What are your self-care non-negotiables?

Figuring out what you absolutely need to look after yourself is an excellent place to begin your self-care journey or a self-care reset. When it comes to looking after YOU, be ruthless with your non-negotiables.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit character Olivia Benson saying "So play hardball on a deal".

This last week I had the opportunity to do a speaking engagement about incorporating values into self-care and how organizational culture influences self-care. Often when I’m doing talks or workshops, I include mention of how I became interested in this area of research, via my own struggles with self-care. Over the last week I also skimmed through some old journals from much earlier in my career when my self-care wasn’t as stable as it is now.

Together, these experiences have me reflecting on where I am began with self-care when stress, burnout, and the workaholic culture of academia felt like insurmountable problems. My experience involved a lot of trial and error, with a lot of failure growth experiences.

Start with non-negotiables.

Self-care non-negotiables are those things you absolutely need in your life to form a base for the rest of your self-care. Non-negotiables are the hinge on which the rest of your self-care rests. (Note that this strategy is a core ingredient of emergency self-care). They are the things – as the name suggests – that should be non-negotiable in your self-care. The things you should guard carefully to make sure they happen. And you should be ruthless about it.

My three self-care non-negotiables.

I have three self-care non-negotiables, which I’m going to list in order of priority. Figuring these out was a journey that involved a lot of tuning in to myself and noticing. Your non-negotiables might be completely different than mine, and that’s okay. (Just like people are different, self-care is different too).

Non-negotiable #1: Sufficient sleep.

I often joke that my #1 priority in life is sleep. Getting enough sleep is critical for my self-care and mental health. I need 10 hours of sleep every night and I get it. (And I have been for years). I consider this to be an accomplishment I’m pretty proud of, working in a culture that doesn’t value rest. Without enough sleep my ability to cope with stress takes a deep dive, and quickly. My boundaries around my sleep needs are very, very rigid, and a good way to piss me off is to interfere with my sleep. I also consider this to be a core parenting value: I am equally rigid around my child’s sleep needs and I think teaching them how to rest and sleep well are important gifts.

Non-negotiable #2: Quiet time.

I am a person with a strong for quiet time, every day. Ideally quiet alone time, but this isn’t something I get in this season of my life very often. This means that built into my days (see Routines below) are several small chunks of quiet time to rest, often by reading or art or just scrolling online.

Non-negotiable #3: Routines.

I thrive with routines and not having routines, or having my routines interrupted, quickly leaves me feeling discombobulated and overwhelmed. Routines lower my cognitive load, burden me with fewer decisions to make, and mean I don’t have to hold as many to-do tasks in my brain at once. I know exactly when I’m going to feed the cats, pack lunches, pay my bills, and what our bedtime routine will look like. I know that I will use “Sunday Morning Screen Time” (a morning ritual in our house) to write this mailout to you!

What is your first self-care non-negotiable?

A great place to begin with self-care (or to reset your self-care if you need a do-over) is to figure out one (or your first) self-care non-negotiable. What do you absolutely need to look after yourself? What is a core ingredient to feeling your best? Remember it’s not enough to just identify it – you need to then take a look at your time and brainstorm how to fit in into your days or weeks.

In self-care solidarity,