If you’re like the majority of my clients during the pandemic, then you’re either self-caring yourself to death or not doing a single thing when it comes to self-care. Whichever the case, you’re likely very tired of hearing about self-care. (If not, lucky you.)
Self-care is obviously important. If you haven’t been engaging in it, then you should – nay, you must. If you have been engaging in it, you might be totally over it. 2020 was the year of – among countless other, often surreal themes – resilience and self-care. Resilience is crucial to rolling with the historical tides, particularly of the past several years, while self-care provides relative stability and security, not to mention, one hopes, a modicum of sanity and salves.
But it’s 2021, so now what?
Don’t expect a panacea here, but I’m seeing significant progress among my clients as we move from, but continue to sustain, resilience and self-care to what I’ve been actively encouraging: intentionality and outlets. Even my self-care-challenged clients have been responding positively to the new shifts in focus.
Just like resiliency, intentionality is nothing new. You can’t read a contemporary self-help book, download a popular meditation app, or loosely follow a life coach on social media without hearing about intentionality. If you haven’t heard about intentionality – whether pre- or post-pandemic – then you might not be doing the best job at finding and verifying competent resources. Nevertheless, at bare minimum, intentionality infers deliberateness; whereas resilience encourages us to let go and to creatively bend and yield to the powers that be, intentionality reifies the importance of continuously calibrating (and recalibrating) our own balance within.
Yes, balance within. Are you wasting time and effort trying to maintain some semblance of balance among externalities that you can’t control, or are you focusing, intentionally, on striking an inner equilibrium in spite of the craziness around you? Whereas resilience is often externally-minded, intentionality is more internally-minded. For example, you lost your job while your sibling or close friend just shared the news that they’re happily pregnant. Or you got a raise and/or promotion at your job during the pandemic, of all times, while your best friend or close family member became symptomatically sick from COVID-19. In the latter scenario, do you swing pendulously from pride and validation in your career to sincere concern and support for your ailing loved one, or can you refrain from swinging at all because you’re able to center yourself?
Centering oneself isn’t difficult. But it does require concerted efforts, namely awareness, commitment, accountability, and, above all, intentionality.
Awareness is the ability to survey yourself in any given instance: What’s going on around you, and how (and why) are you responding to it?
Commitment requires the determination to ‘stay the course.’ When seas are tempestuous, your primary focus remains on your boat, not on the sea or on its tempestuousness (this is when resiliency plays more of a role).
Accountability entails self-referential calibration (and recalibration); consider it a feedback loop that constantly informs your awareness and commitment.
Lastly, fundamentally, is intentionality—both the spark and the glue that holds everything together. Without it, you will be acting – rather, reacting – in a deeply submerging ocean. Intentionality is not just your internal compass, but also your internal magnetic fields. Your internal magnetic fields stem from your heart, mind, and gut (read: your instinct). Essentially, how congruent are the three at any given moment?
This intentional congruency brings us to outlets. While outlets and self-care can sometimes overlap, they’re very different. Self-care is more about daily maintenance. Diet, hydration, exercise, sleep, medication, meditation, affirmations, personal hygiene, sex and self-pleasure, alcohol and cannabis moderation, taking breaks, working with a therapist, etc. are forms of self-care. At their core, these efforts keep the boat intact and afloat. But what exactly powers the boat when the winds are against you or when the sea is conspicuously, eerily placid? Ultimately, this power manifests through, among others, conviction, will, might, passion, and perseverance. What helps fuel and sustain these? Outlets do.
What’s an outlet?
The big reveal here might disappoint you in its lack of novelty: basically, outlets are hobbies. Hobbies are interests and activities rooted in pleasure and/or relaxation. Painting, gardening, writing, reading, coding, sporting, gaming, volunteering, advocating, singing, picking up a hammer or a spatula or a guitar. Unfortunately, some hobbies – like traveling and socializing – aren’t as accessible right now due to the pandemic. But there are countless other options. What are your hobbies? Are you currently engaging in any of them? All of my clients have no problem sharing their various hobbies, but very few can admit to presently pursuing them (you can imagine the various reasons and excuses I’ve been given).
My response to my clients has been the same: hobbies are a critical component of one’s daily life, providing relaxation, restoration, recovery, release, rejuvenation, reinvigoration, revitalization, reflection, reaffirmation, rekindling, renewal (and the Rs power on and on…). The trick, though, is to approach your hobbies with intentionality. Intentionality (via awareness, commitment, and accountability) is what makes a hobby an outlet. How aware are you of the benefits of your outlet – not just in and of the outlet itself, but also as the outlet relates to the various aspects of your life? How committed are you in your prioritization of and dedication to your outlet? What’s working, and why? What’s lacking, and what requires some extra attention? These questions aren’t intended to make a fun thing less fun by adding undue, overwrought pressure to it. Rather, they’re intended to give your outlet some additional purpose, some extra meaning. Indeed, healthy and robust outlets are purpose and meaning made manifest (and who among us has no use for this?).