What Self-Care Really Means

When we think of self-care, we often conjure up images of luxurious, nice-to-have experiences, such as getting massages and pedicures, taking bubble baths, or going shopping.  It’s wonderful to do things that we enjoy and take care of ourselves and we should do these things.

But often, the underlying reason for doing these things is to get away from the negative feelings that we’ve been having on a regular basis, such as stress, anxiety, or overwhelm. The reason these things feel great in the moment is that they give our brains a temporary hit of dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter), which provides relief from the cortisol and other stress hormones caused by stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.  

What’s Your Reason for Self-Care? 

If your reason for spending time on self-care is that you want to be good to yourself, make your health and wellbeing a top priority, and give yourself time to rest, that’s an excellent reason!  The thoughts driving your action are clearly serving you and it makes sense to continue doing what you’re doing.  

If, on the other hand, your reason for doing them is to escape negative feelings in your everyday life, you’re going to find that the effects of your self-care are extremely short-lived, because they are not getting to the root cause of the problem.  If this is what is motivating you to engage in self-care, I’d like to suggest that there’s a better way.  

The Best Type of Self-Care

To get to the root of the problem you’ve got to practice what I believe to be the most powerful form of self-care you can do: to manage your mind.  This might not sound as relaxing or fun as getting a pedicure and reading a magazine, but the effect that it will have in your life is immeasurable. 

That’s because your thoughts are the one factor that determine how you feel, what you do, and what results you get.  They are also the one thing (of all of those things) that are the easiest to manage.  

The most important self-care action you can take is to spend five or ten minutes a day looking at your thoughts.  There are six simple steps:

  1. Write down what’s bothering you.
  2. Separate out the facts from the thoughts.  
  3. Pick one thought that is bothering you the most and notice how you feel when you think that thought.  
  4. Ask yourself: How do I want to feel about these facts or circumstances?  Write down the one-word emotion you want to have.
  5. What would you need to think in order to feel that way?  If you don’t believe that thought today, find a thought you can believe today.
  6. Finally, practice that new thought.  Say it out loud, write it down.  Direct your mind to that thought when it goes back to the old negative thoughts.  Notice how you feel. Notice that that thought is available to you 24/7.  

Super simple, portable, and quick. You can use it to unwind yourself from a tizzy or heal a past regret. You can use it to calm down when you’re stressed or overwhelmed. Yes, it requires some effort.  But it’s totally worth it.  

If you practice this daily, you may still want to go shopping or get a pedicure, but you won’t be doing it to escape anything.  You’ll be doing it for all the right reasons.

Have a beautiful week.