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Phew, it’s a Thursday night and you have finally carved out some time for much needed self-care. Whether it is a bubble bath, a massage, or an at home facial, you’re hoping it will be restorative. Yet at the same time, you have a feeling that you will feel the same after as you did before. You feel as though you’re just going through the motions with this process of self-care. Why? you ask. Why do I feel this way? I have everything I need for a relaxing evening.

What’s Missing?

The answer may be one crucial ingredient: mindfulness. Without mindfulness, there is no true self-care.

Now, you may be rolling your eyes right now. I don’t blame you. Mindfulness is an overused term these days. It has become a catch phrase used by companies to promote employee health-along with equally tired words like “balance” and “wellness”. And the typical language used to describe mindfulness is not always helpful because it too is overused. Phrases like “breathe” and “stay in the moment” and “don’t let your emotions affect you” come to mind.

I would like to offer a more meaningful way of thinking about mindfulness. Mindfulness can be accomplished by forcing yourself not to think about the past or the future, but only the “now.” Eckhart Tolle writes in his book The Power of Now that you should “realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life” and “as soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve.” (Maybe talking about “the now” is also a little cliché, but I haven’t seen it on a sign in Home Goods yet. I’ll continue.)

Our brains dwell on the past and future. We replay embarrassing moments or things that pissed us off in our heads, while at the same time making mental to-do lists and worrying about tomorrow. Rarely do we stop and focus on the now. But here’s the thing–the future hasn’t happened yet, and the past is gone. The only thing we have in this world is the now.

Living in the now helps make self-care restorative, because it makes us feel fully alive. If you indulge in a massage, but spend the entire time stressing about tomorrow’s meeting or your kid’s bad behavior, you won’t enjoy a moment of the massage. Focusing on the actual act of self-care, such as enjoying each stroke of the massage, brings us back to the present moment. When we narrow our perception down to the now, things become more vivid and we have richer, more fulfilling experiences. I find that journaling and meditation are the most effective ways to narrow my perception and bring myself back to the now. What does restorative, mindful self-care look like for you?

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