The concept of self-care, dominated by the beauty and wellness industry, can often seem not only overly expensive and time-consuming but simply unrealistic. Trying to figure out how to prioritize yourself while surrounded by the unattainable standards present in social media and, frankly, everywhere around us tends to be a draining experience. So, as a personal development geek, I naturally found myself pondering over these questions:
“What does self-care actually mean?”
“Is it important, and if so, what are the benefits?”
“How to put yourself first on a daily basis?”
There’s this mainstream materialistic understanding of self-care as a luxurious activity of spending a relaxing day at a spa with your friends, eating chocolates while taking a warm bath, or treating yourself to a glass of fancy wine at the end of a long day.
All of those examples are valid and pleasurable in moderation; there’s no doubt about it. However, it is also essential to recognize that self-nurturing and self-indulgence are two different things that need to be kept in balance, especially since the latter can have various negative lasting effects. I think we all have tasted the compulsive or addictive potential of binge-watching Netflix, more and more cheat days, so-called ‘retail therapy’ and so on.
I really believe that prioritizing yourself goes deeper than occasionally enjoying a fleeting moment of a dopamine-induced “high” accompanying a pricey splurge. Having these precious moments of slowing down, focusing our attention inwards and honouring ourselves does have a lasting impact on our well-being.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes,
including you.” – Anne Lamott
The last point is crucial in understanding the very core concept here: self-care is NOT selfish.
Once again, repeat after me: prioritizing yourself is not selfish. It is, in fact, one of the most selfless acts we could do. I know it can be hard to wrap your head around this counterintuitive idea. So stay with me and hear me out.
Let’s start with this quick question:
What is the number one rule of responding to an emergency?
Put your own safety first before helping others.
Think of the last time you took a flight. You may have noticed that the safety instructions that are presented on a plane clearly say that in case of a sudden pressure loss, we must first put on the oxygen mask over our face, and only after that can we assist others. Nobody questions that, right? After all, it makes sense – there’s not a lot (or, in this case, anything) we could do without the much-needed air.
While this example is quite extreme, it symbolizes the importance of caring for yourself. It seems pretty obvious that if we don’t attend to our own needs, we’re of no good use to others.
Yet, we often do the complete opposite, myself included. There are many reasons for making that seemingly illogical decision:
On a daily basis, it is not the air or basic safety that we’re lacking but something as simple as a moment of self-attention and relaxation dedicated explicitly to ourselves. Even though it is not too much to ask for, we seem to forget that and at times even disregard completely our basic needs in the name of… everything and everyone else. Over time, we inevitably stretch ourselves too thin, offering our best selves to the outside world and ending up satisfying the bare minimum of our personal needs.
Much like the old saying goes: “You can’t pour from an empty cup”
– showing up for other people around us when we’re stressed out, sleep-deprived, and on edge does no good and brings no additional value.
Liberate yourself from the pressure to be impeccable at all times. I invite you to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly parts of being a human. Pay attention to your self-talk. Instead of feeding into your inner critic and acting from a place of fear, choose to treat yourself as you would treat a friend – with compassion and kindness. Embody this intention, not only once in a while, but every single day. Let it remind you of how valuable your relationship with the self is.
The secret to successfully nurturing our inner relationship lies in the simple commitment of setting aside some “me-time” every day. It is the commitment that can bring the actual, long-lasting change to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. I’ve noticed a distorted image of self-care as an effortless, spontaneous thing that ‘just happens’. Well, let me break the news for you: if you want to live a happy, meaningful and stable life, it doesn’t happen by accident. On the contrary, it is in your best interest to put yourself first on purpose. Just as easily as you schedule time with your friends, reserve a spot for your beautiful self in the personal agenda. It is really essential to grasp the importance of that concept on the journey of getting to know yourself.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities” – Stephen Covey
You might be thinking: “I’m not an organized type of person. I am definitely not a planner. Even worse, I don’t even use a calendar”. Don’t quit on me just yet, though!
The research actually shows that planning out our lives down to a T, leisure activities included, can quite literally suck out the joy of the supposedly fun ideas and leave us emotionally drained. In a world obsessed with efficiency and productivity, there’s a tendency to make use out of everything we do. So, we plan our free time and put it on our to-do lists, making ourselves unconsciously miserable. That is precisely when our brains stop interpreting leisure activity like self-care as pleasure and start labelling it as a chore and yet another responsibility that needs to be done.
What could possibly be a solution to this particular issue?
Two words: rough scheduling.
The authors, Malkoc and Tonietto, propose in their paper a method of planning your free time activities in a flexible way that allows us to be responsive to any changes that might appear in the daily agenda. Assign a date and block some time for your activity of choice, but don’t be so specific and rigid about it. For example, it is generally better to roughly schedule a morning meditation and do it “after breakfast” not “at 8 A.M. sharp”. It doesn’t have to be so complicated and challenging. Use whatever you like: a calendar, a planner, a visual cue, a phone alarm etc. At the end of the day, what truly matters here is having a reminder of performing this daily act of self-kindness.
Another way to prioritize your needs and engage in self-care is using the already existing habits to your advantage. It can be discouraging to hear so many voices online telling you to form a new habit, start a morning routine etc. It’s definitely easier said than done. But, once again, there’s no need to complicate it. I am sure you already have beloved rituals that you look forward to during the day. Treat these habits as a beautiful reminder to prioritize yourself and an opportunity to strengthen the most important relationship of all – the one with yourself.
As a person who adores the slow and quiet energy of the morning, most days, I wake up feeling excited to go to the kitchen, brew an aromatic cup of coffee and sit at a table with a book. I do it every single day, I will keep on doing it for as long as I can, and I swear – I will never get bored of that peaceful and intimate moment with myself. There’s an element of soul-nurturing kindness embedded in that activity, and it leaves me feeling relaxed, nourished and ready for the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Whether it’s taking a walk, doing some yoga, meditating, journaling or enjoying an evening tea, you can benefit from that. Take the time to become mindful of your emotions and thoughts. Evoke the feeling of gratefulness for this unique human experience. Thank yourself for being just the way you are at this very moment. Make the conscious choice of honouring and respecting yourself with these daily habits.
How do you understand self-care?
What are some of your favourite habits that you can use as a foundation of self-care?
What would you answer to the question “how to prioritize yourself”?
Feel free to use these questions as journaling prompts. They might help with the daily commitment of making yourself a priority.
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