How to create a calming self-care routine

Routines are good for us. We all know this instinctively. But why?
Our brains and emotions love certainty.
Routines help us feel safe and calm.
Having parts of our day on automatic pilot frees up our brain. We can plan more clearly, think more deeply, and access our creativity and intuition.
Uncertainty triggers the part of our brain called the amygdala.
Fear drives the amygdala to release our stress hormones, helping us prepare to fight or run away.
‘When things are hard, your ability to make anything easier really matters. Streamline and simplify as much as you can.’
Greg McKeown (author of Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less)
One of the best ways to cultivate more calm is by setting up positive habits and building them into routines.
They take time to figure out and build but are very worthwhile for our mind, body and emotions.

How to set up a new habit

Just because something’s good for us, that doesn’t mean we want to do it, or that it’s going to happen overnight.
How many times have you had a great idea for a new habit or routine you want to build into your life, but didn’t manage to make it work? I’m guessing there are a few. Me too.
Maybe it was harder than we thought, or there’s something we need to buy, or we can’t find the right time to do it, or we forget.
There can be dozens of distractions or obstacles that get in our way.
‘Habit-stacking’ has been a useful system that’s helped me build positive routines. I learned about it from reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. He recommends that we start with one daily habit we already have, and build another one onto that.
He also recommends only adding one new habit at a time, and to embed it before trying to add in anything else.
Here’s something else he says that I love:
‘You don’t have to build the habits that everyone tells you to build. Choose the one that suits you, not the one that’s most popular.’
James Clear
I’ve found the journey to building a new habit can involve a fair bit of experimenting, and trial and error.
A few things I experiment with when I’m trying to introduce a new habit, especially when building them into routines:
  • What time I do it
  • What I do before/after
  • How I prepare for it
  • Where I do it
I also need to make sure I enjoy it on a sensory level, as much as possible.
I find it hard to set up new routines, so I have to do a lot of self-talk to motivate myself.
I tell myself why I want to do it, and try to think of ways to make them a) easier b) more enjoyable and c) memorable. Here are a couple of examples of some simple habits I’ve created for myself these last few weeks.

Example 1 – using hand-cream

I like having soft hands. I don’t like it when my hands are dry. I’m quite fussy about the product I use.
This is what I did.
  • Put it on a shelf outside the bathroom where it catches my eye.
  • Make a note to myself to use it as part of my bedtime routine, plus other times as well.
  • Notice how my hands are feeling, and apply hand-cream if they feel dry.

Example 2 – drinking 2 litres of water a day

I know that water is good for me. I can feel the difference when I’m hydrated because I feel find my skin looks brighter. But when I’m busy I forget.
This is what I did.
  • Keep two glass bottles with water in the fridge.
  • As part of my morning work routine, I take out a glass water bottle and place it next to where I’m working, along with a glass.
  • When the glass is empty I refill it.
  • When the bottle is empty I swap it for the other bottle.
  • I try to drink one bottle before lunchtime, and another in the afternoon.
  • Notice how I’m feeling and remind myself to drink water.

Small things, repeated often, become routines

I’ve known for some time that a morning self-care routine would be a good way to start my day. 
I enjoy my evenings, but they are more ‘down-time’ than ‘self-care time’.
I recently read a newsletter from David Hieatt, co-founder of The Do Lectures, where he wrote:
‘To have a great day, have a great morning.’
David Hieatt
I know that small things, repeated often, have more of an impact than occasional big things.
So, small daily habits have a great deal of value, and even more so when they are stacked together to build a routine.

If someone offered me a spa day or a retreat, I would love it. But I don’t have to wait for those ‘big-ticket’ occasions to take care of myself.

When the clocks changed recently, I decided to set my alarm and wake up earlier so I can have time for myself.

Plan and strategy

I wrote a list of all the habits I’d like to include in my morning routine. There were too many, and I knew I couldn’t do them all.
I used the idea that some of them would be ‘corner-stone’ habits. The ones that would make other things better or easier.
I chose to focus on yoga and meditation as my cornerstone daily activities, as I want to feel calm.
Morning pages have been a daily habit of mine for more than ten years. Some days I skip them, but I know that they help me in so many ways, my life is better when I get them done.
Gratitude is another habit I’ve had for a long time. Making sure it happens early in the day helps create a positive emotional tone for the day.
Oil pulling and flossing both feel kind of optional, but I know my teeth are happier when I do them. I don’t want to do them before bed as they’re quite stimulating. Taking extra time for tooth-care in the morning solves the problem.
So my list looks like this:
  1. Clean my mouth with oil-pulling, plus brush and floss my teeth.
  2. Do some yoga.
  3. Write my morning pages.
  4. Write three things I’m grateful for.
  5. Meditate.
Possible obstacles are:
  1. Not getting up when the alarm goes off.
  2. Running out of floss or tooth oil.
  3. The floor not being clean.
  4. Not being able to find my yoga mat, pencil, journal etc.
  5. Getting side-tracked by looking at my phone when I open my meditation app.

Being aware of all the things on this list of obstacles has helped me set up systems to avoid them. Also, I’ve tried doing things in every possible order, to help me decide what to do first. Through trial and error I discovered:

  1. When I leave meditation till last, my family might disturb me.
  2. If I write my gratitude first, I get distracted by reviewing my plan for the day.
  3. If I write my pages first, I tend to linger, and not get onto the yoga or meditation.
  4. If I pick up my phone to pass the time while oil-pulling, I would get distracted.

The best order for my calming self-care routine

  1. Wake up early (6am).
  2. Go to the bathroom, start oil-pulling.
  3. While oil-pulling, I feed my cat and sweep the floor before getting my yoga mat and journal ready.
  4. Rinse and floss.
  5. Change into yoga clothes.
  6. Meditate (around 6.30am).
  7. Do yoga (I choose a simple sequence for the week).
  8. Write my morning pages (around 7.15am).
  9. Write three things I’m grateful for (around 7.45am).
Keeping an eye on the time means I’m pretty much all done by 8am and ready to go for a dog-walk, or start my working day.
The other main thing that helps me start my day like this is remembering to take a shower in the evening.

How to create a calming self-care routine

  1. Start with a small new habit you want to do every day.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Write a list of all the things that could prevent you from doing that thing.
  4. Consider what you can do to stop those things from happening.
  5. Try doing it for a few days then consider what you have learned.
  6. When is the best time for you to do it?
  7. Is there something you need to do first?
  8. When you have that one thing happening regularly, see if there is something else you can add on, either before or after.
  9. Review your routine to see if it’s working.
  10. Adjust it if you need to.

Practice not perfect

My morning self-care routine takes around an hour and a half, but could also fit into an hour, I used to spend around an hour on social media every day. This is a much better way to spend that time. 

I’m not suggesting you have a morning routine with the same things as me, or indeed any morning routine at all. But, if you want to include more self-care practice to your life, consider creating a routine around it. Something small that you do daily will have an impact that builds up over time.

With all the uncertainty happening at the moment, self-care should not feel like a luxury. It’s not at all selfish and I would argue that it’s important, more than ever before.

If you would like to ‘outsource’ some of your self-care, well, that’s what I’m here for.
If there’s anything you’d like help with, feel free to get in touch.

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