Originally Sent February 29, 2020
If you’re new to Watered Grass, or just need a refresher, you know that I love talking about habits. My results-driven side of me loves a checked box, a star on the chart, or the success streak of an app. With some of my self-care habits, they honestly did start as a way to get those small accolades. And sometimes, admittedly, they still can be. Embarrassingly enough, I chose a sleep meditation from my app instead of the one on YouTube that I was drawn to, only because I didn’t want to lose my streak. Clearly I am accountability driven.
What I want to talk about here is not the habit formation per say. Instead, I want to focus today on why I harp on these little habits so much. And as I usually do, I want to share it through the lens of personal experience.
Here’s a quick visual of self-care. I like to view self-care as a way of meeting our Hierarchy of Needs- a pyramid devised by a psychologist named Maslow that emphasizes how we have to start by meeting our most basic needs (like shelter, food, and safety) before meeting the higher-level needs of self-esteem or our relationship to self and others. Makes sense, right? If we don’t know when we are going to eat next, that is a bigger concern for our mental and physical health than whether or not we’re aligned to the right career path that nurtures our intellect. If you’re looking to learn more about it, I focused on this concept for my article in E.P.I.C. magazine last Fall.
But let’s be real. Some of those basic needs can be fed into by some of that higher level stuff. It’s really difficult to move to a safer home if we believe that a risky neighborhood is what we deserve. Why would I seek proper nutrition if I live in a hate-filled relationship with my body? Some of those upper-level needs have a trickle-down effect to our most basic building blocks to a healthy, happy lifestyles. So if you’ve felt stuck for a while, I recommend flipping the pyramid on its head through some of those upper-level changes.
Here’s where my story comes in. For a long time, I settled for unsafe and dysfunctional. In graduate school, I accepted a relationship that was extremely painful and unfaithful. I stayed in this dynamic for a long time because of a higher-level need: feeding my self-esteem. I didn’t believe I could do better or be worthy of love, so I was afraid to give it up. There were at least 2 instances I can remember where I had discovered proof of his infidelity, attempted to leave, but eventually returned out of fear of being alone. I didn’t know it at the time, but when a health scare inspired me to build in some small self-care habits like exercising regularly, filling my body with the nutrition it needed, and managing my physical health, I started to notice my thoughts changing. Much like what Sami Jo Jensen mentioned in a previous episode this season, once you make one change around how you treat yourself, you stop settling for poor treatment in other areas. By loving myself with small changes, it started to become unbearably clear what other changes in my life needed to happen. Over the course of several months, it became painfully obvious how much I needed to leave this relationship, and was able to do so because I had slowly over the past few months fed myself the message that I was worthy of care, respect, and love. Taking the huge leap was terrifying, but starting small steps toward self-care built in the steps to get me to the bigger boundary that had to be set. Small changes, big pay off.
I see it in other day-to-day habits as well. Starting the habit (or un-habit) of not tracking calories or weight was a small step in my eating disorder recovery. It wasn’t an instant overnight change to the bigger problem (again, the self-esteem stuff); however, it started to plant the seed that another way of treating myself was possible. This led me to feel more confident choosing foods based on what my body was calling for. Then I became more confident expressing what was underlying the eating disorder in a therapy session. Then it gave me the courage to tell others, connect the dots, and know myself a lot more deeply than I had the bravery to do before. That little baby step was the first tentative move towards a happier, more loving version of myself that can now feel empowered to shake off other things that limit my joy in life. The idea of sharing my story off the bat would have stopped me in my steps (please see first three episodes of the show where I perform an act called “Everything is fine!”), but the only way to move forward was with small self-care habits that snowballed.
I even noticed how powerfully I’ve been impacted by meditation. What started as an instant-gratification practice has shifted my whole way of seeing the world. When in a particularly tense meeting this week, rather than letting the anxiety creep in and freeze me to the spot as it had in the past, I was able to take a step outside of my thoughts and really look at it from multiple angles. Why was I so triggered? Is my thought true? Could there be another way to look at this? Does this person’s opinion change the person I am? This wouldn’t have happened 5 years ago, but it was mind-blowing to feel the difference.
So if you’re wondering why that journaling/reading/hobby/exercise/time-with-friends/polka dancing/ acapella-ing/ whatever-ing habit even matters for anyways- well, it could be the start to a whole new way of living.
Tomorrow’s episode will give a fresh take on what habits we might start with by analyzing our values. Tune in on whatever you use to listen to podcasts.
Take care, you deserve it.
Host of Watered Grass