6 Revolutionary Secrets to Mastering the Art of Self Care
November 27th, 2012 by Katie Morton
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The message gets beat into women, especially moms: put your own oxygen mask on first; if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good for your loved ones. It’s kind of insulting, isn’t it? That we should only take care of ourselves so that we’re useful to others. Really? The sting of the insult aside, we all learn sooner or later that taking care of ourselves is vital to our own health and happiness. Even when we know that, it still seems epically difficult to practice in the real world.
Here’s the bad news: it’s a little more complicated than we’ve been told. The good news is that with an attitude adjustment, self-care becomes attainable rather than a series of broken resolutions. The foundation of self-care lies in the adoption of these 6 key principles.
1. Commit to Feeling Good
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This is the most traditional solution in the bunch, but it’s still hard to grasp the nuances. When most people think of self-care, the reflex solution that comes to mind is to nurture your body by giving it enough sleep, nutrition, and movement. While this is often an essential element, it’s not the end-all-be-all for everybody.
Forget all of that and ask yourself this question: What do I need to feel self-possessed and centered? Perhaps this means scheduling your life in a realistic and sustainable way. Perhaps a clear and clean space makes you feel good. Maybe you need to consider a new career path, or you want to carve out the time to intensely engage in a particular hobby. Take the time to figure out what actually makes you feel good and commit to getting it done. Don’t overwhelm yourself by picking too many things to focus on. Just promise yourself the essentials of feeling good. When you fall off the horse, climb back on.
2. Love Yourself Unconditionally
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Self-care requires unconditional self-love. This is easier said than done when we might have cruel inner voices that are quick to criticize and slow to soothe. Showing yourself unconditional love involves a combination of patience, kindness, and taking an interest in your own emotions and what they might signal. Self-care means thinking encouraging thoughts to yourself — not beat-me-up thoughts and not trolling the memory banks for something-I-did-wrong thoughts.
When you love yourself unconditionally, you realize that you are human, you are not supposed to be perfect, and you don’t deserve to berate yourself when you don’t measure up to your own impossible standards. You are worthy of constant love; no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how you feel, you are worthy of your own love and respect. You do not deserve to be punished for being human.
3. Don’t Confuse Luxuries With Self-Care
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We sometimes think if we squeeze in lunch with a friend, get a spa treatment, or see a movie that these count as acts of self-care. But then we wonder why we don’t feel rejuvenated or rested. It’s because these are luxuries — not to be confused with caring for yourself in a basic way. Self-care means discovering and fulfilling your true desires, and the color of your toenails most likely doesn’t factor into that equation.
Of course doing these things for yourself isn’t bad or wrong, it’s just that those luxuries don’t make you feel good unless you’ve already been practicing self-care and have done your best to meet your innermost needs. Worst case, these luxuries slap a Band-Aid on our feelings and serve as a confounding distraction from what we truly need.
4. Get Yourself in Balance
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High achievers think we need to attend an Iyengar yoga class five days a week, drink wheat grass shots and eschew icky things like pop culture to keep our souls pure. Here’s a wakeup call: feeling virtuous is not the same thing as feeling good. Then there are the slackers among us who think that picking Doritos out of the couch cushions as a snack counts as a method of pampering ourselves. Lacking standards might make us feel good for five seconds tops, but sooner or later, we feel lost and disgusted. Some of us might swing between the extremes of virtue and slacking. This is not self-care.
It’s easy to seesaw in between a state of puritanism or overindulgence. Of course it’s natural to sometimes miss the mark and be too austere, followed by a period of excess. But the key is to do your best to remain in balance most of the time. Moderation is a big concept to embrace when it comes to self-care. The key to moderation is listening to what your body wants. Your body doesn’t actually want to eat a whole bag of chips or to let you run yourself ragged with no breaks. If you listen closely to how you actually feel physically, it’s much easier to stay in balance.
5. Become Aware of Your Feelings
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Self-care is about always making yourself – and your emotions – a top priority. If you’re not making your own feelings a priority, then who will? While you’re out there making yourself crazy by worrying about everybody else, who’s got your back? Nobody? Let’s change that.
Let’s say that something irritates you. It’s very common to think that we don’t want to rock the boat or express annoyance when something gets under our skin. The problem with always sweeping our emotions under the rug is that they eventually come out, whether it’s via self-abuse or passive aggressiveness towards our loved ones. Actively ignoring negative emotions means you are turning your back on yourself. Conversely, choosing to focus on yourself, how the irritation may be negatively affecting you, and deciding to resolve it is a wonderful action in support of self-care.
The flipside side of this equation is to savor day-to-day experiences to enhance positive emotions. Let time slow down for you. Notice things that delight you. Don’t always race on to the next thing. Instead, decide to observe pleasant experiences to reminiscence about; access your different sensory perceptions to build a well-rounded, happy memory. Mindfulness doesn’t always have to feel good, it’s just that you become aware of your feelings rather than brushing them aside in search of the next quick fix.
6. Create Clarity of Purpose
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Take some quiet moments to get clear with yourself about what your deepest intentions are, your goals and purpose in life, and – most importantly, whether or not your actions are in alignment with the results you want. Be honest with yourself about what your true wants and needs are; those would be things like love and a sense of calm, not things like a tube of raw cookie dough.
When you function from a place of clarity, you’re better able to stay in touch with what truly drives you. Once you get honest with yourself about what you really want, it’s much easier to switch your thinking from “have to” to “want to” when it comes to self-care.
From a place of knowing what you want out of life, you will be able to learn how to fulfill your needs. Once you know how to care for yourself, grace will eventually overcome struggle.