SELF CARE: The Making Of Magic
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”
― Roald Dahl
This whole topic came to a head last week for me.
My mother called, which is an entire story unto itself. In short, she wanted to be heard, but in the usual unhealthy relationship pattern with which she was comfortably on terms. However after putting a lot of effort into changing that pattern, I wasn’t playing. Unhappy with my response, she gave an emphatic “You B$@!!!, hung up on me, called back for a second round and left a nasty message. Hum.
Demands of my growing professional life and my self needs expanded to where they’d begun interfering significantly with my commitments to friends and family (yes, I phrased that as backward as it is). As my Health Coaching business developed, I had ignored the pressing growth, continuing the routine I’d developed of accommodating others by simply squeezing my business time around them. Evenings, weekends, midnight awakenings, but rarely my most productive parts of the days were ‘work time’, which became a crazy 24/7 continuum – leaving me overwhelmed, resentful, and miserable. I had to admit, it was not serving anyone.
Suffice it to say, it’s taken a few days (ok, an entire week and several false starts to wrestle, face, and write about!) to come to terms enough to face the ugliness of my messed up priorities head on – even as I successfully coach others through aligning their priorities in healthier ways, I am my absolute worst client! I do not, have not, put self care as a priority in my own life for as long as I can remember, maybe a lifetime. I know, do as I say, not as I do, ugh! Well, no longer! That’s going to change, as of right now. If you are seeking the magic, I invite you to join me on the journey of making it!
Now, I’m not talking about getting an occasional massage, though I am guilty of postponing that far longer than is reasonable (my hubby got these regularly for years before I even allowed myself ONE). Nor am I talking about taking a couple hours to lay aside all obligations for a pure unscheduled ‘me’ time to just read, make a fun play date hike, or go out for a relaxing afternoon at the beach. I do that. Now. Occasionally. Sort of. Rarely. When my head is not wrapped in business planning 24/7. Ok, I’m getting better at it. Really! So, maybe I AM talking about things like that after all, and much more! Starting to resonate with you?
While I have been living a life of service to others in work, parenting, caring for aging parents, and supporting the needs of my family and friends, I left little time for the care of self. It was totally wrapped up in making sure every other need was as covered as possible. If people gave to me, I gave MORE back to show how much I appreciated their effort, attention and support. I felt powerful in being able to provide it. I felt valuable as a contributor, gifting energy right where it was needed most. My ‘name’ was on a lot of stuff, and sometimes I was even recognized for it (icing on the cake). It fulfilled me, I thought. It filled me with self value, confidence, a knowing I was really making a difference in my family’s life, in the world. The only thing was, I would get SO depleted (so much for fulfilling me, right?). The way it showed was a blow up in frustration at the kids. A loud rant of ‘I feel taken for granted!’ (even occasional tears!?) as I unloaded the dishwasher for the umpteenth time to fill it with the stack of accumulated dirty dishes – did nobody know how to unload a dishwasher?? How did that even happen?! Inner disappointment at the amount of time and attention developing a program that didn’t fly or got set aside at work or in one of the many volunteer groups I was involved with.
So it seems the magic of self care has been lost on me far too long, and while some of that energy expended has served me well, ignoring myself has cost me dearly in living the fulfilled life of my dreams. Heck, when we moved from my hometown across the country for my spouse’s dream job and dream life, I had the perfect opportunity – and fully INTENDED – to finally take steps to fulfill my OWN dreams – I figured it was my time too, right? Except that plan went completely amuck when I realized I had a hard time even IDENTIFYING those dreams when I tried to nail them down! I’d set them, and myself, aside for so long I seemed to have completely forgotten them, couldn’t even express what they WERE, even though I could probably tell you almost everyone else’s. Where were they, and could I find them again?
That alone isn’t bad at all, it’s great to be tuned in to others and support them in reaching theirs. But hey, time to lead by example, right? After all, how can you walk along that path supporting someone else when you can’t even recognize what the path looks like? For those of you who put everyone else first, to the point of squelching your own desires, disregarding that little twinge of resentment when you accept another person’s expectations of you and your time, and put aside ‘me’ time until every single other person’s needs have been fully met, this one’s for you! I mean ME and you!
Magic Step One: Tuning In To Self
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats
Recognize that you get in your own way, that many of the decisions you make day to day, hour to hour, are being made with priorities that probably do not align with or contain any magic for you. They may be filled to the brim with magic for OTHER people – your employer, the volunteer group, or whomever you are intending to serve. It may at first seem to serve you, but in reality, that magic is seriously lacking – deep down you feel it, deny it, move forward anyway, and both you and a more magical outcome suffer for it.
How did that happen? It often stems from a lack of self value, whether from a childhood of figuring out that pleasing others got you ‘friends’ or gave you a sense of greater value to yourself or others. It could be practical needs that you filled, in difficult circumstances, which created a habit of putting yourself last. Maybe that habit just stuck. But it matters less what caused your priorities to shift away from yourself as what you do about it NOW, moving forward. So, here is your permission to stop it!
1. Whenever a decision is in front of you, pause. Take an extra moment to assess what that decision is, who and what it involves, and how it serves you. Does it?
2. Take another moment to roll it around, looking at that decision as an opportunity to create something that serves not only the who and what, but YOU as well. See with new eyes and creativity what might be possible – can you create magic in the opportunity?
3. Touch base with your intuition. What does your gut say about your realigned decision? Do you feel a twist of resentment or loss? If so, take another moment. When your gut can respond with a magical lightness or joy as the opportunity it has become, it’s right. Say yes! If your gut only feels heavy at the lack of opportunity to serve you, a no is in order. Which leads us to Magic Step Two:
Magic Step Two: Letting Go Of Guilt
“Calvin : There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.”― Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
You do not own everyone else’s needs. That they cannot serve themselves and turn to others only belongs to you if you pick it up and carry it. “No” is an acceptable response. I’ll share part of a parable, “The Bridge” which paints this picture well:
Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring.
He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other was coming to greet him. He could clearly see, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist.
When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.
The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?”
Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.
“Thank you,” said the other, who then added, “two hands now, and remember, hold tight.” Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.
Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope’s length, and from the bridge, the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.
“What are you trying to do?” he yelled. “Just hold tight,” said the other “This is ridiculous,” the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety.
“Why did you do this?” the man called out. “Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.” “But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried. “I am your responsibility,” said the other. “Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said. “If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.
He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success? He examined the side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.
What do you want?” he asked the other hanging below. “Just your help,” the other answered. “How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you.” “I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier.”
Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist. “Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have in mind?” “Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”
full parable here: (http://www.troyman.com/bridge.html)
Are you holding someone else’s rope?
I’m not asserting that caring for and about others, and giving of self, is unimportant. It certainly is, and can play a strong role in your life. Of course you want to support those who need support, and be there for others, as hopefully they would be there for you. Discretion is in order though, and a definite change of attitude and approach. Taking responsibility for others takes away their own magic as well as yours. Even when it seems easier or more valiant to do for others, it is your gift to allow people to shoulder their own responsibilities, and not pass them along to you. And it is your responsibility to discern carefully what is yours to carry, or what you are willing to pick up. Like a parent overloaded with sports equipment while their children run free handedly wild around them, overburdening of self serves no-one. The parent becomes exhausted and ineffective, while the children learn they exist only to be served by others, cheated out of the learning of personhood, independence, and personal growth essential to living their own fulfilled lives. Let go of the guilt when your gut check tells you no, by exercising the following:
1. First, borrowing from that parable, do not ‘Agree without a thought, and reach out and take the rope’. When habit causes you to make that mistake, accept and forgive yourself as you recognize and begin examining how you pick up and carry other people’s ‘stuff’.
2. Examine the reason(s) you may have made choices that served others without serving your self, and embrace recognizing and learning from that behavior.
3. Look at your current choices. Which of those can you change in a way that also serves you? Which of those would best serve you by releasing them?
4. Take action! Make a plan, one step at a time, one change at a time until what you spend your time serves you fully.
5. Allow and honor your choice to prioritize YOU in serving your self. You are worth it, and you can best serve others when you fill your own vessel first.
Magic Step Three: Self Confidence – Setting Healthy Boundaries
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
This step requires you to go inward a little. Thinking more about your needs and less about what responsibilities and needs of others you are willing to pick up takes insight and then practice. If your default response is centered on happy and healthy through other people, you are giving up your magic, for you cannot care for your self if you hand it out indiscriminately for others to manipulate, however well meaning. Practice begins with these:
1. Confidence! Regard your own opinions and desires as at least as valuable as those around you. Ground yourself in this value as essential to self care, and stand by its strength in serving you.
2. Filter what invitations and responsibilities come into your world. Own it. Decide to let in only those which help you, and hand back (as honestly and kindly as necessary) those which don’t.
3. Practice strengthening boundaries. Celebrate each time you succeed in setting one and be gentle with yourself each time you make an attempt that takes you even a step in the direction of stronger boundaries
4. Deflect any criticism or frustration from those who are new to your new healthy way of being – these reactions are not a reflection of you, but of their struggle. You can react with compassion as they learn through your own example of how to create a healthy magic of self care.
Magic Step Four: Practice Self Compassion
“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.”
― J.K. Rowling
“Where exactly were you all my life?”, asks your inner voice. Your ego and a lot of negative self talk will be poking you uncomfortably as you make these dramatic changes in growing your self care practice. And it IS a practice, not perfection! While part of you is really enjoying and reaping the benefits, those habits didn’t develop in a vacuum! They developed as coping mechanisms for something that didn’t so well work before in your life. Like taking a crutch away, your self needs to learn to balance, walk, then run freely, and that takes time. Your self talk will criticize the limp, the shortened gait, the weak muscles as they develop, in an attempt to make you bring back that comfortable crutch. Be strong! Growing takes patience and effort, but it’s all inside you, just waiting for a chance to develop and build to become far better than the crutch ever served you. How to deal with negative self talk:
1. Practice catching your self talk in action.
2. Reframe the words of any negative self talk into a positive observation, and make it true and believable – A self talk sentence of “You are SO bad at this, you should just give it up” can be changed to an honest “I am getting better at doing this every day, and I’m excited to grow.”
3. Let go of the negative self talk and embrace the positive until you have a new positive self talk habit.
4. Journaling, meditation, and positive affirmations are great practices for creating this new positive and magical self talk to set your path forward.
Magic Step Five: Activate Intention
“But all the magic I have known I’ve had to make myself.”
― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein
Nothing really happens by wishing or dreaming, those are simply ideas. Not only is an attitude change essential, but actual action is required of you. Set your intention, yes. Then take those ideas, and make a plan that includes ACTION steps. Self care is more, and less, than simply putting yourself first in how you spend your time vs spending your time for others. There really IS room for both in your life. It’s easy to feel and become stuck at this point, great ideas swirling about and feeling like change, but that alone is not enough to make the change happen. Look at your overall life picture, and determine how much self care you want in your life. This includes the time you spend on yourself, as well as what you do with that time. Choose elements that feel special to you – you ARE special, you deserve this positive energy – recognize it as the magnetic energy that creates your magic. These could include a massage, a trip to the beach, a short (or long) walk, a quiet nap on the hammock, an hour uninterrupted with a business idea dear to you, a book, a visit/coffee with a friend, a special skydiving adventure you always wanted to do, or anything else that refreshes and gives you energy (or a needed adrenaline rush!). Once you have some ideas, grab your calendar and mark it up with these BEFORE you add all the other ‘stuff’ of your week. Yes, you can fit them in around existing calendar items, but do your best to really make these calendar items priorities while you get accustomed to the whole “prioritize myself” idea. Some previous commitments will be hard to let go or change, but keep making the effort until it takes – or at least until it fully serves you! Some ideas of how to use your action steps to create your magic:
1. Make them simple (I will take time daily for journaling; I will use some prime hours for business development this week)
2. Make them clear (I will take at least 10 seconds each time someone asks me for a commitment to decide whether it serves me, and practice my ‘no thank you’ when it does not).
3. Make at least some of them measurable (I will schedule and do a workout walk 3x this week; I will spend 2 hours each morning for business development 4 days this week)
Congratulations! Going inside yourself to acknowledge your divine value is a wonderful gift that will grow your healthy glow and zest for life! The practice of bringing healthy boundaries and self awareness to your life, and being steadfast in your loyalty to self and self love first will give you great health and vibrancy. And enable you to share that love in a new healthier way that will ripple to those all around you, as you create the wonder and magic.
“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe