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self-care

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To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get SELFish. Here’s How

Whether it’s an addiction, a bad habit, a harmful relationship, a self-sabotaging behavior or an inauthentic life- we’re often surprised to discover that letting go of the thing which has been dragging us down for so long doesn’t automatically coax out the rainbows and trumpets. In other words, a shiny new life won’t magically appear just because we’ve made space for it.  

The self-destructive mentality that we’ve been operating from for so long dramatically compromises our coping mechanisms and life skills. After we finally stop ingesting poison, we may realize that we don’t know how to engage in nourishing activities like cultivating healthy relationships, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, or supporting ourselves. Our sense of self is shaky, at best, and the shame that has underpinned our negative circumstances and poor decisions may still be running the show. When shame’s the director of our lives, it’s hard to know who we are and nearly impossible to assert ourselves or speak our truth.

No matter what our age, we’re bound to fall back into our intricately designed traps until we make a conscious decision to completely change how we think and relate with the world, and then seek support from mentors who can assist us in uncovering our life-affirming and creative gems from the dung pile of shame. Quitting a harmful behavior, substance or relationship provides us with clarity, but it doesn’t give us the tools we need to move forward in a healthy and wholehearted way.

Recovery teaches us to be of service and to release the habit of indulgent, destructive self-pity. Self-involved thinking is part of what got us into a mess in the first place! However, recovery also requires that we embrace SELFishness and reclaim our power by learning how to respect our own needs and health.

This can be an incredibly foreign concept to many women, who were taught from a young age to be selfless, accommodating and long-suffering- a character lesson passed down unconsciously through generations. Here are five SELFish practices that I recommend cultivating:

1. SELF-PROTECTION

Author Julia Cameron writes, “it is enlightened self-interest to be selfish enough to be self-protective. Being self-protective may not seem nice. We may say no to invitations that do not serve us.” A majority of women who engage in self-sabotage can easily be categorized as “too nice.” They are people pleasers to the extreme, and have little experience in standing up for themselves. No wonder- statistics show that women battling addictions, eating disorders, and abusive relationships overwhelmingly contend with early childhood trauma, which programs them for victimhood and low self-worth down the road. It’s these very same women who become easy targets for violence in their adult lives if they haven’t learned to protect themselves, as they consistently allow politeness and the need to be liked to override intuition and self-preservation. When we learn how to adequately protect ourselves, we gain the confidence necessary to show our true selves to the world while asserting our values and beliefs through our actions.

2. SELF-SUSTENANCE

Making a successful major life change usually requires the support of a trusted circle of people, as well as the humility to accept our shortcomings and ask for help. Being able to financially and emotionally support ourselves in some way acts as a counterweight in this process while preventing learned helplessness in what should be an empowering, freeing journey. Excuses and “I can’t” mantras are detrimental to recovery and, if uttered often enough, will undermine our efforts to improve our well-being. One of the most effective ways to legitimize our power is to make our own money through a pursuit that nourishes us, even if the paychecks are initially barely enough to cover a morning tea at Starbucks. It is the act of reaching toward self-sustenance that matters in those beginning stages. Through working, you are proclaiming, “I am committed to taking care of myself.” Similarly, by learning how to emotionally nourish ourselves rather than relying on external validation, we find our voice, our courage, and our self-respect.

3. SELF-CARE

In any major transformation, regular self-care is the contract we must make with ourselves in order to redirect attention to the parts of us that were once neglected and step into a more awakened way of living.

Initially, something as simple as taking time to meet with a coach or therapist, or read an uplifting book with a cup of soothing tea in hand will open up the space you need to trust yourself again. Self-care faciliates a romance between the body and the mind, integrating our practical needs with our higher desires and providing us with the energy we need to venture out into the world with our heads held high. Often, self-care is a sacred secret, a ritual that unleashes our childlike spirit. By doing something each day that is loving to ourselves, we generate a grounded and joyful energy which attracts supportive people and opportunities into our lives. Through self-care, we radiate the message, “I’m worth respect and love.”

4. SELF-CONTROL

Self-control is central to human evolution as a developmental perk of our prefrontal cortex. It’s also what allows us to move forward as individuals through conscious decision-making and behavioral regulation. No surprise- those of us who have struggled with an addiction or bad habit tend to be low on self-control, and once we’re able to admit this shortcoming, we’re likelier to develop more of it. Just like our physical muscles, self-control must be exercised each day in order to grow and flourish. This can feel painful and tedious at first! Because excessive self-control is tied to perfectionism, this SELFish skill may be the trickiest to master, particularly if you’re overcoming an eating disorder, exercise addiction or any other type of compulsive pattern. Often, controlling ourselves actually means riding the wave and letting go of insisting on a particular outcome. Instead, we focus on the moment in front of us and take actions aligned to our integrity and purpose. Self-control is considered one of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity, and mindfulness and prayer are two great ways to cultivate it.

5. SELF-DISCOVERY

At the heart of addiction is the belief that we should not be “feeling” creatures, that the emotions we label as negative are to be snuffed out and rejected. In our pursuit of non-feeling, we lose the essence of what it means to be human, to connect, and to love. Without a full range of emotions, we’re unable to understand who we are and what our purpose is. Self-discovery is a process of allowing once-forbidden emotions to resurface, and of tuning in to the wisdom of the body rather than processing everything through logic.

Being willing to rediscover the self means rejecting the dictates of our current society, which demands that we plaster on a happy face at all times and become masters at emotional perfectionism.

When we commit to self-discovery, our emotions flow without censorship, and we learn how to befriend them in order to uncover what we’re really about.

Although the world may tell us otherwise, every single one of us is worth self-respect. That self-respect must be generated from the inside first; once we treat ourselves well, we’ll begin to notice that other people show more kindness and consideration to us. When we put these five SELFish skills to work, we begin to refill the once empty well that drove us to self-destructive behaviors in the first place, and we eventually come to a place where we appreciate our lives enough to stop the cycle of self-sabotage for good.

How are you integrating a life of service, purpose and SELF-ishness? What's the most important thing you're doing to take care of yourself? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you! 

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Setting Up Non-Negotiables for Better Health & Wellbeing

Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. "Forest bathing" is a great non-negotiable!

Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. "Forest bathing" is a great non-negotiable!

It’s a universal conundrum: you’re dead set on adopting a new habit that will inch you closer to the kind of life you’d like to have. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and want to incorporate exercise into your schedule five days a week. Perhaps decreasing your anxiety is a priority and you know that a daily walk in the park after work would help you unwind. Or, maybe you’d like to spiritually reconnect through a morning prayer or meditation practice. Sticking to this new habit over the first few days usually isn’t too difficult and you may actually start to feel like you’re getting somewhere… but then something always happens that we like to label “life.” Your child comes down with the flu. A coworker’s been fired and you’re stuck holding the bag. Your partner is having a family crisis. The weather’s been terrible. You feel depressed and unmotivated. There’s simply too much to do.

When something always seems to be getting in the way of your goals, a change of strategy is required, as well as a shift in thinking. That’s where “non-negotiables” come in. So, what is a non-negotiable? A non-negotiable is something you incorporate into your life NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. The boss just told you that you have to prepare a gripping, award-winning PowerPoint deck within the next 24 hours? You’re still doing your non-negotiables. In a foul mood and just want to hide under the covers? You’re still doing your non-negotiables. A UFO landed on the rooftop of Takashimaya department store and the aliens are giving out free Chanel handbags? Yes, you’re still doing your non-negotiables. Non-negotiables aren’t only about adopting healthier habits and organizing your day. Non-negotiables teach you the practice of honoring your desires, making time for yourself, and gratefully accepting that taking care of yourself should always be a top priority.

Non-negotiables are always on your calendar, and they are always marked “important.” Reminders about your non-negotiables should be posted on the fridge, your laptop screen, and your work desk. Non-negotiables automatically remove all guilt about having to turn down invitations or needing to postpone any family obligations, if only for a little while. Non-negotiables let the world know that you also matter, and that you’re sticking to your guns this time.

When you decide to set up new non-negotiables, start with one and only one. Once it becomes ingrained, you may slowly add more. As a general rule, practice your non-negotiable for at least 60 days before adding a new one. This isn’t just a habit, it’s a non-negotiable, and that’s a really big deal.

In general, non-negotiables should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely. Here are fifteen specific “SMART” examples of health and wellbeing non-negotiables to get your mind buzzing:

1. Engage in at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise every weekday before work.
2. Write one full page in a gratitude journal every evening before bed.
3. Meditate or pray upon waking each morning for twenty minutes.
4. Stretch in the living room for fifteen minutes each evening before dinner.
5. Input daily food consumption every evening at 8pm in a calorie counter (MyFitnessPal is a great tool and it contains nutrition information for nearly every single hawker stall dish available in Singapore).
6. Take a thirty minute walk in nature after work every weekday (the Japanese call this Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bathing").
7. Call one friend every afternoon during lunchtime.
8. Sit down to eat a healthy breakfast every morning at 7am.
9. Go rock climbing every Saturday with your spouse at Climb Asia.
10. Bike to work every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
11. Participate in a boot camp every Saturday morning.
12. Have an adventure date with your significant other every Friday night at 8pm.
13. Spend one hour walking with your dog each evening after dinner.
14. Take a dance class every Thursday and Sunday.
15. Eat two pieces of fresh fruit each day- one with breakfast and one with lunch.

Now that you have a few ideas, I hope you’ll adopt a few “non-negotiables” of your own. I have three that frame each day for me: 20-30 minutes of meditation each morning after my shower, a minimum one hour of exercise six days a week, and a prayer of gratitude each night before I go to bed. They are the fuel of each day, and they ensure that I take good care of myself so that I can better care for others!

Do you have any non-negotiables? Would you like to establish some? Have any questions about setting up non-negotiables and keeping them? Leave your comments down below. I’d love to hear from you!

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© Tangram Fitness 2013