Life,  Work

Debunking the Myths that Keep us from Self-Care

The lies we tell ourselves and how to overcome them

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

Recently I shared a Forbes article about self-care on LinkedIn that blew up with views, likes, and comments. I’ve never shared anything on social media that got as much traffic as that post.

The gist of the article was that self-care isn’t an indulgence, it’s a discipline. And perhaps this is why we sometimes struggle with self-care. It’s just really not very sexy.

Instead, it’s about making intentional choices as seemingly banal and mundane as turning off the TV instead of watching another episode, going to bed at a decent time so we can get up early to greet the next day with gusto, and practicing moderation with our food and alcohol intake.

The buzz with that post got me thinking about how self-care resonates deeply with us and how on some level we recognize its vital importance.

Yet, for many of us, self-care remains elusive. I know that’s true for me at least. And that got me thinking about why we have tendencies to neglect self-care, even though we know it’s important.

As I reflect on my own struggles with self-care, I’ve identified four lies that I’ve told myself at various times, and sometimes still succumb to. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Maybe you can relate.

I’ve also debunked the lies. But make no mistake. I’m still very much a work in progress. This article’s a poster child for the proverbial do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do thing. Don’t hold that against me.

Lie #1: Self-care is Selfish

No, not even close. This is an insidious lie that we sometimes not only tell ourselves, but perhaps others have told us too. The truth is, the most selfish thing we can do is neglect self-care.

Here’s an example from my life. If I consistently refuse to eat well and exercise regularly, as I’m sadly prone to, I’m not only hurting myself, but I’m also hurting my wife and others closest to me that love me and will be stuck taking care of me when my health inevitably fails prematurely because of my poor choices.

Not cool. That’s perhaps the height of selfishness.

How did we ever arrive at the bizarre notion that taking care of ourselves is selfish? I don’t know. But this seems to be a pervasive problem. This lie not only prevents us from taking care of ourselves, but it also wracks us with false guilt if we ever do “indulge” in self-care.

Have you ever take a vacation day from work, splurged on an afternoon at the spa, or just taken a few hours to be with yourself and then felt as if you’d done something wrong? That’s the kind of false guilt I’m talking about.

But here’s the thing. If we want to be the best version of ourselves, thrive personally and professionally, and also help and serve others so that they excel, we absolutely cannot neglect self-care.

You know how when you’re about to take off in an airplane and the flight attendants instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others if things go terribly wrong? The idea is that we won’t be able to help others if we’re passed out or otherwise incapacitated. That’s an apt analogy for self-care.

We’ll never be able to help others to the extent that we could if we’re drowning in neglect of our physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological well-being. So let’s take care of ourselves. Not doing so is simply selfish.

Lie #2: I Don’t Have Time for Self-care

The truth is we make time for the things that are important to us and that are priorities in our lives.

Are you important to you? Are you important to your loved ones? If so, then self-care ought to be a priority that you make time for.

I get it. We’re busy. We work a lot of hours and often bring work home with us. We have responsibilities and obligations and people counting on us. There never seems to be enough time to get all the things accomplished.

No one said establishing priorities was easy. It requires making intentional and strategic choices about where we’re going to invest our time and energy. There are only 24 hours in a day. How we choose to fill those hours is what we are doing and informs who we are becoming.

Nevertheless, we often have more time than we might at first think. It’s astonishing, for example, how much time I waste in the evenings after work or on weekends binge-watching my latest favorite TV series.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with catching some chill couch time. That’s part of how I decompress and also spend some quality time with my wife.

But I could downshift on the binge-watching and make other, healthier choices that would also help me decompress and spend quality time with wifey.

For example, we could take a walk or ride bikes together. We could go for a hike at one of the very close-by state parks or county parks. We could read while sitting in the same room together. We could listen to music together and talk about our day, our hopes and dreams, or whatever’s on our minds.

All of those are probably better choices than mindlessly watching TV for hours on end. Watching one or two episodes of our latest favorite show is fine. Do we really need to watch five (or more) in a row? I don’t think so.

Making time for self-care is really about establishing priorities. It’s creating a schedule, developing rhythms and routines, habits and practices, and sticking to them.

One area that I’ve been successful with this over the years is my morning routine of being up at 5 a.m. to read and meditate and sometimes write.

It’s important to me to cultivate a life of the mind and I’m committed to continuous learning. So I’ve developed the habit of being up early and getting my day started by feeding my brain, firing my creativity, and tapping into my spirituality, while I drink my morning coffee. I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s just part of my daily rhythm, even on the weekends.

Now if I could just work exercise into that morning routine.

If that’s truly a priority, I’ll have to make the choice to either cut down my reading time or get up a little earlier. Alternatively, I could exercise after work. That would require developing a new habit, rhythm, and routine.

I’m still deliberating on that one. As I said, work in progress here.

Lie #3: I Can’t Afford Self-care

The truth is, we can’t afford to not care for ourselves. Also, this lie implies that self-care costs money and is only an attainable luxury for the rich and famous or those willing to go into debt.

But self-care doesn’t have to cost money and doesn’t have to be extravagant or luxurious. In fact, quite the opposite. As this thoughtful article from Katie Fustich suggests, self-care activities and practices should be simple, sustainable, inexpensive, and replicable.

Something as simple as hitting the pause button and taking five minutes to breathe deeply and re-center our minds in the midst of a busy and stressful day is self-care. Developing a morning routine of exercise and meditation are excellent self-care practices. Taking a walk and enjoying the beauty of the day and the scenery around us is self-care.

Aside from perhaps going to the gym or purchasing home-exercise equipment, these practices cost nothing but our time and making the intentional choice to do them.

But we don’t even have to go to the gym or buy fancy equipment. Go for a walk or run to get your cardio going. Do bodyweight exercises for strength training. Practice stretching and yoga. These activities cost nothing but our time.

Choosing our friends and who we’ll spend considerable time with is also a vital self-care practice. Surrounding ourselves with people that are encouraging and life-giving, rather than those that suck the life out of us is perhaps one of the most definitive self-care decisions we could make.

Spend time with those that build you up and are a positive influence in your life, not those who tear you down, discourage you, constantly tempt you to make bad choices, or suffocate you with their negativity. That decision will transform your life.

Lie #4: I’ll Practice Self-care After X (whatever X is) Happens

Maybe. But probably not. The truth is, if we’re not practicing self-care now, we won’t magically start practicing self-care someday in the future when the timing and conditions are just right. Because the timing and conditions will never be perfect.

Here are some stories I’ve told myself at different times in my life:

I’ll be happy and content after I finish this degree.

I’ll start excercising Monday morning.

I’ll start eating better after the holidays.

I’ll take walks every day after it gets warmer.

I’ll take a break after this big project is finished.

I tell myself these kinds of stories to justify not practicing self-care. But then guess what happens? I finished that degree and still wasn’t happy and content.

Monday morning came and went and I didn’t start exercising.

The holidays came and went and I still made poor food choices regularly.

The weather turned warmer and I found other excuses to not take walks.

The big project wrapped up and I just dove into the next one, rather than taking a much-needed break to recharge and rejuvenate.

Perhaps you’ve told yourself similar stories and experienced similar outcomes.

The point is this. If we’re waiting until something happens before we start practicing self-care, we’ll likely never get started because there will always be something else.

We’ll always have responsibilities and obligations pressing in on us. They will change over time. But they’ll be there in one form or another.

We’ll also always have people counting on us. We’ll always have projects to complete. And we’ll always probably have less time than we wished.

We have to stop putting self-care off and saying we’ll get to it someday. Instead, let’s say, “TODAY I’m starting,” and then actually get going. Otherwise, we may never begin.

So What About You?

What self-care practices and activities have you found helpful? Are there any self-care lies you’ve told yourself that have prevented you from practicing self-care? How did you overcome them?

Please leave your comments below to continue the conversation. I’d love to learn from you!

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