I’m always envious of people whose Spotify Top 10 lists are full of interesting, brooding music and emerging artists. I am not one of those people. Last year, I got (appropriately) mocked by a few dear friends at work for being let’s just say a little too mature to have Hailee Steinfeld on my list. This year, one of my top five was Ella Henderson’s Take Care of You, and even though it puts me squarely in the Top 40 Pop genre/Basic territory, I’ve recently decided it might be the only mantra any of us need for 2021.
Here’s why: self-care has become synonymous with naps, baths and face masks. I love those things as much as anyone else, but it doesn’t get to the core of what most of us need to do more of: genuinely tending to our own needs. Sure, we have the metaphor of putting your airplane oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others, but how many of us actually live that daily? And even if we do, how many of us say kind things to ourselves when we do? I sure don’t. So below I’ve collected my top ten pieces of advice that follow that mantra — musical taste optional, but not required.
- You Can Do Anything, but Not Everything: This quote is a David Allen gem, and was my computer background for three years. Whenever you see or hear a piece of advice that resonates, there’s a tendency to try to do 17 things at once to change your life. That’s right: this month you’ll workout more, eat healthy, nail that presentation, land the promotion, spend more quality time with your partner, reconnect with 87 long-lost friends, and finish the 13 books that have accumulated on your nightstand. Know what resolving to do 17 things is? A recipe for disappointment. No one human can make 17 changes in their life at once, so reduce your list of resolutions, intentions, or commitments to a grand total of three, max. Regardless of how much progress you make, you’re more likely to prioritize them and to succeed if you do fewer things, better.
2. Instagram Is a Highlight Reel: Picture those beautifully made clips with music showing highlights of someone’s acting career that they show at every awards ceremony. You know the ones — the music soars, their famous co-stars and closest confidantes in the industry, and all the hits with none of the misses. That’s what Instagram is in COVID-19. We can no longer out-event or out-travel each other so we have to show the world that we are exceptional bakers and have tried a new recipe every night and have mastered a new instrument on Zoom and oh by the way my relationship is amazing and online school is a great opportunity for kids. It’s all nonsense. EVERYONE is struggling this year. So if you stay on the ‘gram, do so because you love a good highlight reel for all the drama and fun it reflects, not because you equate social media with reality or waste energy basing your daily happiness on what’s presented to you there.
3. Protect Your Energy: Speaking of which, the world is full of things to get sad and down about at the moment, and full of people who will take any energy you give them. Be extremely protective of how you spend your energy and on whom. That person you follow who managed to renew their vows, run online school perfectly and lose weight in quarantine? If their posts constantly make you feel bad, unfollow them. The never-ending text debate among your friends about the latest reality tv drama? Tune in when it serves you and ignore when it doesn’t. And be very realistic about what scrolling is or isn’t doing to support your well-being. I’ve found that any more than 20 minutes of mindless scrolling or reading tends to just get me down about myself or about the world, so set a timer, set boundaries, set limits — do what you need to do to make sure where you are spending your energy aligns with things you actually care about.
4. Remind Yourself You Were Never in Control: For my fourth grade field trip, I made a list for my dad, who was planning to chaperone, of the day’s schedule and expectations, hour by hour starting with “wake up” for his “convenience.” So yes, some might say I like being in charge and knowing as much as possible about what’s ahead. So in a pandemic for those of us who like control, it’s really easy to lament the lack of it in our lives right now. But the truth is, we’ve never been in control of everything. We just had a better illusion of it. In a post-COVID world, I’ll certainly have more control over when and where I travel, eat, and workout, but I still won’t control how future public health issues unfold, how other people react and engage with me, or things like delayed flights, traffic, interruptions, you name it. So rather than spiraling about all the things COVID-19 has taken from your control, consider it a reminder (albeit an extremely harsh one) that we never had as much control as we thought. And then…..
5. Do Something With What You Can Control: A lot of 2020 consisted of serious doom scrolling followed by people feeling totally overwhelmed, then actually doing very little about society’s problems. Let’s flip that mode on its head this year: instead of focusing on broader social ills and how you can’t change them, spend more of your energy this week on things you can control. A few examples to consider: donating to your local food bank to make a dent in food insecurity during a global pandemic. Registering folks to vote for the next election or signing a petition to get Stacey Abrams the statue she deserves. Writing a letter to a person who impacted your life positively so you get emotional proximity even when you can’t be in the same place. Cultivating your own anti-racism practice by reading, donating to, and sharing Anti-Racism Daily. Making small dents in the universe is far better for your soul and for the world than lamenting the huge gaping holes we have to fix, so pick small things you can do today, tomorrow, and the next day versus wringing your hands at the things that make us all feel so powerless.
6. Change How You Define Success: In 2019, I set a major goal and read 100 books. In 2020, my plan was to hit a reasonable 50 or so — no need to stress about the exact same milestone as the year before, but wanted to keep reading part of my routine because I love it. Then a pandemic hit and I had a lot of trouble concentrating on books. In 2020, I finished six books total. People assumed with no travel and no work events that I would be reading even more, and I could barely get through three pages without my head spinning. I felt embarrassed and disappointed in myself, particularly when it felt like other people were reading, cooking, and watching a bunch of great shows and I was doing….none of those things. Instead of focusing on all the things you’re not doing that other people are, focus on one good thing you did today. For me, I finished a load of laundry and got a workout in, and given what’s happening in the world, I’m putting that in the Win column — I highly recommend you do the same.
7. Play Offense, Not Defense: When it comes to mental health and well-being, we often wait until things are untenable to invest or make a change. Last year, our team oversaw HubSpot’s COVID-19 response and managed the company’s Black Lives Matter Action Plan, both critical issues to our organization and to the world. But as the stakes rose, I continued to work more and get outside less. I spent less time exercising and more time on late night phone calls. And I waited until I was full-on ugly cry tears on a Zoom call to make a change. Think of your mental well-being like a garden you have to tend to and water, and make proactive investments versus waiting for your plants to wilt. For me, that meant starting the year blocking off a few long weekends, setting up time with a coach, and working with my peers on the leadership team to codify “omissions” we would actively skip for the year. A few small proactive tweaks can be the preventative medicine you need for your mental well-being, so don’t wait for the deluge to prioritize yourself.
8. Thank Your Body: Sonya Renee Taylor is the Founder and Radical Executive Officer at The Body is Not an Apology. I first listened to her on Brene Brown’s podcast and had to listen twice to truly internalize her message. You see, Sonya’s whole belief is that radical self-love can not just change your life, but change the world. I could lie and say that listening to her podcast made me a body-positive Instagram model, but it didn’t. However, I am trying to make simple changes that long-term help me be more like her. After my workouts, I focus on thanking my body and appreciating that I get to exercise. That’s all the progress I’ve made so far, and maybe it’s all I’ll do forever, but being more positive about your body makes you more confident, more present, and more likely to treat it well, so consider trying one small piece of her advice — it is, indeed, radical.
9. Get Some Rest: This is the time of year where people operate at a frenetic pace, trying to make this year different than the last. And not surprisingly, a lot of people run out of steam. So instead of running fast and burning yourself out, make rest one of your three priorities. 68% of Americans reported more trouble sleeping in the pandemic, so if you’re not resting well, you’re not alone. But sleep improves your focus, your immunity, your mood, your balance, and a whole host of other health factors, so make sure that rest is one of your intentional resolutions. For me personally, I’m convinced that spending time outside every day helps, as does a pre-bed ritual to wind down, after months of poor sleep to figure out what worked for me.
10. Make Time to Celebrate: In a pandemic, it can feel like there isn’t much to celebrate. But I would argue it’s more important than ever to celebrate the small things. Growing up, after something that went well, my mom used to make us say “I’m proud of myself.” And when you said it (usually groveling and under your breath), she would always respond “louder” and make you say it with conviction. I used to think it was silly, but at the end of last year, my team at HubSpot had had a remarkable year in spite of a global pandemic. My holiday card to them asked them to say “I’m proud of myself” out loud to someone they love. Does it feel a bit silly? Of course it does, but it’s so incredibly important to celebrate things personally and professionally that are meaningful to you. So whether you throw a kitchen dance party, toast yourself with your favorite champagne or cupcake, or just take a minute to call a friend and share the good news, don’t skip celebrating the small stuff-it reminds your brain and your body of good things at a time when anxiety and depression are sky-high.
Living in a global pandemic is hard. Living through constantly evolving political stress is hard. Seeing how much hate exists in our world right now is hard. Being a caretaker and partner is hard. So too is being solo right now. But rather than beating yourself for not “crushing it” consider acknowledging how hard this moment is and be proud of yourself for navigating through it. In other words, take care of you — today, tomorrow, and the next day. Everything else will work itself out, I promise.
P.S. Thank you to my editors, Molly and Mairin Burke, who also happen to be my beautiful sisters. I love and appreciate you.
P.P.S I’m working on a book draft, so if you have ideas or feedback on this content or things you’d like to know or see, please leave them in the comments or DM me on Instagram, thank you!