Did you know that over ten billion dollars is spent on self-help literature each year?
Surely with all the wonderful wisdom and knowledge, our relationships, our health, our careers and finances should be in a state of tip-top, polished condition. Similarly, at the beginning of each New Year, we frequently pledge to ourselves to quit smoking, reduce the amount of time we spend on social media, and call our Mum’s more often. Yet, despite our momentary resolve to make a change for the better, we struggle to see the results of our intentions. We stumble, trip and fail to put things into action. Equally frustrating is that we start and struggle to keep the momentum going.
So why does this happen?
Why, when we have all the information and the best of intentions, are our best-laid plans for self-care constantly thwarted? It’s because taking care of ourselves is challenging and there are some legitimate barriers that stop us from moving forward. Firstly, it requires a significant amount of mental and emotional effort to implement change. Secondly, taking care of ourselves before others elicits feelings about ourselves that can be difficult to face. Finally, it can reveal thoughts or beliefs about ourselves that we may be trying to avoid. In essence, it’s more about our relationship with ourselves rather than the self-care action that we want to undertake.
Before we explore the various barriers that thwart our self-care plans, let’s define it.
What actually is self-care? Well, it’s more than pouring ourselves a delicious bubble bath at the end of a long tiring day (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Self-care is the practice of purposeful and self-initiated actions and attitudes that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of life, health, well-being and personal development. It often means doing the things that we know are good for us but aren’t always the easiest. Just like flossing each day or stepping away from our desk to have lunch. These things are necessary for us to be fully capable of fulfilling our needs associated to our mind, body and spirit.
What are some of the common barriers to self-care?
It’s not unusual to hear someone say that they struggle making a choice of what self-care practice to start (ambivalence), or that they don’t believe that they deserve to care for themselves before someone else (negative self-belief). Some people say that their family tend to discourage them when starting a new healthy habit (negative social, relational and cultural influences). In some instances, it’s impossible to imagine ourselves in the future having lost that extra weight or not smoking (emotional disconnect from our future selves). Essentially many barriers relate to three simple, but very important factors: 1. The relationship that we have with ourselves, 2. Our relationship to our self-care intentions, and 3. The availability to necessary resources.
In order to create a self-care practice that is achievable and sustainable, we need to evolve these ‘relationships’. To help us develop healthy relationships with our self-care practices, we need to ensure that we have an appropriate sense of agency, that our motives are congruent with who we are as a person, and that we have the ability to create action. Here’s a simple formula to explain:
Agency + Motive + Ability = Desired Action/Behavior
Agency is described as the capacity of an individual to act independently and to shape their experiences and life trajectories. By exploring our sense of agency, we can examine our relationship with the potential of a self-care strategy into action and maintaining it. The components that form individual agency include belief (self-worth, self-esteem, trust, faith, confidence, effect), Desires (motivation, wants, longing), Intention/choice (awareness, willingness, commitment, intention).
Here are some important questions to ask yourself as they relate to your sense of agency.
- Do I believe that I am worthy of my self-care intention?
- Am I confident that I can achieve my goal? Am I being selfish by putting my needs before others?
- Am I doing this out of a sense of obligation or personal free-will?
- What do I really want from this action? Is this desire congruent with me as a person?
- What will I learn about myself if I undertake this action?
Motives are the instrumental forces that drive and direct our behavior and are based on a series of intrinsic and tacit beliefs that we have about ourselves. If our motives are misaligned with our sense of self, then we are more likely to experience disruption, resistance, or inaction. It is important to examine our motives to determine whether our relationship with our intention is congruent with our sense of self. As with our sense of agency, here are some questions to ask yourself as they relate to your motives.
- Why am I considering a particular self-care action?
- What really, truly motivates me?
- Am I motivated by personal needs like being inspired to be a better ‘me’, or my needs to feel included or connected with others?
- What’s my relationship with my self-care practice?
- Why did I honesty connect with this self-care practice?
We can be motivated, and ready to implement self-care, but sometimes our lack of ability may hinder us. Ability is the power, capacity or competence to carry out an intentional action. There are three components that form ability. Our knowledge, the ability to evaluate and the psychological and material resources to take the necessary action steps. If one or more of these components is missing, then we may struggle to develop the ability to achieve a desired action or established behavior. We may have the intention or willingness to change, but our inability (capability) to act may hinder us.
Here’s some important questions to ask yourself:
- Am I aware of all the available self-care options open to me?
- What works, what doesn’t? Is there evidence that supports my choice?
- What self-care options do I prefer?
- How do I make a decision that best suits my needs?
- Do I have the means to fulfill my self-care needs?
- What do I need to do to acquire the right resources if I don’t currently have them?
- Do I control the use of my own resources?
Adopting a meaningful and congruent self-care practice requires asking yourself a few important questions as they relate to our sense of agency, our motives and the resources that we have available. When we take time to ask these questions and answer them honestly, then we can be more triumphant in adopting and sustaining self-care practices that fulfill our needs as they relate to our mind, body and spirit.