'Exploring the barriers and motivation to self-care and how to overcome them'.
I was trying to think of a snappy title for this blog, you know, a clickbait headline which draws us in and keep us scrolling through social media posts, articles and blogs. They usually begin with a number or have a statement in which indicates the answer will be found (hopefully) within the blog. For example, ‘Five ways YOU can do something better’ or ‘This man dug a hole and look what he found’. There are also the role model headlines, usually with someone famous, or respected, and how something changed for them.
What all these headlines have in common is that they fire our happy neurotransmitters, specifically our levels of dopamine, which gives us a buzz. We are hard wired to seek out the information that is promised, which is often either shocking or certainly pleasurable. They stimulate our anticipation, curiosity and excitement, and our FOMO online. We give into their temptation and continue to scroll to maintain the buzz, to get likes or search for something new.
So, what has scrolling through clickbait headlines got to do with a blog on barriers and motivation to self-care?
It is all about the buzz!
Dopamine is largely responsible for feelings of pleasure, especially when something good happens unexpectedly, but it also plays a crucial role in reward and motivation. We are likely to keep doing something when it feels good, and it is new, exciting and rewarding. It enables us to seek pleasure, allows us to focus and give something our attention; dopamine rewards us with feeling good and therefore maintains motivation.
What motivates us needs to be genuine, realistic and exciting. Does your method of self-care tick these boxes? It needs to make a difference to our self, or to one of our parts of self, and release the dopamine to offer pleasure and reward for looking after yourself, and therefore maintain your motivation to do it again and again.
My story: I have shared my running journey for self-care on this blog before. I began to run for self-care. I was motivated by an urge to move more and get fitter, and this was sustained by the buzz of meeting new goals and getting constant feedback. I knew I thrived on feedback, reassurance and flexibility, which running gave me instantly in many forms.; a faster time, a longer run, scales going down, clothes feeling looser, compliments, a feel-good buzz.
As a therapist I am interested in parts of self-work and identity. All those different parts of us which makes up our ‘I am’. How you introduce sub consciously yourself to others, often shows how you prioritise your ‘I am’. I am curious how we can make our method of self-care part of our ‘I am’.
It’s all in our identity.
Our sense of self doesn’t exist on its own; it is developed in relation to others, in relationships with others, past and present, and this can also be a barrier. Holding on strongly to one ‘I am’ can get in the way of self-care.
“I am always a busy person; I like to do many tasks at once, it’s how I work”.
"I am a carer for others; I should care for others not myself and put others first”.
This can also apply with our work image. “I am a (insert job title)” What image appears with this role, and do you hold this image? The associated image and stereotypes around this can impact strongly on your identity and on your self-care.
When what we tell ourselves is the always, a should, or meets a stereotype, or is a can’t, it can be very hard to break. How does It feel to…..?
Replace the always with “I am sometimes”
Replace the I should with “I feel obliged to …. by…..”
Replace the stereotype with “I work as a (…..)
Replace the can’t with “I can try to…..”
Break down the barriers
If you are reading the above thinking, 'Yes but…..' you’ve found your barriers. And If you’ve found barriers then instead of trying to find solutions to the buts (as you will usually just think of another barrier), go back to motivation and rethink. What really motivates you? Break it down into very small goals. Know your ‘self’. Ask others if you are not sure.
If there are barriers you’ve not found the right motivation. Go back to your sense of self and identity and work out the barriers. One way of doing this is to divide them up into three categories:
Internal barriers: those in your mind, the voice which says ‘I can’t’, the battles with your sense of self.
External barriers: Time, money, logistics, priorities
Relationship barriers: What will others think? The should. The feelings of guilt.
“What will my colleagues think if I go out at lunchtime and take my lunch break”? Does it matter? What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best? You will feel mentally and physically satiated, and you even may be setting an example for others to follow.
My story: I have tried many forms of exercise in the past and never stuck at anything. I had barriers. I can’t get childcare; I can’t get to the gym/class for a set time. Barriers I could have overcome if I’d prioritised, so this wasn’t the right motivation for me. Running in the park across the road from home broke these barriers, I could do it at any time, my children were old enough to be left in the house for a short a while, I was only over the road.
Break down your barriers honestly. Challenging your thinking is a way of beginning somewhere. Are other people perpetuating the barrier or supporting the change? Which part of ‘you’ suits them? Does it fit right with you.
“I will feel guilty if I …..” Where is the guilt coming from? Who is creating it and why? What exactly would you be doing with your time if you weren’t doing the self-care activity?
Overcoming: It’s all about the buzz!
Think back to the click bait headlines and what draws you in to scroll and read these for minutes, hours even. What could you be doing to create your dopamine otherwise? Could something else give you this buzz. So, click bait your own self-care. Write out your own headlines. Be drawn in, be curious, be motivated and be rewarded. Do it for you!
Lynn Findlay is an integrative counsellor and psychotherapist based in Sheffield. She is also a social worker and trainer with children and families. She is a runner and enjoys running for self-care. She blogs about her running journey and writes about her passion for movement as therapy and to support mental health. Lynn is on twitter @lm_findlay.