June 24th - July 24th is the World Health Organization’s official Month for Self Care. The laudable goal is to encourage all people to seek healthcare.
Which got me thinking:
I encourage my coaching clients, friends, and family to schedule yearly well-visits, quarterly dental visits, yearly pap smears…
And I know most of those same people attempt self-care: eating right, exercising, getting adequate sleep, getting massages - and taking the weekly spa-night bubble bath!
Most people do self-care all wrong!
In fact, I bet your acts of self-care are, honestly, a waste of time, candles, and bubble bath.
Defined as acts, for the most part, that attend to one’s body, here’s a list of popular self-care actions:
Vacations - or relaxation breaks
Time in nature
Time with a pet
Now, I would NEVER turn down a warm bubble bath with candles and music - or an afternoon with spiced-coffee, a Brandon Sanderson novel, and my cat! And we cannot deny that superior hygiene, nutrition, sleep, etcetera, secure a healthy and happy life.
Or do they? Perhaps not solely.
Even if we focus on the obvious list, we might be missing (or avoiding) CRUCIAL SELF-CARE ACTIONS.
In fact, after 15 years of coaching others, I can confirm that MOST people use the self-care list above as COVER to AVOID MEANINGFUL SELF-CARE!
If you sandwich your inebriated bubble bath between exhausting meetings, negative self-talk, unreasonable demands, boundary violations, anxiety attacks, and tears, you are putting a bandage on your gaping wound.
Binge-eating your favorite junk food is a nice “cheat day treat” - but the return on investment is seconds of pleasure.
Lavish vacations or spa days. Budget killers for moments of hedonism.
Same goes for binge watching a show or, even, I admit, a weekend cuddling with my cat and a book!
Even the most fastidious, confident person will use the list of healthy acts as evidence of self-care.
But let’s get raw and honest?
True self-care is about prioritizing one’s physical and mental health. It includes adopting healthy habits - like nutrition and exercise and rest. And cuddling with the cat and a good book!
But it STARTS with PRIORITIZING.
And you cannot successfully commit self-care without taking that step.
YOU are number one in your life.
I remember as a new mom, all the matriarchs of the family called and visited with lists of advice and recipe cards and words of encouragement. The ONE piece of advice they all echoed: If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else.
So, let’s commit to TRUE self-care.
NUMBER ONE: YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU NEED. This will take brutal honesty - and careful reflection. I suggest using a list of human needs to inspire your own list.
You can read a full article here. In summary, consider your need for:
Stability: includes the things you need to feel safe and secure. Describe your career or job, your income needs, your residence, your clothing - and your health needs! Honestly, all those self-care gurus ONLY focus on Stability Needs. But we have six more…
Stimulation: is the level of excitement and stimulation you prefer in your life. Consider all your emotional needs - and your sensory needs. For example, I need to be super-active and experience new things - and meet new people - every day.
Identity: is the way the world sees you as a special individual. These are situations and activities that satisfy your ego. Maybe you have to compete - or have a title at work. Maybe you require everyone in town to know you are your kid’s parent.
Connection: is your desire to be part of a tribe, to be with others, to be seen as a member. You may insist on holidays around the table with family and friends, for example.
Expression: is your desire to express yourself. Consider it your creativity and the manner in which you share your talents, skills, and knowledge. Do you enjoy leading? Teaching? Writing? Playing the trombone? If you were stopped from expressing yourself, how would it affect you?
Awareness: is your desire to learn and experience the world around you. How do you challenge your awareness? Some people prefer reading three books a week. Others need to travel. Some need to take workshops and classes. Others focus on meditation or visualization - or improving his or her intuition. Some people need logic and math problems to solve. What do you need?
Meaning: is your desire to give your life meaning and purpose. To answer the question, Why Are We Here? Consider your spiritual side - and your belief about the nature of existence. If you do not satisfy this need - your connection to the universe, to your god or religion - you will find your life is void of motivation.
Take a moment (a weekend!) to journal all your needs.
Each person will weigh the needs differently and the weight he or she places on a particular need is driven by personality, culture, and values. For example, you may value connection over identity - preferring to be part of a work-team than being an all-alone leader. Or you may value stability over stimulation - and, therefore, be a home-body versus and adventurous person.
Yet, every person must attend to each need to truly commit to self-care.
Consider this: If you are an adventurous person and your significant other insists on staying home every night… your self-care is suffering.
Or: When your passion and purpose (your need for expression and meaning - and identity) are no longer aligned with your work - and you must change course!
And consider: if you ignore your stability need (or any of your needs), you will suffer consequences (illness, injury, financial difficulties, career setbacks…).
Which brings us to…
NUMBER TWO: YOU NEED TO VOICE YOUR NEEDS.
You can make your self-care needs list as detailed as you can - but if you don’t speak it, live it, demand it - what’s the point?
Boundaries are THE KEY to self-care. Most people misunderstand boundaries - so, let’s define it:
Boundaries are: guidelines, rules or limits a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.
Once you establish clear boundaries, you protect your energy and your time. You decide who gets your energy - and who gives you his or her energy. You choose when and where you act. You choose what you support and what you deny.
Yet, establishing and holding boundaries can be a major issue for people-pleasers or yes-type-A people! Saying yes to everyone and everything ensures you will fail - at everything and everyone!
On the other end of the spectrum, those who distrust can have such ridged boundaries, life is unsatisfying and… lonely.
Self-Care requires a rainbow of actions - and facing and voicing your needs bravely and honestly. Avoiding true self-care - or pretending your bubble baths and facials are self-care - is a deep and powerful message: Why are you not caring for yourself?
How about getting some help with your self-care plan? Check out the Break Method lecture, Self Care that Actually Works.