Defining Self-Care

SelfCare

When I started my MSW last year, nearly every class began with the same question: 

What are you doing for self-care? 

Uhhh...I definitely knew the phrase, and I vaguely knew what it meant, but I always pictured self-care in same way:

Drinking a glass of wine while getting your nails done.

While this can be self-care, I now realize the true definition of self-care is much more than this. 

Self-care means becoming your own parent and looking out for your best interest.

Self-care extends beyond manicures and pedicures, bubble baths and having a glass of wine to relax after a hard day. Self-care means ending a toxic relationship. It means making sure you get enough sleep the night before a big day. It means going after the job of your dreams and giving yourself a day off when you need it. Self-care is having your own back.

Often, we think self-care equals self-indulgence. Eating a pint of ice cream (or two) after a breakup or sleeping until noon every Sunday becomes justified because it’s our self-care. Sometimes this is necessary and can be classified as self-care, but when your self-care isn’t contributing in a positive way to the person you’re aspiring to become, it may just be a bad habit in disguise

Conversely, when you’ve spent most of your life in competitive athletics—or are still competing—the self-care needed for a balanced life is sometimes pushed aside in favor of work or training. Spending time with friends, developing hobbies away from your sport or taking the necessary day off when your body is screaming that it’s had enough seems indulgent. No pain, no gain can become your go-to phrase, making slowing down to listen to your body seem “soft.” 

Indulging when you need it, and, conversely, pushing your body to the max can, at times, be necessary. But it’s also necessary to pause to make sure you’re actually giving yourself what you truly need and not just falling back on your go-to patterns of behavior. Pushing yourself to get out of bed and tackling the tough stuff in life is part of looking out for your best interest. Likewise, taking a break from training and listening to your body as an athlete doesn’t make you soft; it makes you smart. 

Self-care is an ongoing, daily practice, and it can be challenging at times. It requires you listen to yourself and think long-term, to the person you aspire to become. It requires you to take control of your life and own that you are worth being kind to. Practicing self-care means you might have to challenge old beliefs and push against your natural inclinations. But it is the main ingredient when it comes to living a full, well-rounded life: the life you deserve. 

Your Life is 100% Your Responsibility

Happiness

A few years ago, I went through a really bad breakup (Pause—is there ever a good breakup?). Without going into detail, I’ll just say that the guy I was dating is not a great human, and how he chose to end the relationship was not okay.

When that final blow came from him, I quickly dove head first into the warm waters of wallowing. I had dozens of reasons—all valid—for why I felt I was entitled to lay in bed, shut off the outside world and drown in my sadness. I was entitled to eat bags of chips. I was entitled to escape my feelings with a bottle of white wine. I was entitled to shut my phone off and cancel work. 

All of this was true. I was allowed to respond in whatever way I wanted. I had given my all to the relationship, done everything I could to make it work, to make him happy. 

But what was also true was that what I was facing at that moment was 100% my responsibility. It was up to me, and only me, pick up the mess—literally and figuratively—and rebuild my life.  My choices and the state of my life were in no way his responsibility. 

We have all faced a similar situation in our lives. Whether it’s been a breakup, a judging panel not liking us, an unfair termination, an addiction or the diagnosis of a physical or mental illness, we’ve all felt the sting of adversity. Someone hurt us. Someone abused us. Something cheated us. 

This stuff is rarely—if ever—our fault. 

Yet, what we choose to do with this stuff is 100%, fully and entirely our responsibility. 

This means if you were abused as kid, it is never your fault, but it is your responsibility to give yourself an amazing fucking life. It means if you were left at the alter, it is your responsibility to move on, to love yourself in all the ways that person was unwilling and to claim your happily ever after. Taking responsibility for your situation and what happened to you does not necessitate forgiveness. It does not necessitate skirting your feelings or absolving someone else of blame. But it does necessitate that you woman or man up.

What so often happens, though, is that we create a story to justify where we are—and we’re entitled to do this. If we’re out of work, struggling to lose weight or drowning in debt, there’s a reason why we are where we are. More often than not, these reasons aren’t our fault. But, as we begin to formulate a story around our current situation, we can sometimes turn these reasons into excuses. And, over time, these excuses turn us into victims.

The truth is, we have no control over other people’s behavior and actions. But we have the responsibility to take ownership for ourselves; this is the only variable in life that we can control. Initially, taking complete ownership over your life will feel like someone threw a pitcher of cold water at your face. It will shock you. You may cling to your entitlement and do everything you can to avoid responsibility. I wanted to do this after that breakup, and you are allowed to do this. But the longer you avoid the cold sting of taking 100% responsibility for your life, the longer you’ll remain a victim.

You are not a victim. And when you choose to take total ownership, a funny things happens: You quickly fall into a sense of overwhelming calm. You become determined, and you realize you're in control. This is where true empowerment comes from. Because suddenly, you understand that all that amazing stuff you want in life? You have the ability to give this to yourself. No matter what has happened to you, no matter what someone has done to you, you get to choose to make your life amazing. By choosing to take complete responsibility—for where you are right now and where you're going to be tomorrow—you give yourself the most important gift in life: The understanding that this life is 100% up to you, and making it great is entirely in your hands.

Pushing Past Perfectionism

perfectionism

The first time I decided to make an apron, I sat in my car in front of JOANN Fabrics for twenty minutes building up courage to go into the store. I wanted so badly to learn how to sew. A few days earlier, I’d bought a sewing machine off Amazon. I’d spent four hours watching YouTube videos, teaching myself how to thread the needle and insert the bobbin. I knew if I spent enough time practicing, I could teach myself how to make cute aprons and would probably fall in love with this new hobby. But there was this incredibly persuasive voice in my head, urging me to stay in my car.

The voice sounded something like this:

You are not a seamstress. You have no idea what you're doing. You don’t know what fabric to get.  You’re wasting your time; there are so many more productive things you could be doing today. This is going to be a disaster. You’re going to embarrass yourself.

We all have this voice, and for some, it's louder than it is for others. This is our perfectionistic voice, the voice of our inner critic. It tells us what it believes we’re capable of, what we should and shouldn’t do. This voice believes its protecting us—but in reality, it limits us. It keeps us  sitting in our car instead of venturing into the store and embarking on a new hobby.

It keeps us small. 

So what do you do with this voice? How do you leap into new hobbies and out of your comfort zone when this voice can at times become deafening with its judgment and incessant demands?

Realize it is There to Help you, and Know Where it Comes From

Although listening to that voice will keep you small, I believe it’s actually well-meaning and wants to protect you.  Maybe there was a time when you dove head first into something as a kid and fell flat on your face. The voice believes its job is to keep you away from future "failures" and to keep your ego intact. And, for a time, this voice probably did its job really, really well. That voice protected you from embarrassment and from veering too far into potentially dangerous situations.

But once we become adults, we often become way too compliant to its demands. We don’t realize that we have to ability to decipher what is best for us, and this voice may no longer serves us. To figure out if this voice is limiting you and keeping you from what you truly want, it helps to—

Visualize a Life without Perfectionism

One of the things that can really help us is to imagine that there are no expectations, no personal or external barriers holding us back. To do this, I like to do something I call the desert island trick:

I imagine I’m living on a desert island where only the things I truly want exist. On the island there’s no concept of time, money or expectations. You can look however, act however and do whatever  you want. Once you've arrived at this island in your mind, ask yourself how you'd spend your days. Whatever answer pops up, promise yourself that you'll do whatever it takes to incorporate a little bit of that into your life. And—

Realize that the Perfectionistic Voice is not Your Identity

When you grow up as a perfectionist, that voice can become part of your identity. You may start to believe that you are that voice. But that voice is a just part of you, it isn’t you. Ultimately YOU are the one who has the power to decide what's best for you, and the more you forge ahead in the direction of what you truly want (into JOANN Fabric, in my case), the softer the voice will become. It will still pop up from time to time, but jumping into the activity despite its protests will show that voice that you are truly the one who is in control. And you do this by—

Perfectionism

Strengthening your Resolve

I think of strengthening my resolve like I'm stacking blocks on top of one another. Each time I do something that I want to do that is outside of my comfort zone, I imagine I’m adding another block to the pile of new experiences. And, every time I do something that pushes against my perfectionistic voice, I add another block. By trying new things—and showing yourself that even if you fall flat on your face you will be okay—I’ve noticed that the perfectionist voice doesn’t come up as often. And when it does, it isn’t nearly as loud.

Finally, it’s important to accept that—

That Voice is Always Going to be There

While the volume of the voice can go down at times, it is still going to be there—at some moments it will be louder than others. And that’s okay. At times—particularly when you’re about to embark on something that has the potential to make you incredibly vulnerable—that voice may become like an angry toddler who is fighting sleep with everything she’s got. She’s going to kick and scream and then scream some more until she eventually succumbs to her exhaustion and drifts off to Dreamland. That perfectionist voice is going to scream and protest, pushing against you, until it realizes that it is truly powerless when it comes to your ability to forge ahead into vulnerability despite its protests. 

It's vital to remember that you are the parent in this situation. You know what's best for you, and you get to decide what you do with your life. You are the only who gets to choose whether or not you venture into that new hobby or not. The perfectionist inside of you does not get to be in control—unless you let it.

I did eventually leave my car that day. With every step I took, the voice became louder—but I continued walking. I bought the fabric. I made the apron. And, I opened up a door to a new hobby that brings me such joy and delight. There are days when whatever I’m trying to sew ends up being a complete disaster, and that voice pops up again. When it does, I acknowledge it, and I continue sewing anyway.

The more you train yourself to tiptoe, then walk and then eventually leap out of your comfort zone, the weaker that voice will become, and the more full and enjoyable your life will become.  And remember: you will always be there to pick yourself up if you fall down. The discomfort that you feel when you step into the unknown is always temporary. But the only way to truly believe this is to force yourself to rebel against that voice and to choose to give yourself what you truly want and what you truly deserve. And, in some cases, rebelling against this voice may even result in the creation of a cute apron :) 

Finding Happiness

Happiness

When I was 13, I searched for happiness in triple jumps. At 16, I thought I could find it by making an Olympic team. At 19? Happiness was going to appear after I lost just one more pound. And, at 32, I had convinced myself that happiness was hiding in the arms of a man.

I have searched my whole life for happiness. I have spent year after year trying to figure out the equation that would provide that feeling of pure bliss, that sense that I’ve finally arrived and am where I’m supposed to be.

On the eve of my 34th birthday, I am happy. 

I am happy because I have finally learned that happiness was never going to be found in some future success, in pleasing everyone around me or in my Prince Charming. Happiness was only going to be found inside of me. And it was only going to reveal itself and stick around—forever—when I accepted that it was up to me to choose to be happy. 

It sounds cliche. Too simple. Too easy

But choosing happiness was anything but easy.

I had to first search for it in everything external. I had to take wrong turn in life after wrong turn. I had to experience heartache, disappointment and then fall flat on my face—many, many times—before I realized that happiness was something that only I could give myself, and it was a choice. Only when I stopped searching for it, chasing it and looking for it somewhere other than within, it arrived. 

It isn’t a big, monumental moment when true, sustaining happiness arrives. There isn’t a National Anthem that is played and a medal placed around your neck; although happiness can be there, too—but only temporarily. I’ve found that true happiness, the happiness I feel tonight, doesn’t have any conditions. It's there on a Sunday morning when you’re washing dishes or on a Thursday afternoon when you're sitting at a stoplight. Happiness becomes a constant companion that is always present, even when you’re frustrated because something isn't going your way in life or you're crying over a breakup. True happiness is the knowing that despite any conditions you’re facing, everything is going to be alright. It's the acceptance that you and your life are good. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 34 years is that everything we need is always available to us—all we have to do is listen to ourselves and give ourselves what we truly desire. It is so easy to get caught up in the fallacy that happiness will be found in accruing stuff, another person or monetary success. We can live our whole lives believing this, and the thing is, those things can bring us happiness—but the happiness that results from anything external will always be conditional and is always fleeting. 

True happiness will only come—and stay—when you’re willing to stop the search and accept the truth: happiness is yours to choose and has been within you all along.

Stuff: Why we Hold onto it and How to Let it Go

Organization

A few weeks ago, I was faced with the task of throwing out nearly everything I own in under 48 hours.  I always thought of myself as a clean person, only holding onto life’s necessities—and I thought I knew what constituted a necessity.

But as I was packing that Friday night before driving across the country, I found the box.

It was box I forgot I owned, filled with memorabilia from all my ex-boyfriends. The box was littered with old movie ticket stubs, love-filled messages in birthday cards and a couple of college sweatshirts. Next to this “ex box” were another two boxes of memorabilia from my time spent living in California and yet another box filled with credentials from past skating competitions.

I sat on my closet floor as dread and panic shot through me when I realized there was no way these boxes from my past—as well as the seventeen coffee mugs in my kitchen cabinet and the collection of spices I had accrued over the past year—were going to be able to make the move to Boise. Tears welled up in my eyes. Why was I crying over spices and, more importantly, these boxes filled with paper and words that I forgot were ever written?

It got me thinking about the emotional connection we can have to stuff. Namely, why we keep this stuff around—even if it lives in the dark corners of our closet—and why it can be so hard to part with it. We may be holding onto this stuff because of nostalgia (think the “ex box”) or in case we might need it at a future point (Like, that time in the future when I could have seventeen friends over for coffee one morning?). We may also be holding onto stuff because it was expensive, and we feel guilty if we end up throwing it out or donating it.

But what began as a good intention—one time we really did need each of those ten pens in our kitchen drawer—has now turned into clutter. 

That Friday night, after I dried by eyes, I was able to part with the "ex box," along with the spices, my furniture and all seventeen coffee mugs. Here are some tips that I used and are helpful to keep in mind when it comes to organizing your life and ridding yourself of unnecessary belongings:

Memories living within you, not in the stuff

This is probably the most important truth when it comes to organizing your life. The memories and the sense of happiness that the stuff in the “ex box” gave me live in my heart—not in the box. Much of the sentimental stuff we hold onto only serves as a reminder of memories that are accessible to us at any time. If you’re having trouble parting with sentimental objects that you know no longer serve you or you just don’t have space for, take a photo of the object. Keep the picture in your phone or on your computer. What you're really looking for by holding onto these sentimental objects is the feeling the object provides you. That feeling comes from within you.

It's going to a good place

This truth really helped me when it came to donating furniture and clothing that I knew I didn’t have space for. Rather than focusing on no longer owning the object, I tried to shift my attention to  finding a great new home for the furniture and items I couldn't hold onto. When you're forced to give something away, attach yourself to the good feelings you get from giving the stuff to someone who truly needs it and will appreciate the item as much you did. This helped me immensely

Use the two-year rule

When it comes to your closet, if you haven’t worn something in two years, DONATE OR SELL IT. Unless it’s something that is truly fabulous and you forgot you owned because it was buried in the back of your closet, there’s a good chance you will never wear it again. And be honest with yourself: if you’re holding onto that dress or sweater just because you spent a ton of money on it—but have no real desire to wear it today—you still need to get rid of it. The money's gone. Having the garment hang out, waiting for the one day you might decide it’s time to wear it will not bring the money back. Give it away or sell it. And, realize—

You can always buy it again

If you’re holding onto random items (think pens, paper, old towels or bedsheets) just in case you hit a financial hardship in the future, this is all the more reason to get rid of this stuff. Preparing for the worst case weighs on you emotionally, whether you realize it or not. Donate pens and extra paper to a local public school; they are always looking for more supplies. Outside of moving to the middle of an abandoned field (and, even then, Amazon could probably find you), I promise you are going to be able to find a place and time to buy this stuff again, when you really have a use for it. 

Focus on what you're gaining

 My new collection of coffee mugs :)

My new collection of coffee mugs :)

Throwing stuff away is HARD. It can make you feel naked, super vulnerable and like all the stuff you worked so hard to bring into your life is suddenly abandoning you. But facing these feelings and learning to work through them is also a chance for growth. Further, living modestly helps you grow. Right now, I only have four coffee mugs. It’s forcing me do more dishes—actually washing the mugs by hand—which is a new skill for me. And the weird part? I’m actually starting to like washing dishes. Living with less will enable you to learn new skills and grow emotionally. 

It's so important to remember that the ability to accrue the stuff that surrounds you comes from you: if you were able to  work hard enough to buy yourself a great couch at one point in your life, you will be able to do this again in the future. Stuff can make us feel protected, and change in any form—whether it’s moving or getting rid of something from the past—can be scary because it's uncertain.  But it’s also exciting. And the true protection and memories we’re searching for in the stuff, actually live within us.  I promise that what you may lose from getting rid of stuff will pale in comparison to what you will be gaining emotionally and logistically.