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The truth about self-care (DW#664)

Eating right, moving, resting, sleeping. No one else - not the most well-meaning spouse, parent, friend or co-worker can take this off our plate.

While we can hire others to do many tasks for us and delegate some of our to-do lists, self care is something we cannot delegate. Either we do it for ourselves or it does not get done.

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Sharpen your saw (DW#663)

A woodcutter was exhausted as he labored and strained to saw down a tree. A young man who was watching asked "What are you doing?"

"Are you blind?" the woodcutter replied irritably. "I’m cutting down this tree."

"Sir, you look exhausted!"

"I am exhausted and frustrated! I have been at this for hours already and not making much progress."

"Why don’t you take a break and sharpen your saw?"

"Because then I would have to stop sawing and I don’t have time to stop right now".

"Well", said the young man. "Consider this: If you sharpen the saw, you would cut down the tree much faster. . ."

Steven Covey uses this story in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to present the case for self care and self renewal. While it seems obvious to us when we see others labouring on without sharpening their saws, it is much more challenging to notice and attend to the blunt saws in our own lives!

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Self-Care is not a reward (DW#662)

For those of us who are achievement junkies (or workaholics), it may help to remind ourselves that caring for ourselves cannot be a reward for finishing our to-do list.

Firstly, we know that task lists and to do lists are never ending. Our inboxes never remain empty. And if we wait until we have accomplished everything to take care of ourselves, we will be waiting forever . . .

Secondly, it is actually counterproductive to keep pushing ourselves to do more before we take a break. Just like a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym, we work much more efficiently if we intersperse moments of rest and self care during our work day. Working without a break is counterproductive. Our abilities become worn. Our skills aren’t as sharp. We lose focus.

According to experts, the ideal amount of time before we need a short break is about 90 minutes. If we pause after 90 minutes, the second 90-minute block of work will be a lot more...

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You cannot pour water from an empty jug (DW#661)

You cannot pour water from an empty jug. Seems obvious doesn’t it? That you cannot give what you do not have. You cannot take care of others if you are depleted and running on empty yourself.

And yet, how many of us do this on a continuous basis? Women in particular (but not exclusively) are notorious for caring for everyone around them except themselves. We seem to be hitting every ball that life throws our way, juggling all the various roles that we play and making sure that everything and everyone is okay. The constant pumping of adrenaline in response to stress and striving helps maintain the illusion that we are okay and are managing fine.

 
But here’s the thing: we can run on empty for only so long. We can ignore ourselves and our needs for only so long.

So let us wake up before we have to. Before self neglect initiates a crisis. Before the burnout or the breakdown.

As Audre Lorde says: self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.

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Mental subtraction of relationships (DW#660)

All of us have relationships in our lives that are a blessing and also perhaps a relationship or two that can feel like quite a challenge at times.

It is easy for the challenging relationship to take up more than its fair share of space in our mental and emotional bandwidth. Today’s practice can help redress this balance.

The next time you are with a group of friends and/or family, try this:

1. Pause for a moment and consider a single person.
2. Think back to where and how you met this person. If they are a family member, recall your first memories with them.
3. Think about all of the possible events and decisions—large and small—that could have prevented you from meeting this person, or kept him or her from your life.
4. Imagine what your life would be like now if events had unfolded differently and you had never met this person, or if they had left your life at some earlier point. Bring to mind some of the joys and benefits you have enjoyed as a result of this...

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Mental subtraction (DW#659)

The practice of mental subtraction grew out of a series of experiments designed by UC Berkeley Professor Dr. Laura Kray and her colleagues. She asked people to imagine how their lives would look if a critical past turning point had never happened (e.g., meeting their spouse, getting accepted into college/university, getting a big promotion, meeting a dear friend or mentor). When the people in the experiment "mentally subtracted" this important event from their lives, it led to an increased sense of meaning and appreciation for what they had in their lives at the present time.

The practice of mental subtraction helps us pause for a moment, it bolsters feelings that life has been meaningful, and it creates a deep sense of appreciation. Rather than succumbing to the pitfall of comparing our blessings to someone who (seemingly) has more than us, the practice compares our current state with an imagined version of ourselves who has less.

So: Imagine what would your life be like without...

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A recap of what gratitude is NOT (DW#644)

Let us recap what we have been talking about over the last few days: while gratitude is one of keys to mental and emotional wellbeing, it is important to recognize what it is not.

Let us reiterate what gratitude does not mean:
It does not mean you hide your true feelings or pretend to be grateful when you do not feel it
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing depression
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing abuse
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing unfair treatment
It is not about accepting poor behaviour in relationships, especially when that behaviour is abusive
It is not about not speaking up for your needs and desires in a relationship
It is not about not working to build a relationship that works for both
It is not about accepting the status quo when that status quo includes injustice towards vulnerable populations

Now that we have a balanced view...

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Gratitude and social justice (DW#643)

Continuing with our exploration of what gratitude does NOT mean, it is important to recognize that gratitude is not a license for passivity in the face of social injustice.

Being grateful for what is present does not mean that we do not recognize the inequalities and injustices that exist in the status quo and work towards change for a better world.

In other words, there is a difference between "be grateful for what you have" and "be content with what is." It is completely okay (in fact often necessary) to be rightly ticked off about some things while also giving what you do have its full measure of attention and appreciation.

Working for change or social justice sometimes means giving a lot of attention to things that are negative, painful or unjust. When we are giving those things the attention that they need, it can lead to burnout or ongoing distress. When we continue to balance the space in our brain with gratitude for things that are positive and good, we ensure that we have a...

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Become more popular (DW#628)

An attitude of gratitude makes us more likeable and popular.

If you think about the opposite of a grateful person, the above claim makes sense. People who continuously grumble or complain about things are draining. Moreover, most of us when we encounter people who complain, feel compelled to point out their blessings to make them feel better. (this seldom works, by the way, but it does cause us to be exhausted!)

On the other hand, people who are grateful, notice the good in their lives, both in people and in circumstances. Such a person is more likely to be a positive person whose company is sort out by others as they may find themselves uplifted by the positive mood (rather than working to uplift other’s mood)

To put it in terms of psychology, gratitude generates social capital - namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse - among the individuals and families who make up a social unit. Studies have found that participants who were just 10% more grateful than...

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Gratitude keeps things fresh (DW#626)

Human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures. When something bad happens to us, after a while, we tend to get used to the new state of affairs and our happiness goes back to what it was before the negative occurrence.

This is good news, right?

This same tendency of adaptability can work against us when good things happen to us. When our circumstances change for the better – when we start earning more money, find a new love, buy a new car, recover from illness – we experience a boost in happiness and contentment. This boost in happiness though, is short lived. When the novelty or "newness" of this good fortune wears off, we get used to it and we get back to the same level of happiness (or unhappiness) that we were at before the good fortune.

Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation. The dictionary defines hedonistic adaptation as the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness (or unhappiness) despite major...

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