The start of a New Year is the time we reflect on all the things we wanted to do or should have done yet didn’t get accomplished in the past year. Thus, we resolve to address these self-makeover wishes in the coming 12 months. “Coulda, shoulda, woulda” is the statement we erase from our vocabulary in January as we hit reset on our bold, ambitious plans. Yet according to the University of Scranton researcher John Norcross and author of Changing for Good, one in four of us make a resolution for the New Year but after six months only 46 percent are still sticking with it.
With the hectic pace of the holidays over, the frenzy over buying gifts and seeing friends and family is done (at least for another 12 months). You can finally breathe. That is, unless you are one of the 65 million Americans who are caring for a loved one – the moment to put the world on pause and get a break never seems to happen.
Which is why I feel caregivers should exempt themselves from resolutions all together. The very nature of resolutions is a reminder of how we failed. This is why I hate them. I hate being reminded that I have somehow failed in an attempt to accomplish a goal. Instead of focusing on the negative I try to remind myself failure can be a teacher. Tragi-comic author, playwright and poet Samuel Becket famously said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Fail Again. Fail Better.” I couldn’t say it better.
Now, if you are a caregiver – you are NOT failing – you are accomplishing one of life’s precious goals – caring for another. You may not have enough time for yourself in your caregiving state is why my message to all caregivers is to banish the New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) and adopt my Me Time Monday (MTM) plan.
Making It Work
Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in England, author of :59 Seconds and creative consultant to the TV show The Mentalist, says those who fail to keep their resolution have one common pitfall which is focusing on the downside of the goal. You suppress your cravings, fantasize about being successful, adopt a role model or rely on willpower alone. But these aren’t pleasurable experiences, they are torture and you will soon abandon them. He stated in an interview with The Guardian, “Failing to achieve your ambitions is often psychologically harmful because it can rob people of a sense of self control.”
For caregivers, resolutions are even harder especially since you are typically juggling many of life’s balls – children, career and caregiving – and the ball getting dropped is the one that says “self-care.” Adding one more thing to your To Do List in 2014 is enough to make you cry (or scream, or throw something or grab that pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream that makes you feel better, until you step on the scale). However, there is hope.
My solution for caregivers is to re-wire our brains to think “what am I giving myself” instead of “what am I not going to give myself.” This year, you are going to give yourself a gift – that’s right – no cutting back, no cutting out and no cutting corners. If you follow these steps, you will not only improve your physical health but your mental health and that is a resolution worth celebrating. You are going to take the remote control of your life back.
When you become a caregiver, you often feel like you entered one of today’s popular reality TV programs – it is like Survivor and The Amazing Race all at once. Instead of frantically looking for clues, or worrying about what the tribe will say let’s call your 2014 reality show Me Time Monday and there are 52 episodes (one each Monday).
What is Me Time?
If you are asking, “What is Me Time?” then we really have to do an extreme makeover on you. Me Time is a concept that has been written about by CNN, Forbes, WebMD and advocated by many of the self-help gurus and health professionals I admire such as Dr. Oz, Louise Hay, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Alice Domar. It is the essence of self-care which is the balance you need when you are caregiving.
Me Time is how you define it. First of all, you need to make a list of all the things you love to do that are just for you. These are probably things you have abandoned or at least don’t get to as frequently if you are caregiving.
It helps to think about things you loved to do as a kid (bike riding, hopscotch), or activities you enjoyed when you had no pressing responsibilities (such as kids, a job, a husband or a loved one to care for). Your Me Time may be gardening, reading a good book or magazine, painting or sculpting, getting a mani/pedi, going for a scenic drive or perhaps it is even more youth-oriented such as diving into a new pile of snow or ice skating or walking along the beach collecting seashells (my favorite). Make sure you only list things you love that are just for you – if you wrote down exercise but it’s something you feel you have to do rather than love to do, it’s NOT Me Time.
Monday is part of our cultural DNA – for most of us, it is the start of the work week, the school week and we feel renewed energy to start something after a nice weekend break. The nonprofit Monday Campaigns was founded in 2005 in association with Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and Syracuse University in order to apply marketing best practices to public health challenges. According to the research, the Monday Campaigns show a projected 74 percent of American adults over age 25 believe giving healthy intentions a Monday start will make them more lasting throughout the week. Part of The Monday Campaigns is Caregiver Monday, a specific campaign targeted to helping the nation’s caregivers take care of themselves.
“Day in and day out, millions of caregivers give so much of themselves caring for their loved ones that they often neglect their own health and well-being,” says Sid Lerner, founder and chairman, The Monday Campaigns. “Caregiver Monday encourages them to use that first day of each hectic week as their recharge day, to refocus on their own condition to better serve their dependent parent, child or spouse.”
Your Me Time Monday Checklist
1. Write it down. Put your Me Time Monday activity on sticky notes. Post these notes on your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, on your smartphone, on your car dashboard – anywhere you will see the words every day. These are love notes to yourself.
2. Take baby steps. If your Me Time is taking a 30-minute walk to enjoy nature and outdoors (a great stress reliever), start with buying new walking shoes on your first Monday (it’s all about the shopping for me).
The following week it may be getting just a few minutes to walk around the block – you don’t have to achieve 30 minutes on Week 1 – just get started. Once you get in the groove you will find you plan your Me Time because of the comfort it brings you.
If you miss a week – don’t beat yourself up. Evaluate what derailed you and see if you can eliminate the obstacle the next week. What’s great about Me Time Monday – you have 52 chances to stay on track! And you don’t have to do your activity on Monday – just use Monday as your “check in” point for the week – do you know what you are going to do and how to find that time?
3. Track your progress. Put a little heart on your weekly calendar when you do your Me Time or tell a friend who can be your cheerleader about your plan and let them applaud your weekly progress (and help give you a caregiving break so you can get your Me Time – see Lotsa Helping Hands as a great way caregivers can get help to get a break). Getting reinforcement – whether through a friend or seeing a lot of hearts on your calendar will keep you motivated.
4. Live in the moment. When you are practicing your Me Time take a few minutes to really feel it. Close your eyes and put your imaginary remote control on “Pause.” Feel everything around you. Stop and try to use each of your senses in what you are doing. Can you see yourself happier? Do your shoulders relax? Do you feel a little more refreshed? Do you hear the sounds around you? Do you smell the wonders of your environment? Do you feel re-energized so you can keep caring for everyone around you because you took a little Me Time? Sensory cataloguing is a great way to revisit your Me Time and re-wire your brain to crave that Me Time so it becomes essential to your well-being.
Now push “Play” on your imaginary remote control and let your Me Time Monday reality show begin! To view the Me Time Monday videos including how celebrities find their Me Time – visit our Caregiving Club YouTube channel.
Note: This blog is adapted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare (sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers and booksellers).