I’m a psychologist and I help people make changes in their lives. I’ve long wondered why I’m so fascinated with things like eating habits, physical fitness and sleep. A very good friend of mine once called these types of self-care behaviours self-indulgent and I felt ashamed. Is helping people eat, exercise and sleep better really perpetuating self-indulgence? It doesn’t feel like that to me and yet when my yoga teacher says “thank yourself for taking the time to practice self-care today” I feel an aversion to this statement myself. So what’s going on here?
I think I’ve figured it out… people (including me) sometimes associate self-care with selfishness, but they are not the same thing. Selfishness is putting my needs above others, but self-care is simply acknowledging that my needs need taking care of too. Self-care can, in fact, help us be less selfish since when our needs are satisfied we are better able to meet the needs of others. It’s the put on your oxygen mask first thing. Self-care is not just a personal endeavor; it’s about being the best human I can be for myself and others, my family, my friends, my clients, and hopefully the world.
Keep your big dreams for yourself, others and the world… and care for yourself enough to make them happen.
With that preamble, I'm hoping you might be thinking, ok then maybe I would like to practice a little more self-care. You've probably been thinking about it anyways, who doesn't think they should exercise more, sleep better, or eat healthier? I'm just asking you to see these things as self-care rather than "things you should do" and to see self-care as a worthwhile endeavor for not only yourself, but also the world around you. Oh yes, and as something you can do right now (not at some utopic moment when you have the time and energy to do so in the future). You still on board?
Ok, so here's where we do not start... with what other people, like your mom or your co-worker have told you you really should do to take better care of yourself, or with what your inner critic tells you your lazy butt should do to take better care of yourself. Instead start by connecting to YOU (in a nice way) and the things that are truly important to you. From that place (and maybe that place only) you can make real, lasting changes in your life. In psychology we call this intrinsic motivation. It’s motivation that comes from inside of you, like “I’m doing this because it’s inherently pleasurable” or “I’m doing this because it’s truly important to me” (1).
So, first question I'd like you to ask yourself is "WHO is important to me in my life?" (2) My husband, my children, my parents, my friend Jane, my boyfriend, my children, my dog, etc. Make a list and write it down.
Second question, "WHAT is important to me in my life?" (2) Not as easy as the first one right? So, think personal values here. One way to know what your values are is to think about someone you admire and ask yourself what it is about that person that you so admire? Is it their tenacity, their strength, their kindness, their authenticity, their connection with their family, their love of learning, etc. Write down 5-10 values that are important to you.
So, you might have a list like this:
Who is important to me?
- My husband
- My children
- My best friend Jane
- My sister
- My colleagues
- My dog
What is important to me?
- Learning new things
- Feeling free to make my own choices
- Being present in the moment
Now, why have I asked you to make this list? These are your WHYs. All of the reasons to take care of you: For the people who are important to you and the values that are important in your life. You'll be better able to connect to those people and live out those values if you have your oxygen mask on. Does this make sense?
If so, please take the time to connect to your WHYs. In trying to keep blog posts readable I've decided to make this into a few part series. Stay tuned for our next post in which we’ll talk about how to choose your lead domino (3) for self-care, that is the habit that will have the biggest impact on your life and help other habits fall into place. We’ll look at how you can tap into your WHYs to increase your motivation to follow through on your goals and we’ll help you make daily commitments to action.
It’s not about proving to yourself that you can do it, it’s about figuring out how you can make it happen.
Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.
1. Intrinsic motivation is proven to help us reach our goals long-term. See: Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60-67. Also see: Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci
2. These are really great questions that Benjamin Schoendorff asks in his ACT matrix training to get at what’s truly important to people. You can find out more about the ACT matrix here. Clinicians can check out his book: The Essential Guide to the ACT matrix.
3. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek.