Beyond Manicures and Bubble Baths: Amp Up Your Self-Care Practice
In December of 2020, I was invited to speak to a group of women at a synagogue in San Francisco about a topic of my choice; one that would hopefully make a difference in the midst of the pandemic. I was both honored and terrified; what could I possibly talk about that would make a difference? And public speaking wasn’t exactly my happy place! I accepted the invitation, trembling and all, recognizing that it is in the very experiences that challenge us most, that we also grow the most. It was an act of self-care, I told myself – the very topic that would later emerge and bloom into my presentation and the topic of this very blog post.
The pandemic, for me, was the beginning of a journey of upgrading my own self-care to that of a practice and a state of mind. Not to be confused with selfishness, self-care is rather life-giving, energizing, and renewing, and is most effective as an ongoing practice. So, what is a self-care practice you ask? Let’s start by defining the term practice:
Merriam-Webster defines practice (noun) as “a repeated or customary action, a systematic exercise for proficiency. Practice [it says], suggests an act or method followed with regularity and usually through choice.”
For me, however, practice isn’t about proficiency at all, but rather it is a journey towards that which we wish for. I’m of the belief that practice makes better and practice makes progress, rather than perfection or proficiency. Practice, for me, is a journey of patience, and a mindful, intentional, and consistent showing up. A practitioner must bring attention, awareness, and discipline to his/her practice.
We’ve all heard the term practice before; yoga practice, mindfulness practice, spiritual practice, and so forth. For me, it started with running and yoga, both of which I found at various times of life transition and chaos, and which challenged me out of my head and onto the mat or the road both literally and otherwise. Both required intentionality, consistency, and endurance to go the distance. Through these movement practices, I came to know myself more fully, deeply, and meaningfully, cultivating both physical strength and personal power.
Cultivating a self-care state of mind
Unlike running and yoga, my self-care practice in 2020 found me in utter chaos during a global pandemic! Like many of you, I’m sure, I was overwhelmed, burnt out, and quickly unraveling. (Hey parents – remember the nightmare that was virtual school?) I started writing to process my feelings, and before I knew it — this had become a regular practice for me. Showing up to the empty page, like showing up to my yoga mat, quickly became my spiritual practice; life-giving, mindful, intentional, and consistent.
I came to know myself more deeply and to accept and honor myself through the process of writing. I challenged myself to write outside of my comfort zone, to try new styles, and to write from the heart. I went into nature for inspiration and I went deeply into my soul too, cultivating self-love along the way. I started buying myself flowers each week, a ritual I have kept up through today, and in time other self-love practices emerged too from writing poetry to my younger self and love notes to my present self to date nights with myself, and I began to bring conscious awareness to the way I treated myself on the day-to-day. Re-inventing the way in which I related to myself and amplifying my self-care practice simply became necessary in the throes of the pandemic, if I was going to survive, or dare I say thrive! And so, at first by chance, and later by design, a self-care state of mind began to emerge.
In her book The Art of Extreme Self-Care, author Cheryl Richardson says that many of us need a “self-care upgrade”. She refers to extreme self-care as “so much more than taking warm baths, getting a massage…or setting new priorities. It’s about building self-esteem”, she says, — “becoming emotionally strong and empowered…it’s about having integrity”.
For me, a self-care state of mind is a practice, a process, and a journey that requires us to be intentional, mindful, consistent, and committed. It requires us to be present, forward-focused, and endure despite circumstances. It requires us to show up. It also requires us to be flexible and adaptable with ourselves, flexible, and patient. A self-care state of mind is not just something we do, (or don’t do), but is rather a mindset; an awareness of how we relate to ourselves, a feeling, and an overall state of being that we cultivate for ourselves and our lives.
To cultivate a self-care state of mind we must intentionally and mindfully love ourselves first. We must be self-disciplined, and move through life with integrity, and we must meet ourselves with compassion. The difference between doing something and practicing is in how we approach it — how we relate to it, so let’s relate to it as the life-giving catalyst that it is. Let’s give it our full attention. Let’s invest in ourselves.
Remember that practice, as we are relating to it here, is not about perfection or proficiency, but rather is an intentional, aware, disciplined, mindful, and consistent journey. It is ongoing, but we do have to start somewhere. Let us start cultivating a self-care state of mind through the mindful practice of self-love, self-discipline, and self-compassion.
Self-love is about intentionally focusing on, and deepening, our relationship with ourselves so that we are whole and complete. The what and how will look different for each of us. Here is a glimpse of what self-love means to me: treating myself as I want to be treated, setting limits, practicing healthy boundaries, taking care of my mind and body, healing old wounds through therapy, eating mindfully, speaking nicely to myself, savoring a pampering cup of coffee, being in nature, or trying new things. Self-love for me is also about spending conscious and intentional time with myself, saying more yes to me and more no to others, and walking away from people or things that no longer serve me.
Self-love is cultivated both from the inside out and from the outside in. What does this mean to you? How might you practice self-love?
Self-discipline is about integrity, commitment, persistence, and consistency in showing up to our tasks, our lives, and what we say matters to us. To me, it is about investing in myself; in my body and in my mind, in this container that is taking me through this journey called life. It’s about showing up as my word. Discipline isn’t about rigidity or being judgmental of ourselves, but rather it is about honoring our word to ourselves and stepping powerfully onto the mat of our lives. Self-discipline is not about doing yoga sometimes, but rather about mindfully making myself breakfast each day because I say it matters to me.
Self-discipline is about being authentic and consistent with whom we see ourselves to be, with who we say we are, and with what we say is important to us. Where might you practice self-discipline? What resources/support might you need to put in place to keep you accountable?
Self-compassion is about caring for ourselves as we would our loved ones; giving ourselves needed space to be wherever we are, sitting with our yuck when we need to, experiencing the range of emotions, empathizing with ourselves, and allowing ourselves to grieve when we need to. It’s about letting ourselves wilt when life happens, being softer with ourselves, and expecting less of ourselves when life calls for it. Self-compassion is about being gentle with ourselves, lovingly self-soothing and refocusing on the positives, wrapping our arms around ourselves both metaphorically, and literally when life calls for it. It’s about holding ourselves not just in the highest regard, but also when we fall, cradling ourselves until we can stand tall again.
What might this look like you ask? Perhaps a self-hug or a gratitude practice or daily positive affirmations while standing in front of the mirror. It might look like inviting your feelings to tea, and sitting with them, noticing, and welcoming them (journaling or simply naming them) until they pass. It might also look like tears streaming down your face without judgment.
How might you amplify your practice of self-compassion?
Self care in conclusion
For self-care to be impactful and make a difference, we must be different. For it to permeate our very being, and become a state of mind, we must shift our mindset, and show up differently for ourselves. We must make change, do change, and be the change — if we want to see, feel, and experience change. We must hold ourselves to some new standards.
We can each begin to cultivate a self-care state of mind by bringing mindful attention, intentionality, awareness, and consistency to our practices of self-compassion, self-discipline, and self-love. By doing so, we can show up more powerfully, and more peacefully and joyfully to the experience of our lives. If you need help — ask!