As you’re going about your day, putting out fires at work and home, trying not to freak out over the latest headline, it’s easy to spend your days unaware of what’s happening inside your own mind and body. It’s easy to overlook your physical sensations and thoughts. Because you’re trying to keep moving and keep it all together. You’re trying to check off essential tasks, raise your kids, and do a good job at your job.
This is absolutely understandable. And yet, glossing over our feelings and physical cues prevents us from meeting our needs. So does an inner dialogue that is harsh, cruel, and inflexible.
Compassionate self-care originates from sharp self-awareness. And that self-awareness can be fostered with just a few minutes of looking within each day.
In his book Habit Swap: Trade in Your Unhealthy Habits for Mindful Ones, meditation teacher Hugh G. Byrne, Ph.D, shares these three key questions for us to explore:
- What am I aware of right now? Notice what you’re telling yourself (and try to gain some distance from those thoughts). There’s the thought of “I can’t do this.” There’s the thought of “I’m super stressed.” There’s the thought,”Why bother?” Notice the emotions that are arising. There goes sadness. Anger. Anxiety. Notice your physical sensations and overall state. Tension in the shoulders. Tightness in my legs. Exhaustion.
- How am I meeting this experience? In other words, what’s your attitude toward your inner experience? Are you curious about what’s happening? Are you judging your emotions? Are you telling yourself you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Are you putting yourself down?
- What is a wise and kind response? What can genuinely support you in this moment? Maybe you can stop judging how you’re feeling for a moment, and get curious instead, wondering what sparked those feelings. Maybe you’d like to stretch your body or journal further about your feelings. Maybe you’d like to talk about it with a trustworthy friend. Maybe you’d like to get outside to feel better. Or, according to Byrne, maybe you’d like to respond with a loving-kindness meditation: “May I be happy. May I live with ease. May I accept myself as I am.” Maybe you’d like to simply tell yourself, “This is hard. I’m doing the best I can.” If you’re having a hard time accessing self-compassion or cutting yourself even a smidgen of slack, try picturing yourself as a child, or try picturing your child (and how you’d like them to treat themselves).
You can incorporate this quick awareness check-in into your day in different ways: Set an alarm to ring every hour or few hours. Do it first thing in the morning, at lunch, and before or after dinner. Even checking in with yourself a few times a week can be powerful.
Record the questions on your phone and play them back. Record your responses, too. Write your responses in a journal (or not). Invite your family to practice quietly along with you. Ask a friend to remind you to tune in—and do the same when they forget. Revise the questions a bit so they better resonate with you.
Ultimately, the key is that you acknowledge what’s swirling inside and support yourself through it.