Balance

Staying on Track with Your Self-Care

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I think maintaining the self-discipline to actually keep yourself well, both mentally and physically, can be hard at times. Knowing about and trying out different self-care strategies is great, but sticking to them can be another thing. As we’re writing all about self-care this week, I started thinking about why some of the self-care activities and strategies I’ve experimented with haven’t stuck while others have…

Painting of an umbrella (representing and labelled as "self-care") in the rain.

by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer of Balzer Designs.
I love looking through her art journals (click through for an example) when I’m looking for inspirations for my own “art journals” (I use quotations because my attempts are more chicken scrawl than art, to be honest).

Planning out pleasurable activities
During crunch time, I often put off pleasurable activities or hobbies because I feel guilty that I’m not working on more “important” academic work.

“I can’t possibly spare two hours right now to watch a movie. I have so much work to do! I need every extra second!”

Cut to… two hours later and all I’ve done in those two hours is look at Twitter and maybe rewrite my to-do list again for the hundredth time. Most of the time when I skip out on hobbies or fun activities in an attempt to buy myself more time to finish schoolwork, I usually end up just procrastinating more. And then I feel even worse for having done neither something productive nor something fun. Having realized that, now I try to really plan and schedule out those events and outings the way I would for an appointment or assignment deadline.

For instance, I love watching films and try to schedule in a few repertory screenings into my calendar when I can. (Coming up, I’m looking forward to Little Shop of Horrors at The Royal and The Apartment—one of my all time favs!—at CINSSU’s own Free Friday Film series. Oh, and a bunch of things at TIFF as well.)

TIFF calendar

I’m also a big fan of registered fitness classes because it means I actually have to commit to showing up every week. Similarly, during the school year my reading-for-pleasure books are all from the library because it gives me motivation to actually finish reading them in a set amount of time.

Tracking and recording your progress
I don’t know if it’s embarrassing or relatable, but I actually keep track of and have reminders for a bunch of (really basic) habits on my phone. Like “eat”. I know for some people that’s silly, but when I’ve lost my appetite because I’m too stressed out or when I’m just feeling down and can’t be bothered, those simple reminders can be really helpful for me personally.

And I keep track of and record a lot of things. I’m a person who loves charts and planners and to-do lists, so I guess this is just an extension of that. There are the more “normal” things I keep track of like grades and budget, but I also record a lot of thoughts via journaling or free-writing. I track my moods. I keep attendance for appointments I’ve made and note the ones I’ve cancelled on (for both formal appointments and things like coffee dates with friends). I like things like Letterboxd or Goodreads to use as culture diaries.

Various phone apps: calendars, mood tracker, reminders

Why? Sometimes I like having visual reminders of my progress when I’m trying to create new habits. Sometimes I like having things to cross off a to-do list to make me feel like I’m getting things done (even for something as small as “eat”). Other times it’s nice to have a record of what you’ve accomplished and what you didn’t quite manage to give you confidence to aim higher or to try and improve from for next time.


As anyone who’s had “go to the gym more” as a failed New Year’s resolution knows, it’s tough to stick to goals. Especially when they involve creating new habits. Self-care activities are no different. These are just two of the strategies that I’ve found to be useful to keep myself on track.