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What’s the Best Self-Care Routine?

People often ask, “What’s the best routine for exercise/meditation/affirmations/fill in the blank?” It’s a totally understandable question; we want to do the thing that’s going to have the most or best results. But, the answer is probably not what you expect.

There’s a saying in the photography community about what camera is best that goes something like “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” It’s a bit flippant, but it’s also an important point; at the moment you see a great picture you want to take, the camera you have with you is the only one you can use. It also removes the focus from the camera; the point isn’t so much what camera you’re using, but that you’re in the habit of taking the pictures that you want to take, and practicing.

There’s a different but analogous way to look at the best routine for any sort of self-care, whether it’s exercise or meditation or affirmations or anything else. That is: the best routine for self-care is the one that you’ll actually do consistently. It doesn’t matter if the routine in question is about exercise or meditation. It’s the same if the routine is related to affirmations or healthy eating. Wanting a routine to help you sleep better or manage your stress day to day? Same answer—the best routine is the one that you’ll actually do.

Why? Well, I’ve written before about the importance of repetition. No matter what kind of self-care you’re trying to add to your life, it’s probably not going to work unless you do it consistently. It doesn’t matter if you’ve found the world’s best routine for building your abs, it’s only going to work if you do it. And, doing it once isn’t likely to help much; what’s going to help is doing it over and over.

Along the same lines, I talk a lot about my experience with meditation. My experience has been that the benefits of meditation build slowly over an extended period of time. Practitioners of any sort of mindfulness exercise will almost certainly tell you the same thing; doing it once probably won’t help much, but doing it over and over and over can have tremendous benefits.

Now, building any new routine requires going beyond your comfort zone. Doing new things isn’t easy. And, it’s easy to say, “Oh, that won’t work for me” and then give up without actually giving things a try. I don’t want to encourage that.

On the other hand, if you know that you’re just not a morning person, maybe a morning routine of meditation isn’t the best fit for you. Many people (including myself) who meditate find that meditating first thing in the morning is what’s really helpful, but if that’s not you, there’s no law that says you can’t meditate in the evening, or right after lunch, or during your afternoon coffee break.

And, the routine that you’ll actually do may change over the years. When I was a student, the exercise routine that worked best for me was in the late afternoon, after all my classes were over but before dinner. When I started working, that routine no longer worked for me. (for whatever reason—I think it’s because after a long commute the gym just seemed daunting, but I don’t actually know why). After experimenting, I found that what worked best for me was working out in the morning, before my work hours started.

I’ll write in detail later about the importance of experimenting, but the basic point is relevant here. If you’re just developing a self-care routine—again, whether it’s exercise or meditation or sleep or healthy eating or whatever—it’s likely that you won’t actually know what sort of routine will work well for you.

So, try some stuff and see what happens. Are you a walker or a runner or a gym rat? Do you like salads or tofu or both (or neither)? Do you meditate with a candle or a breathing focus or a chant? Any of those could be the thing that resonates with you, but you probably won’t know until you try a few of them for long enough to know.

And, once you’ve found the thing that resonates with you, the way to make it work for you is to do it over and over and over—which is easier when it does in fact resonate with you. So, try something new today! It might just be the practice that really helps.

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