Transform it in 7 steps
Ah, self-care — according to social media feeds it’s nothing but bubble baths, cappuccinos, champagne flutes and duvet days, all hashtagged #selfcare. And indeed, self-care this may be. But if these examples of self-care are the only kind you know, then they may not be as caring as they seem.
Let’s break it down. Self-care is simply ‘taking care of the self’, and that should imply the whole self. The above examples can be problematic because they usually limit the self-care definition to switching off from the stress of the day, indulgent treats and relaxation. They are all valid, but when presented alone, as they usually are, they imply an escapism from other elements of life that also define self-care, but rarely get recognised as that. Yes, the boring, less instagrammable stuff, like paying bills, fixing things on time, and working towards goals. How about we start hashtagging those as #selfcare too?
Believing that self-care does not include the harder or mundane stuff promotes a neglect of true needs, whole self and an avoidance of responsibility. That’s why I prefer to reframe self-care as personal leadership with my clients, because personal leadership implies an attitude of responsibility for your growth and progress, and respect for both your present and future. Personal leadership is long-term and accumulative, rather than just instantaneous and superficial. Personal leadership makes you the driver of your life, rather than a passenger being transported by your circumstances — who then applies afternoon tea and champers for momentary relief, and pretends that that’s balance and control.
When problems arise, and you’re dealing with debt, ill health or personal crisis, a face mask and cucumber eye pads aren’t likely to help much, except smooth your frown lines. Whereas forward planning, a healthy body and mind, and people and habits that support you will either prevent those crises (and frown lines) from occurring in the first place — or help you if and when they do.
Self-Care is Personal Leadership
Personal leadership is an attitude as much as a practice. If we reframe as personal leadership all the tasks that are healthy for us, but not necessarily fun or interesting, we might get more satisfaction out of them and feel less inclined to skip to the easier ones.
The next time there’s a blackout, you’ll be glad you stocked up sufficiently on candles and didn’t use your last one in a boozy bubble bath.
In the misfortune of an accident, you’re going to be thanking yourself if you have the right type of insurance paid and up-to-date, and the information you need easily at hand. If you haven’t cared to have that in place for yourself, then going home for a long soak will be the last thing on your mind.
Personal leadership gives you control and provides you with choices that you can make in good time, rather than poor options and panic when the shit hits the fan.
Personal leadership is motivating and empowering. Self-care, as we promote it today, is indulgent, avoidant and limited.
Personal leadership reduces, solves and prevents problems. #Selfcare is keeping you stuck in a fluffy circle of discomfort and escapism.
More specifically that means:
Preparation: Having your house stocked with essential and emergency supplies so you don’t run out when you need them most — from toilet roll to light bulbs — and knowing where to find them.
Prevention over cure: Being on top of your dentist and gynaecologist appointments, and maintaining that health in between.
Management: Addressing and managing your finances — for every day and rainy days.
Awareness: Regularly, consciously and bravely clearing out or reducing what doesn’t serve you or affect you positively — be it people, things or habits.
Balance: Nurturing your mind with more than television and social media, such as stillness, different stimuli, and fresh knowledge. Feed the internal and external you.
Growth: Continuously growing as individuals by facing and dealing with problems, and by setting new goals and working towards them.
Fun: Fully owning and enjoying the more luxurious moments rather than chasing them for temporary respite.
Steps to Healthy, Long-Term Self-Care
Here are seven steps to building a healthy personal leadership practice that includes the sweet stuff too:
Reframe your understanding of self-care as personal leadership. Aim to organise your life so that stress is minimised, and you plant seeds rather than put out fires.
Make a list of all the areas in your life and what needs attention within them: from finances to appearance, physical and mental health to relationships, career, recreation and your personal living space. Assess what needs to be done, then schedule it and do it — include what makes you feel good. The following steps will help you stay on top of it.
Examine why you neglect or resist certain things, such as debt, repairs, or growth. It is the key to greater self-understanding and success. Work with a trusted friend, coach or therapist to get more insight.
Balance the fluffy stuff (getting your nails done) and the harder stuff (doing your taxes on time). They are both important. Prioritise and think of long-term benefits vs short-term emotions.
Use a diary or journal to keep track of your progress and growth. Track the extra time, money and energy you have from leading rather than chasing. If you prefer more support, get an accountability partner or coach.
Embrace change and facing the difficult — it can be scary, but when it also implies growth, it is positive — and when it’s faced, it loses its power.
Celebrate your commitment to and implementation of these new practices. In the world of personal leadership coaching, acknowledging and celebrating our wins and successes is all part of the work. What’s the point in setting goals, working hard to achieve them, and then neglecting to acknowledge all the effort and results? These are the perfect moments for treating yourself however you prefer.
Siobhán is a personal leadership and communication coach, and helps her clients to step out of the life they’ve drifted into, and step into the future they really want.