Each New Year brings hope and a sense of optimism amidst a potentially gloomy season with brittle cold weather and often gray skies. It is a time to begin with a proverbial clean slate. A time to start fresh and improve something about your life — eat better, exercise more, spend less money, read more books, learn a new skill — practically any goal can become a New Year’s resolution.
But there’s something about resolutions — they’re hard to keep. Each January, many people make an effort to do something different and end up disappointing themselves when a month later their resolve has fizzled into the gray sky. It can be total resolution evaporation.
My suggestion to prevent the evaporation? Make only one resolution: Focus on yourself once every day.
Life presented many challenges to me in the past 9 months. It was a really tough year. As a result, I did not take care of myself as I should. I stopped exercising. I stopped going out and having a blast on my bike. I stopped caring what I ate. I focused simply on surviving and taking care of others.
Maybe you can relate. At some time in your life, perhaps you have fallen victim to ignoring your own needs too. It’s an all too common situation, no matter what the details of the circumstances are. What you and I need to do now is to find a way to begin to take care of ourselves without a total resolution meltdown.
Once I realize what I really need — to show myself kindness and love — I can find ways to do just that. It’s not an easy task, honestly, because I’m so programmed to take care of everybody and everything else first. But there’s always going to be something else to do.
Since my neglected needs are primarily physical, I have chosen a physical solution. Your needs may be emotional, social, recreational, or financial, thus your solution should match the corresponding need.
Here are the questions I asked myself in order to identify what I need to do to show myself kindness and love within my current circumstances.
What gives me joy?
Thinking about last summer, I smile each time I picture myself flying down the opposite of a steep climb with the wind rushing by my ears. Riding my bike gives me joy. During these winter months, riding the indoor exercise bike will have to do, but I need to start at ground level and build up endurance once again. I literally rode for 5 minutes the first time back on the exercise bike this year. Each day, I’ve added one to two minutes — I’m keeping a logbook— and so far I’ve gently worked my way up to 20 minutes. I’ve also allowed myself intermittent days of rest without riding to allow my muscles to recuperate.
What will make me healthier?
Each afternoon lately I seem to be falling asleep while working on my laptop. I hardly know it’s coming on, but I open my eyes to see that my computer screen has gone dark. It went to sleep, so I must have too. Allowing myself a nap — on the bed, without television or radio noise blasting, and snuggling a furry kitty — will give my body and mind the rest they desperately need. Resting and pulling myself away from the pressure of productivity will make me a healthier and happier person.
What reduces my pain?
During the night, my arthritic knees have been screaming in pain. I’ve been tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, while attempting not to wake my husband. With the lack of exercise last fall, my muscles have gotten stiff and terribly tight. Yesterday, I took just a few minutes to conscientiously stretch my thighs. It was very much uncomfortable, but in a good way. Then last night I slept with less pain. Yay! This reminds me that I need to spend time everyday stretching each set of my leg muscles (like I used to do) to relieve the tension on my knees. Less tension on the tendons and ligaments of the knees will reduce my pain.
What is achievable today?
Certainly there are days that I can’t possibly do all of the above — spend 20 minutes or more stretching my legs and hips, ride the exercise bike for 30-40 minutes (after slowly working up to it), and taking a considerable nap — but I can focus on doing at least one thing. And, it doesn’t always have to take half an hour; any amount of time is more than none when remembering how to take care of yourself.
Take it slow. Take baby steps. There is no finish line to this race. In fact, there is no race when it comes to loving yourself. It’s the journey and growth that is important.
I’m hopeful that if I focus on doing one simple thing for myself daily, it will become a way of life. Loving myself and being kind to myself every day will keep these non-resolutions from evaporating into thin air.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.