Sometimes Being on Auto is Good: How I Automated My Self-Care Practice

By Vanessa Mason. Photography by Eric Michael Ward.

Self-care is inarguably important. Well, at least once you realize the price of not engaging in self care. But sometimes self-care seems overwhelming, like it’s too much work in the present to care for our future selves. By the time I reached the point of truly caring about self-care, I was overwhelmed. When #adulting feels like the last thing I want to do, you need to focus on the essentials and eliminate the friction or obstacles to practicing self-care.

So much discussion about minimalism and simplification revolves around doing less. Doing less is necessary but partially misses the point of simplifying your life. You want to do less of the wrong things so you can do more of the right things. When you’re overwhelmed, sometimes getting started and figuring out details are the small nuisances blocking your ability to do the right things for your self-care.

Here are the steps that I have followed to simplify self-care, get rid of the nuisances and integrate self-care into my life to ensure it gets done as easily as possible:

1. Identify the guiding principles that contribute to your happiness and success.

Life is basically a series of choices you make and manage. It’s in your interest to identify and define guiding principles that move you toward happiness and enable you to avoid distractions or obstacles. In my case, I need to feel physically energetic and attractive as well as emotionally whole to be happy. I need quality time with loved ones to feel like my best self. I also need novelty (typically in the form of traveling or learning something new) as well as creativity to feel like I’m living in my purpose. Lastly, I need financial security to have peace of mind. I use these principles to assess how I contribute to my happiness and success.

2. Have a plan to make decisions or judgments in a timely manner based on these criteria.

Every individual makes decisions in different ways. Some of us need encyclopedic pros and cons lists or flowcharts while some of us are more impulsive, opting to leap and address the consequences later. Or maybe you need to talk it out with close friends. Whatever your decision making process, know that it’s only wrong if it doesn’t help you stick to your guiding principles in a timely manner. Indecision is still a decision. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had many the self-inflicted wound from succumbing to procrastination or analysis paralysis. Don’t make the same mistake I did; give yourself deadlines for decisions so you don’t slide into a situation that’s not good for you.

3. Follow through on your decisions and manage complications.

Every habit has three parts: trigger, task, treasure. Simplifying and automating your self-care can come in handy because it takes the trigger or the cue for that self-care habit out of your hands, ensuring that you follow through without worrying about the ebbs and flows of motivation. This frees up space and energy to periodically reevaluate if you’re still on track with sticking to your guiding principles. Over time you may find that the treasure or reward has shifted and you need to edit these people, places and activities from your life. I’ve outgrown places I frequented that used to make me happy or feel like distractions from opportunities that will contribute to my happiness rather than simply existing.

Here are some examples of how this approach has allowed me to simplify and in some cases automate my self-care.

Nutrition: Healthy eating is a huge contributor to my ability to feel energetic. Through so much trial and error, I’ve found that a lower carb, moderate protein and fat way of eating works to keep me happy and at the top of my game. Like many people, I meal prep which does save some time and ensure that I have healthy food. The real life saver has been the “healthy formulas” that I have developed to simplify grocery shopping and budgeting:

  1. Have a source of protein for every meal.

  2. Include healthy fats in every meal.

  3. Pile on as many veggies as I can manage.

  4. My lunch = protein + refrigerator salad.

  • Protein = tuna, salmon, sardines, chicken, etc.
  • Refrigerator salad = sturdy leafy greens (eg. kale, cabbage) + vinaigrette.
  • My dinner = carb substitute + veggies + protein + optional sauce/vinaigrette
  • Carb substitute = zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, sautéed leafy greens (eg. kale, collard greens)
  • Optional sauce/vinaigrette: lemon tahini, lime cilantro, peanut sauce, honey chipotle, apple cider vinaigrette

Clothes: I’ve developed a pretty style uniform that I put on when I want to be sure that I feel confident and attractive: a printed dress and booties. I’ll also add a bold lipstick to add color to my face. This uniform helps me avoid that yucky feeling of “I have nothing to wear” on days where Monica’s Don't Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days) is on repeat in my head.

Emotional Wellbeing: I’ve established a morning routine that allows me to start the day on the right foot. I make ginger tea and add fresh squeezed lemon juice and read my daily Shine Text for daily inspiration and aspiration while I drink it. On the weekends I will listen to one of Tracy G’s audio vision boards or an inspirational podcasts while drinking the tea. I skim through articles in Nuzzel to read something educational.

Digital Detox: I’ve turned off all of my notifications except those in messaging apps. My reasoning for excluding these is that they allow me to stay in touch with loved ones which of course is one of my guiding principles. I also limit the number of times that I check email during the day. I use the plug in Mixmax to schedule replies when I do check my email. I also have templates for my most common emails so I don’t spend more time than necessary as email tends to be more of a distraction than a great means of staying in touch.

Financial Security: Raise your hand if you’ve got student loan debt! Me too. Once I graduated from grad school, I got very intentional about managing my finances which was overwhelming. I’ve automated much of my personal finances and do periodic check-ins to see where I need to make changes. All of my bills are paid automatically through my bank’s bill pay or the vendor’s direct debit. I also deduct a set percentage for both savings and investing automatically one day after my paycheck posts to my account. This way I don’t even miss the money. I’ve used Capital One for mine, but there are apps like Robinhood, Acorns, and Digit that allow you to take care of your financial future relatively painlessly.

All of these rules, formulas and automations better allow me to enjoy the fruits of my self-care with less hassle: more joy, inner peace and resilience. I also have more freedom and creativity to successfully build my business in a way that doesn’t compromise my health and happiness.

Vanessa Mason improves lives through technological and healthcare innovations that leverage behavioral science, habit formation and social psychology to scale businesses that improve health. As an entrepreneur herself, Vanessa has personally experienced and recovered from burnout to build a healthy life and successful business. She’s the creator of Healthy Hustle Habits, an online program for 9-5ers with side hustles to build the mindset and practices for a healthy life and higher income. Vanessa lives in San Francisco, has roots in Houston and history in Brooklyn and a few countries. When she’s not working, she practices self-care by getting out of her head and moving her body, either dancing or practicing yoga. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.