(Editor’s note: This essay is the second in a series from author and speaker Ken Druck, based on work in his book Courageous Aging, which is about how all people can make peace with, and find joy in, every stage of life.)
Becoming a smarter, stronger, more self-caring version of yourself is both freeing and empowering.
I recently discussed the concept of self-care and the ways to set yourself up for — and avoid sabotaging — the way you take emotional and physical care of yourself. After you agree that you are worthy of self-care and will overcome the factors you let stand in your way before, you’re ready to move forward with these seven steps to self-care:
Step No. 1. Make the Decision to Change the Way You Take Care of Yourself
Undertaking change of this magnitude and importance takes courage, humility, conviction and a vision of your best possible future. These steps allow you to say “Yes!” to yourself. You have a right to do the things that make life better, easier, less stressful and more joyful and to say “No” to the people and things draining and depleting you. Sustainable change requires a promise that you make to yourself: “I will do whatever is necessary to become the better (more self-caring, self-respecting) version of myself.” You may not know exactly how you’re going to change deeply ingrained, habitual thinking and behavior, but you are 100 percent committed to finding out and following through.
Step No. 2. Define Your End Goal
Begin to sketch out how you want it all to look and feel after you’ve succeeded. Perhaps you’re sleeping longer, exercising regularly, eating better and speaking to yourself with greater kindness/compassion. You may be ready to hand in your resignation as someone’s doormat, whipping post, dumping ground and enabler in favor of a more reciprocal relationship. Or you may be a “pleaser” who’s ready to face your own fears about letting people down.
Some of us have gotten used to following the elephant around the circus with a shovel. And we’re just waking up. Something is shifting inside of us, declaring, “Enough!” and “It’s time!” We are ripe for a change.
So, whatever your end goal, take the time to state what it is. Get clear about your desired outcome by writing it down, as in: “The return on my investment of learning greater self-care is going to be ______.
Step No. 3. Make a List of Things/People You Need to Say “No” To
Write down 15 people and things you need to learn how to say “No” to. Begin each sentence with “The people I need to learn how to say ‘No’ to are …” or “I need to learn how to say ‘No’ when . . .” Some of us are born caregivers, pleasers and rescuers. Having spent a good part of our lives taking care of other people’s needs, we almost automatically say “Yes” to others who seem to require assistance. We do this even to the neglect of our own health and well-being.
But now it’s time to stop putting yourself and the people you cherish at risk by overcommitting to things that are not in your best interest. Prioritizing and saying “No” may be quite difficult in the beginning. Old feelings of guilt, obligation and responsibility are hard to kick. After a while, however, you’ll begin to feel 100 percent better and thank yourself for staying strong. The people who matter to you will still love you, and the ones who depended on you to say “Yes” even when it wasn’t right will be somebody else’s problem. The results of learning to say “No” speak (loudly) for themselves.
Step No. 4. Lighten Your Load, Unburden Yourself and Allow Yourself Some Pleasure
Although it may be terribly unpopular (years of training the people around you that with a little guilt, you’ll do anything), it’s time to begin letting folks know that you’re in the process of making a change.
Learning to delegate and share and assign responsibility to others, like any new skill, takes time and practice. You may be unaccustomed to the patience, kindness, encouragement and support you get from others. And you may be unfamiliar with the act of giving yourself permission to turn off the computer and phone and just take a hot bath. Don’t let the old voices of self-criticism, fear and condemnation weaken your resolve, as they once did. Continue to get clear about the things that lighten your heart and your load. Set yourself free to delight in and savor the goodness of life. And, most of all, give yourself permission to be happy.
Step No. 5. Listen to Yourself
Sometimes the best source of wise counsel comes from within. Stop, go to a quiet place, take a deep breath and tune in to yourself. Listen to the inner voice that tells you to “slow down,” “relax” and “take it easy” — the one that gives you the encouragement, strength and guidance you need to take care of yourself in the best way possible. Listening to the kindest, most patient, supportive, forgiving and nurturing parts of yourself is always a good thing when it comes to self-care. So, stay strong. Don’t allow any of your self-care saboteurs to talk you out of what you now know is best for you.
Step No. 6. Find or Create Self-Care Opportunities in All Your Relationships
The choices you make in your relationships are as much a reflection of your willingness and ability to practice self-care as any other factor. Relationships are also one of life’s greatest testing grounds for discovering, learning and practicing self-care. Balancing taking care of your relationships with family, aging parents, kids, friends and co-workers with taking care of yourself is one of life’s greatest challenges. Keep reminding yourself that it’s no longer OK to cave in — and that you can do this!
Step No. 7. Pat Yourself on the Back for a Job Well Done
When it comes to taking better care of yourself, every step forward, including baby steps, is worthy of an encouraging, congratulatory pat on the back. You did it! Despite the fear and resistance that comes with change, you are summoning the courage and strength to become the better, more caring version of yourself. This is difficult (inner and outer) work, not to be taken for granted or glossed over. By stopping and appreciating yourself, you are writing new chapters in the books The Care and Feeding of Me and My Honor Code for the Work I Do.
Self-care is your hand resting gently on your heart. Giving yourself your due has nothing to do with selfishness, entitlement, arrogance or taking food out of someone else’s mouth. Self-care is a gift born of a humble gratitude for the life you’ve been given and the person you are. Self-care is a work in progress. So, take every opportunity to implement and improve your master plan. Don’t wait until a crisis or the end of your life to grant yourself permission to indulge in loving self-care — or to finally feel deserving of it. Do it now!
My wish is that you cultivate life-affirming, health-giving self-care practices. Allow yourself to receive as graciously and freely as you give. And may the gentleness, kindness, self-compassion, generosity of heart, forgiveness and permission you’re learning to give yourself spread like a warm breeze across the world. A self-caring individual, family, community, company and world is one that is resilient, compassionate, competent, productive and, ultimately, at peace.
Ready to put a new self-care plan into action? Let’s do this! Click here to print your own Self-Care Action Plan.
Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:
- How to Choose Self-Care Over Self-Sabotage
- 7 Ways to Step Up Your Self-Care as You Age
- The Danish Secret to Getting Through Winter
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