“Learning to love your whole self is the prerequisite for discovering your true nature and your reason for being alive at this time. Love is a language that all beings have in common. It is the language of the universe.”
- Julia Plevin, The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing
Hello and welcome to This Year’s Word Podcast, I’m your host, Courtney Symes. I’m an author, entrepreneur, mum, and wife. In this podcast series, I will share my Word of the Year experience as I explore the meaning of the word “Love” and how you can use this word to change your life, one day at a time.
In the next few episodes I will be exploring the notion of “Love” by digging into a concept many people find challenging – The Art of Self-Love.
So, what is self-love exactly? Self-love is often misconstrued as being selfish, self-absorbed, conceited and egotistical. But put simply, self-love is the act of demonstrating love for oneself by taking care of our emotional and physical well-being. Like putting on our own oxygen mask first in an aircraft, self-care is essential for our survival, as well as the way we interact with others around us.
Self-care encompasses everything from eating healthy food, moving our bodies and getting enough sleep, to setting boundaries with our work, friends and family, as well as making time to do things we enjoy. Engaging in healthy, regular self-love practices is an act of kindness and compassion to oneself, which in turn will benefit those around us, as we won’t be showing up feeling compromised and depleted.
In my soon to be released book, A Year of Love: Finding Peace One Day at a Time, I talk about the important role creative pursuits (such as writing, sewing, jewellery making and playing the piano) play in my life. These are all activities I enjoy doing, that give me a break from work and family life. These are also the activities I can lose hours doing, which psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as the concept of “flow” in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
In this episode I would like to talk a bit more about the concept of Flow so you can consider how you can include more Flow activities in your own life to enhance your self-care practice.
The first step in “finding your flow” is to identify what activities are important to you. What activities light you up, energise you, or do you become so engrossed in that you lose hours of time? If it’s been a while since you’ve made time to pursue any hobbies and you’re drawing a blank, reflect on what activities you enjoyed doing as a child. Maybe it was drawing, reading, going for a bike ride, climbing trees, or creating things with your hands. These activities don’t have to be creative, so don’t despair if drawing and painting isn’t your thing and you’d prefer to do something physical. Start making a list of these activities, because as soon as you start writing you will come up with other ideas.
Sometimes the answer can be right in front of you in the form of an unfinished project – the idea for a novel, unused equipment, a stash of materials, unread books on your field of interest, etc. I have heaps of unfinished sewing projects that have been put ‘on hold’ because life got too busy. Some I lost interest in and will reuse the materials for a new project, but most I still feel passionate enough about to complete, and just need to make the time to do so.
If you’re still stuck for ideas, take a walk around the shops. Bookstores in particular are wonderful sources of information, and the topics of books you are drawn to, such as cooking or gardening will give you some clues of what to pursue.
Also consider other items you love and purchase regularly, such as clothing and accessories, home décor such as candles, cushions and furniture, handmade cakes, plants, etc. Perhaps you could learn how to make, design, cook, and grow any of the items you love to purchase.
You can also focus on something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do, like learning a new language. Taking a course or lessons in a new activity can be another great way to introduce more “flow” in your life. You only need one idea to get started.
1. What materials do you need to engage in your activity?
If you chose drawing, for example, consider what pencils and paper you will need and source these if you don’t have them already. Start with the basics and you can build on your resources once you have established a routine for your flow activity.
2. The next step is carving out time to complete your chosen activity.
Would you prefer to commit a little time each day, or set aside a larger chunk of time such as a couple of hours over the weekend? The key is putting a system in place to block out the time in your diary to prioritise the time for your chosen activity, otherwise the time will be easily absorbed by other activities.
Personally, I find the quiet of the early morning hours is ideal for writing. It is also the time of day when I feel the freshest. However, I like to do activities like sewing on Sundays when I have a larger block of time to “play”, and play piano in the evening as I find this a relaxing end to my day. Realistically I don’t have time to do all these activities every day, but I feel pretty accomplished if I do one each day, or am able to dedicate a couple of hours to doing things I love each week.
If it is challenging to carve out time in your week due to family, consider what you can do together. My children love drawing and colouring, so rather than trying to make time to do this on my own, sometimes it’s easier to do it with them. I can set them up with a couple of colouring in pages at the table while I’m also doodling or colouring in. Working alongside each other provides a wonderful opportunity for conversation, or listening to an audiobook or music together.
One of the biggest advantages of taking a course or regular classes to learn a new interest is that you have time scheduled on a regular basis to meet with a teacher, or milestones you need to achieve which hold you accountable.
3. The third requirement for a lot of activities is space.
For writing I simply need a quiet, comfortable space where I can sit with my laptop. However, I enjoy sewing the most when I can spread out my patterns and fabric. The game-changer for my sewing was when I purchased a sewing cabinet from a friend and was able to leave my sewing machine set up all the time in our spare room, rather than having to take it out of the cupboard and out of its box in the cupboard every time I wanted to use it. My sewing cabinet also has compartments for all my accessories, such as thread, pins, scissors, etc., which means they are always conveniently at my finger tips and I don’t have to waste time looking for them.
The key to finding your flow is selecting an activity that you do purely for pleasure – not to fit in with others, make money, or to enhance your career.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains this so beautifully in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience when he writes:
“It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.”
The benefits of a new hobby or leisure activity may certainly lead to meeting new people, or discovering that people want to buy what you make - and even turn what you love doing into a side hustle. However, to get the most out of your selected activity it is best to start for pleasure’s sake only, because this removes many of the pressures that can make an activity unenjoyable.
I would also encourage you to identify the core skills of the activities you love doing, such as creativity, problem solving, improving your physical strength and stamina, teaching someone, or learning something. Once you have identified common skills behind the activities you enjoy doing, you can seek out new activities that share these skills.
Remember there is no harm in trying something new – the worst that will happen is that you will learn something and meet some new people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode on self-love, and finding activities that help you reach a state of “flow”. I’ve shared a few activities that help me reach my state of flow, which may give you some ideas too.
I’ll leave you with today’s mantra:
I practice self-care on a regular basis and seek activities that connect with my higher self and allow me to experience a state of “flow”.
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