I am quite surprised that “self-care” wasn’t on the “words to get rid of list” for 2019. Books, blogs and podcasts (including my own) talk about self-care with increasing frequency. It’s the buzzword du jour but what does it really mean?
Much of what you read about self-care is about short term and superficial solutions like getting a massage or treating yourself to your favorite tea. I am also guilty of this well-intentioned but short-sighted advice. A hot bath or a bouquet of flowers can be a soothing balm in a tough moment. But as soon as the water cools or the tea is gone, the comfort is often gone with it. It’s time to build a smarter self-care strategy with lasting results.
These days I prefer to play the long game. I strive to go beyond the surface and dig deeper into what it means to take care of yourself. It’s not an easy process, but the payoff is more real than a mani-pedi and more lasting than dark chocolate. The plan for a most sustainable sense of self-love and inner peace must start with a clear sense of who you are and what you value.
Who are you?
When we talk about identity, we often open the conversation with the roles we play: wife, mother, accountant, nurse, coach, etc. But these roles can be fleeting. In a blink of an eye, you could be on your own or without a job. Then who are you? Identity has to be rooted in a deeper sense of purpose and gifts.
For example, I’ve come to understand that my purpose in this world is to teach. I come alive when I’m learning and then passing that on to others. That happens in the gym, on these pages and in my everyday life as I try to live my values. I’m not perfect, but sharing my mistakes also teaches. Often I teach what I also need to learn.
If you’re not sure who you are or who you want to become, I offer two exercises. The first is to remember what you loved to do when you were a child. I was always playing school or reading. Education of myself and others (even if they were just my dolls) has always been at my core.
The second exercise is to write down six words: three words to describe who you are today and three to describe the person you want to be.
Please don’t overthink this one; try to go with your gut. If you get stuck, ask a friend for one word that they might use to describe you. The words you are drawn to can serve as pointers to the gifts you offer the world and your core identity. A smarter self-care strategy starts with things that nurture this identity. Your plan starts with actions that nourish you and allow your true self to flourish.
What are your values?
Values are related to your identity but I see them as more about your connection to the world and a compass for how to live your purpose and express your identity. They are a part of your contribution to the world.
Your values are yours. There are not for others to judge. It’s okay to pursue financial security. Valuing money isn’t a bad thing. Valuing stability over adventure or history over innovation is nothing to apologize for. Standing in your truth and accepting the things your heart desires will bring you more peace than fighting your nature every day in order to live up to someone else’s ideals.
I want you to give yourself freedom to explore your values. It can be as simple as the Perfect Day exercise.
I want you to paint a picture of what life would look like if you had TOTAL control of your path.
What would be different in your world?
Would your morning routine look different?
Would you have a different job?
How would your meals look?
Are there relationships that would change?
What might stay the same?
Are there things that you do daily or weekly that make you smile, relieve stress or keep you strong?
What would you read, write, or watch?
Where would you be?
You can write this out as a day or even a week in your life. You can pretend you’re making out a schedule for a week. If you’re artistic, make a collage. These are your values and desires; you express them however you wish. Don’t censure yourself or judge. Let yourself be open to all ideas.
With your values defined, you can set better boundaries. With clear boundaries in place, you can develop strategies to protect those boundaries. Better boundaries stop resentful feelings and allow space to recharge.
Make a mantra. I need something to hold on to—literally—during those awkward moments when an ask hangs in the air. So I bought a silver ring that I spin while silently repeating, “Choose discomfort over resentment.” My mantra reminds me that I’m making a choice that’s critical for my well-being—even if it’s not easy.
Keep a resentment journal. Whenever I’m marching around muttering cuss words under my breath, I grab what I lovingly refer to as my Damn It! Diary and write down what’s going on. I’ve noticed that I’m most resentful when I’m tired and overwhelmed—i.e., not setting boundaries.
Rehearse. I’ll often say, to no one in particular, “I can’t take that on” or “My plate is full.” Like many worthwhile endeavors, boundary setting is a practice.
Putting together a better sense of self by understanding your identity and values and setting boundaries is the foundation for building a smarter self-care strategy. With this clearer picture, we can go to the next level – supporting your body and mind for true wellness and living the life you want. I’ll share this second step on January 20. Subscribe to my email list here so you don’t miss it.