A Coaching Power Tool Created by Gabrielle Gaillard
(Health/Pain Management Coach, UNITED STATES)
The term “self-care” seems to be a very big topic these days. If you do a Google search you will find 3,470,000,000 results. When you search the term“self-critic” there are only 92,400,000 results. I believe it is good news that there is a lot more information out there on the positive side of this issue.
The Oxford Dictionary defines self-care as:
The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s health. The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. (1)
While in massage school, I learned that when the body is under stress, it does not get adequate blood and nutrient flow to the organs and brain. This makes it very hard to think of what to do next, let alone practice self-care.
According to Rich Hanson, negative thought patterns are hardwired into our DNA. (2) The term “self-critic” refers to that DNA hard wiring (some call it the “lizard brain”) which produces the negative thought patterns that have kept us alive and safe as a species. If negative thought patterns are hardwired into our DNA, how have so many achieved so much? After extensive research, I believe that success comes to those who combine positive self-talk as a part of their self-care. The self-care I’m talking about is that which inspires us to keep working toward our dreams and goals. These successful individuals use the practice of self-care to turn down the volume of the self-critic (or inner-critic.)
The term “self-care” can mean different to different individuals. Some may have the belief that people taking care of themselves is an excuse to be selfish or thoughtless toward others. My personal feeling on this is that internal and external judgements are the fuel of the self-critic. I came up with a few simple questions to ask your self-critic to calm the internal judgement and to be honest that is the one that counts. It is for those people who cringe at this term but still see the need for it. See these questions at the end.
Looking at the self-critic can be daunting and extensive if you allow it to take over. We all have an inner-critic; it is part of the negative or “lizard brain” that may have at one time kept us safe. But it can bring up old childhood issues or deep hidden hurts in our lives. The sound of the inner critic may have many voices or just one. It may be triggered by social media, in the way advertisers sell a product when we sit in a crowd of people or even in meditation. The inner-critic could possibly start destructive or negative patterns that may lead to devastating results. What really matters is how we look at the information that it shares with us and how much power we give it. The best thing we can do is to start asking the inner critic questions such as “Is this true?” “Why is this showing up?” or and “Will these thoughts bring me closer to or further from my best self?” By engaging in this process of self-inquiry into our negative thoughts, we begin to lower the volume of the inner-critic and begin the journey to self-care.
The first step in this practice of self-care is to recognize what you are doing right for your self. That is, not looking at what you think you should do but what you are doing, and build on it from there. If you are someone who needs take baby steps (as I am) it may be as simple as just putting on your seat belt, or showering and brushing your teeth with the acknowledgement that you are indeed taking care of yourself. It really doesn’t matter where you start; what matters is that you do start. If you are someone who needs to do things in larger steps, consider how much exercise you get just picking up around the house, walking to your car, or going up and down steps.
Another suggestion is to get a picture of yourself as a child and decide what that child might need to feel good about herself. Then start implementing changes. How and what you do is not as important as recognizing “What am I doing right? And how can I make it even better?”
Once you start recognizing all those wonderful things you do, take time to praise yourself for your accomplishments. This is a step that I strongly suggest you do not skip. The time to decide what you want to accomplish with your self-care is when you are “high” on feeling good about yourself. Also, seek individuals who can help support you in your goals. These are the people in your life who do not judge your actions and who are honest with you. Then, when you are ready to expand, choose something that will create joy for you. Joy is a vital part of preserving or improving ones mental and physical health. When we find joy in something, we will do it more often. Take time to really experience that joy and internalize it. Feel where joy lives in your body, in your mind or even in your spirit. Then when your self-critic shows up, be prepared to ask it some questions.
Now let’s look at protecting your well being and happiness. Here are a few simple questions to ask the inner critic when developing your own self-care process. This started for me years ago when I first heard a speech by Zig Ziglar along with a combination of other authors and speeches while on my own journey to self-care. These are ways to ward off the self-judgement which can create shame. Self-condemnation is the killer of self-care and adds fuel to the inner-critic. Remember these are just suggested questions; I strongly recommend you put your own flair on these or make up some of your own.
- Ask yourself if what you are doing for self-care may cause harm or hardship for yourself now or in the future. An example of this: is eating a gallon of ice cream now may make you mentally happy but sick tomorrow; buying that beautiful painting will bring you joy, but if your electric bills aren’t paid you might not be able to see it.
- Does what you are doing for your self-care cause harm or true hardship to another person or group of people. Watch out here that you do not confuse healthy boundaries. This is making sure the kids, pets, or family members that honestly depend on you for their survival, needs (not wants) are met. An example of this: Stealing money to get a massage; going to get your nails done when there is truly no food in the pantry to feed the children. I am NOT talking about going out with your friends to decompress instead of staying home and cooking for capable adults.
- Does what you are doing for your self-care take you closer to or further from your goals. This may be tricky if you do not or you have not expressed your goals. Why do you want or need self-care?
Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press 2010,2017, Application Mobi systems, Inc, 2008-2019
Marie TV, Rick Hanson: How to Build Unshakeable Inner Strength Using Neuroscience, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngu3Dcn9F9Y