“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

We all walk a fine line every day. Each choice, action, and habit is a balancing act. If we push, rush, stress and strain, life becomes forced and unnatural. If we move to the opposite extreme we are met with laziness, distraction, and un-productivity.

Last week, life was looming hard and effortful. All of my writing and planning and scheming started to feel futile and the negative cloud of self-doubt rolled in. I tend to combat this unrest and dis-ease with rest and self-care. To combat the agitation of the week, I slept in later and took it easy. While I went through the motions of what I thought self-care was supposed to look like, the end result was not what I had hoped, leaving me unsatisfied. Instead of tending to myself in order to feel refreshed and renewed, I found myself feeling even less inspired and more stuck. I wondered, is it possible to self-care too much? Where is the line drawn between caring for your needs and coddling your poor, fragile ego, acting under the guise of a do-gooder? Can self-care take a turn for the worse and transform into self-sabotage?

Self-care is something I am very passionate about, so it is not my intention to speak ill about tending to yourself, slowing down, and reconnecting to your authenticity. Most of us don’t do this nearly enough. However, I am arguing that self-care, like ANY practice needs to be mindful and intentional. Sometimes my response to turn inward and disconnect from stress actually has the converse effect. Instead of remaining steadfast and dedicated to my ambitions and creativity, I shut myself off from them, and halt progress and positive momentum.

I’ve decided to change my habits. It is not about if I care for myself (that’s a non-negotiable), but HOW I care for myself. To prevent self-love from becoming self-sabotage, here are the three rules I am committing myself to:

  1. Still set an alarm on the weekend.
  2. Disconnect from overstimulation, not from my projects.
  3. Do something I love that is passive each day and balance it with something I love that is active. 

Still set an alarm on the weekend. I wake up early every day for work at about 5:30 a.m. I am simply not able to wake up and race out the door in the morning. I need this sacred pre-sunlight time to unwind, sip coffee, meditate and prepare for the day. The hour between 5:30 and when I leave around 6:30 is essential to me functioning in the world. On the weekends, however, I have noticed I tend to overcompensate. I sleep past 10 which is okay, but personally, I never feel GOOD afterward. For me, waking up at this time drags out my morning, bleeding into the afternoon. By the time 12pm rolls around I feel unproductive, guilty, and agitated. Moving forward, I am committing to setting an 8 a.m. alarm to allow myself the extra rest, while not feeling like I’ve thrown away my weekend. In this way I am striving for balance that feels right in MY life.

Disconnect from overstimulation, not from my projects. Turning off technology doesn’t mean turning off your brain. It sounds obvious, but I’m realizing that my productivity is tied, for better or worse, to technology. Okay, for worse… I am deliberately needing to train myself to be productive and creative without typing on a keyboard. Easier said than done. My test this week: I have printed my entire book to hand edit in the margins. Each time I would open my book draft on Google Drive, I found it hard to jump around or view the whole picture of my narrative. Printing and having a hard copy allows me a new perspective, free of the many distractions the world wide web has to offer. I have made more progress on editing my book as a result and have felt a bit liberated by this new technique! Instead of allowing going “offline” to stagnate my progress, I am finding ways to be perhaps more productive without the glow of a screen.

Do something I love that is passive each day and balance it with something I love that is active. I find it easy to get into the habit of allowing my self-care practices to be restful activities– reading, napping, taking a bath. These are fantastic ways to recharge and to be honest, they are necessary for me to be and feel my best. However, self-love has to come in other forms as well. I have been more intentional about taking a meditative, active walk instead of a nap. Practicing a yoga flow instead of (or at least before) jumping into a bubble bath at the end of the day. Neither self-care act is better or worse, they are simply complimentary. You may find you have the opposite tendency. Perhaps you choose the more active forms of care, and resist the more restful options. We are all exploring our own path to nurture our best selves.

These three choices are helping me to care for myself while still fueling my goals. In becoming aware of my habits, I am more connected to my authentic self, allowing this voice to guide me rather than the sabotaging nag of my ego. I hope some of the suggestions and experiments are helpful of you as you seek to balance rest and productivity in your own life.