I was at an event in San Francisco a few years ago and had the privilege of spending some time with Louise Hay, founder of Hay House and best-selling author of You Can Heal Your Life. Louise is someone I’ve admired for a long time — she’s a true pioneer in the world of personal development. It was an honor for me to connect with her at this event.
On the final day of the conference, I asked Louise if she was planning to fly home (back to San Diego, just an hour’s flight from San Francisco) that evening. She said, “Oh no, Mike, I would never do that to myself.” Her response, while simple, floored me. I thought, Wow, what a great example of honoring and caring for yourself. Then I thought, I could use more of that.
At that time, I was feeling run down, exhausted, and overwhelmed by my life. Our girls were four and one, I was traveling quite a bit, and I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everything. My schedule was packed with so many activities, I felt like it was hard for me to breathe, much less enjoy what I was doing. I also felt like a victim of my “crazy” schedule and life, which gave me a built-in excuse for not showing up for others or taking full responsibility for my actions (i.e., “What do you want from me? Do you have any idea how much I have going on right now?”).
Around this same time, I was reading a wonderful book called The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson. In this book, Cheryl challenges us to make our self-care a top priority. I loved the book, and while the concepts were fairly simple, familiar, and straightforward, I felt a great deal of resistance as I started to practice some of what Cheryl was saying.
Unfortunately, a lot of us think of self-care as selfish or as something we should do when we get everything else done. I would find myself thinking, Once I take care of all the important people and things in my life, then I’ll take care of myself. In addition to this, I also think we can sometimes be motivated to take care of ourselves out of fear or guilt: I should eat better. I should exercise more. I’m not taking good care of myself and if I keep this up I’m going to gain weight, get sick, or something really bad is going to happen to me. These types of negative, critical thoughts often roll around in our brains, and often are the impetus or motivation for us to “take care of ourselves.”
Authentic self-care is not selfish, and it’s not a guarantee that we won’t gain weight or get sick — although taking care of ourselves would probably make those things less likely. True self-care is about honoring ourselves, caring for ourselves, nurturing ourselves, and loving ourselves — both for our own benefit and for the benefit of everyone around us.
I saw Dr. Andrew Weil on Larry King Live a number of years ago. Dr. Weil, who has been a leader in the field of alternative medicine for decades, was talking to Larry about the importance of self-care. He mentioned that there is a great model for this in the human body — the heart. Dr. Weil said, “Each time the heart beats, it first pumps blood to itself, then to the rest of the body. It has to work this way in order for us to stay alive.” He continued, “The same is true for us as human beings. We have to take care of ourselves first, so we can take care of others.”
Self-care is fundamental to not only our personal well-being but also to our relationships with the people closest to us. It empowers us to be more available and generous with the people around us in an authentic way, while modeling to them how we want to be treated. As Michael Bernard Beckwith says, “The Golden Rule is ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The Platinum Rule is ‘How I treat myself is training others how to treat me.’”
Taking care of ourselves takes courage, commitment, and willingness. Given the nature of our busy lives, it’s not so easy, logistically or emotionally, for us to make and keep our self-care commitments. It’s not about doing it “right” or “perfectly,” or even about following some detailed plan to a tee. It’s simply about remembering that we deserve to take care of ourselves, and when we do, it not only nourishes us but also allows us to be available for important things and people in our lives.