Isn’t it funny how our views change over time? As a newbie student at CoachU, learning the tools to become a Life Coach, a good deal of time was spent on our own self-development—to let go of our ‘stuff’. To help us do this, we were encouraged to do the ‘Extreme Self-Care Program’ designed by the late (and totally brilliant) Thomas Leonard who founded CoachU. We were also encouraged to use it on our guinea-pig clients. So… what do you think I scribbled on those handouts—all those years ago? ‘Extreme Self-care is not really ‘Jennie’ speak. I would be unlikely to use this one with my clients’ Oh my goodness—did I really write that?! Of course I now know when my clients tell me that they don’t need to do something—that’s often exactly what they need! And so it was for me. Back then, what I thought was looking after myself turned out to be barely enough to get by. Although by no means perfect, today I take time (often make time) to look after myself far better than I used to do, as I know I can’t help others if I don’t. And these days I do encourage my clients to do this too.
What is Extreme Self-care?
Thomas Leonard described Extreme Self-care as: ‘Going to great lengths to show affection and concern for oneself’ as opposed to ‘Just enough care’ which he defined as ‘taking just enough action to prevent damage or harm’.
Do you go to great lengths to show affection and concern for yourself? If not—out of curiosity—why not? Is it a lack of time? In our manic lifestyles it’s true it’s not always easy to find the time, but the benefits of doing so are great for example more inner peace, better sleep, a healthier body and mind.
Or do you think it doesn’t really matter about taking care of yourself as long as you look after others? Does it feel uncomfortable to put yourself first and take time out just for you? Perhaps this feels like you are being selfish? If I tell you that you need to look after yourself extremely well SO THAT you can look after others, does that help? For me this is the key reason to take of myself really well: so I can look after others without it draining me. Let me explain using this little analogy.
Imagine for a moment that your body is a car. Now imagine a friend needs to get to the hospital quickly. But your petrol gauge is already in the red. What do you do? Do you put your foot to the floor and pray you don’t run out of petrol? Or does your foot hover off-and-on the accelerator, torn between your fear of running out of petrol and helping your friend? Are you truly able to help your friend to the best of your ability when you’re in the red? No. With a ‘full tank’ there is no hesitation: you have the energy to give to your friend but if your ‘tank’ is empty (depleted) then it is so very hard to give easily, abundantly and gracefully.
Looking after yourself really well isn’t for selfish reasons: it’s so you can give back to others who need your help.
Extreme Self-care in all areas of your life
Thomas Leonard identified 8 areas of life that he believed you needed to work on and sort out for a healthy, well-balanced life to enable you to fulfill your potential. Let me give you a very brief outline of the areas of Extreme Self-care and give you some ideas of how to improve your well-being.
Thomas Leonard spoke of elimination— not simply reduction. This idea was also taken up in one of my favourite books: The 7 Aha!s of Highly Enlightened Souls: How to Free Yourself from ALL Forms of Stress by Mike George. Both men believe(d) that stress is the result of fearful thoughts, anxiety and worry—none of which are beneficial to your health and emotional well-being. And I totally agree with this. And yet as I wrote in one of my earlier articles, Are you stressed? stress is not so easy to quantify, for what is stressful for one person is simply a delightful challenge to another. I think the secret for handling stress as part of Extreme Self-care, is to ensure that you do not allow yourself to be overloaded or over stretched on a continual basis. It’s true growth comes from stepping out of your comfort zone, but if you’re constantly being stretched and strained, then you will eventually snap from fatigue, panic and/or ill health.
Environment & Family:
How beautiful, nurturing, peaceful and welcoming is your home? And your work space? No matter what your circumstances are, you can choose to keep it clean, tidy and ordered. You can bring flowers and candles into your home and make it space where you feel special and safe. If your home is currently not a sanctuary—make it so. Likewise if your work space is a mess, tidy and clean it (even if technically it’s not your job to do so).
Family—mmm, nearly everyone has a family member with whom life can be challenging, yet all family relationships can be healed—even ones that have hurt you. If you need to heal a family issue, find a coach, counsellor or therapist to help you. Family life does not need to be filled with pain, angst and anxiety, so choose to honour yourself and look after your precious heart.
Thomas Leonard put pleasure as number 3 in his areas in life to be taken care of. This seems initially baffling, but think about it for a moment. What happens the day after you have had a magical day or evening out? Do you steam through your work? Do even the most tiresome of chores feel lighter if you are feeling happy? They do for me! Being happy results in getting more things done, being more creative and greatly reduces stress levels.
Work, family commitments, taking care of our home and perhaps even a garden can leave precious little time for you. Sometimes in order to have some ‘me’ time, it means diarizing it and treating it with as much importance as any other entry. What gives you pleasure? Can you find something pleasurable every day? Yes, every day there needs to be something to look forward to.
Looking after your body:
Your body is unique and totally amazing. It functions incredibly well even when it receives very little real attention! Imagine how your body would be if you began to look after it really well. Your body needs genuine rest periods (quiet times: slumped in front of the TV doesn’t count!). Most people also need at least 7 hours sleep (if lack of good sleep troubles you, see my earlier article Wide-awake? or so sleepy?) and of course your body needs a balanced diet from natural foods with plenty of water to drink.
Less than 100 years ago, most people ate a mostly natural diet—because that was all there was available. Today much of our food is sold to us as a brand which enables food manufacturers to maximise their profits. If your diet is full of ready meals and convenience foods that have ingredient lists with names you don’t know what it is, determine to make the change. One way to do this is what my American friends call: ‘crowding out’. What this means is to substitute one unhealthy choice with a healthy one. As this new choice becomes your new habit, choose to replace yet another unhealthy choice with a healthy one. In this way you begin to ‘crowd out’ your unhealthy choices.
I don’t need to tell you that alcohol, caffeine and sugar aren’t good for your health: you know that. So now choose to do something positive about reducing or eliminating these too. These drugs (yes, I see sugar as a drug too) have a detrimental effect on your weight, anxiety, quality of your sleep and your inner peace. To ensure your wellness have regular eyesight, hearing and dental checks. Periodically it is also wise to have a more thorough medical examination.
Our emotions are messengers to guide us and so no emotion in itself is good or bad. I see them as lighter and heavier emotions. See my earlier article Clearing emotional baggage with EFT for more on this. Despite being an essential part of who we are, teachings on how to handle our emotions is scant. As a consequence, our strong, heavy emotions often get squished or ignored, but when these emotions go underground, they can create havoc with our well-being. If you are weighed down with fear, anger, sadness or deep embarrassment, there are many people who can help you—and being lighter, and happier changes all aspects of your life. If you are currently in some form of emotional distress, know there is nothing to be ashamed about, and there are many therapists to help you, including me. This is not a weakness: it’s simply recognising it’s time to deal with it.
Your special needs:
Do you have long-term ailments, disabilities or have specific needs in order to life to the full? Sometimes life deals us a challenging hand to play, but ignoring it, cursing it or not giving attention to your own needs, will only backfire in the long run. No-one knows why we are given what we are given: but we can choose to honour ourselves and look after our unique needs.
Support & Experts:
Independence is greatly admired in culture, but as John Donne said: ‘No man is an island’, trying to do everything yourself is simply exhausting and besides which it can be very isolating. No one person is an expert in every field so, find tradesmen, professionals, specialist retailers and all the experts that you may need at any one time. Create a list with all of their names and contact numbers so no matter happen in your life, you know who can help and how to contact them quickly if the need arises. If you wish, add me to your list too!
We live in a world where physical beauty is greatly admired and it is frequently given a disproportionate amount of importance. However, when you look your best, you feel so much better too. So, have a look at your wardrobe. How many of your clothes have hung there unworn for months or years? Do the clothes you wear flatter your body? What do your clothes say about you? Weed out old, ill-fitting and dated clothes and choose only those you like to wear.
Give yourself time to look after your nails and arrange regular trips to the hairdresser. Take care of your shoes and make sure that they not only look good, but that your everyday shoes (every woman deserves at least one pair of appropriately named killer-heels) are comfortable too. This isn’t about vanity: this is about feeling good about how you look.