The Importance of Adaptability, Plus 6 Steps to Cultivate It
Deep self care is facilitated by adaptability.
In a sense, effective self care is synonymous with adaptability.
When I’m able to adapt, my needs don’t go unmet for long. I’m able to keep responding to what my body, mind, and emotions are asking for without getting tripped up on the details.
From this perspective, adaptability isn’t a quality I either possess or lack. It’s a quality that arises out of how well I’m cared for.
In other words, deep self care facilitates adaptability. It gives me the extra vitality I need to pivot when necessary. It provides me with reserve stores of energy so I can respond to life without getting depleted and stressed.
On the other hand, when I’m already depleted and running on empty, it’s much more difficult to cope with change.
Stress breeds a sense of scarcity.
This is largely because that energy reserve is already low, and an unexpected change taxes it even further.
The Energy Costs of Adapting
This type of energy reserve is sometimes known as adaptation energy.
Adaptation energy is the energy it takes to adapt to a new situation. Some theorize that every person has a store of this energy that can be depleted or refilled.
Inevitable life circumstances drain adaptation energy, including:
- a big move
- unexpected injury
- loss of a job
- a medical diagnosis
- the death of a loved one
- relationship strain
As an extreme example, living life “on the edge,” not knowing where you’re going to wake up or where you’re going to get your next meal, also puts a constant drain on adaptation energy.
Eventually, when all that energy runs out, it leads to stress, depletion, and burnout.
Self Care to the Rescue
I’ve also had plenty of practice operating from a stress-state. Being in a state of stress makes normally “easy” things very, very difficult.
I don’t wish living from a stress-state on anyone. That’s why I’m so obsessed with self care and sharing it with others. It’s the strong, solid foundation that allows me to be my best self.
Having a solid self care routine acts like an anchor that can get me through some of the toughest storms. It has the opposite effect of unexpected events that require adaptation. It cultivates the reserves that the inevitable changes of life can sap.
I rely on the solid foundation that my self-care routine provides me as the first step in cultivating, maintaining, and protecting my energy state, my mental health, and my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It’s that important to me.
It’s my head-to-toe insurance policy that guarantees that no matter what comes up, I have the tools I need to weather the changes.
Cultivating an Energy Bank
That self care “insurance policy” is essentially a bank of energy that I can withdraw from to face life head-on, or sideways, or even upside down if need-be.
These are the steps I take to cultivate it:
- Treat sleep like it’s sacred.
- Stick to the routine (without getting anal about it).
- Treat food like it’s fuel and a source of pleasure, joy, and togetherness.
- Honor my relationships as reflections of myself.
- Protect my space.
- Don’t forget to play.
Treat sleep like it’s sacred
I learned to appreciate sleep when I had a baby. Up to that point, I was happy to stay out late with friends or even pull an all-nighter.
Once I had an infant calling the shots when it came to my sleep schedule, I truly understood the sacred power of sleep.
I got the sage advice from some more experienced mamas to sleep when my baby slept, and learned the hard way by not taking that advice on several occasions that these ladies knew what they were talking about.
If I skipped napping when my baby napped, I noticed I was more likely to feel:
These aren’t nice ways to feel when you’re spending time with your infant. So, I learned to put myself down for a nap right along with my little one.
It became a part of my commitment to being a good parent to him — it involved parenting myself too.
According to a 2021 study of 273,695 US adults, participants who got 6 hours or less of sleep per night were about 2.5 times more likely to have frequent mental distress than those who slept more than 6 hours.
In many traditions, like Hinduism, sleep is literally considered sacred.
It’s believed to be a state of consciousness that naturally connects us to the divine, as we lose our sense of individual separateness and surrender to the safety, calm, and indivisibility of the sleep-state.
Meditation and sleep share many similarities, and we experience deep rejuvenation and healing when we sleep. Simply put, sleep has plenty of health benefits.
Stick to the routine (without getting anal about it)
I’ll share a little about me; I used to be very perfectionistic and even dogmatic in my early years.
It took me a while to realize that removing the proverbial stick from my you-know-where did a lot more for my health and well-being than stressing out about every little decision I made.
That said, I also experienced the opposite effect as I was trying to establish my new, non-anal-retentive boundaries.
When I let my routine go completely, things got a little crazy. I sometimes felt like I was just blowing in the wind without an anchor.
I’ve found that having gentle boundaries around my routine helps me feel grounded, intentional, and like I’m in charge of my own care.
Again, it’s a bit like parenting myself: I know I’m at my best when I have my naps, do my oil massage, poop every day, etc. Therefore, I make sure those things happen.
Otherwise, I’m basically a cranky toddler, or worse.
Treat food like it’s fuel and a source of pleasure, joy, and togetherness
Food is fuel. Food is medicine. Food is life. And food is also pleasure.
I now understand that if I’m not enjoying my food, it’s not benefiting me as much as it could be.
I make every effort to eat the healthiest food that’s available to me and treat my body like the temple it is.
At the same time, I understand that a gooey, sticky cinnamon bun cooked by grandma with love may just have a healing power all its own.
And when I can, I share the love by eating in good company. Like life, food is meant to be enjoyed together.
Honor my relationships as reflections of love
When I relate to people like objects in orbit around me, I suffer. I suffer from disconnection, a lack of belonging, and a deficit of the emotional texture of being a human being.
Sometimes, due to anxiety or depression, this is unavoidable for a time. My heart contracts and I feel locked up inside myself, just like a lonely little planet spinning wildly in space.
Object-consciousness reduces me and the people around me to just that: objects.
When the clouds part and the sun comes out, my heart is able to open. These are the times when I feel most human, loving, and myself.
No matter who comes into contact with my itty bitty sphere of existence, I recognize that their presence is nothing short of a divine miracle. When you consider the odds of each chance encounter, you’ll see what I mean.
This doesn’t equate to contriving a ton of meaning and significance about every relationship I have, or holding on to the self-important notion that everyone is a reflection of me and is therefore here for my benefit.
It’s simply a way to acknowledge the simple yet profound gift that relationships can be for social animals like we humans.
Every connection is a reflection of love shining back at us, and the more we can open our hearts, the more we experience that reflection without distortion.
Protect my space
This one is an essential follow up to the last. You see, I used to think that having an open heart meant giving myself away, defacing my ego, and essentially just having really poor boundaries.
Sure, I’d reason, I can give a little more, relent yet again, or keep my opinion to myself one more time. Why not?
Certainly, these are good qualities to evoke from time to time.
Even still, I’ve learned that having strong boundaries and protecting my physical, emotional, and energetic space is absolutely essential so that I can be at my best and actually give of myself in ways that matter, not in ways that deplete me or undermine my sense of self.
This is how I fill my cup so I can fill others.’
Don’t forget to play
Just like my somewhat tongue-in-cheek admonishment to myself to not get anal around food, I constantly remind my judgy, stressy, perfectionist mind not to get anal around life either.
This is where play comes in.
I was lucky to get schooled in play by those who do it best: a classroom full of preschoolers. Those kids are experts at being in the present moment, giving themselves totally to their imaginations, and getting their play on.
These days, my kiddo continues to remind me to have a sense of humor about the world, and I seek out play through dance, art, gardening, and just about anything my inner child decides she’s into.
Topping off the Tank
I now look at my life as a constant opportunity to fill my tank so that I can in turn be of greater service to life itself. This comes through in parenting, work, and interpersonal relationships.
Being full means I can take the twists and turns of life. I’m ready for what comes. I can adapt.
When my cup runneth over, there’s plenty to go around for everyone.