Are You Going About Self-Care All Wrong?

In recent years, the concept of "self-care" has taken the wellness field by storm. Many of us readily embrace the term as a promise of growth and happiness in our lives. We take special care to meet our needs with different forms of relaxation: hot baths, new hobbies, and exercise. We allow ourselves to set limits and carve out needed space for a new self-awareness, certainty, peace and stability.

But, often, these deeper changes elude us and we are left bewildered. We find ourselves still feeling suffocated in difficult circumstances, unchanged at the level of heart, questioning our actions and still searching for our identity. Why is this?

In coaching my clients toward long-term wellness, I often group self-care into two categories, recreational self-care and transformative self-care.

Recreational self-care is the momentary escape: the spa appointment, long walk, night out, or weekend away. It's a break in the action, and there is a wonderful, necessary value to this sort of self-care. It lifts our spirits temporarily and offers momentary pleasure and joy. It asks little of us and breathes fresh air into our day.

Transformative self-care is a whole different level of mindfulness and tenderness toward our human needs that cry out for attention and healing. It's an investment into our well-being and sustained happiness. It often requires something of us, like a short-term sacrifice of time and energy. But it promises the reward of true "re-creation."

Our difficulty arises when we apply recreational self-care to those deeper inner cries, wounds, and needs that beg for transformative self-care. As a result, we remain lost, unhappy, and perpetually at the mercy of our external circumstances. Why do we do this?

Recreational self-care can feel like it's a lot easier. It doesn't require too much from us. It offers a welcome distraction, an emotional lift, and can even numb us from the deeper cries within. But, as we all know, easier is not always better. In my experience as a health coach, splurging on ourselves, taking bubble baths, or even hitting the gym consistently does not make my clients (or me) more loving, open and forgiving people. So what does?

Transformative self-care delivers beautiful long-term growth and inner freedom that refreshes us and recreates us at our core, at the level of heart. The signs of transformative self-care are easy to spot: joy, peace, maturity, temperance and consistent mercy toward oneself and others. People who invest in transformative self-care are more deeply moved by life, yet remain strikingly detached from their immediate circumstances (good or bad).

Here are four ways to begin practicing transformative self-care:

1. Take daily silence.

Silence is not simply the act of unplugging, or being quiet. It's the awareness of a Presence. It's the deliberate act of drawing from our original source of energy, an energy that we cannot give ourselves. In this way, we move beyond our mental and physical limitations and discover a new capacity for love, patience, understanding, and tenderness toward ourselves.

Our hearts soften and we feel freer and less defined by what's going on around us. As a gift, allow yourself twenty minutes of daily silence. Pray, meditate, or simply "be." Inhale deeply and ponder the amazing fact that you don't give yourself your next breath. This is an extremely powerful and necessary form of self-care.

2. Invest in true friendships.

It's one of the hardest things to do: the friend-cleanse. Often, we remain in unhealthy, stagnant friendships simply because we perceive a risk in distancing ourselves from familiarity. Closely examine which friends encourage you to grow and live fully, even when it's hard. Which friends communicate the truth? Which friends challenge your perception in difficult moments? An easier, feel-good friendship doesn't necessarily make it a true one. Investing in healthy friendships always delivers a long-term gain.

3. Seek out help when you need it.

We often carry our heaviest burdens and challenges completely on our own. We try to solve things, change things, and reverse things, and this takes an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy. Sometimes, what we really need is an objective ally who walks with us and helps us understand and navigate our circumstances. This can be a coach, therapist, or spiritual adviser. Share your load with someone who cares, and see the difference in your life.

4. Prioritize actions to cultivate your health.

Our food changes us on a cellular level. Our moods, energy, and vitality are so deeply tied to the food we eat, that it's hard not to link it to long-term transformation.

Begin with small changes, like hydrating throughout the day, flooding your diet with vegetables of every color, and eating whole foods, as opposed to packaged processed foods. As our energy and moods improve, we can begin to perceive our realities differently; our reactions are more tempered and less heated. Health and long-forgotten youthfulness occur, giving us inner strength and sustenance to address other long-term changes.

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