True: There's a time and place for solo relaxation. But if you really want to change your life, it might be time to switch up your self-care strategy.

By By Rea Frey
February 07, 2019
Photo: gfycat

Raise your hand if you're a fan of self-care.

Everywhere you look, there are empowering articles telling women to do yoga, meditate, go get that pedicure, or take a steamy bubble bath in the name of slowing down and hailing all things "self."

Over the last few years, I've made an effort to incorporate these proverbial self-care rituals into my life: the occasional massage, getting my hair ~did~, hiding out with a book, yoga, meditation, a glass (or three) of wine. It wasn't until the other day, when I was soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a trashy magazine that I thought: "Man, I've really got this self-care thing down!" (Related: Jonathan Van Ness Is the Only Person We Want to Talk to About Self Care Ever Again)

But as I went about my day, I realized I didn't feel more centered. The moment the activity was over, it was back to business as usual. (To be fair, there are quite a few actually productive self-care practices. Take bullet journaling for example.) Regardless-shouldn't all of these little rituals add up to a more zen me?

The truth was, what I defined as self-care was focused only on the moment. It was about an activity and the enjoyment during that activity-not the result. I wanted long-term effects from my self-care, not short-term gratification. I wanted more than a quick fix.

I decided to go on a mission to redefine the term for myself. I started to realize what I really wanted to see was progress: to be more patient, have more time, get more sleep, have hotter sex. Taking a bath (while lovely) isn't going to accomplish any of those things. I realized that, for me, self-care isn't something to do-it's a way of living and being.

To evolve into a better person, you have to make better choices, right? So, to move my self-care forward, I'm consciously working on making these five choices. Try them for yourself, and see beyond the superficial self-care world.

Say no without guilt.

If you're like me, you're quick to say yes. Yes, I can go to dinner in a week! Yes, I can take that business meeting! Sure, I can host that event! And then you look at your calendar and wonder how you're going to get your work done, be a parent, have time for your partner and friends, work out, etc.

A new rule: Think about the pinnacle of where you want to be in your career/life. For me, that's being a bestselling author. So every single decision I make-from a coffee date to a business meeting-I ask myself: "Would I say yes to this if I were a bestselling author?" If the answer is no, then I don't do it. So many of the commitments we make are from a place of fear, obligation, or FOMO. If what you're saying yes to doesn't move you forward in some way-whether it's making a wonderful connection, enjoying yourself, or simply having a good time-then say no and mean it. Don't waffle. Don't lie. Don't make the plan and then cancel it. (God, I've been there too many times.) If you're your best self and that best self would say no to the invitation, then just say no. It will change your life. (Proof: I Practiced Saying No for a Week and It Was Actually Really Satisfying)

Eat better.

How in the world is eating healthy food self-care? In every way. Last year, I took the "my body is my temple" mantra to a whole new level, and it became: "My mind is my temple." And my mind thinks eating out, a glass of wine, and indulging in chocolate makes me happy when, in fact, these are detrimental to my health. Do I feel good after eating crap the night before? Am I serving my body when I'm stuffing my face with pizza? We do these things because they are false pleasures-but they aren't self-serving, they're self-sabotaging.

Yeah, every once in a while you deserve a treat (and your sanity will be better off for it versus if you deprive yourself). But every time you reach for food, ask yourself, "Is this going to help my body or harm it?" and see how that changes your perspective. Soon, you just might see why eating well (even if it doesn't taste as good as chocolate) really is the ultimate act of self-care.

Work less.

Who else feels like a full-time hustler? I'm no stranger to working 12-hour days, seven days per week. It's what you have to do to make your dreams come true, right? Wrong. We were never meant to be "plugged in" and reachable 24 hours a day. (Thanks a lot, smartphones.)

I was recently listening to an amazing talk given by the president of a kick-ass company who realized he was on his computer at 9 every night. One day, he looked at his wife, closed the computer, and said: "There's no life here." I realized that it's not "self-care" to sit behind my computer all day to the exception of everything-and everyone-else. Or working every weekend. Or being glued to my phone, even when I'm out with friends or family. Working hard doesn't mean killing yourself for a dream. It's only one part of your life, and you should make sure there's balance there. It's all about boundaries and knowing when to disconnect.

Have discipline.

I'm a person who thrives on discipline. But when I wake up exhausted again, realizing I stayed up too late binge-watching Netflix, or didn't drink enough water, or am sore because I didn't stretch, I have to acknowledge that these were my choices and that these bad habits aren't progressing my well-being in any way. Having the discipline to drink the water, to stretch every single night, or to turn off the TV and read a book are all avenues I can take to change my stale routine, feel better, and get more out of daily life. Find the problem. Figure out what it is you complain about the most, create a solution to fix it, and then have the discipline to stay consistent. (Related: How to Maintain Healthy Habits Without Sacrificing Your Social Life)

Delay gratification.

Hear me out: If you want something, chances are, you can get it. You can buy the thing you think you need. You can make yourself "feel" better with a glass of wine or sugar. You can swipe and scroll and get a pick-me-up when someone likes your social media post. We're geared for instant gratification, for that constant mood boost that comes from indulging our every whim.

But the next time you have an urge, take a moment to ask if it's really serving you to give in. Is it helping your professional goals, your health goals, your relationship goals, or your personal goals? Is reaching for your phone every five minutes really making your life better? Is having that glass of wine every single night really serving your health? Is saying yes to fast food going to make you love your body tomorrow?

Self-care is a daily-no, an hourly or even minute-by-minute-choice. It forces you to pay attention to who you are, what habits you've created, and what you really want out of life. Today, create a new self-care ritual that serves you on a deeper level, then sit back and reap the effects. Guaranteed, they'll last a lot longer than that wine buzz.