We have all heard of the importance of wellbeing and our own self-care. Our own understanding varies of course, as do the ways we plan and prepare for our wellbeing and what we do when things go awry.
We are used to change. We have to be. But change is unpredictable and has many effects on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Change that we can brush off one day, can feel impossibly difficult the next. Recently, we have all been through a prolonged, unprecedented and traumatic period of change. We have all navigated new risks, uncertainties, and worries about our health and that of our loved ones, our jobs, money, and climate concerns add to sky-rocketing levels of anxiety, piled onto already stressful lives. All of this has resulted in us living and working in different ways. We may have stayed in much more, and worked or lived in greater isolation. We have absorbed all of this, together with the ripples of the responses of others around us into our emotional containers. Those imaginary bucket-like vessels we carry around us that get topped up with the emotions and feelings others share and we take on consciously or subconsciously. We may not yet be fully aware of the toll it is taking.
We can cope. Indeed, we can thrive. And that means us being boundaried and balanced, with the benefit of our own support mechanisms around us. We need to recognise the signs when things are out of kilter, and deploy the tricks and techniques to do something about it. This is where deliberately investing in self care comes in. I like to call it having a ‘business plan for self’. You might want to call it something else, like a personal plan, a list – or whatever works for you.
Every plan should start with a review of your pre-starting position. What has made you, you? Some people call this your history, patterns, blueprints, scripts; it’s what you are carrying with you from what happened before. You may need to put some work in here, and help may be required.
Then ask yourself what is ‘now’ – your starting position. Some helpful questions are: What would be useful to let go of? What are the things to process and work out? How emotionally invested are you? What physical investment is needed? What things do you need to let in, or what blocks need to be removed? And what things can you give out to the world (because lots of songs and poets have told us the more we give the more we’ll have).
A plan’s structure and contents are a matter of personal choice and priorities may change from time-to-time. There are some key themes that I consider important though. The first is to be aware of stress and how to notice it yourself and in others. It is important to also know how to prevent it, which is a key aim of such a plan. And how you respond to it – what are your instincts and patterns, and what positive directions can you take? Be able to notice your freeze, fight and flight reflexes. If you are unsure about all of this, read, do some online training or attend a course. It is worth the investment.
All of that gives a great foundation to setting your response and resilience mindset. And then there are all sorts of actions and behaviours that I find key. A plan needs steps along the way, small victories and achievements, or milestones to celebrate and remind you of progress towards whatever the end goals might be, if there are goals.
I love everything about managing time. It gives me great comfort and muffles all the noise around me. Therapy has made the realise why that might be. Time management is about taking control and making time for the things that you want to spend time on, creating new routines and variety, and (more or less) social interaction. And that includes making time for sleep and making time to get ready for sleep. In our earliest years, our parents may have used all sorts of sleep-readiness-routines to help us have a good night’s sleep. In our later childhood and early adulthood, we may not have needed to apply such efforts, but the older we get and the busier we become, we perhaps (I am pretty sure we do) need to put conscious and determined efforts into managing our sleep. That’s a key element of the part of your plan that acknowledges your age and stage of life and what changes that brings – not only in terms of health, but activities and responsibilities too (such as elder care). All of these changes should not be unthinkingly merged into what you are doing. I don’t think you can merely add all of that to your regular ‘to do’ list, instead they need to be factored into your regular review and planning cycle.
Investing in self and treating ‘you’ as a business includes considering what you are putting in, like food and drink, learning, growth, experiences, physical exercise, and emotional care. There needs to be a budget, it doesn’t need to be big, but like any budget it needs to be quantified and managed. Not just a budget for the objectives and activities in the plan, but for all of life and work. Because all of that increases your ability to manage expectations and take benefits from the business, things like your health, friendships, interests, happiness, relationships and romance, for example.
Health is an obvious consideration, that should include physical and emotional wellbeing. This is about managing and responding to existing health. But it is also about managing your health in the future by taking preventative action through things like diet and exercise. A good social life is vital. There are times in life when we should evaluate and review who in our friends and family circle are needed or wanted moving forward. Is it time to change the frequency and type of engagement you have together? Are there people in your social circle who aren’t good for you, and distance would help? When it comes to romance and relationships, it is entirely possible and acceptable to have a plan that doesn’t require being in a relationship, whether that be a short-, medium- or long-term one. But every plan should feature solid, supportive and rich relationships with others. Even if it is with the dog.
We’ve heard about the importance of learning in the nourishment of life and feeling good. There should always be something in your plan that is about learning something new. It need not be a PHD in neuroscience, or circus skills. It could be a new recipe, a new dance move, or reading a new book.
Let’s not be too serious. There’s plenty of time to have fun. But fun is a serious business. Having fun isn’t always a spontaneous activity, it needs to be something you plan for. And allow yourself time for. Go on, let go, once in a while.
You may not work, but if you do, what are your goals and aspirations whilst you are there? What are you taking control of and aiming for, beyond what you are being told to do by others?
And last but not least, finances. These can be the bedrock of feelings of anxiety and despair, or they can offer you freedom and control. Some people love to manage their finances, some hate it. Whatever, finances are something you cannot ignore. Get help if you need to. But make sure you plan them.
A business plan for self, offers real opportunity to reflect on what has been, and who we are. It helps us to identify where we are now and plot the direction of travel for our next phases of life and/or work. And it helps us become the people we want to be, living the way we want to live. I recommend.