Americans are big fans of ambition and productivity. We work long hours, wear “busyness as a badge of honor,” and set New Year’s resolutions designed to take us from non-runners to marathoners in a flash.
This can lead to advances in science, humanitarian contributions that help the world become a better place, and professional success.
When it comes to lifestyle change, however, we can feel as though we’ve failed if we fall short of our high expectations.
Here’s an example of how the predicament can play out: You realize that even if your life feels chaotic and overwhelming, journaling can help you get steady footing. When you put your worries on paper, fear doesn’t consume you anymore. In the light of day, you can see your worries for what they are.
You feel better after you write. You want to write more! So you set a goal to write for 30 minutes every day, whatever it takes.
A few days in and you’re loooooving it. Your head feels clearer, you look forward to opening your notebook, and if you’re totally honest, you feel pretty darn virtuous everytime you finish your 30 minutes. You’ve accomplished something!
As the week crawls to a close, however, life has gotten busier than when you started your writing goal. You know that writing down your troubles will help you get perspective, but you can’t bear one more thing on your To Do list.
Before you know it, another week has passed, but this time you haven’t written a word. There are just too many obstacles in the way and not enough time in the day.
Because some frustrating version of this used to happen to me often (and to all of us at some point!), I now sometimes take a different approach.
I lower my standards.
Lowering your standards can make self care less of an obligation to resist, and more of an irresistibly simple invitation.
Instead of tying my "success" to an hour on my yoga mat, I invite myself to 1 pose.
Instead of attaching value only to a long walk, I invite myself to walk to the end of the driveway.
Instead of setting a rule to write for a half hour, I invite myself to (literally) one word.
These invitations are effortless to accept even on my busiest days because they take so little time and effort. Once I say yes, I quickly feel a little more restored, a little more relaxed, and a little bit kinder to myself.
Sometimes, that tiny action is all that happens. I put my walking shoes on, go to the mailbox, and then I head home. I allow myself to soak up the benefit of those moments of self care (and there is a benefit). Mission accomplished!
More often than not, that single minute on the mat or those few mindful breaths entice me to stay a while and savor the process. As I go forward, I may even find increasing amounts of time feel irresistibly simple.
Even so, what happens after that minute, those few breaths, that one written word, isn’t my responsibility. My commitment is just to accept the initial, low-maintenance invitation.
In a culture of over-performing and ambitious goal-setting, lowering our standards to seemingly tiny actions can be a jarring mindset shift. Our inner critics can fashion all kinds of persuasive arguments about how it’s not worth doing if we can’t do it properly.
But if we give ourselves permission, making peace with lower standards can free up our resistance to change, and open up a world of opportunity for self care. For me, it has meant adopting practices that are so easy and enjoyable that I come back to them nearly every day.
Whether you write one word or thousands, whether you walk to your mailbox or across town, I hope you’ll accept your own invitations to self care as often as you can.