Monday, December 31, 2018

Self-care and New Year's resolutions

Art Walk in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - Pedestrians take over the
street to socialize and enjoy evening art

by Tarah Hodgkinson

We spend many hours in our SafeGrowth training emphasizing the power of connectedness, social capital, and friendship circles. In her book, The Village Effect, Susan Pinker explains how current research points to a connection with others as the biggest contributor to psychological and physiological health. And this connection cannot be replaced with interactions like a screen (Skype and Facetime cannot replace in-person contact).

Thus, this cult of self-care has it wrong. Playing on your phone or binging on Netflix alone may actually be doing more harm than good.

Every year, at this time, I spend a few weeks leading up to the holidays wrapping presents for a charity gift wrapping station. Every year I ask my friends if they would like to join me. And every year, despite the short time requirements, the fun atmosphere, and the holiday spirit, I receive the following response: Oh that sounds great, but I’m just too busy and stressed.

Volunteer gift-wrapping in Burnaby, Canada
for the Multiple Sclerosis Society 

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. Many people are wrapping up projects at work or school, doing their own holiday shopping or attending holiday events and parties. There is a lot going on. But I wasn’t wrapping alone because others, like me, had found time to come out and volunteer. Why, I wondered, can’t I convince my friends to do the same?

Self-care has become a buzzword for this time of year. Stressed out from the holidays? You need to self-care! And anything can be self care, from treating yourself to week-long retreats to binging on Netflix, drinking a bottle of wine and ordering pizza from the couch. As long as you see your well-being as something you alone control, and spend money doing that, then the self-care market has done its job. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t seem like anyone feels more cared for.

Volunteer-run, outdoor neighborhood reading library in Ljubljana, Slovenia
- photo by Marusa Babnik

In truth, self-care really has nothing to do with the self at all.

The holiday season often leaves us reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to our possibilities, but we tend to follow a particular script when we plan for the new year. We set new goals about losing weight, getting healthy or giving up a vice. We think “this year will be better, because I will get fit and find love.” We load up on self help books and websites, buy new gadgets like fit-bits and tell ourselves that this will make us happy and fulfilled. Then we do it all again the next year.

If we really want to self-care, we need to be around people, we need connection, and we need to help others. If the holidays are stressing you out, and you need a New Year’s resolution, here’s one: I will spend more effort getting involved in my neighbourhood?

Caring about others might just be the best way to care for yourself.

Happy New Year!

4 Replies so far - Add your comment

Unknown said...

thank you for posting this...100% agree, this message is received at the precise time it was needed.

have a great 2019 and take good care of yourself.

james garrett, jr
st paul, mn

Unknown said...

I totally agree with this statement, Might I add also some people will get involved in neighborhood associations but the biggest let down is that it's to many clicks or people been in positions for so long that change is not an option for them or they have become complacent not open for new ideas or suggestion.How does someone new begin their work within the community.

Tarah Hodgkinson said...

Thanks for the positive feedback James. I wish you the best of luck for the new year and look forward to hearing about the wonderful ways in which you get involved with your neighbourhood and greater community.

Tarah Hodgkinson said...

Hi Dozetta,

You have touched on a very common experience for folks trying to do meaningful work with their community. Speaking from my own research on partnership development and my practitioner work with SafeGrowth, I have noticed a few key strategies that seem to work.

1. Don't be afraid to take a risk and lead something. We crave human connection, but many of us have lost the skills to connect with others. The best community work often comes out of someone taking a risk and reaching out. Examples include hosting a block party, a local art event or a fundraiser. I have even met people who started major change by writing a letter or cold-calling a potential partner. Go out and knock on doors and invite people to an event or gathering.
There is usually municipal funding for these events and, while it might start small, it's a great way to get the ball rolling.

2. Learn some strategies for engagement. We have lots of examples on the blog and elsewhere about how to get people talking. For example, your block party could include a large piece of butcher paper, where people write what they love about their community vs what they would love to see in their community. You could then ask folks to fill out contact cards to help you get some of those ideas off the ground. This is just one example, but there are so many more you can read about here and through our partners.

3. Speaking of reading - read up on emotional intelligence. As the old adage goes, "Leaders are Readers." Emotional intelligence will help you navigate community meetings with folks who don't like change and help you with self awareness and connection with others. Daniel Goleman's work is a great place to start, but I also suggest "Crucial Conversations" by Patterson et al.

Overall, don't get discouraged. Communities weren't built in a day and they definitely took longer than a day to disconnect from each other. It will take some work, but know that you have other SafeGrowthers around the world working alongside you and rallying behind you.

You got this. Good luck and I can't wait to see what amazing things you do in your community.