What does it really mean to take care of yourself?
Several of my clients are working on achieving big goals — permanent life changes, things that would change their self-concept.
A theme that comes up in our calls is how they take care of themselves while they’re working toward these goals. And what it means to take care of yourself is something I talk to almost every client about at some point.
After many sessions with clients + years of working on this myself, I think the answer is this: making decisions as your future self.
Considering what you will want to have done over what you want to do right now.
A few examples:
Long term goal: Change your eating habits.
Short term decision: Vacation eating.
Long term goal: Prioritize your health.
Short term decision: Getting sick when there’s a lot going on at work.
Long term goal: Effectively manage your team.
Short term decision: Having a corrective conversation with an employee.
Long term goal: Follow through on your high priorities.
Short term decision: Saying yes or no to requests for your time.
Long term goal: Be a confident public speaker.
Short term decision: How to show up to tomorrow’s presentation.
In every one of these examples, the brain wants the easier short-term choice — sometimes that’s about what sounds more pleasurable, and sometimes it’s about what feels more practiced. But either way, it’s about what’s comfortable.
The brain tells us that we deserve a couple of days off of our eating protocol. It tells us that we can go to bed early tonight, but really we should work from home for at least a few hours. It tells us that we can go big on the next presentation, but this one we’re just going to get through.
And we often think, in the moment, that we’re taking care of ourselves — giving ourselves a reward, or relief, or a break, or preventing a longer workday later in the week.
But what the brain isn’t assessing in these moments is the long-run, the future, what we want for our lives, not just what we want this minute.
Meaning, the brain would have us sacrifice our well-being for our comfort, every time.
And truly taking care of ourselves is about how much love for ourselves is in our decisions.
Read that sentence again, because it’s so important.
There is no right answer to any of the decisions above. And in each example, love could dictate any number of decisions.
The key is to bring some balance into these decisions — to ask whether they serve, or at least do no harm to, the person we’d like to be.
For example, let’s say you’re planning a trip to Paris. For the last several months, you’ve been working on some health + weight-loss goals + haven’t been eating carbs. What happens in Paris? To croissant or not to croissant?
It could be that you’ve been doing a bang-up job of sticking to your goals and think that there’s no long-term negative effect of eating a croissant or two. You’ll pick right back up when you return, and your future self will be so glad you had those flaky layers of goodness. Because croissants in Paris.
It also could be that you’ve really been struggling with ‘exceptions’ — birthday cake, holiday dinners — and that you think that ultimately, ending this struggle is the key to reaching your goals and changing your relationship to food. You want to learn not to associate celebration or gathering (or vacation) with completely ignoring your good eating habits.
Often, the decision comes down to how far along you are in becoming the person who has your habits or new ways of thinking — or, said differently, how much effort + focus you still have to put into the goal.
Only you know what’s true. Only you know which decision is an act of love + respect for your current + future self.
We sometimes get confused, thinking that the short-term decision is where the act of taking care of ourselves lives — we just need a day off, it’s been so challenging to plan out the week + stick to the calendar — but what we don’t see is the long-term negative effect, how ultimately the reason the better decision is to keep plugging along is because it’s been so challenging.
We’re not yet at the point where we do the new thing by default, and so the act of self-care is to keep going, keep showing ourselves that we can do it . . . and make sure to relax over the weekend.
If you look at the whole decision — the short-term and the long-run — and decide to just eat the croissants, or give yourself a day off, great. I just recommend you question which decision shows the most respect, love, and care for yourself before you commit.
This kind of decision-making process is simple. Simple, but not easy. It takes commitment, belief, practice, and discipline. And all that is much, much easier with someone in your corner cheering you on + pointing out what you can’t see. Schedule a free consultation call to see whether working with a coach is just what you’ve been looking for.