There is no POOF! Only Practice
Committing to changing the world and changing how you take care of yourself is not easy work.
The first couple of weeks of my class, Compassion in Balance, are challenging ones for the students as they become aware of the many ways our work has had a negative impact on their lives. During this time, I want, very badly, to wave a wand over each of them and "POOF!" their stress and troubles away.
But there is no “POOF!” There is only practice.
To change our lives and how the work impacts us, we have to practice self-care, practice building resiliency, and practice managing our stress.
The word practice is so important. A practice (noun) is something we repeat over and over and become more proficient in it. I have a yoga practice. I’m not very good at it, but I practice (verb) yoga regularly to build my competence. Each week that I choose to go to class, my overall practice gets stronger and I reap more benefits from it.
It's the same with stress reduction, mindfulness, or self-care. These are practices that we build, one baby step at a time. When we regularly choose to eat fresh foods, talk with friends, set healthy boundaries, or pause to breathe deeply, then those choices add up to a self-care practice that supports and sustains us. They may not fix the whole problem right there on the spot, but they do have a positive impact - both in the moment and as they build up over time.
Here’s the thing about practices: we’re doing them all the time, whether we realize it or not. For example, in addition to having an awkward yoga practice, I also have an Eating-a-Pint-of-Ice-Cream-When-I’m-Stressed practice. And a Get-Reactively-Rude-When-I-Feel-Overwhelmed practice.
Every time I choose to grab ice cream, instead of feeling my emotions and coping with them in a healthy way, I’m practicing (and strengthening) this unhealthy practice of numbing out. The more aware I’ve become about my unhealthy practices, the more able I am to notice them and can choose otherwise. Every single time I make the choice to step away from the cookie dough, I practice taking care of myself in a more authentic way.
It’s not easy. I’m very competent in those unhealthy practices, since I’ve been doing them for most of my life! But I know that each step I take is either one little step closer to compassion fatigue or closer to wellness. So I choose more carefully.
What are you practicing?
Our practices shape who we are, so it’s a good idea to take a look at them every once in a while and see what they’re really doing for us. Some practices serve us well, or used to, and some of them aren’t so helpful. We might need to consider gently letting them go and making some changes.
I recently read an interview with Brigid Schulte, author of the book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. Here’s what she had to say about changing our behavior, "I wish I’d known how powerful baby steps are. I would think of something that needed changing, and feel like I had to do it all at once, and I’d start, make a herculean effort, and usually give up.”
Don't pull a Hercules. Build your new self-care practices one small, but effective step at a time. You don’t have to do it perfectly or get it right all of the time. Just keep practicing.
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