Self Management Is the Key to Unlocking a Bright Future

A big part of maturing is gradually becoming more independent. This process can be helped along by a practice called self-management.

“Self-management means taking responsibility for your own behavior and wellbeing,” says Marilyn Marencik, CRNP, RN, a nurse practitioner in Penn Medicine’s Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine Department. “Practicing self-management can help you build self-confidence and lead a productive life.”

When you don’t stay up too late on a school night and set your alarm for the next morning, that’s self-management. So is brushing your teeth and showering. And taking a medication as it was prescribed. All those little things add up. But they can also feel overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you establish a self-management routine.

Make a Plan

Set goals for the long term and make to-do lists in the short term. You need to know what you’re working toward. Goals will help you envision your future. And to-do lists will ensure you’re doing the stuff that needs to be done daily to achieve them.

Get into the habit of making a list at the end of the day so you have a clear plan in the morning. If there’s a lot ahead of you, set reminders on your phone. They’ll also help you budget your time.

Give Yourself One Less Thing to Stress About

Another aspect of planning is meal prep.

“Meal prepping can go a long way toward ensuring you always have nutritious food at the ready,” Marencik says. “And that’s important because, when you’re short on time or you just don’t have the mental capacity to come up with an idea for dinner and then execute it, the tendency is to reach for something that’s fast and processed.”

The danger with eating such food on a regular basis is that it lacks the nutrients a growing body needs, which could leave you feeling chronically sluggish. A study also found that a diet loaded with “ultra-processed” foods and added sugars may make you feel more stressed and anxious than you otherwise would.

Spend a few minutes Googling meal prep recipes. Once you home in on some you like, set aside a couple hours one afternoon for buying the necessary ingredients and making the meals. The idea is to cook enough to provide yourself (and the rest of your family, if you’re feeling generous) with lunches and dinners for a week.

Take a Timeout

If you ever feel like you’re not getting anywhere with homework, a college application essay, or even Fortnite, put it down and come back to it later. Turning your attention elsewhere can be its own kind of inspiration, Marencik says.

It’s also important to develop a sense of self-awareness. If you’re waking up and immediately feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, pushing through may be necessary in a pinch, but it’s not a sustainable strategy.

“As important as it is to stay on top of your schoolwork, extracurricular commitments, job, and home life, it’s just as important to recognize when it’s all getting to be a bit much,” Marencik says. “When that time comes, don’t be afraid to take some downtime.”

Try to clear your schedule for the weekend, then use that time to reassess what’s important to you. It might feel irresponsible to back out of a commitment you already made, but it’s actually a sign of maturity to be able to establish clear boundaries, Marencik says. Doing so means saying no once in a while.

Don’t Be Shy About Trying

Maybe most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. (Parents, we need you to hear that, too.)
“Perfection should never be the goal. It’s to try and then try again,” Marencik says.

“Disappointing and frustrating as failing may feel in the moment, you will learn from the experience and grow as a result.”

A parent’s instinct is to intervene when they see their child struggling. “Often, however, it’s more supportive to give the child the space to figure things out for themselves,” Marencik says.

“And when they do, the confidence and self-worth they gain from the experience will feel more earned.”

That’s significant because a growing belief in themselves is largely what will motivate a teen to embrace new challenges, whether it’s scheduling their own doctor’s appointment or volunteering in support of a cause that’s meaningful to them. And each new achievement will bring them closer to independence.

Independence Shouldn’t Feel Lonely

While independence is the goal here, it’s not the be-all, end-all.

“Just because you’re becoming more independent doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help in those moments when you feel like you’re struggling,” Marencik says.

Regardless of age, everyone benefits from nurturing a support system. But for a teen, it’s vital. These years are when you’re learning how to be there for trusted peers and, in turn, how to lean on them. And the more adults you have in your life who care about you, the more likely you’re going to be to keep making good decisions.

The truth is, self-management is an ongoing process. It doesn’t end when you get into college or move out of your parents’ home. Learning how to tend to your needs now will prepare you for taking on more nuanced and complex responsibilities down the road. That ability, after a certain point, won’t make you anymore independent, but it will make you dependable.

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