Soothe your soul
Which kind of driver are you? The one who:
— tops off the gas tank whenever you have the chance?
— notices when the tank is half empty and gets gas then?
— coasts to the station on fumes and prays that you make it?
How well do you take care of yourself? Are you the person who:
— notes when your energy is flagging and gives yourself a boost?
— realizes that you’re beginning to drag and stops to take a rest?
— allows your body to reach Empty on the gauge and collapses in a clueless heap?
Too many of us blindly coast and even crash on the fumes of dissipating energy.
When I was a single parent I tried to cram in whatever activities I could during the day, and then run the After School Marathon of sports, special classes and appointments. I saved one schedule from that period that included three drop-offs and three pick-ups at different places and times. It was no surprise that I felt either tense or exhausted on most days but I wasn’t conscious of how debilitated I was. When you’re a mom or dad you do what you have to do, right?
But one day the light came on. I was creating a new workshop, in the early ’90s, that I called The Happiness Seminar. (Don’t they say that you teach what you most need to learn?) I was reading about energy cycles and how everyone needs to replenish their energy stores regularly; that the pitcher empties and you have to refill it. And then I saw a question: “When you’re traveling on an airplane, and the flight attendant talks about what to do if the air pressure drops and the oxygen mask appears in front of you, whose face are you supposed to put the mask on first – the person who is traveling with you who may need assistance, or your own?”
I’d been so conditioned to think of others first, that I immediately answered, “Whoever needs help.” Wrong – if you don’t put yours on first, you won’t be able to breathe, and you won’t be able to help anyone else.
I began to realize that it wasn’t just helpful to take care of myself — it was essential. If I didn’t take care of me, I couldn’t care for the significant others in my life.
What is self-care? I believe that it’s listening to yourself and remembering the activities and people who bring you back to who you really are; an integration of the things that soothe your soul.
This requires awareness. If you don’t notice that you’re running low on gas, you can’t do anything about it. Therefore, it’s helpful to me to ask these questions several times every day: How do I feel right now? What do I need to give myself so that I can best do what’s asked of me?
The answer might be as simple as a cup of coffee, but I suggest that you have a written list of “Things That Make Me Smile (Relax or Lift My Spirits)” within easy reach when you’re starting to feel run down. But first you have to create one. I find it fascinating that in my workshops, when I ask people what makes them smile, they inevitably go blank and look around at each other. I tell them that they’re not allowed to copy off of anyone’s paper — this is a personal exercise. I propose that they list 100 items, which of course makes everyone gasp. But if you take 20 minutes to do this, you’ll find that you keep coming up with more and more things to list. And anything and everything counts — from great sex to a picnic in the park to watching your child sleep at night.
Once you have a list, you can estimate how long each activity takes. Scratching your dog behind the ears might take half a minute, whereas a trip to Hawaii will require a longer execution time. The idea is to have a range of activities in which you can engage, no matter how little time you have available. Then select a few to schedule into your week. Use a yellow highlighter to spotlight these items so that the time you’ve scheduled for yourself is impossible to miss. If you need to reschedule, OK, but be aware that you’re taking time away from yourself — valuable personal time.
Soothing your soul is your responsibility; no one is going to do it for you. Reserving a half hour or an hour for a bath, reading, meditating, walking, listening to your favorite music or lunching with a friend may sometimes seem selfish, but paradoxically, it can be the greatest gift to not only yourself, but to all of your loved ones.
Make soothing your soul a non-negotiable priority so you’ll never run out of gas.