I reached two personal goals this month. I’m feeling pretty proud. As I’ve been patting myself on the back (figuratively) I’ve also been reflecting on how different my life looks and what the things are that have helped me get to a place where I could achieve these goals. The actual goals aren’t the point here, but for the sake of clarity as I explain I will tell you a little about them. One was a weight loss goal and one was a training goal. I’m not going to tell you how much weight I lost- it’s not relevant. What is relevant is that it was a long term goal that had multiple steps to it and required a fair bit of commitment over a period of time I couldn’t predict (it ended up taking 6 months). The training goal was a short term one that took only 2 weeks to complete but required me to focus hard and commit physically for a short period of time with a definite end in sight. So they were different types of goals with different strategies and commitment levels.
I’ll be honest, a few years ago I couldn’t have done either of the things I did. I didn’t have the mental resilience or the belief in myself. The thing that changed that is that I began to intentionally take time in my life for self care. If you search this blog for the topic of self care you’ll be able to read other articles I’ve published about what that has looked like for me.
For me self care has been about understanding myself and my needs, gaining confidence to have those needs met, working with my body’s sensory preferences instead of fighting them, making sure I rest when I need to, listening to what my body communicates with me and altering plans in response if I need to, scheduling time to do things I love and balance that out with the things I have to do, and accepting myself as being valuable and worthy of being cared for. It’s been a combination of hard mental work and hard physical work.
When I am careful to do those things and look after myself well it frees up energy I would have spent in unhealthy ways to do things that I want to and that are good for me. If I am constantly fighting against my body and my thoughts that takes up energy and time processing counterproductive thoughts, and I could be using that time and energy better.
In the past long term goals were just too much for me. A goal with anything more than a few steps to achieve it was more than I could maintain and I would get discouraged and give up. I was also too embarrassed to ask for help or to make myself accountable to someone, which robbed me of valuable support. Understanding myself better and giving up the internal dialogue of self critical comments has meant I see myself differently and am able to be more vulnerable. Opening myself up to the support of a couple of trusted friends has meant that I have received help and encouragement as well as receiving feedback from them that assures me I am not the only one who feels the way I do and in which they have shared how they have managed their own struggles. Accessing community and understanding is a powerful self care tool when setting out to do something that will take a long time.
I have also had trouble with short term goals that require a lot of activity or involvement, finding them overwhelming and exhausting. What has helped with that is ensuring that my regular self care routine is not too much interrupted. So I now know that I can manage a much bigger activity load for a short period of time as long as I keep to my scheduled down time routine as I go. This requires a bit of planning in advance, but is so worth it.
Not that I am perfect at this yet, I am still learning. I still have days when my mind runs away and I get stuck in negative thought cycles full of self doubt and uncertainty, which stops me from getting things done or being more productive. I still have days when I push myself too hard and end up crashing out for a couple of days afterward unable to do much because of sensory overwhelm. I still have days when I make unwise choices and end up feeling regretful and sorry for myself. But I am better at self care now than I was and I can see the difference in my life.
One of the keys to uncovering all these great realisations for myself was finding out that I love to practice karate. A combination of the physical activity, mental focus and amazing people was perfect for me and has been instrumental in changing my life for the better.
Learning you can make your body do things you didn’t think it could, and building up your mental resilience as you go, is an incredibly empowering process.
Having the support of a strong and encouraging community, along with the unwavering friendship of a few wise and generous people, is a combination that is unquantifiable in its value.
I feel incredibly lucky that I have experienced this not only with my karate family, but also in the online autistic community and with a small group of friends in my local community. These relationships have literally saved me from harm, supported me to change my life, and been what has held me together in some of the toughest times of my life. They are what has given me the back up I need to see my own value and do the mental work needed to establish good self care practices, as well as the encouragement I need in the form of smiling faces and shared pain when working to a short term goal and a listening ear and warm validation and encouragement to get me through the tough long haul things.
Self care isn’t just about figuring out how to do it alone- it is about finding all the things and all the people you need around you to get things done.
There are some things I have to do for myself, yes, but for me finding an activity and a community to be in, and having good friends, have been a big part of it. The idea of independence I think is a bit misleading. We all need support to be our best. So while I have learned about myself and changed my own habits and behaviour I have done that within the context of community and friendships. Maybe I could have done it completely alone- I don’t know. But I am sure that not having to do it alone made such a big difference to me. Knowing others care about me, have some of the same challenges I have, believe in me, and want to see me succeed- those things gave me the motivation to do the hard self care things I needed to do internally so I could do the self care things I needed to do physically to achieve my goals.
I’d love to hear form you about this! Leave me a comment and tell me what self care strategies you use to help you achieve your goals. (Comments on this blog go through moderation before publication- don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up straight away)