by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition
With so much complexity in our daily lives, it’s sometimes hard to remember what you need to do to stay on track with your wellness. So often, we get derailed by countless distractions tugging at us from every direction throughout the day; we start to feel helpless, hopeless and defeated when we haven’t addressed our own mental and physical needs. To help you, I’ve created a nifty “Self-Care Cheat Sheet” to keep you mindful of 15 key habits that I recommend you practice to achieve your best health, fitness, and wellness. Spend time customizing each one to meet your unique needs. These are habits you should practice throughout your lifetime.
Before we launch into the specifics of the cheat sheet, I encourage you to embrace these three words and what they represent to your overall self-care practice success:
- Believe: Close your eyes and envision what it would feel like to be successful in sticking to just one new habit. You need to believe that you can do this. Don’t let anything get in your way. Learn how to adapt and adjust to the curveballs life throws your way and stay on track. It all starts with this belief in yourself.
- Achieve: Armed with your belief, a plan, and a strategy to navigate speed bumps along the way, you’re now on your way to achieve your goals. You’ve accepted the work it’s going to take to get the job done. You’re dogged and determined to make this happen.
- Succeed: The only place where “success” comes before “work” is in the dictionary! Success is the gift you give yourself for toiling away to cement new healthy habits into your life. It happens when you’ve sweated through consistently practicing the habits needed to achieve your goals, at which point, you’re reaping the rewards of staying the course.
Believe, achieve, and succeed are the foundation upon which you can now start to integrate the following 15 self-care habits.
- Stick to your mission statement. Take a moment and create a mission statement. Without it, you’re a rudderless boat getting buffeted around by the waves of life. This mission statement is your anchor. You’ll keep referring to it when you make decisions in your personal and professional life. You’ll continually ask yourself. “Is this choice in line with my life’s mission statement?” This includes choosing to eat junk food, blowing off physical activity, never making time to see friends, and not getting around to meditating. Bag all of these poor choices and choose healthy and life-giving behaviors instead.
- Believe that self-care is nonnegotiable. No excuses. No more self-abandonment. The best caregiver is a healthy caregiver. Keep telling yourself that caring for yourself is absolutely nonnegotiable.
- Prepare for self-care. Take small steps. No leaps and bounds here. Have a plan and a strategy for executing each small step. A dream without a plan is just a dream. The goal is for these steps to build a strong and powerful foundation for a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.
- Put it on your calendar now. Ditch the to-do list that you never get to. Instead, schedule each small step (taking that walk, meditating, getting to the grocery store) into your day right away. Make it a nonnegotiable appointment.
- Plan not to procrastinate. Stop delaying self-care. Start doing what it takes to live your life. Do the work now. Remember that often you have to do what you don’t want to do in order to do what you do want to do! You can’t cook healthfully without first buying the food and then cooking it in a nice clean kitchen devoid of junk food and clutter.
- Learn to say “no.” Protect yourself from over-commitment. You need to learn to establish limits and boundaries for your time and efforts. Only you can do this for yourself. Be strong!
- Delegate tasks. Enlist resources to help you stay on track with your self-care. Stop trying to be a Superwoman or Superman. Create your own A team to assist you on your journey.
- Beware of perfection. Believing that perfection is your goal will only lead to fear of failure and mental paralysis. Pitch perfection and strive for progress.
- Live in the present. Pay attention to the work you must do to achieve your health and wellness goals. Beware of distractions like spending mindless time on any kind of screen, from the computer to the TV. Enjoy and feel every breath. Strive to be more mindful.
- Just do it! Stop overthinking! No more ruminating about the past with endless “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s,” along with blame, shame, and guilt. No more fears and worries about the future. Just flippin’ do the work now and finally achieve your goals.
- Do daily self-care sprints. Break up all of your goals into mini-steps that are doable. How about a 5-minute meditation? Take just 15 minutes to de-clutter your desk. Walk for 10 minutes only. Most people can more easily accept these short self-care sprints—and feel terrific and encouraged once they’ve been done. It’s a great way to get the new habit ball rolling!
- Plan daily joy time. You have to integrate joy into your daily life. Take a moment right now and identify no fewer than three things (people, place, thing, habit) that give you joy. Next, make sure that you include one or more of them each day of your life. Let joy become your ongoing reward.
- Start each day with self-reflection. Awaken with gratitude. Every single day needs to start with calm self-reflection of some kind. Get connected with your life meaning as well as your mission statement. Know how your habits will support your health and well-being today.
- Reject any negative self-speak. Focus on your strengths. Feel self-confident and empowered. Trash any negative self-speak that begins to emerge when you’re feeling down, anxious, and fearful. Take a deep breath and see that this is a life challenge, and you can—and will—confront and resolve it to the best of your ability.
- Practice self-compassion. Be gentle and forgiving of yourself as you strive to live your life to the fullest. Self-compassion is the foundation for the daily practice of your own unique loving and self-supportive lifestyle practices. Aim to do your best every day, relative to that day’s limits and constraints. Some days will be a 150 percent effort, and others, a 50 percent. It’s my 80/20 rule: On average, you’ll be hitting your best practices 80 percent of the time, with 20 percent wiggle room. Treat yourself like what you really are—your own best friend and advocate.
Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM, is an internationally renowned expert in integrative and preventive medicine. Dr. Peeke is a Pew Foundation Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians and American College of Sports Medicine. A nutrition and fitness pioneer, she has been the recipient of numerous fitness-industry lifetime achievement awards, including the IDEA Health and Fitness Association Inspiration Award and the Zumba Fitness International Role Model Award. Known as “the doc who walks the talk,” Dr. Peeke is a Senior Olympic triathlete and a member of the National Senior Games Foundation Board. As senior advisor to the 18th Surgeon General of the U.S., Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, Dr. Peeke created the Surgeon General’s Walks for a Healthy and Fit Nation. Dr. Peeke’s work includes WebMD’s lifestyle expert, Discovery Health TV’s chief correspondent for nutrition and fitness, host of Discovery Health TV’s series Could You Survive? and National Body Challenge, acclaimed TEDx presenter, and regular commentator for the national networks. Dr. Peeke is a New York Times best-selling author; her books include Fight Fat after Forty, Body for Life for Women, and The Hunger Fix.