As a coach I am always looking for good metaphors to help make sense of things we humans keep tripping over or bumping into.
One of my favorites comes courtesy of the airline industry. We all know that in case of an emergency, we need to secure our own oxygen masks before we try and help others. If we can't breathe then we are useless to everyone - including ourselves. This is a great metaphor for real life! Daily living in the 21st century can feel relentless and stressful and often keeps our adrenals running as if we are in a constant state of emergency.
Practicing good self-care is like putting on an oxygen mask. When you are tuned in and taking care of yourself, not only will you feel better equipped to handle emergencies big or small, you will feel happier and more connected to your life as a whole.
Following these paths will guide you towards creating your own personal practice of taking exquisite care of yourself on a regular basis.
1. The Path of Paying Attention.
The quickest path to true self-care is to Pay Attention. Your Essential Self is sending you messages all the time—you just might not be hearing them. Start by simply stopping, getting quiet and taking 3 deep breaths. Then check in. What are you feeling? What are you craving? Listen closely to the first word or feeling that pops up—it is usually spot-on. For instance, if you hear the word "peace", then start to move in that direction. What would feel like peace right now? Maybe it's reading a book or taking a walk around the block. Maybe it's booking a massage or writing in your journal or calling the BFF who always calms you down. The main thing is following instructions from that inner guide. Other ways of Paying Attention can include starting a daily journaling practice like the Morning Pages exercise from "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron or some form of meditation—even just 5-10 minutes a day. Get curious, notice, watch and take stock. You are the expert on you and listening to yourself is the ultimate form of self-care.
2. The Path of Praising
Being kind to yourself in your mind is a crucial path to self-care. Start to notice what you say to yourself on a daily basis. "You're so stupid," "I can't believe how fat you are" or"You always screw things up" are not nice things to say. Would you say those things to a friend? Remember that you are, in fact, awesome and start telling yourself that instead. If you don't feel particularly awesome then get more specific. What have you done lately that you are proud of? What are some qualities that you feel grateful for or love about yourself? Examples of praise can include anything and everything from "Damn girl, you made a killer salad yesterday," to "You paid the bills on time! Yay!" Every time you catch yourself talking smack to yourself, use it as an opportunity to change the conversation. In case you haven't heard, it's cool to be kind.
3. The Path of Pausing
Taking regular time-outs is a necessary path to self-care. Our society has become addicted to the cult of busy. We get totally caught up in thinking that we need to do this, find that, go there, call here—and all the while our phones are ringing, our texts are pinging and our email in-boxes are getting fuller and fuller. It's exhausting. Whether it's a 20-minute catnap, a bath before bed, shutting off your ringer while you read the Sunday paper or just taking a few deep belly breaths when your car is stopped at a red light (instead of checking Facebook), make it a point to pause so that you can recharge.
4. The Path of Pampering
Pampering is a delicious and imperative path to self-care. For me, pampering can mean anything from getting an almond-milk latte from Stumptown Coffee to giving myself permission to spend 30 minutes reading The New Yorker when I 'should' be cleaning my office. Listening to that voice in your mind telling you all the things you "should" or "need" to be doing can counteract your pampering! Respectfully acknowledge the voice and then remind it that life is short and you are choosing to spend a little more time enjoying it. Other forms of pampering that I love include taking myself to a movie, going for a walk while listening to my favorite podcast (have you listened to Season 2 of Serial?!), getting a pedicure or visiting my favorite consignment store. How do you like to pamper yourself?
5. The Path of Playing
Making time to play is a wonderful and often overlooked path to self-care. As adults we barely even remember how to play let alone make time for it. Have a dance party in your kitchen, sign up for paddleboard yoga, get your make-up done at Sephora, take that painting class you've been thinking about, go to the library, go for a drive with no destination —whatever floats your boat. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone! What's the worst thing that could happen? So what if your neighbor catches you in your pajamas belting out an Aretha Franklin song into a broom while you're sweeping the kitchen floor. They will see how much fun you are having and start wishing they could be doing the same thing. Schedule a play-date with yourself and enjoy every minute!
The 5 Paths to Essential Self-Care will help you metaphorically (and sometimes literally) breathe better, so that you can be your very best self. And as with most things, the more you practice good self-care, the more it will become second nature.
Bonus: All the paths start with the letter P so choosing one will be easy to remember.