Why I Removed Self-Care From My To-Do List
I am a big proponent of the parenting philosophy that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help anyone else. I learned the hard way that when I’m exhausted, distracted, and stressed, I can’t be the kind of mom or leader I want to be. That’s why I was shocked, a few years ago, when I discovered that my self-care was stressing me out.
This may sound ridiculous but bear with me.
I love a good checklist. It feels deeply satisfying to list my priorities, make a plan for the day, and then draw a line through my accomplishments. Unfortunately, when I don’t complete my list, I have a tendency to scold myself. I judge how I procrastinated or got lost in details that weren’t necessary. I tell myself that I just need to work harder to fit everything in.
This scheduling framework made me focus on what I was neglecting. Reviewing my weekly plan, I saw work deadlines that I consistently met and personal commitments I didn’t honor. My conclusion was that I was bad at taking care of myself. I felt guilty and ashamed.
I realized that if I want a lifestyle that supports my mental and physical health, a checklist is not the best tool for me. It feels too pass-fail. It creates a false choice between activities that feel pleasurable and those that feel responsible, when in reality, a task can be both.
Self-care fits into my life now because it’s an ongoing conversation between my thinking mind and my other sources of intelligence. When I notice I’m feeling tired or depleted, I pause and ask myself:
“How do you feel right now?”
“What do you want more of?”
“How can we make this activity more enjoyable?”
“What will help you recharge in the next 5 minutes?”
If I’m craving time in nature, I bring my kids to the park or take a five minute walk between office buildings. If I notice I need more connection, I call a friend. If I’m craving movement, I take a dance break before responding to emails.
For me, self-care is a present-moment mindfulness practice. By not ignoring myself for too long, I find it’s easier to maintain my energy and resilience. I’m still learning as I go. If I miss a cue from my body or make too many commitments, it’s an opportunity to learn what works better and practice self-compassion.
In the end, kindness toward myself was the care I needed most.