Mindfulness may have its roots in ancient wisdom – but it has become a fluffy buzzword.
But sitting quietly behind the hyped apps, strict silent retreats and $79 yoga mats there are some practical – free – strategies anyone can use to start looking after themselves better.
Enter: the following self-care strategy. Arriving at all your appointments 15 minutes early. Deceptively simple, the technique was brought to our attention by award-winning journalist turned media entrepreneur (and co-founder of The Travel Boot Camp) Georgia Rickard.
Georgia shared the insight to Instagram, where it made us think twice – and not just because of our love of being fashionably late.
The Instagram story was captioned: “I read somewhere recently that one of the most inexpensive forms of self care you can offer yourself is to arrive 15 minutes early to all your appointments.”
Intrigued, we called Georgia to ask where she came across the advice, and how it works.
“I first came across this tip from a publishing acquaintance of mine, Lisa Messenger,” Georgia told us.
“When I read that, I was being pulled in just a million different directions – launch parties, events, interviews, flights, speaking arrangements, corporate workshops; hosting gigs. Something inside me was really just deeply yearning to be still.”
“When I read that, it just smacked me in the face.”
“Self-care has become one of those buzzwords that people really like to bandy about as an excuse to eat the cake, or go shopping and you know, rack up some credit card debt. And I mean, those things can be important, right – joy is a very important aspect of self-care. But the flip side of the coin is also being disciplined.”
“You really need to learn how to take care of yourself… in a way that gives you space and time for rest. And for sleep. And for quiet. That really appealed.”
As for how it works, Georgia told us she doesn’t have an aggressive routine (“I’m not like, ‘Okay, you’ve got 15 minutes, now, you must set aside eight minutes to meditate!”) but it’s more just that when you add 15 minutes in between your appointments, it’s like adding a layer of bubble wrap around each area of your day.
“It’s like building in shock absorbers between each of the experiences that you’re going through and… gives you the space to not necessarily return to ‘Zen and peace,’ but to come back to yourself in the middle of the craziness.”
Georgia also said decompressing regularly throughout the day reduces her need for one big decompression at night – something which, for many of us, can involve being tempted into counterproductive habits.
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“Like so many of us, I’m very goal-oriented, very motivated; very interested in [high] achieving. If I don’t do that, then I find myself getting swept up in the day and then it gets to the end of the day, and I find it really hard to just chill out. And prior to implementing micro-moments or slowing down, I was definitely the girl who would do stuff on the coffee in the morning and then calm down with wine in the evening.”
“I still do that – I’m not some Zen master now. But I probably only have one coffee a day now. And I really only drink three nights a week.”
“It’s often when you withdraw into yourself, or you kind of relax when you pull back, that’s when you actually find the energy and the power to go out and kick goals and actually really enjoy high energy levels.”
“Pull back to push forward.”
“I definitely still have times where I forget to schedule 15 minutes in. And when I don’t, I get to the end of the day, and I find it much harder to come down.”
“[This strategy] helps me stay more connected to myself, and therefore able to make better micro-decisions that add up to a better quality of life.”
“If I stop for 15 minutes before I go into a lunch meeting, then I might decide at that lunch meeting not to order a glass of wine – because I’ve taken 15 minutes to decompress.”
“Whereas if I’m frantically running from appointment to appointment, I might collapse at the table and go: ‘Give me a Chardonnay.’ So they’re not huge changes, but the quality of our lives can be measured in those incremental inches, and all those micro-decisions that you make each day are often the things that make the biggest difference over time.”
“If you can improve 1% each day for a year, then you’ve improved 365%.”
Who knows: it may even be possible that – done right – micro-moments and micro self-care could help dig you out of a rut you thought you needed a round the world plane ticket to escape from (even though, as Georgia points out, they are not a silver bullet solution, but rather one small, positive strategy that can incrementally improve your life).
“Where a lot of people really go wrong, when they think, ‘I need a break’ is they think that they need to do something really extreme like, ‘I need to be really quiet all weekend,’ or ‘I need to lock myself in a dark room and sleep for 14 hours’ or ‘I need a gap year,'” Georgia told us.
“We go through these quite extreme periods where we end up with exhaustion and burnout. But if you can master the art of threading small but consistent moments of stillness through your day, you become much more even – and much more able to execute at a much higher gradient, more consistently throughout your life.”
Dr Lars Madsen, a clinical psychologist, who sits on the board of the mental health charity The Mindshift Foundation, spoke to DMARGE about self-care last year, and also highlighted the importance of design.
“These habits require a person to do some planning. It’s not something that happens automatically. Also, it requires a degree of self discipline: ‘I’m going to exercise now because it’s good for me, because it’s good to manage my stress, even though right now I don’t feel like exercising.’”
Real self-care, Lars told us, is about being good to yourself, and finding a healthy balance between making progress on the areas of your life you have control over, and rewarding yourself in a constructive manner.
In other words: if you ‘decompress’ too quickly, you’ll get the bends (and throw your organic kale smoothie out the window).
Lars said that to give yourself the best shot at achieving a good balance, it helps to build activities into your day that “relate to enduring and longer-term benefits” – be that physical, psychological or emotional.
This typically means “things like exercise, meditation, maintaining a good diet, restricting your amount of alcohol and drugs, getting a good night’s sleep, avoiding toxic people, reaching out to people back home and talking about your problems [with a trusted friend or family member, or even a professional].”
“Self-indulgence, rather, is a much more short term focus: I just want to feel good right now. It’s uncomplicated and not really about any longer-term goals: eating the cake, getting drunk, things like that,” Lars told DMARGE.
“We can still do those things, but the consequence exists on a sliding scale – if you persist then the consequence is typically negative and not in the interests of self-care at all.”
Stick that in your wine glass and drink it. Maybe it’s time to re-organise your calendar?