I recall a very powerful phone call with my best friend years ago.  I was going through some tough times. My health was tanking, my patience for shenanigans wearing thin, and inside I felt like I was about to burst.

My bestie Kim is far more patient with her listening skills than I am. After my 7-minute rant on the frustrations of life, she kindly offered, “You just need to do more self-care.”

I burst into a nervous laughter, countering, “I get a massage every month. I eat healthy. I don’t eat sugar or gluten. I rarely consume alcohol. I get more then enough sleep. I think I do a great job at that thing called self-care.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” she replied. “I mean you don’t love yourself up like you do all the other people in your life. You pour your soul into others and give them so much of your time. However, let’s be honest, you don’t have the same respect for yourself.”

Hesitantly I agreed with her. After hanging up the phone, though, I realized I had no idea what it actually mean to put oneself first. If a massage wasn’t considered self-care, what did it really mean?

What’s the True Meaning to Self-Care?

In desperation, I launched Google and searched for more self-care ideas. My screen filled with endless sites recommending everything from hot stone massages, lavender bubble baths, spa retreats and various self-care books.

Well, that clearly wasn’t what she meant.  Despite my best efforts so far, I still felt drained, frustrated and depleted. Disappointed, I decided it was time for me to experiment offline.

I set the perimeters this way: Every day, I would perform self-checks throughout my day. After a call with a friend, how was I feeling? After working with a client, how was I feeling?

I’d write these feelings down in a little self-care journal for two weeks. At the end of the day, I’d sit for 10 minutes and meditate on “why” I had experienced those emotions.

The Results of My Self-Care Experiment
I discovered a simple truth: There is more to self-care than one might think. Yes, those lusciously decadent spa moments are good for the soul, but that kind of self-care only runs skin deep.

While you might escape for an hour or two from your realities, but the way that you feel deep down will still be present when you emerge from a delicious chocolate body wrap – no matter how sweet an escape it is.

An Awesome, Shiny Revised Definition of Self-care
The Ultimate Self-Care Practice is one that adds in that most important ingredient in the mix: Self Love. Most important of all, self-care begins with the relationship you hold with yourself.

It is about recognizing the ebb and flow of your energy, acknowledging those true emotions, and then taking purposeful actions to balance what you do with how you feel.

Yes, self-care is about how you view and treat yourself. But it also encompasses the way that you speak to yourself, and, this is key, your ability to say no and set boundaries.

Seven Ways to Practice Better Self-care

Far be it from me to tell any girl (or guy!) not to take a spa day. Please do. However, if you’re feeling like I was, overworked and energetically depleted, I encourage you to dig deeper.

Try these seven practices that have worked for me:

1: Be Self-Accepting

Self-acceptance means that you embrace and love who you are. Albeit, not all the time, but most days you wake up pretty ok with the person looking back at you in the mirror.

Do a quick check in:

  1. Do I find myself attractive?
  2. Do I ruminate on changes?
  3. Do I wish I was someone else?

Every time you focus on what you don’t like about yourself you are subconsciously rejecting who you are. Instead of embracing the unique qualities that make you who you are, you are, in essence, disrespecting yourself.

Change It Now: Give yourself some love via positive thoughts. Make a daily habit of finding one thing that you like about yourself and celebrate it. Even a simple, “My hair looks great today” is a good start.

2: Be Self-Compassionate

How often do you consider your own experiences less important than those of others? Burying your feelings because you don’t think they matter can be detrimental to your health.

Do a quick check in:

  1. Does a bad day unhinge you completely?
  2. Can you easily process & deal with feelings?
  3. Are you self-critical about all your goals?

According to self-compassion expert Kristin Neff, “Instead of just ignoring your pain with a stiff upper lip mentality, you stop to tell yourself that, “This is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Change It Now: Eliminate talk around failure or success. Be kind to yourself by focusing on what you have learned, instead. For example, I did not get X result, but I learned Y, and achieved Z in the process.

3: Know Your Self-Worth

On a scale of one to10, how important do you think you are? The lower your number, the more you need to explore where this negativity is coming from.

Do a quick check in:

  • Do you sell yourself short on personal achievements, like how much you earn for a living?
  • Do you undervalue what you really contribute in the workplace or to the lives of loved ones?
  • Do you find yourself “just doing it yourself” instead of delegating to a team?

Self-Worth is the opinion you have about your own value. Closely associated with self-respect and self-esteem. The value you see in yourself is often reflected in how you handle exchanges of money, time and effort.

Change It Now: Your self-worth is a mindset. Pay attention to your interactions with others, especially in money matters. If you are seeing patterns, or a resistance around asking for what you want, take a closer look at your sense of self-worth.

4: Be Self-Honoring

Boundaries are a necessary part of our mental conditioning. You’ve often seen friends who allow others to walk all over them. Are you guilty of the same thing?

Do a quick check in:

  1. Are you afraid of the consequences when you say no?
  2. Do you say yes because you should, or want to?
  3. Is pushing aside your own needs a common occurrence?

To be self-honoring you have to actively draw and maintain boundaries, even when you feel there is something at risk. If you said you’d be leaving at 5pm in order to make it home in time for dinner, breaking that promise shows you aren’t always self honoring.

Change It Now: Try adding back “no” back into your vocabulary and practice saying it often. Instead of viewing no as a rejection to others, hear it for what it really means: a statement of what you desire.

5: Be Self-Knowing

When was the last time you focused on your individual needs, and what matters most to you? If you’re a parent, you probably recognize how easy it is to have your own needs swallowed up by your family.

Do a quick check in:

  1. Outside of family, what are you most passionate about?
  2. What is your life mission / purpose, and why are you here?
  3. When you think of the future, what will you accomplish?

Being self-knowing means you recognize your own capabilities, character, feelings, or motivations. You’ve taken the time to explore what matters most to you and you have a vision for yourself

Change It Now: When you learn about yourself, life becomes much more easier to navigate. Align your thoughts and actions toward creating what you desire out of life. Ask if something is moving you towards your goal. If not, don’t do it.

6: Be Self-Responsible

Self-care also comes back to our own sense of taking what we need. And that means being responsible to make the right choices for us.

Do a quick check in:

  1. Do you ask others for what you need, or expect others to help you?
  2. Do you take responsibility when you see opportunities for improvement?
  3. When things fall through the cracks, do you ignore them intentionally?

Self-Responsibility means you are accountable for the things that are in your control, power, or management. Instead of just noticing things you take action and stay in integrity with yourself.

Change It Now: Make an effort to follow through on promises you make to yourself and others. Let this permeate your life re: plans with friends, eating better, etc. Be aware of excuses you make.

7: Be Your Whole Self

If you ever feel like you’re hiding behind a mask, you might not be acting like your whole self – and this holds you back from honoring your self-care.

Do a quick check in:

  1. Do you find yourself editing what you say to others?
  2. Is there a misalignment between what you say vs. feel?
  3. Are you waiting for things to change before you live fully?

Being who you are isn’t easy. Whether this is in the workplace, at home, or in your community, when you are not being true to you, you may be creating a deeper inner conflict.

Change It Now: Hiding your whole self holds you back. This includes job opportunities or fun dress-up parties. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And then go be you!
Self-care in its truest sense isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. Even when we nail one piece of the puzzle, there are a few more that need work.

Try looking at Self-Love as the New Self-Care, and use the above practices to make yourself shine. In doing so, you’ll feel very cared for on a daily basis in all aspects of your life. As a positive side effect, you’ll also avoid burnt-out and energy drain…but be sure to keep the spa treatments just in case, too.