Self-care is not self-improvement

I was lying in bed Sunday morning reading from author Anne Lamott’s beautiful little book Small Victories. In one of her stories about parenting, she shares with a little self-deprecation, but mostly tenderness, how she doesn’t bake for PTA fund raisers, is often disorganized and sometimes forgets to follow-through on updates from her son’s school. Her ability to accept who she is is both endearing and freeing.

Her story got me thinking how so many people I meet have a misguided sense about the concept of self-care. I often hear a lot of “shoulds,” and many confess they downright suck at self-care.

A a life balance coach/teacher, I have studied, researched, explored and taught self-care to men and women for more than 15 years and I can wholeheartedly share that self-care–a practice that has changed my life more than any other–is NOT about:

-fixing yourself or turning yourself into a self-improvement project
-trying to become a better person who “has it all together” or who keeps their New Year’s resolutions
-being perfect or doing what our parents, friends or the media say we should do to be our best (go gluten free or work out more)
-striving to be more worthy through accomplishing more or adhering to society’s list of “shoulds” around parenting, relationships or (fill in the blank)
-spending a bunch of money on services or products that are supposed to make us better: more fit, beautiful, smart, etc.

Self-care isn’t a goal you strive for. And it’s not about becoming YOU Version 2.0. It’s about meeting yourself where you are with a soft and open heart. It’s believing “my ordinary self is enough.” It’s feeling safe enough to show up in the world 100% you and inherently giving others permission to do the same.

Self-care is about attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make a mistake, being compassionate with yourself when you bump up against your faults and treating yourself with the same love and tenderness you would have for a four year-old who’s had a really hard day. It’s not about adding something to your to-do list, cracking the whip, or finally getting in shape. The true art of self-renewal is about cultivating a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself and asking for the nurturing and nourishment you truly need-whether that’s a hug or a kale smoothie. It’s knowing that YOU have your back. And that no matter what you say, do or flub-you will not abandon yourself.

TAKE ACTION: This week notice how you treat and talk to yourself? How would you describe the relationship? Do you sound like a drill sergeant or a wise and trusted mentor (read about connecting with your Wise Self)? I’d love to support you in learning the art/science of self-care and cultivating a kinder/gentler relationship with yourself at an upcoming retreat or through one of my self-care teleclasses (audio classes you can access 24/7).  Let me know how I can support you. Note: I am blessed that my retreats are selling out months in advance, so if this calls to you, I recommend you book now.

Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance speaker/author and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Offering custom self-renewal workshops/retreats, training, books/telecourses and individual career coaching her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining Personal Renewal Groups based on her award-winning curriculum.  She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 13 year-old son. More on her background here.