One of my biggest pet peeves is reading articles on self-care with a strong allegiance to one particular activity or hobby that is supposed to be a miraculous cure-all. If we were all identically wired, that would make sense. But just because something works for one person does not mean it will do the same for everyone.
We tend to give advice from or own reference point. We draw on our own experiences and wisdom to help guide others. I’m often guilty of this myself and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When something has been proven to be effective, chances are it will help others too. If I find peace through exercise, I’m likely to prescribe it to my clients as an
act of self-care. Sometimes this is helpful for them, but that isn’t always the case.
When it comes to self-care, there is no right answer
The danger in this is that it tends to box us in. We tend to promote our own positive experiences as solutions. When someone vibes with it, that’s great. But when others don’t find the same level of value and meaning, it can often leave them feeling confused and hopeless.
It reminds me of the concept of “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I highly recommend it. The basic underlying premise of the book is that we often show love the way that we feel loved. This is a very powerful tool in understanding behaviors in relationships. I’ve also found it to apply in a
similar way as we design and share our self-care practices. As a self-care guru, I’m likely to promote the self-care practices that personally resonate with me the most. Without being intentionally privy to our own self-care bias, we may miss out on finding what makes others tick. That just leads to millions of us “experts” telling you a million
different things that are all supposed to be that one miraculous solution.
So let me apologize on behalf of the whole self-care community of experts. We might have accidentally overwhelmed you. You don’t have to enjoy everything. If, in your mind, “self-care” means you have to go to yoga, take up painting, go to the gym, get a massage, listen to a podcast, take piano lessons, join a book club, start a garden, volunteer, run a 5k AND get eight hours of sleep? Whew, self-care? That sounds more like self-torture. Let me permit you to take a load off.
What makes you tick?
Self-Care must be a personalized experience. We have to identify our likes, values, and personal strengths so that we can craft a self-care plan that works for us. Don’t get me wrong, infographics and popular blog articles can help you cultivate ideas, but at the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to practice your self-care. Have you ever taken one of those silly personality tests that tell you all about yourself? Or maybe you’ve even done a more legitimate personality assessment in the form of a Myers Brigg or other survey. Either way, you probably have. As humans, we are
designed to be inquisitive and self-analytical- it’s one of the critical characteristics that differentiate us from other species.
Statistically, we are often the most productive and effective when we set goals based on our strengths and desires. The opposite also applies; when we live our lives based on a construct of other people’s “shoulds,” it ultimately leads to self-sabotage. Basically, we are much less likely to stick to something that we don’t succeed in much less enjoy. So
it's important to find what works best for you.
You are the self-care expert
What do you like to do? What fuels your fire? When you think of peace and comfort, what comes to mind? Do that. What kinds of things annoy you? Exhaust you? Make you dread getting out of bed? Don’t do those things. Sure, there are some things that we have to do in life, but when it comes to self-care, you do have choices. Love being outside? The go right ahead and start that beautiful garden. Hate being outside? Stay inside instead. Enjoy journaling? Write your little heart out. Think writing down your thoughts is an awkward waste of time? Then don’t. Love running? Just do it. Dread the idea of putting on gym clothes? Nix it. Not to say that you shouldn’t get regular exercise from a health perspective, but that can be different from what you choose to do for the practice of self-care. Ideally, self-care should bring you peace and smoothly fit into your lifestyle.
If you’re having trouble answering some of those questions, then, by all means, do some research and explore your options. There are tons of excellent ideas out there. And I can guarantee that some of them will be a good fit for you. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about not listening to the experts; it’s about trusting yourself as the expert.
Don’t do what I say; do what you say.
Amanda Smith is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on identifying and capitalizing on existing inner strengths and using them to help formulate a personalized plan for wellness. Amanda is a school social worker who primarily works with teens and adult who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and general life concerns. You can find out more about her in her bio .
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