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The Little Train that Could: 5 Tips to Keep Motivation for Self-Care High

Using a tick-box chart can really help
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By Julie Holliday

We all want to be as well as we can be, but even when we feel highly motivated to reach as high a level of functioning as possible, that doesn’t always translate to being highly motivated to great self-care. We want the results but can get impatient with what it takes to get them. Especially when you factor in the dreaded R word – rest. The fact that its very nature involves lack of doing makes it feel as though we’re not doing anything useful; rest doesn’t seem like an active step to getting results. Even when repeated experience points out that not doing it is a recipe for disaster!

With illnesses like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, it can sometimes seem as though all your efforts towards self-care don’t seem to be making a difference (or at least not enough of a difference). Maintaining motivation to keep it going can be really challenging when the results seem so slow to come. It can be so easy to get disheartened when we don’t perceive success.

Recently I discovered a very simple secret to keeping motivation high: detach the idea of success from the outcome of better functioning and link it to the fact that you actually did the self-care. For me it all comes down to the tick box chart (check box). I feel successful when I see the ticks piling up; I give myself the message that I am achieving something important, and it is that sense of achievement – that sense of succeeding in something – that keeps my motivation high. Experience has also shown me that in general, a box full of ticks does correlate with feeling better. I’ve learned that without the disappointment of aiming for a particular outcome and not seeing it fast enough, I actually make better progress. However, I try not to fixate on that; it works a lot better when I keep the focus just on being successful at doing the self-care.

5 tips to boosting motivation with your tick box chart

1. Start by including all the things you already do pretty consistently for your self-care.

Include just one or two things that you want to improve on and do more consistently.

The whole point of the tick box is to help you feel good about your self-care, so set it up so that you will see lots of ticks and so that it encourages you to get even more.

2. Anchor filling out your tick box to regular events in your day.

Before or after meal times is a good bet, giving you three opportunities to remind yourself of anything you haven’t done yet.

3. Set achievable weekly targets and offer yourself a reward.

If you have six things in your tick box, four of which you are already pretty regular with and two that you are aiming to do better with, that’s a potential of 42 ticks in a week. I’d probably set a target of about 30 ticks for the first week (depending just how regular my first four are). Pick your reward in advance and make sure you give it to yourself when you achieve your target.

4. Only ever add one new thing to the tick box at a time.

When you start your tick box, there might be lots of aspects of your self-care that you want to improve, but keep focused. Decide on one aspect that is most likely to make a difference for you and work on getting it established before adding anything else. When I’m just trying to tighten up on things that I already do but not very consistently, I will add something every week or two if I’m getting results. If I’m aiming to introduce something new, I’ll give it several weeks before I add something else.

5. Share your success, find someone to celebrate with.

Identify someone who you can hold yourself accountable with, someone encouraging who understands the importance of good self-care. Tell them whether you’ve reached your tick target or not. Being open with what you’re doing somehow makes it more valuable. Celebrating your victories is also really important in terms of keeping motivation high and much more enjoyable when it’s shared with someone who also recognizes its importance.

My holistic self-care tick box

As a holistic life coach, self-care means a lot more to me than just taking care of myself physically. I have two categories on my tick box – one for things that I know my body needs to optimize conditions for healing and one for things that boost me spiritually and add to my happiness. I know they are all connected and need to be in balance. I have them in separate sections so I can see if I’m paying too much attention to just one side of the equation. If so, then I know what I need to pay most attention to the following week to regain balance.

I have been using the tick box system for a long time now so my list is quite long, but here’s what it looks like this week:

Optimizing conditions for healing physicallyMonTuesWedThusFriSatSun
Tai chi
20 mins+ meditation am
15 hr intermittent fast
Dancing in my break
Yoga pm
Stimulation free rest
Drinking lots of water
Energy exercises
Energy testing food
Spiritual/ mindset/ happiness
My daily commitment
Connecting with nature
Meditation pm
Playfulness and trust
Being love

My target is an average of 15 ticks a day, adding up to 105 ticks in the week, and my reward will be buying a new trashy novel to keep me entertained during the part of my afternoon rest that isn’t stimulation free.

What will you put in your tick box chart?

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on September 7, 2018 and was updated on May 1, 2021.

Julie Holliday, ProHealth’s Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people take back control from energy-limiting chronic illness to live a more relaxed, balanced and fulfilling life. Julie loves spending time in nature, growing her own vegetables and spends as much of her day as possible in a comfortable pair of yoga pants. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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By ProHealth-Editor

Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.”

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