A Sustainable Life
Self care is a trendy term right now, so trendy that I hesitate to even use it. Wine O'clock, bubble baths, chocolate and tacos. All good things and I believe they were recommended at one point in a genuine attempt to encourage people to take a minute for themselves and do something they enjoy but they've become a very shallow definition for self care.
I feel like my husband and I have been pretty intentional to consistently work at making our life one that we don't feel like we constantly need a break from. Yet, even in spending years and years being intentional I'm constantly humbled by what a force life is. Regardless of all the planning or intention you just can't be prepared or foresee some of the curveballs that will come your way. We won't always notice all the incremental piling up of things that ultimately end in "how the heck did I get here?" I've used the analogy several times when trying to pinpoint something in my life of a lobster in a pot. I can see how I the lobster was put in a pot of cold water and it was fine, but the water slowly heats and you don't notice that it's becoming unbearable until it starts to boil and then you have a reaction to being boiled. Life can be like that. Little things add up slowly and without much notice until all of the sudden you're boiling and uncomfortable and stressed to the max.
Rather than focussing on self care, lately I've been asking myself - is this sustainable? The reality is, my main goal is to live a sustainable life. I'm not talking about using sustainable resources (though that is important too), I'm talking about me as the resource. Am I as intentional with my physical, mental and emotional resources as I am with the earth's resources? Honestly, a lot of the days the answer is no. A lot of the days I wasn't even aware of my resource levels.
I recently likened my exploration of my limits to driving around and then suddenly running out of gas. "Oops, I guess that was too far." I feel like normally I'm a little better at checking my gauges but in season's of high stress and upheaval when your mind is constantly engaged in a million other things it can be really hard to see the gas light come on so to speak.
In the grander scheme of things, I believe it says a lot about our culture that on every street corner someone is hawking "self care" solutions. Supply and demand. There is a demand because ultimately we're not doing the greatest at managing our lives. What I'm learning is that like most everything, the solution is not external. We are the solution.
Creating a sustainable life is in the boring, the mundane and the nitty gritty details of daily living. It takes a lot of discipline. I've read tons of great posts and blogs in the same line of thought, what I'm saying is not new but I do want to add my voice to the mix.
I'd love to share some areas that have been key for my family and I as we work to make our lives sustainable. To craft lives that are full of joy, peace, productivity, contribution, stewarding, relationships, jobs well done, rich education and ultimately that we can sustain and that don't drastically deplete our physical, mental and emotional resources. I recognize that things will look different for each family but these have been key for us.
This is a pretty big first step. It's important to take a realistic look at what your life is and then compare it to what you'd like your life to look like. I think a little realism is important on both ends of the spectrum. I'd love my life to look like traveling the world for half the year and neither of us having to work and that's a great goal but it's not realistic for next month ;).
One way that I get a picture for where I'm at is to write down everything that is currently on my "plate" for the next 1-2 weeks. I mean everything - call this person back, book this dentist appointment, pay these bills, finish this project, get the kids to this sport, etc etc. I did this recently and it was a longggggggg list. At the bottom of that list I wrote "educate the children" and chuckled because that in itself is my full time job. I want to speak to the moms here specifically - it's really important to own how much is actually on your plate. It's important to see how much mental clutter there is, how many tabs in your brain are open at any one time. My guess is that it is a LOT. As moms we often fall into patterns of being the Life Managers for our families. It's often the case that even when we have super supportive, engaged and helpful spouses we are still managing our spouses roles and delegating tasks.
My encouragement to you is to take that list, sit down with your spouse (have him make one too) and decide what can be taken off your list and placed on his. And not for you to manage it, but for him to own it and be fully responsible for it so that it doesn't even have to be on your radar.
My husband is a 100% partner in our life. He has so many things that he is totally responsible for in our lives and we still have this conversation regularly. It's been so healthy for us to sit down and just see what is on each other's plate, decide if someone needs to take something off the other person's to do list and appreciate what we're both contributing.
Another reflection that I do a few times a week is journalling "More of this _________" and "Less of this _________". I list what things worked well, what I want to see more of in our days. Then I list what didn't work, what added stress and what I want to see less of in our days. It's been really helpful.
I am REALLY good at saying "No" to draining things. I'm not a people pleaser in that way and neither is my husband. We're pretty good at boundaries. I do however struggle with saying "No" to good or fun things. Yet the reality is that they can be draining too and when we run from one good thing to the next in constant succession it will also lead to eventual burn out.
It always helps me to say no to things when I am saying yes to something else. So I choose to say yes to space in our days, to evenings with no plans, and to a slower pace.
The research out there on the significance of being in nature in our daily lives is overwhelming. There's a lot, a plethora of entire books devoted to the subject. I've always loved nature and made time for it within in our weeks but recently it's become an imperative part of our schedule. We've committed to no less than 2 hours a week in nature and it's been so helpful. My counsellor actually prescribed it to me initially and it didn't take much convincing to get on board. She said the research showed that being in nature for a minimum of 2 hours a week is more effective than meeting with a counsellor regularly and taking a daily anti-anxiety medication.
Being in Saskatchewan it's not always easy, convenient or appealing to head outside but I've never once regretted it and it ALWAYS has a positive impact on my stress levels, mindset and mood. Even if you don't see yourself as a "nature person" I'd encourage you to try it. It's like exercise - you may not see yourself as athletic but exercise is always good for you.
On that note.... Exercise.
Right now I'm combining it with our time in nature. Brisk walking, building forts, etc. I love a good hard work out with intense cardio and weights but I'm currently fairly depleted and allowing myself to be gentle in my activity right now. Again, I feel like we all know the benefits of exercise and we really just need to do the boring, mundane choice of regularly incorporating it into our lives.
I've read bits and pieces of information about the benefits of breathing exercises before but have become very intentional about it in the last few months. This list of what it does for your body and mind is LONG!
Here's a great article listing some of the benefits - Benefits of Breathing Exercises
One simple exercise I do at least 4 times a day and then whenever I feel stressed or anxious is Inhale 4 - Hold 16 - Exhale 8. Do this 6 times. If you struggle with anxiety or panic attacks this is great to do when/if you feel like your breaths are shallow or you have a tight chest. It feels contrary to hold you breath with you feel like you can't breath but it's the paradox of leaning into it that will diffuse the anxiety.
Simplify all the things. It's easy to say but can feel overwhelming to do. Here are a few key areas to simplify.
Visual Clutter - go around with a laundry basket and add anything laying around that doesn't have a home or isn't in it's home. If it doesn't have one, find one or get rid of it ;)
Food - Meal planning or creating meal rhythms can really cut down on the mental clutter we feel. Maybe you have Soup Wednesdays so you know you're going to make soup that day. (Honestly - I don't like being told what to do so that kind of schedule doesn't work for me). A big help for me has been planning in such a way that I only cook 3-4 days a week (I cook enough for two meals. It's not "leftovers" I'm cooking for today and tomorrow.) I have a meal plan consisting of what meals I have supplies for and I can choose what to make when.
Schedules - in an effort to have a sustainable life our schedules also need to be sustainable. Sometimes life is going to be busy and that's O.K. but we need to balance those busy days with slow days. There's a popular meme going around that says "Being an adult is saying 'things will slow down next week' every week until you die." It's funny cause it feels true. Things will not slow down until you make them slow down. We actually can not do it all but many of us sure are trying. Something will have to give.
Stuff - if you think about how much of our lives are spent buying, cleaning up, maintaining, organizing, storing, purging, and gifting stuff it's a bit alarming. As a homeschool family, the struggle is real. In our home (which does not have a large footprint) we run a multiple grade school, several businesses and our family. I feel like we're in a constant battle with stuff and it's especially daunting as we near the holidays. When the motivation strikes I love a good purge Marie Kondo style but I'm learning my life is simpler if we're just a lot more intentional about what we let in our home. I don't need to take huge purge days if we don't just allow our homes to fill up with stuff.
Finances - I really love the analogy that Stephen DeSilva gives in his book The Prosperous Home. He talks about how a plant will always grow to the size of it's pot. As it grows you, you transplant it and it'll keep growing in what it needs for life. At times many of us can treat our finances the same way. As our income grows we (the plant) grow into this new pot. We alter our spending and lifestyle until we use up all the added income and now we're at max capacity again and we need a new pot (more income). We get more income and we again create a new standard of living that takes up the whole pot. It's our experience (and many others) that life is a lot simpler and less stressful when we live below our means. That when we increase our income we don't raise our financial commitments to require all or most of the added income. Choosing to allow extra income means that more can go to savings, emergency funds or special projects and it means you won't be living from paycheque to paycheque. It goes a long way in creating sustainability in your financial life.
Phew - this was a long one... if you're still here thanks for taking the time to read. I would love to hear (I really mean this) what are some ways that you create sustainability in your life and managing your personal resources?
* All the images are from our recent trip to Lake Louise/Banff area. I'm working on a post about travel as a lifestyle vs travel as a vacation so stay tuned!