Lockdown appears to be easing. Some have gone back to ‘normal’ – whatever that means – quicker than others. Wherever you are in the world, some form of normality is on the horizon. But the impact of Covid-19 will continue to echo all around the world. Despite the various challenges, there are some mental health benefits (more here). Namely, better self-care habits, exercise routines and more robust family relationships. So, as the familiar beckons, how can we make any good habits stick?
Learnings from Lockdown
Before we think about how’s of the habits, let’s consider the what’s. At the start of lockdown people had more time and energy. Any quick browse of social media revealed enthusiastic home-schooling routines, newly curated gardens, mouth-watering bakery feats and ambitious home improvement projects.
But it’s important to acknowledge that not all of us had the motivation or energy for this. How people experienced lockdown will run the full gamut of human experience. Whether or not we are lucky enough to be healthy, have financial stability, safety in our homes etc. This quote from academic Cynthia Enloe encapsulates this wonderfully:
“We aren’t all in this together. We’re in the same rough seas, but we’re in very different boats. And some of those boats are very leaky. And some of those boats were never given oars. And some of those boats have high-powered motors on them. We are not all in the same boat.”’Cynithia Enloe
Why am I making this point? Because we may feel like our personal experiences of Covid-19 fit in with the mainstream. It’s easy to assume so especially if our lives, or social media feeds, are an echo chamber. But we can’t believe everything we see. Gloss and filters hide a lot.
So, we may need to consider our own experience of lockdown. Often when we’re super busy or stressed, we forget to acknowledge our reality and how we feel about it. Once we know how we feel and what we’ve learnt, then we can decide what habits to take forward.
Making Habits Stick
Once we know which habits we’d like to maintain, we can move onto the how’s. Not every technique will work for us. A technique might not interest us. Or it might not fit our lifestyle. We might try something out and be disappointed when it doesn’t seem to work. The key thing to remember is that it takes time to adapt and evolve. And yes, some effort on our own part will be required too.
So, don’t rush yourself or expect wholesale change immediately. We’re more likely to stick to something if we take it slow and take it one thing at a time. I’ve put together some ideas of how to make our good habits stick. These can be applied to any new goal or habit but I’m thinking of them particularly in terms of self-care.
1. Make it SMART
To make anything stick we want progress. Otherwise get disheartened if we think it’s not working. Use this acronym to measure success. This will help maintain our motivation to stick to our self-care.
Ask yourself: is my self-care practice Specific? For example, “I’m going to keep doing some form of self-care“. It’s not specific and therefore easy for us to do less and less. Or start compromising on what or how long.
Next, is it Measurable? Will we see progress? Such as a home-improvement project, puzzle or novel? Then, is it Attainable? We set ourselves up for defeat if we choose something we don’t have time for or can’t access? Such as a midday exercise class if we’re working full-time. Or time with the kids if they’re back at school. Self-care habits must work for us.
Which leads us to is it Relevant? We all enjoy different things. Ensure whatever we adopt is something we enjoy, otherwise we’ll become bored. And lastly, is Timebound? Either a multi-week course or class for our mental health? Or challenging ourselves to maintain self-care x number of times a week for x number of minutes?
2. Think Ahead & Plan
Before lockdown ends it’s the perfect time to get organized. Take some time to think about what life will be like post-lockdown. And how you can make your self-care routine or habits work for you in a new dynamic. You can use this time to ensure your routine is SMART so it’s more likely to stick. And then write it down. When we write something down we give it some permanence. We’re also less likely to forget what we’ve decided.
As part of your plan, consider if there’s anything you need to make it stick. If you’ve been practising yoga on a carpet or rug, maybe it’s time to invest in a yoga mat. Or if you’re being creative, can you buy some new art materials to keep up your enthusiasm? Of course, we don’t need to spend money to do self-care. If you’re into podcasts or reading, make sure you’ve joined a library, borrowed from friends or downloaded a free podcast app.
3. Make it About You
To make any habit stick, it’s important that we’re doing it for ourselves. Not someone else or because we think we should. If we’re adopting a self-care method because someone wants us to do it with them. Or because it’s a popular method, we’re likely to get fed up and stop doing it. Instead think about why this self-care habit is important to you. Challenge yourself to write down 5 reasons why you want to maintain the habit and how good it makes you feel. When you lack the motivation to do it, or feel the habit slipping, you can refer back to this and remember why you started in the first place.
4. Accountability Buddies
I’ve mentioned this one before in a post about finding the motivation to exercise. But the same applies here. When someone else is involved we feel an additional responsibility to keep up our habits. The idea here is not to put on added pressure. But rather to give ourselves the extra nudge we may need to do self-care. As we know, it’s easy to find reasons not to do it or feel guilty for it (more here).
An accountability buddy can encourage us to look after ourselves. You can both agree to commit to the same or similar self-care routines. And to check in with each other once a week to share how it was. Or if that’s too time consuming, agree to each take a photo of yourself doing the self-care. You can make this fun by including a theme or making it funny in some way. Or do the self-care together. Perhaps by signing up to an exercise class? Or agreeing to read a book for a book club, do a puzzle together or a weekly walk or coffee out.
We should also consider any possible obstacles to our new self-care habit. The challenges may be not enough time on our hands because of work or the summer holidays. In which case we can plan for these. Or we may know that we’ve not stuck to plans or goals before. We can think about these experiences and use them to avoid the same obstacles once more. Perhaps some of the ideas above can help you in this way.
When we know what might stop us sticking to our self-care, we can take steps to plan around them. It can also help to have a ‘plan b’. For example, if I have a week that’s really busy. I’m going to safeguard my self-care by saying no to something in my calendar. Or having a conversation with a partner, family member or friend about needing some time for myself.
Have you established a self-care habit in lockdown? Or do you have one anyway? What does it look like and how do you make it stick? Let us know in the comments below!