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Beyond a mani-pedi: Real self-care is all in your head.

Summary: As self-care goes, a bubble bath and pedicure are only a start. If you’re seeking something deeper - a self-care routine that reduces stress long-term and helps you live each day with more satisfaction - then read on! Learn how to certain types of self-care can help you change your life for the better.

Beyond a mani-pedi: Real self-care is all in your head.

Woman rubs lotion on her legs

Don’t get me wrong – I love pedicures. And I used to think that these were an important part of my self-care routine. Do they feel good? Absolutely. Do my pretty toes give me a small happiness boost? Yes again. But how often does a foot massage give you the insight and discipline necessary to successfully minister to your mental, emotional and physical health?

Probably never. 

Real self-care helps us reduce stress and navigate life so we can stay focused on what’s important without feeling overwhelmed. Achieving this often means doing things in the short-term that aren’t particularly enjoyable so we can appreciate long-term benefits.

Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward, puts it this way: “If we are being honest, self-care is actually kind of boring. Which is why self-care is a discipline. It takes discipline to do the things that are good for us instead of what feels good in the moment.” 

A bubble bath or a pedicure are fine as far as they go. Activities like these help us take the foot off the gas in our busy lives and catch our breath. They might even trigger a relaxation response – the counterpart to the fight-or-flight response which we feel when under duress. A state many of us, unfortunately, feel far too often. 

What is self-care, anyway?

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But these activities won’t provide much value over the long-term unless they’re part of a more comprehensive plan. To put such a plan in place, we need to identify what matters most to us and what daily practices provide the energy and discipline necessary to stay focused on these things without getting sidetracked.

Effective self-care, says author Brianna Wiest, “is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution . . . [Self-care] has very little to do with ‘treating yourself’ and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.”

Putting such a plan in place – and sticking with it – takes work. The good news, is that a comprehensive self-care plan allows us to live with greater purpose and also reduce stress. An effective self-care strategy helps us develop and maintain routines that reflect our highest priorities, while giving us permission to let lesser commitments fall away. Effective self-care helps us feel less overwhelmed by life.

Know thyself

Woman covers face with ornate mirror pointing at camera

The first step to putting a plan in place is understanding what you value most. Then, tie those values to the daily actions that will help you get a more meaningful and less stressful life. To address this we need to seek answers to “what” questions like these, What…:

  • Are your highest priorities? What lesser priorities are sucking up valuable time and need to fall away?
  • Actions reflect your highest priorities? What small daily steps can you take to move in this direction?
  • saps your energy?
  • Sidetracks you?
  • Energizes and motivates you?
  • Boundaries do you need to put in place that will help you adhere to your values and take better care of yourself?

Answers to these questions form a matrix of important information about you that’s necessary to stay focused and motivated. If I know that long-term health improves the quality of my life, then exercising regularly becomes part of my self-care routine. That means getting my butt off the couch and going for a run whether I feel like it or not. If I know that spending time with a gossipy co-worker puts me in a bad mood (and is likely to get me gossiping as well, which goes against my values), I’m going to put boundaries in place that limit my time with this person. 

Ain’t got no time

Developing self-awareness is the key to discovering the answers to these important questions; but becoming more self-aware has its challenges. 

For starters, many of us don’t relish the idea of turning the lens of discovery inward. What we find isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes, we unearth things about ourselves we’d rather not know. 

We also tend to think we know ourselves well when we really don’t. In fact, author Tasha Eurich has written an entire book on the subject. The book, Insight, helps us understand how we can develop better self-awareness to achieve greater success. She says, “In my team’s multi-year research program on self-awareness, we learned that even though most of us think we’re self-aware, this skill is in remarkably short supply.”

The truth is, it’s impossible to change your life for the better if you don’t understand your motivations and behavior. One research study indicates that “blind spots in self-knowledge can have negative consequences, such as poor decision-making, poor academic achievement, emotional and interpersonal problems, and lower life satisfaction.” 

Crystal ball shows man standing at sunset clearly, while rest of image is blurry

Developing self-understanding also takes time – something that’s often in short supply. And focusing on ourselves feels selfish. Who has time for the seemingly leisurely pursuit of self-awareness when there are kids to care for, meals to prepare, and work deadlines to meet?

But the insight gained from self-awareness is imperative, giving us the necessary information to shape our daily lives in the most meaningful way. Far from being a waste of time, investing in self-awareness is one of the most valuable things you can do.

Remember…you get to choose!

How we spend our time and expend energy demonstrates what we value most. Many of us accidentally spend way more time and energy than we mean to on pursuits that don’t reflect our highest priorities – and even run counter to them.

How many times have you said yes when you should have said no? Or scrolled mindlessly through Facebook rather than getting some exercise? What about compulsively responding to email when you should have focused your energy on the larger task with greater value?

The only way to make sure that your daily actions align with your highest priorities is to spend time understanding your values and behaviors so you can manage your time more effectively.

Otherwise, “champion Facebook scroller” might accidentally be your epitaph. 

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