During the month of April, the Facebook group I moderate called “Healthy Habits Everyday” took on a challenge called “Taking Action April” where everyday participants did one thing on their to-do list that they just didn’t feel like doing in order to transform our feeling resistance toward daily tasks.
This month, we’re going to tackle the Minimum Baseline – or at least establish one, hopefully.
MINIMUM BASELINE CONCEPT
The concept of the Minimum Baseline (as described by Brooke Castillo in her podcast) is essentially the smallest commitment you can make that you know you can follow through on to make progress in an area of your life. For example, If you want to be a regular exerciser but you don’t exercise regularly, your minimum baseline might be 10 minutes of walking 3xs a week. That’s the minimum you can commit to in order to make progress on becoming a person who exercises regularly.
I have, however, tweaked the concept based on my own experience with the “bare minimum” – a daily protocol I came up with while I was my mother’s full-time caregiver. For me, there was a “bare minimum” of tasks I needed to commit to every day in order to be a functional human being in the world and keep commitments to myself. If I wasn’t a functional human being, I couldn’t care for my mother, be a producing artist, or be a good friend. Period. So I learned to do the Minimum Baseline to keep my body, my mind, and my integrity intact.
So I had a list of essential things that had to happen every day for me and my life to stay afloat:
- shower at least every other day (I could not go longer and feel like myself)
- take my antidepressants every day
- do at least one load of laundry a day (caregiving means a lot of dirty sheets and towels)
- Set up mom’s meds everyday and organize her bedside cart
- Check the schedule and pay bills
- Set up our meals for the day
That was the Minimum Baseline. If I was sick or in the middle of production on a show or her doctors appointments were crazy, doing those six things would at least mean our essential needs were met. If our essential needs were met, when things went off the rails (like a sudden hospitalization) I at least didn’t have to figure out where her meds were – or wonder if I had taken mine.
Having a Minimum Baseline protocol for our daily lives can help us keep things together when the daily grind starts getting to us, when our schedules become particularly impacted, or when our mental health issues start to settle in on us.
MINIMUM BASELINE FOR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Having a Min Baseline commitment to ourselves can help us maintain any physical and health gains we currently enjoy as well as support our mental health, even when it seems to be fighting against us.
If we have dietary needs, a minimum baseline for (example) adding vegetables or healthy fats to the diet, drinking our water, getting enough sleep, or having a cap on how much refined carb or added sugar is a good basic. Keeping our bodies at their minimum baseline for health is the very first step.
Mental health habits are also right up there. Things like committing to take medications daily and to keep therapy appointments are integral to a Min Baseline for mental health. By deciding and sticking to what will keep us functional, we show ourselves support and care in a loving way. And when we can support ourselves we can then do what we need to do to support our loved ones, our careers, and our commitments.
Sidebar: In this particular podcast, the host of “Ask Clean Person” and the writer of “Unfuck your Habitat” talk about how they use a basic list of tasks to keep them going when their depression and anxiety kick in. Since Jolie cannot take antidepressants due to allergies, she talks about how she has to go to the gym and walk on a treadmill every day to support her mental health. Her podcast is awesome, but this two-parter about the connection between cleaning, making beds, and mental health is really good.
MINIMUM BASELINE FOR BUSY TIMES
I began to re-establish my “bare minimum protocol” when I started as the executive director of the Rogue Festival. Running a complicated festival while having a day-job definitely impacted my schedule for 10 months out of the year and my to-do list was overwhelming.
So in addition to the Essential Minimum Baseline, I established a few other items on the list. Things like “Work on Rogue 2 hours 4 weeknights and 4 hours on Saturdays” and “answer Rogue emails weekdays at 4 p.m. for 1 hour. By putting these on the Min Baseline list, I committed to working for that time on the Festival rather than just hoping that I’d “feel like doing it.” As a result, I kept the ball moving forward during those busy times, even if it wasn’t done perfectly. I was still tired and often frustrated, but I felt a lot less overwhelmed with a Min Baseline in play than without one.
MINIMUM BASELINE FOR WHEN THINGS ARE OKAY
Ironically, it is when things are going pretty smoothly in life that Minimum Baselines tend to fall by the wayside. So when things are pretty routine, that’s the time to try to level up with an OVERALL MINIMUM BASELINE. I look at five areas of life and brainstorm some minimum baseline habits (daily or weekly) that might help keep a good life-balance intact.
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Work/Creative Life
- Household/Daily LIfe
- Other (for those things specific to your life that need upkeep!)
ESSENTIAL MINIMUM BASELINE
For those who are just starting out with creating daily habits or those who struggle to keep them up, consider an ESSENTIAL MIN BASELINE. The essential Min Baseline is the five or six things you need to do everyday to keep you getting out of bad and not totally screwing up your life. Pull out a piece of paper and scratch out the minimum you can commit to in order to be a functional human being.
They are things like “actually get out of bed, even if it is just to move to the couch” and “take my meds!”. For some people daily movement is on the list, which can help boost the mood and reduce anxiety. For others it is to make the bed, which can also help reduce anxiety or sometimes helps folks sleep better. Basic hygiene (brush teeth, comb hair, shower) may be on the list, particularly if you struggle with self-care when depressed.
OVERALL MINIMUM BASELINE
If things are pretty okay for you and you pretty much have the “get out of bed and brush your teeth” things handled, consider brainstorming the six areas you can develop an OVERALL MINIMUM BASELINE protocol.
For physical health, I keep up 4 basics: 24 Hour Food Plan, Sleep 7+ hours, Water 64+ oz and 30 minutes of movement five days per week. But this month I’m adding 3 High Intensity Interval workouts and strength training 2xs per week to try and level it up. The level up really improves my mood and outlook. Some folks have dietary Minimum Baselines like a certain number of vegetarian meals each week.
Then I look at perhaps one or two EASY things I can do daily or weekly to keep up the other areas. Examples: refill meds early, set out next day’s items by the door, make bed and empty dish rack daily, work 30 min on admin for my show 3xs a week, touch base with a friend once a week, do one small thing I don’t feel like doing, schedule 30 minutes of quiet time every day, etc.
Try to keep your Overall Min Baseline manageable, though! Don’t get all overachiever on this. Remember, these are commitments you’re making to yourself. Make sure they are realistic.
ADDING TO YOUR MINIMUM BASELINE
Once you have a Minimum Baseline protocol working every day to keep you functional, that’s when you can layer in a few other habits to keep things moving along toward a satisfying life. You may want to re-evaluate your Min Baseline every quarter or twice a year to see if it still fits your needs or if you can level up. Or even where you’ve let things slip.
If we cultivate no other habits outside of having a daily protocol for our overall health, we’ll be a lot farther along than most people. After 31 days of enacting a Minimum Baseline, it is very likely that you will have changed your relationship with your life habits in various small ways. The goal is to feel functional more regularly, to make choices on what we will do for ourselves without fail, and to create a small space of true self-care that is often desperately needed.
MINIMUM BASELINE MAY
For the month of May, consider creating a Minimum Baseline to execute every day. Remember to keep it to a handful of habits that you can absolutely commit to that will help keep you and your life functional.
Track the month on a habit tracker and check in weekly to see which you’re falling behind on.
Shoot for 85%-90% or better for the month of May and evaluate how you feel at the end. Let me know how it goes!