If you’re working too hard and living too little, it’s time to get smart. Caring for yourself is an inescapable fact of life. Do it right, and you’ll find yourself “blessed to be a blessing.” Do it wrong, or fail to do it at all, and you’ll pay the price.•
This week I start a new series on the signs and principles of healthy self-care. Coaches spend a lot of time on this with their clients. Coach University likes to call it “extreme self-care” to emphasize the point that we can never show too much affection and concern for ourselves. Rather than being content with “just enough,” coaches operate from a philosophy of abundance. It really is possible to have it all.
That may sound selfish and even outrageous to those who’ve spent a lifetime caring for others. It may also sound unrealistic and yet enviable to those who’ve spent a lifetime working hard for others. And to those who study socioeconomic trends, it may sound like nothing more than yet another self-serving rationalization of the affluent elite while millions sweat and starve.
Such objections fail to grasp the true concept of healthy self-care. When it’s done right, healthy self-care enables us to care more for others, to work more for what matters, and to transform the world in the process. Indeed, healthy self-care is known by its fruits. If the things we do for ourselves do not bear the fruit of caring and productive lives, then those things are either not really healthy or not really self-care. The link is that direct.
They’re Not Really Healthy. Too many people choose to reward themselves with unhealthy pastimes and pursuits. I know of runners, for example, who believe a long run entitles them to a cigarette or to a meal loaded with alcohol and saturated fat. I know of dieters who reach their goal weight only to gain it all back by overindulging in the foods they’ve been denying themselves. I know of managers who believe that a hard day or week at the office entitles them to be a couch potato at home. Cigarettes, alcohol, saturated fat, gluttonous delights, and a sedentary lifestyle may feel like self-care, but they’re not really healthy for you.
They’re Not Really Self-Care. Too many people choose to reward themselves with other people’s ideas of self-care. Magazines and tabloids frequently promote the latest quick-fix fad for body, mind, and spirit: Get a Massage, Go to a Spa, Get a House Cleaner, Exercise Daily, Get Rolfed, Get a New Wardrobe, Redecorate, Get a Manicure, Go on a Retreat. The problem with all such lists is that they may not fit with your likes and dislikes, your personal style, your idea of self-care. What if you don’t like massages? What if you like cleaning your own house? Someone else’s notion of self-care may not really be self-care for you.
Healthy self-care presents the winning combination. It evokes the image of making time for the things and people that are good for you. Doing so makes you feel good. It nurtures your physical, emotional, vocational, and spiritual health. It restores your soul.
There really is no better way to make it from the cradle to the grave. We can work 24/7 and get a lot done, but we’ll end up overloading our circuits in the process • provoking mistakes, frustration, impatience, and weariness. Healthy self-care is about working smarter rather than harder. We can deny ourselves the pampering and preening that we enjoy, the down time for rest and relaxation, as well as the opportunities for creative expression and physical exercise, but we’ll end up dead all the same. Healthy self-care is about living better rather than longer.
One thing I like about the notion of “extreme self-care” is that it communicates the radical nature of healthy self-care. It’s not about taking an occasional day away while killing yourself the rest of the time; it’s about developing a lifestyle that sustains your spirit so that you can sustain the spirit of others. This was the promise to Abraham in the Jewish scriptures. “I will bless you,” God says, “so that you will be a blessing.” The rest of Abraham’s life was difficult, to say the least, but he never forgot the Promise and he never stopped going back to the Source. As a result, his difficult life was rich and full.
Healthy self-care is about living like Abraham, connecting regularly with the Promise and the Source of life • balancing time for renewal, work, and other activities. When we do that right, with daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms, our lives will burst forth with blessings. Over the next six weeks, I’ll review six of those blessings and the disciplines of healthy self-care that under gird them.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC