The first two articles in this series talked about how self care is ugly. This article is going to focus on how to get started with ugly self care and make it a habit.
Recognising that you need some ugly self care in your life is the first step to doing ugly self care. However, getting going is often the hardest part. But, why is this?
We can use Newton’s first law, or ‘an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest, stays at rest’, to think about why getting started is the hardest part. According to this law, once you’re going (i.e. you’ve formed the habit), you can keep going – you’re in motion. However, if you haven’t started yet, you need that initial push to set you off.
The initial push is made up of three things:
1. The recognition
2. The plan
3. The first action
The recognition is you making the decision to put you first in the scenario. Take the idea ‘I want to start eating healthier so that I am taking better care of my body’. The recognition that you need to take action is there. You’ve started thinking about the motion.
The plan is deciding how you are going to do this. The plan should be measurable and detail what you are going to do and how you're going to do it. A good way to think about this is ‘can I put a number to this?’ e.g. what does healthy look like? It might be increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet by aiming for 5-a-day. This is something that you can directly measure, you can track to see if you’re getting your 5-a-day using a habit tracker. You can directly see if you’re performing ugly self care.
You also need to plan how you’re going to do it. In the 5-a-day example, you might plan to add an extra 1-2 portion of vegetables to every main meal and swapping out your afternoon snack and dessert for some fruit. You also should put fruit and vegetables on your shopping list for the week and make a meal plan of when you’re going to eat them. You’re making it as easy as possible for you to ‘eat healthier’.
The action is you making the first move. It’s you going to the supermarket and buying fruit and vegetables and well, starting to eat them. The action then should be repeated over and over again to form a habit.
Once you’ve done this every day for a week, you’ll be able to assess what is working and what is not. You might find that swapping out your afternoon snack for fruit wasn’t working well. So, you could tweak that to being, ‘add a piece of fruit in to eat WITH my usual afternoon snack’. This is using the idea of ‘habit stacking’ from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. If you’re already going to be eating an afternoon snack of a cereal bar and you don’t want to give that up, why not add a banana into the mix?
Once you’ve found something that works, keeping the motion becomes a lot easier. As with most things in life, trial and error is the best way forward. You have to find out what works best for you. There is no one size fits all method of taking care of yourself.
When you take this process and apply it to the ugly self care I spoke about in the first part of this series, you can start to see changes in your life. However, each action by itself won’t change your life. They have to compound to form a habit. Eating an extra piece of fruit won’t change your life. But it’s a start. You’ve got the ball rolling. You’re in motion. Eating that first piece of fruit means you’re no longer at rest and the more you keep doing it, the easier it is to stay in motion.
One day you might not be able to eat your afternoon piece of fruit, and it will feel wrong, you’ll feel like something is missing. Take those opportunities to look back at how far you’ve come. Take those opportunities to see your progress and how that ugly self care has changed your life. Because ugly self care is about showing up for yourself every day, even when you don’t want to.
Although speaking about eating fruit might seem trivial, this idea can be applied to any ugly self care. For example:
Ugly self care: I am choosing to value myself and leave this toxic situation
1. The recognition – you have realised that the situation is toxic and you need to leave
2. The plan – what do you need to do leave this situation? What does leaving the situation look like e.g. how can it be measured? Is it physically leaving, cutting off all contact? Do you need to organise transport to help you leave? Is it something you need to discuss with other people to help?
3. The first action – starting to lay the foundations for your departure e.g. booking transport, speaking to others etc.
Here the habit isn’t leaving, although that needs to be done, the habit is choosing to value yourself. You have to wake up every day and choose to value yourself and your mental health enough to stay away from that situation and know that it was the right choice to leave.
When it comes to ugly self care, it’s important to make habits out of what you’re trying to do. Habits can feel mundane and boring. Again, this goes back to the idea that self care isn’t this attractive thing, it’s literally just you doing what you need to do. You won’t change your life by doing something once. You will change your life by doing that one thing over and over again. And that thing might be ugly. It might be forcing yourself to do a sweaty workout to give you a better chance at having a life that you don’t constantly feel out of breath in. It might be saying no to people so that you can give yourself the night off from work to go hang out with your friends. It might be eating an extra piece of fruit everyday to help fuel your body to take care of itself. It might be something completely different.
Self care is about you and taking care of your needs. It can often feel like you’re waiting for something to change your life, something external, something you can’t control. You need to change the way you think of your life as being out of your control. It’s your life and you get to choose how you want to live it. Taking control of your own life is ugly self care. Deciding that you’re the only person who gets to control the direction of your life will be the most liberating thing you ever do. It’s ugly. It’s self care.
I hope that this short series on why I think self care is ugly has changed the way you think about self care, even if only a tiny bit.
So, self care is ugly, pass it on.