Self-care sounds great to everyone. Of course you want to meditate. Of course you want to exercise. Of course you want to feel better.
Of course you can’t find the time.
More often than not, people don’t make changes until they really need to. I am lucky because I need to do these things. I have watched my depression and anxiety take away my ability to leave the house. I have watched them destroy the love someone had for me. I have watched them fault-find me to the point where the only thing I could see in myself was brokenness.
My biggest fear is that I will pass those tendencies onto my children, have my family suffer through my struggle with them, and slowly poison my relationship.
Because I have seen myself at my worst and she is so small and in such incredible pain, I know that I have to be vigilant.
This may not be the case for you.
So for you, it is hard to find time.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
My need does not manifest additional hours in the day or a child who needs my attention less. The demand forces me to find a way to find the time. With one child it may be easier (or harder, depending on who you talk to or what age they are!), but it is possible for everyone to make time for themselves.
Here are a few ways to find the time and energy you need to practice self care. I did not invent these ways or even perfect them. I just use them and I think they could help you.
At the end, I’ll go through some common objections.
This is by far the most important. We thrive on habits. Doing the same things over and over again at the same time doesn’t just save time and energy. Repetition and predictability lend a hand to emotional regulation. Too much stuff, too many choices, and moving too fast sap you of time, vigor, and will power.
When we have routines and habits, we no longer have to decide whether or not we are going to do something. The decision is already made for us. This brings you into automaticity, offloading a huge cognitive burden. You don’t have to think about turning off the lights and locking your door when you leave the house. You want more things in your life to happen with the same ease.
I am going to go through my schedule with you and then try to prompt you to think about your own.
Daily schedule: Each morning, I feed Zander when he wakes up and spend about 40 minutes doing The Miracle Morning. He’s only 6 months old. Partially personality and partially training, Zander has come to expect a lot of alone time when he wakes up. I set him up with one open ended toy and get to work.
Near the end of my TMM, baby boy starts complaining a bit. That’s okay because now it is his turn to have a story. We read one of his three books.
After story time, we do morning pick up and throw the diapers in the wash.
Zander starts complaining because it is time for some rest. We have the routine of taking a one mile walk to get him the first nap of the day. If I try to stay in the house, he cries a lot. “This isn’t how the day goes, Mom!” he seems to say. On cold or lazy days, routines may feel like they work against you.
We get back from our walk and baby stays asleep. I usually work for about an hour. Zander wakes up, eats. I have my breakfast. We hang the diapers to dry.
It is about 9 or 10am and I haven’t thought at all yet. I haven’t made one decision. But I have already done yoga, meditated, walked, read, journaled, cleaned, done laundry, spent time-in with the baby, and had breakfast.
After that, we often have something outside to do depending on the day of the week.
Whenever that is finished, around 2 or so, there is prep work for dinner. Then there’s some flexible downtime. Between 4 and 5 o’clock, it is time to start cooking.
We basically do this every day.
What things can you do at the same time, in the same way, every day? Is there always picking up that needs to be done? Are there car rides? Is there a time when everyone gets grumpy and needs to slow down?
Weekly schedule: For my family, we have Free Forest School on Monday and Friday mornings. Monday afternoon is grocery shopping. Thursday mornings, we take a 3-to-4 mile walk with a friend. We do a workout with a friend every Tuesday morning. Saturday is laundry day. Sunday is our day with Dad.
Currently, the other days of the week are “empty.” We might add in one more activity day but we will always have an at-home day scheduled.
What things can you do at the same time, in the same way, on a particular day of the week? Do you have a story time at your local library? Do you have a chapter of Free Forest School in your area? Any friends who might like to meet you every Thursday at the same park at 9am?
Monthly/Quarterly schedule: These larger rhythms can be an anticipated and understood as part of your regular rhythm.
You might have Family Board Meetings, a day when dad watches the kids and you get a massage, or date night. Schedule it regularly.
How many meals does your family really eat? Stop guessing which ones you are going to make and just plan to do Taco Tuesdays or Chicken-and-rice every third Thursday of the month. You don’t have to do all of the meal prep (although maybe you do, and maybe you can do it as a family every Friday). Just simplify your grocery shopping and cooking habits. Maybe plan Spontaneous Saturday where you make something new.
Once these things are scheduled and routine, you no longer have to figure out whether or not you’re going to do them. It is already decided. This keeps your kids calm, too. We prefer familiarity—it makes us comfortable. This preference is called the mere-exposure effect in psychology. When things are routine and familiar, our stress lowers. Predictability makes it less likely for you or your kid to fly off the handle.
Review Your Time
By our nature, humans think things take them way less time than they actually do. We say we will be ready in ten minutes but we’re nowhere to be seen for twenty. If you cannot see it in yourself, you surely have a sister, husband, or child who does this.
Try to take note of how you’re actually using your time. Download Moment or QualityTime on your phone and see how much time you spend staring at your phone. Though you feel like you aren’t on your phone often, a few minutes every hour adds up quickly. Delete apps that suck up time.
Use a timer for a day or two. How long do you actually take to get stuff done?
Make a list of how you want to use your time. Make a list of how you use your time. Compare the two and adjust.
Arguing with your kids is another article, but figure out whether you care about the argument of are still defending your time on principle.
I had to delete Facebook, Facebook messenger, and Pinterest off of my phone. I also had to cut way down on streaming 30 Rock from my phone.
I don’t think all “mindless” time is bad. I still do love watching my shows and I give myself time to do it. I just try to do it less.
Plan Your Days
This could maybe go under routine, but deserves a second category because not all plans are routines and routines don’t take up our whole day.
Figure out what you’re going to do each day. A lot of people feel like the best way to do this is to make a goals list the night before. That way, when you wake up in the morning, you already know what you have to do. I’ve heard of people planning their day down to the half hour.
I am pretty relaxed in comparison. I jot down all of the non-routine things I want to do for the day on a little notepad. I don’t write “make dinner” because of course I am going to make dinner. Things like sweep floors, work on Mark’s project, respond to best friend’s messages are listed. I don’t schedule times for them but maybe you should. Think about your own preferences, how well you go-with-the-flow.
This also helps offload the cognitive burden of remembering things. The less things swirling around in your head, the more present you can be. Maybe you can remember everything you have to do today. But why would you when you don’t have to?
Do you know what gives you more time in the day? Sleeping more. Using time to gain time seems counter-intuitive but in this particular case, it is true. Being under-rested takes up a huge amount of your time (and obviously, energy).
Losing just two hours of sleep nightly hinders your thinking and memory. It also makes you more likely to get into a car accident (and I’m guessing, many other kinds, like dropping-the-jar-and-having-to-clean-up-the-mess-accidents). You take longer to heal from illness and injury. Your will power is depleted. You gain weight. You give in when you should have held your ground.
Being sleep deprived makes you unable to tell that you’re sleep deprived. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re doing well on 5 hours of sleep—something unhealthy has become your normal.
What does getting enough sleep look like?
For me and my 6-month-old who co-sleeps and breastfeeds on demand, getting enough sleep means getting in bed at least 10 hours before I expect to wake up. If we are sick, teething, or going through a developmental milestone, 12 hours.
Q: I am a free spirit. I don’t want to schedule everything!
Do you know the part about being a free spirit that sucks? Being emotionally volatile. If your spirit is caged by having a plan at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, how free is it?
Q: I’ve tried building routines but they just keep falling apart.
On average, it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. That means it stops being so hard after about 2 months. How long have you tried?
If you have given it your all, consider who you are trying to build schedules and routines with. Maybe those people you deeply care for are better spur-of-the-moment friends.
Q: My kids will be bored always doing the same things.
My answer to this is twofold. First: What is wrong with boredom? Boredom can trigger very imaginative play.
My second answer is that they won’t be. Even if you scheduled most of your time, if that schedule includes a good deal of unstructured, free time—at home day, Free Forest School day, day at the park– your child is going to get a huge amount of variety. Just as your kid enjoys hearing the same story, so they will enjoy going to the same places. Life has a huge amount of variety on offer without us having to go out of the way to create it.
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What objections popped up in your mind while reading this? Please leave a comment. I would love to help you jump over that hurdle.