Many of us struggle with finding time to care for ourselves and do the things that are needed, not only for our well-being, but also the things that will help us grow, heal, connect, and flourish. What I’ve discovered in my own personal life and clinical work, is that you can overcome some of the obstacles by giving yourself permission to do the needed activity for 10 minutes. Ten minutes can be powerful! It can restore balance and it can motivate you to stay with an activity longer or do it again in the future.
Why 10 minutes?
Ten is just a number, a doable number that can fit into the busiest of schedules or for the times when your energy and motivation are at the lowest. It is the time you might spend waiting in line for a coffee or the time spent scrolling on your phone. As with all things, 10 minutes is flexible! Some days it might only be 3 minutes and other days it might be 30 minutes. Work with what your mind, body and life allow. The key is to make space for you and your needs.
Where to start?
The goal of the 10 minutes exercise is to pause and notice what you’re feeling, and then connect it with an activity that meets this emotional need. If you’re in touch with your feelings, the first step will be straightforward. If connecting with your emotions is difficult, use the questions below to guide you or reference an emotion wheel.[i]
Are you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or flooded?
Are you feeling weighed down, apathetic or low?
Are you feeling exhausted or unfocused?
Does it feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it in?
Do you feel lonely or disconnected?
Are you in need of the quietness of ‘just one thing’ or your own thoughts?
Are you ‘shoulding’ yourself with all the things you ‘should’ do, but don’t want to do?
Using mindfulness and compassion to sit with and identify what you’re feeling will help you figure out what you need for your 10-minutes of self-care. Meeting our needs, in the moment when we need it, refills our emotional ‘cup’ and enhances our capacity for the day’s challenges. For example, when we feel heavy or down, we may need to take things slow- do just one thing- such as having a shower or making the bed. Other times, we need to do the opposite, such as pushing ourselves to go for a walk or out to see a friend. Only you will be able to assess what you have the capacity for at that time. Similarly, when overwhelmed, we might need to expend the anxious energy through writing, moving our body or talking it out with a friend. However, other times, we need to do the opposite and practice deep breathing and mindful movements (e.g., yoga).
It can be hard to connect with our feelings and needs when we’re surrounded by a culture that encourages busyness, numbing and disconnection. This first step can be challenging, which is why 10 minutes (more or less) is critical to making it seem more actionable! You may need to do this a few times before you can really figure out what is going on in your mind and what you need more of in your life.
Practicing for 10 Minutes
Imagine that you’re building a tool-box full of activities that can meet each of your needs. These needs may include:
Allows you to restore balance or equilibrium inside of yourself. Another way to think of it is, ‘filling your cup’ or ‘charging your batteries’ when you feel drained or exhausted. Recharging activities can include, reading, journalling, getting creative, going outside, moving your body, listening to (or making) music, connecting with (and/or helping) others, and overall investing time into something that you enjoy and find meaningful.
Opens space for relaxation and centeredness, as well as (temporary) disconnection from that which creates stress and pressure. Restful activities may include sleep, but it also may include activities that calm you mind, body, and soul. For example, meditation, mindful movement, reading, listening to music, having a warm drink or shower/bath, or simply doing absolutely nothing.
Play has purpose. It inspires creativity and connection and engages curiosity and imagination, and it allows us to recharge. As adults, this can be an area we struggle with prioritizing as it may seem better to focus our time on something ‘productive’, and we can feel guilty doing something for the ‘fun of it’. However, research indicates that play is an essential skill to maintain throughout our lifetime.[ii] Playful activities can include include sports, board/video games, word and picture puzzles, fantasy (books, movies, manga, anime, comics, etc), anything involving silliness and laughter, as well as dance and music. Try turning on your favourite song and then dancing with abandon. (Think of how a toddler dances with arms waving and body wiggling).
Increasing our motivation can energize us and drive us towards achieving important goals. There are two types of motivation, external (based on avoidance of punishment or seeking a reward) and internal. Although both types of motivation can create habit change, internal motivation is easier to maintain. Internal or intrinsic motivation is anchored in our values, needs and wants. For example, I dislike folding laundry (and, to be honest, putting it away as well!), however, I value clean clothes and love my family members for whom I do laundry as well. In terms of love languages, I consider my laundry task an ‘act of service’! These values encourage me to (mostly) keep up with the mountains of laundry that accumulate with a family of seven. To connect with your internal motivation, consider why you’re wanting to do a particular action or behaviour. Why does it matter? The underlying purpose or value will help with overcoming obstacles, discomfort or unpleasantness. If you know why you want to change, but you’re having trouble getting started, break the task into manageable steps and start with something easy. The ‘Power of 10’ applies here as well, as starting any part of a task or project for only 10 minutes can seem manageable, and it can ‘get the ball rolling’ so that you can keep working for longer periods of time. Early in my career, I read a quote that said ‘motivation follows action’ and I find this to be true for myself. If I want to ‘feel’ motivated, I have to start doing something related to the goal.
Fostering self-compassion is a core element to my therapeutic work, as the benefits include, improved mood, relationships, and physical health, as well as increased motivation, resilience, body image satisfaction and overall well-being.[iii] Many of us have learned to be critical of ourselves as a motivation tool and an automatic way of thinking. Self-compassion allows to connect with our feelings and needs, invites imperfection (and sees the universality of this), and encourages us to ‘hold people accountable’ and set boundaries.[iv] Creating self-compassion practices can be done in a multitude of ways including, slowing down and practicing mindfulness, writing encouraging notes to yourself (or a self-compassion letter[v]), and doing something kind for yourself, such as buying flowers. Self-compassion can be practiced in our words (aka self-talk), such as using a gentler tone and loving words. It can also be practiced through ‘soothing touch’[vi], such as placing your hand on your heart or around your body like a hug. To learn more about self-compassion practices, check out my blogs on the three elements self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Each of these needs are different but interconnected. For example, I recharge by taking time alone so I can clear my thoughts; however, the activity I engage in might be restful, playful, compassionate or energizing. If you’re not sure which one you need, pick the one that seems most accessible or that ‘jumps out’ at you. Maybe you’ll create a different list of needs!
If you follow me on social media @compassionate_counsellor you’ll see that I’ve been sharing posts with simple practices for each; however, finding what fits for you may take some time, exploration, and experimentation. If you need help connecting with your feelings, meeting your needs with healthy practices and overall prioritize self-care and self-compassion, connect with a trusted person or a registered mental health professional.
[i] Karimova, H. The Emotion Wheel: What it is and How to Use it. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/ [ii] Brown, S. (2010). Play How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. [iii] Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. [iv] Brown, B. (2020). The Gifts of Imperfection, 10th Anniversary Edition. [v] Neff. K. Exploring Self-Compassion Through Writing. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/exercise-3-exploring-self-compassion-writing/ [vi] Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Soothing Touch. Retrieved from https://centerformsc.org/practice-msc/guided-meditations-and-exercises/