

I started knitting a scarf in October 2019. It is still not finished.

Originally it was intended to be a Christmas present for my middle son.

He sadly had to make do with Lego for Christmas instead (he was clearly A-OK with that result!) but, instead of aiming to finish the scarf for my youngest son this year (end product focussed, goal driven me would naturally incline towards this) I’m going to just keep knitting for the enjoyment of the process.

Partly because I’m not in all honesty sure how to ‘cast off’ but mostly because, in the spirit of all the things I ask the people I work with to do; I’m going to experiment with doing my occupations differently and see how it feels.

It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but my professional knowledge tells me that once I get into the habit of doing it more often, the easier it’ll become.

This scarf may never be finished but I am working hard to be ok with that. I hope that I’ll have some lovely meditative moments throughout the process and I’m curious to find out if I can be happy not to be finishing something, happy to have no pressure from myself or others and happy to be immersed in the moment.

I think it's taken me a long time to get here, to acknowledge the value of process without product, but perhaps I’m thinking about it all now because in these times of stress, we all need to find a way to switch off and let the past recede and the future take care of itself for a moment.

Just doing something because the doing feels good- once that felt like a luxury, now it feels more of a necessity

thanks for reading


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