Some people talk about self-care as though we can snap our fingers and, like magic, we’re suddenly putting ourselves first. They write articles like ‘5 steps to putting yourself first’ and ‘why you should put yourself first’ like the tips are the solution to our selflessness. But I’ve been pondering on self-care a lot lately, and I’ve come to this conclusion.

There are two key understandings many of these articles lack:

  1. We all know we should be looking after ourselves
  2. Knowing we ‘should’ do it, doesn’t stop us feeling guilty when we do.

For the last 3 years, I didn’t look after myself because I felt guilty when I did.

It’s not easy to prioritise self-care.

Self-care is a lot like weight loss. Perhaps you don’t like the way you look when you stand in front of the mirror. But when you’re staring at a Snickers, the feeling of instant gratification is often far more powerful than the feeling of disappointment you felt 6 hours ago when you were getting dressed for work.

But 30 minutes after devouring the snickers, the guilt sets in. You’ve failed again. You’re never going to lose weight… right?

Like weight loss, self-care is a habit.

And like any habit building process, it happens through consistent action over time, until the habit becomes automatic. But it’s important to have the right plan because just like weight loss, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.

Think back to the last time you tried to lose weight. Did you empty your pantry, fill the fridge with fruit and veggies, sign up to boot camp 4 days per week… then collapse on the couch on Thursday evening with a glass of wine and a Chinese takeaway?

“person pouring wine in glasses” by Elle Hughes on Unsplash

The same thing will happen with self-care if you try to do it all at once.

Often, the expectation is we can decide to prioritise ourselves, and that decision will carry us the along the enlightened path to self-care. In reality, it won’t. Making a conscious choice to focus on self-care is simply the first step.

There are so many obstacles along the way, and the most likely to end your journey like a 50ft brick wall across the path is:

Guilt!

Because when you’ve lived a life serving others, self-care is never just a decision to look after yourself. It’s also a decision to stop looking after others for however long it takes to look after you. And that’s scary because you’re not quite sure how everyone else will cope.

Even if you manage to prevent the guilt monster sabotaging your efforts, it’s likely something else will.

Your body will scream at you for pushing through 4 HIIT workouts when you haven’t exercised for months.

Your phone will overwhelm you when you check your notifications after your workout.

Your toddler will bring tears to your eyes when they cry because you left them in the gym creche.

That’s a sure fire way to wave goodbye to self-care for good.

But what if you lowered your expectations?

Your body could get used to one light workout per week.

Your company would survive if you were out of reach for just one hour.

And your toddler would begin to work through his separation anxiety because he’s got a whole week of being loved and appreciated before you try the separation again.

“selective focus photo of person hand” by bady qb on Unsplash

A guide to creating the ideal mindset.

6-months ago I was a wreck. I was working 50–60+ hours per week and feeling unfit, unhealthy and exhausted. Although I valued self-care, I simply couldn’t figure out a way to make time for it. I knew it was incredibly important to exercise, but I was so overwhelmed by running my business, I never made it to the gym. Then I realised the answer was in the way I was coaching my weight loss clients — to focus on taking one step at a time.

In June, I made exercise my #1 self-care goal and since then, it has proven to be my stable platform for building a healthier life. Since I lowered my expectations, I’ve enabled myself to succeed.

You see, when I’d commit to 5 workouts per week and only complete 4, I felt I’d failed. I’d stare at the one workout I missed, rather than the 4 workouts I did, because nobody likes an empty checkbox.

However, once I committed to completing 1 workout, if I trained once, I succeeded. I ticked my checkbox. Sometimes that was enough to motivate me to train again, so I had to draw a freehand checkbox beside the first.

Yes, I completed fewer workouts to begin with. But by anchoring my expectations of myself in reality, I set myself up to succeed. Now, I train consistently 4 days per week, and I’ve finally achieved a goal that had alluded me for over 12 months.

6-months ago, I felt guilty if I took time out for self-care.

Now, it’s my #1 priority and I know I’m letting myself down if I don’t.

Your step-by-step plan for dipping your toe into the self-care pool.

These are the 5 steps I took to transform my life from a complete wreck to a self-care symphony.

Step 1

Write down a list of everything you’d like to do to improve your self-care. Perhaps it’s exercising more, eating better, getting a weekly massage, making time to read or spending more time with your family. Whatever it is, write a data dump of everything you’d like to do.

Step 2

Read through your list and put a ‘1’ next to your number 1 priority. Put a number ‘2’ next to your second priority. Keep going until every action sits next to a number.

Step 3

This is the most important step of all. Forget everything except number 1. Seriously! Shove that piece of paper into the dark depths of your most unused drawer, and leave it there.

Step 4

Develop a plan for implementing your number 1 priority.

Perhaps you want to exercise 5 days per week.

Start by scheduling 1 workout per week in your calendar. Yes, just one. Then show up and do the workout.

Once you’ve been able to complete one workout per week for a few weeks, schedule a second. Then show up and do the workouts.

Repeat for training 3, 4 and 5 days per week.

If you step up and realise it’s too much, return to the previous limit. There’s no time limit.

Step 5 — Don’t rush this step.

Once you’re confident your new habit is working well, delve into the depths of your darkest drawer to find your list of priorities. Repeat step 2 to ensure your priorities are still the same, and award the most important self-care task the title of ‘#1 priority’. Then, and only then, work on it until it’s a habit.

Want a sneak peek at my self-care plan?

I wrote ‘The 10 commandments of a Healthy Entrepreneur’ as my guiding principles to ensure I never become an unhealthy entrepreneur again. These are the principles I either pursue every day, or intend to pursue as my #1 priority evolves.

The first step is often the hardest, so I’d like to share my principles with you to steal and use as you wish, on one condition… you use them to chase down a self-care lifestyle.

Get your free copy here.

Hey, I’m Tara Fitness (yes, it’s my real last name). I’m a criminologist and personal trainer turned freelance writer. I spent 3 years trying to build a successful fitness business but instead, I drove myself to the brink of exhaustion. I refuse to go there again, and I don’t want you to go there either. Visit Tara at TaraFitness.com.
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Hey, I’m Tara Fitness (yes, it’s my real last name). I’m a criminologist and personal trainer turned freelance writer. I spent 3 years trying to build a successful fitness business but instead, I drove myself to the brink of exhaustion. I refuse to go there again, and I don’t want you to go there either. Visit Tara at TaraFitness.com.

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