I was just about halfway through my M.A. studies in counseling psychology when I started to really dabble into the whole self-care world. I read about spirituality and positive psychology; set out to meditate daily; joined a yoga studio; drank warm water with lemon every morning, along with stretching for 10 minutes; practiced mindful eating; obsessed about sleeping eight hours a night; worried about distinguishing truly wholesome foods from shiny labels; came up with 20 affirmations that I kept in my nightstand... the list goes on.
I was doing all of these things in the name of self-care. I wanted to love myself and I was ready to do whatever it took to elevate my existence, clean up my diet, sharpen my mind and step into my purpose.
And then I found myself exhausted and stressed out about following through with all the tips so many professional sources were raving about. If I fell off the wagon, skipped yoga, felt antsy during my meditation, or didn't watch what I ate over dinners with my friends -- I would beat myself up.
I was constantly rushing to fit it all in.
My self-care regime -- though birthed with the best intentions -- turned from feeling exciting and nourishing into a stressful job that had my mind spinning and my body restless.
I was ready to do and forgot to be. I was ready to push forward and forgot to check in with myself. I thought that once I checked off the list of self-care markers, I would feel at peace, calm and loving towards myself.
I was wrong.
The truth is that when we want things in our lives, it often happens that our masculine side hurls us into doing, into taking charge, into pushing forward. However, when the goal is to get into touch with your own feminine side and create gentleness and harmony within, doing won't get you there. I didn't realize it then, but in essence, I was trying to do my way into being.
Just like starving your way to a healthy, happy body doesn't work, forcing your way to a peaceful, purpose-filled existence doesn't work either. The second you let go of discipline and willpower, what you built up for yourself will fall into shambles. If you have ever been on a diet, you know what I'm talking about.
Since I discovered and eventually released this pattern in myself, I have seen it in my life coaching clients time and time again. Just like me, they are into self-care. They crave meaning, connection and awareness. They want to feel amazing, strong and sexy in their bodies. They are driven, ambitious and ready. Above everything else, they want to be madly in love with their lives!
And yet, they wonder why all of their efforts aren't paying off. Their bodies -- though perhaps fit -- still feel tired and low in energy and even though they whisper loving thoughts to themselves, they still feel stuck and off track.
If this resonates with you, I would like to suggest a different way of practicing self-care. I would like you to start with being first and using your physical and mental clues to create a self-care regime that actually works for you as a unique individual.
Here are three simple and easy ways for you to start this process:
1) Ask yourself first and foremost, "What do I need today?"
This is a simple yet oh-so-powerful question, because it acknowledges that you -- your mind and your body -- are the expert and know what's best. We all too often trust other people's advice more than we trust ourselves, when in reality each day is different. Some days you might need grounding energy. Other days you might need airy, light energy. Give yourself the freedom to adjust your self-care regime to meet you where you are. Especially for us women, it's important to be in tune with our monthly cycles and acknowledge that our body has different needs throughout the month.
2) Spend time reflecting.
You can only learn things about yourself and adjust your self-care regime if you spend some time reflecting on how a certain activity felt to you. While drinking green juice for breakfast might feel nourishing to some people, others might need something warm and cozy to wake up their digestive powers. While some people like to start their days with meditation, others might feel that a walk in fresh air better meets their needs. Through reflection you can really get to know yourself, which, if you ask me, is the most important cornerstone of self-care.
3) Stop judging yourself.
Self-care is not about being good or being bad. It's not about winning or losing. Self-care is about taking care of your self. Just like a child doesn't respond well to being scolded and put down, you don't either. Set yourself up for success by having your own back no matter what. That means that you need to be compassionate, kind and patient with yourself. Adopt a playful and flexible approach to personal growth instead of a harsh and judging one. That way you are creating the space for yourself to thrive, flourish and align with your true capacities.
In the comments below I would love to hear from you. Did this blog resonate with you? What are things you have tried to take better care of yourself that backfired? On the flip side, what has worked well for you?
Follow Caroline Zwick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ZwickCaroline