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I’m writing about something today that’s going to seem really obvious in hindsight, but that never actually occurred to me for most of my life.
I used to (still do, but I’m working on it!) go down these absolute spirals of existential angst.
I wasn’t always sure what triggered them. All I knew was that I’d start the day out feeling ticked off or moody, and by the end of the day I’d be in a heap of tears or pulling my hair out while dramatically declaring, “What’s the point!?”
And by “the point,” I generally meant of anything. Having a business. Trying to be nice to other humans. Dating. Attempting to be healthy.
I’ve written before about the futility of questioning how your life is going when you’re in a crap mood. And I stand by that.
But what if you could prevent the crap mood from happening in the first place? (Sometimes, at least. 100% prevention of crap moods is not only unrealistic, it’s inhuman.)
And what if what triggers a lot of our daily angst is actually the most basic, obvious stuff that we’re taking for granted?
ARE YOU DEPRESSED, OR JUST THIRSTY?
Liz Gilbert, one of my favorite authors and self-appointed mentors, shared a similar thought in her podcast Magic Lessons.
She said, and I paraphrase:
“Sometimes I find myself so miserable, questioning the point of everything, cynical about the world, convinced nothing’s ever going to work out for me … and then I realize, ‘Oh. I’m just thirsty.’”
The point being: Sometimes misery isn’t actually misery. You’re just running on a low tank, in one way or another, and you can’t physically or mentally handle even the slightest strain to your system.
Liz calls the system that needs taking care of your “Human Animal,” which is an idea that’s so basic, and obvious, that I’m a little embarrassed it took me so long to realize how important it is.
But nevertheless! How true is this?!
I don’t know about you, but I have historically set aside my basic human needs for more “pressing” things. It usually went something like:
- Not getting up to refill my water because I was trying to finish writing a blog.
- Putting off exercise until the next day (and the next day, and the next day) because I had too many projects going on at once.
- Not taking a shower when I felt like it because it wasn’t the most organized and structured use of my time.
- Ordering take out too many times in one week because I “didn’t have time” to cook.
- Scheduling back-to-back meetings and not giving myself any breaks.
- Doing work on the weekends, when I could have been relaxing.
THE HUMAN ANIMAL IS LIKE A TODDLER, OR A PUPPY
I’m going to go with the puppy analogy, because I’m a dog-mom, not a real-mom.
If I feed my dog two square meals a day (healthy, organic dog food I might add!), make sure she always has plenty of fresh water, take her on 3-4 exercise outings per day (walks or ball throwing sessions), and give her plenty of my love and affection, she’s a happy, mostly-well-adjusted creature.
If, however, I were to feed her at erratic times, forget to replenish her water bowl sometimes, give her junk table scraps, take her on walks only when I felt like it, and ignore her need for attention in favor of more “urgent” things I had going on … she’d be a pretty stressed out, anxious, sad dog indeed.
Somehow, we expect ourselves to be immune to having basic needs. And quite obviously, we’re not.
If you care for your Human Animal, your Animal is going to be WAY more likely to be calm and at ease. It’s going to be infinitely more able to be energetic, productive, creative, and inspired on a regular basis.
If treated with love and respect, your Animal will be resilient and well adjusted. It, and you, won’t fall to pieces at the slightest provocation.
Basically, it’s not going to act like the world is ending and that everything is a Big. Freaking. Deal.
LET’S MAKE SOME RULES FOR SANE LIVING
So, if you want to take immaculate care of your Human Animal, I suggest starting with something I learned from another favorite author, business person, and self-appointed mentor of mine, Kate Northrup.
A couple years back, she introduced me to the idea of Rules for Sane Living. To this day, it’s an exercise I still ask many of my clients to do, always with great results.
The idea is simple:
Write down a list (at least 5, but I think around 10 is great) of rules that, when adhered to, help you be the sanest, most grounded version of yourself.
Some of Kate’s were things like: “Don’t schedule anything the day before a trip,” and “Start the day with 10 minutes of silence,” and “Take 3 deep breaths before eating.”
They’re clearly not world-shaking, which is exactly the point. Because they seem like “no big deal,” it’s tempting to forget how important they are to your sanity. And when you do forget to live by them, life gets out of hand pretty quickly.
So, in no particular order, here are my Rules for Sane Living:
- Never schedule any calls on Mondays (I hate Mondays, so I stopped trying to be a good coach on those days. It’s infinitely better for me and my clients.)
- Never schedule more than 4 coaching calls in 1 day, and NEVER repeat that volume of calls more than 3 days in a row.
- Don’t have more than 10 clients at a time. It’s way too many people to be accountable for, and I’m way better at my job when I can deeply focus on each individual.
- Drink at least 70 ounces of water per day. Or tea, or pressed juice. You get the idea. Stay hydrated!
- Always eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And usually two snacks, as well.
- Don’t schedule more than two social engagements in one weekend. This is critical for me, as an introvert.
- Have at least one weekend per month that has literally no plans. Again, crucial for taking care of my introverted-ness.
- Go to sleep at 10:30pm, and get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Any less than 8, and I’m cranky as hell.
- Do as little as humanly possible on Sundays. I don’t know what it is, but if I try to do almost anything on Sunday, I get resentful and close to having a tantrum. Sundays are for doing nothing, and I must respect that.
- Don’t go more than a couple days in a row without putting on makeup, doing your hair, and wearing real clothes. It’s all too easy to be slovenly when you work for yourself, but it starts to make me feel apathetic after a while, which is lethal to motivation.
- Get outside and walk for close to an hour per day. Bonus points if I walk without any music or podcasts … just me and the silence.
NOW, MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
One last word to the wise about making these rules and caring for your Human Animal:
The whole self requires nourishment.
Yes, we need to get quality food, plenty of liquids, exercise, and a significant amount of sleep. That’s the physical foundation, and it’s critical.
But nourishment, especially the mental, emotional, and spiritual variety can also mean … not over-committing yourself. Disconnecting from technology. Being alone. Deep conversation with best friends. Exploring new places.
As you ponder what your Human Animal needs to stay sane, grounded, and happy, think about what being nourished at every level would mean to you.
And I promise, when you’re well cared for, everything else is going to look a lot more rosy and a lot less miserable.
I want to hear your Rules for Sane Living! So come share them with me, in the comments.
Rachel (& Kristen)
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Water is THE elixir! Whenever I’m in a crappy mood…well, I try to breathe it out at first…but often it is really gratifying to take a shower or simply have a glass of water.
And I can always plug-in my earphones-take a stroll with songs on..
P.s. the recorded blogs are a great idea!
It’s so simple, but so true! Water is often the cure. 😉
Oh my word! You do not know how much I needed this. I have been having these kinds of breakdowns for like a week now. And yesterday was the worst. I have been asking myself what is it that I’m missing? And this just answered it. I’m missing almost everything that would cumulatively add up to a balanced me. I don’t have time to eat right, exercise, sleep, practice self care. I’m just stressed and tired ALL THE TIME, relying on coffee (which my doctor has unequivocally told me stay away from). its all just started to take its toll. The worst thing : I’m not this person and this is not how I want to live my life. So in living like this, I feel like I’m not being true to myself.
Establishing some rules, even small ones, I think will really help create a little more balance. I just want to be able to appreciate all the good things around me and that’s impossible to do when you’re thinking “what’s the point in even trying?”
Thank you so much for this post!!
I’m so glad this found you at the right time! I hope that implementing some of your own Rules for Sane Living will ease some of the tension you’ve been having.
I love the simplicity of the “human animal” concept. Being a dog and cat mom myself, it clicks for me. Making our own rules for sane living is a wonderful idea. It doesn’t matter what everyone else needs or thinks, we need to live on our own terms and do what works for us as individuals.
You’re welcome, Lori! It’s funny how thinking of ourselves as “animals that need tending to,” like our pets, is actually really helpful. 🙂
Thanks for this post. There are days when I am incredibly frustrated with my job (and and in turn career) and I tend to diminish the active work and substantial progress I have made in changing my situation tend to be the days when I have had 2-3 drinks instead of just 1-2 drinks the night before, leading me to be sleep deprived and dehydrated. My career woes are indeed real but I am MUCH more able to cope with them on a day to day basis when I am clear-headed, well-rested, and well-hydrated. Making a list of my own rules for sane-living right now!
You hit the nail on the head, Francine. When we’re depleted from the day before, we’re already at a loss when the next day begins. And all too often, that “loss” only gets worse and worse as the weeks and months go by! Glad you’re turning that pattern around!
This is a fantastic guide to better living both physically and mentally well. Thank you for sharing! I love your blog posts 🙂
I definitely struggle with “having enough time to cook/prepare my meals” and making time to exercise. I’ve excused this lack of effort because “I am focusing on other more important things.” But when I do, I feel so much better. I am going to have to sit down and make out my list this weekend.
P.S. Ditto what Jayat said, I love the recorded blogs!
Thanks, Rachel! As far as the cooking goes, I think it helps to do as much prep as possible ahead of time. Whether that means taking an hour on the weekend to plan meals for the week ahead, or looking up a couple new recipes to try and going to get all the ingredients, or even preparing and freezing a few things to re-heat during the week, with a little investment of time and energy up front it makes the whole cooking thing MUCH more manageable! 🙂
Needed to read this today. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Farah! Thanks for reading!
This is great! I didn’t realize how much neglecting myself has impacted my life and those around me. I actually thought that I was being a good mom/girlfriend/employee by putting myself and my own needs on the back burner. It’s funny that you also mention something about spending too much time online. I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across your blog if I hadn’t been searching for something online.
This is a bit off topic, but what do you think about online relationships? I’d like to read a follow up blog about how to best get other basic human needs met in healthy ways. Just a suggestion.
Hey Skyler — It’s a really common misconception among women (moms especially) that we’re being “good” if we give up all of our needs. Of course, all that does is leave is depleted and resentful and feeling martyred. It’s SO important for us to take care of ourselves first, so that we have something left to give to others without burning out and becoming drained.
Kristen is actually writing a follow-up blog that touches on some other ways to get needs met next week, so stay tuned for that! 🙂
Thank you so much, this really helped. Perfect timing!!
I’m so glad! 🙂
Another thing to add to this wonderful post that will seem a bit obvious once I mention it is that your posture and the way you’re breathing largely determine your pre-verbal, pre-active state. (Along with other physiological factors, like, as you mentioned, being thirsty). It’s kind of like how in baseball, the player has to get in the “stance” in order to hit the ball. Depending on our literal physical stance, we can think and act according to certain biases. For instance, if you sit uncomfortably, you might automatically think uncomfortable thoughts. Conversely, if you’re sitting more comfortably, you may tend to automatically think more comfortable thoughts. This reality is the basic reason things like yoga are so effective in mood-enhancing.
Where this can get seriously dangerous is when you start focusing on things in your life while you’re sitting uncomfortably. You can suddenly go on this spiral of feeling uncomfortable and tense about EVERYTHING in life, and you may actually go into fight-or-flight mode if that goes on for too long. But literally, if you take a few seconds (maybe even no more than 20-30 seconds can do the trick), to change to a comfortable position, you start going in the complete opposite mental direction, so that, once you apply your attention to something, you think comfortable thoughts about it.
I probably sounded a bit scientific here, but I definitely wanted to mention this because I feel it’s a good practical add-on to what you’re discussing. Good post!
This is a really great addendum to the blog, Michael, thanks for sharing! I agree — our physical posture throughout the day can make or break how we feel. Personally, I used to sit a lot while I worked (writing or coaching). I got SO sick of it. I felt tired and cranky and lethargic sitting that much. So I contrived my own standing desk, and it is SO helpful to my energy and mood. I’m not nearly so sedentary now! Highly recommend this for anyone, if they can make it happen.
Great list! I also practice most of those. Some might look at it and think it’s “too rigid”, but after practicing self-care I am a much better human; to myself and others. I try to (deliberately) learn something new every week- watercolor, poetry, listen to a podcast or Tedx on something interesting, read, etc.
Thanks for the reminders!
I’m glad you picked up on the “rigid” thing, Jenn. You’re right, a lot of people might interpret Rules for Sane Living as rigid. But interestingly, and something I think you’ve already picked up on, I think a little bit of structure is actually *freeing* for most people. When you know where the lines are, you’re free to color however you choose! But with no lines, things get messy and out of hand. All sorts of creatures — pets and kids, are two great examples — thrive *more* with some predictability and structure. We’re really no different!
Love this blog!! Also loving the audio!
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the audio, too!
I have never ever commented on anything but I just had to say thank you. Thank you for writing and thank you for taking the time. Eveytime I read a post it makes me smile. It’s like you are writing from me, for me. I appreciate it. ????????????
Thank you for such a great compliment, Renee! 🙂
100% agree with this post! I had a revelation earlier this year that was tied to increased self-awareness courtesy of the PPVE (and also my FitBit sleep tracker) that that the days I was super weepy and despondent were the ones following a string of late nights and early mornings. Now I realize that when these feelings arise, it’s better to take a nap or go to bed earlier than normal instead of blaming the feelings on an existential crisis and trying to solve it in the moment.
Love this realization, Molly! I also love the lengths to which you’re proving a FitBit can be used … not only for exercise and sleep, but for tracking your existential crises, too! 😉 Great work!
How did you crawl into my brain and extract this so eloquently? So very busted. Didn’t read this until two days later because of, well, BS and failing to prioritize my health. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been well respected as a psychology tool, but people(I am looking at me, folks) tend to ignore it on a day to day level–which is the point of basic needs, as you have stated so clearly, humorously and well.
As to the rigid thing–this incorrect attitude on my part interfered with a lot of self care(exercise! rest!) until I made the shift(with professional help!) of understand that it is a privilege and a GIFT to be able to care for yourself. I have lost over 70 pounds and developed an exercise routine not by “willpower” but by being grateful for the chance to do these things. Almost ready to move up a level on the self care.
THANK YOU, LADIES! this includes other commenters
Hi Susanne — WOW, congratulations on losing 70 pounds! That’s amazing! And it’s so fantastic that you lost that weight while feeling *grateful* … so many people, especially women, try to lose weight from a place of self-loathing and self-punishment, and it never works. Thank you for setting such a great example for others about what self-care can really look like!
And I’m glad you’re ready to take it to the “next level” with your self care. It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about it since starting to lose weight, and I’m sure you’ll do great at amping up your self-care routine even more!
Hi Rachel & Kirsten – wow these suggestions and impact on my life on taking care of our the most basic needs that we often push to the back burner are life changing! Thank you & looking forward to the next revelations!
Glad this helped you, Amanda! 🙂
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