How to create a calming self-care routine

Routines are good for us. We 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 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.
Here are a few things to experiment with when trying to introduce a new habit, especially when building them into routines:
  • What time you do it
  • What you do before/after
  • How you prepare for it
  • Where you do it
What can you do to ensure you enjoy it on a sensory level?
Maybe, like me, you find it hard to set up new routines. I find that self-talk can really help with motivation.
Tell yourself why you want to do your new habit, and try to think of ways to make it 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. 
This is what I did.
  • Put it on a shelf outside the bathroom where it catches my eye.
  • Tried 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.

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.

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

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.
So my list looks like this:
  1. Wake up and drink water.
  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. The floor not being clean.
  3. Not being able to find my yoga mat, pencil, journal etc.
  4. 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.

The best order for my calming self-care routine

  1. Wake up and drink water.
  2. Feed my cat and quickly sweep the floor before getting my yoga mat and journal ready.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Do yoga (I choose a simple sequence for the week).
  5. Write my morning pages if I have time.
  6. Write three things I’m grateful for.
Keeping an eye on the time means I’m pretty much all done within an hour and ready to start my work-day.
The other 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

 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.

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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