Is Your Bar Too High? 3 Steps to Tone Up Your Mental Health Routine, Right Now
We all know the slippery slope. It begins with the best of intentions, researching tools to support our wellbeing. But soon, we’re careening down the craziest mental health rabbit hole on the internet, only to emerge hours later with a massive list of all the stuff you “should” (and “definitely shouldn’t”) do, a self-diagnosis of some sort, and a mounting sense of overwhelm.
Retreat to the couch. Reach for the remote. Back to square one. Or more like... square one minus five.
When the pursuit of mental wellbeing feels like it only piles more tasks onto an already full plate, said research becomes entirely counterproductive. But what’s the alternative? Shouldn’t we all be meditating and doing yoga and participating in that webinar and and and…
Hold the phone. I feel stressed just writing that. Let’s go ahead and ax that list right there.
When people ask me for advice on how to improve their mental and physical health, they’re often surprised when I say, “Just do the bare minimum.”
“Huh?” is the response I usually get. Of course, that sounds weird, especially coming from someone in the wellness industry who has a book all about taking ownership of your life. When most people hear “bare minimum,” they think slacker. Mediocrity. Apathetic. And when it comes to mental health, not enough.
I hear something different: attainable. Sustainable. Realistic. Inspiring. And as it pertains to supporting our mental wellbeing? Those words are downright magic. Because when other stuff in our lives feels completely unachievable or overwhelming, our mental health practices are the first thing that we need to be able to lean on.
So here’s how to realign your standards and create your own set of achievable Bare Minimum goals. It’s straightforward, I promise—no overwhelm.
Let’s get honest: how lofty are your usual goals?
First, let’s get a baseline.
This will require you to be honest with yourself. Like, really, cringe-inducing honest.
Ready? Ok… so how many of your self-care goals or intentions do you actually achieve on a daily basis?
If you’re like a lot of us, the answer is somewhere between not many and none. And let me be the first to say that doesn’t at ALL mean that you’re flaky, unmotivated, undisciplined, or any of those things…
It just means you’re setting your goals wrong.
If you are consistently setting goals that feel unattainable or overwhelming, you’re setting yourself up to fall short repeatedly. Talk about a confidence killer, right? Truth: this style of goal setting can actually be counterproductive to our mental health because we perceive ourselves to be constantly failing.
Set the bar too high = you’ll end up crashing into it, almost every time. Skinned knees and bruised hearts are the results.
Set your Bare Minimums.
Bare minimums are standards that you can meet almost automatically, without a huge amount of effort. And here’s my take on them: they should be treated as non-negotiable. So they have to be totally attainable, because once you set them, they are simply not up for debate: they are becoming your new baseline of care.
You brush your teeth regularly, right? And you don’t feel right if you skip that step in your morning, right? (I mean… I guess I’ll speak for myself!) Your Bare Minimums can easily become just as much a part of your routine.
These are a few of my personal examples, and I suggest you find your own for each of these categories:
Beauty - I put on tinted sunblock, concealer (if I have any zits, which I usually do), and eyeliner and mascara every day. Even if I don’t do anything else, I’m going to do these couple of things because that’s the bare minimum I need to do in order to feel put together.
Nutrition - I eat something with protein at every meal, and I eat veggies every day.
Nature - I go for a walk in nature for thirty minutes at least once a week (with the exception of the really cold winter months). Since quarantine hit, I’ve been doing this closer to every day, it seems to help even on the rainy days.
Fitness - I insist on making it to yoga, barre, or some other type of fun virtual fitness class, at the very least twice a week. Even though I usually do more, I make sure my bare minimum is 100% attainable.
Sleep - I need a minimum of seven hours per night. If I don’t get it, I make sure I catch up on lost sleep within a day or two.
Connection/Introspection - I insist upon connecting with a friend at least once a week, on the phone, or, these days, on a video call. Similarly, I need some time to be alone and reflect, each and every day.
You might note that the bar isn’t very high in these examples. Fitness class twice a week? Deal! A 30-minute walk in nature once a week? Not that hard! Making self-care goals feel easily within reach is key to avoiding the total overwhelm that can send us crashing into the paralysis of doing nothing.
Just like neglecting to brush your teeth… the regrets will come later, and we know it.
And this is that sweet spot where physical and mental health are one and the same: when we feel good about how we’re taking care of ourselves, we’re more likely to make even more positive choices for our wellbeing. No regrets.
Lastly, check for the leaks.
Are there any aspects of your wellbeing where you allow other people to drive your decisions? Do you let your partner dictate bedtime, or your kids determine your meals? Have you set the standard that you’ll answer work emails or texts at just about any hour?
The Bare Minimums might just mean setting some healthy boundaries to plug up the leaks that are draining you. I used to stay up late watching TV with my partner and end up dragging myself out to teach in the morning—but that doesn’t happen anymore. If my partner wants to fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV, that’s fine, he can do that. But that’s not how I roll. I no longer tag along with him as though I don’t have a choice. Instead of letting my bedtime be determined by default, I’ve taken charge of my own sleeping schedule. He can do whatever he wants, don’t get me wrong. Meanwhile, I put myself to bed when I need to sleep, and I feel so much better because of that shift.
So once you’ve identified your Bare Minimums, start plugging one leak at a time. Some of these shifts will be easier than others (hellooooo changing kids’ habits), but every one of them is worth it. Slow and steady, with a whole lot of patience.
Toning up your mental health routine can be all about getting simple and clear. Be kind to yourself, and create the mental health goals that will set you up for success. Those bare minimums will take you far.