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Mueller: Self-care is not necessarily being selfish

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By Bob Mueller

Millions of folks struggle with the problem of inadequate self-care – not taking very good care of ourselves. We know the things we should do but we just don’t do them. There is a huge gap between what we know and what we do.

We must practice the power of positive doing. We’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking. My goal is to take the next step and get into action no matter what. By taking action, you will move yourself from the back of the bus up to the front to the driver’s seat where you belong.

If you find yourself concerned that you might be selfish, think of the airline attendant’s instructions about putting on your own oxygen mask first. What do you need to do to give yourself oxygen today? Make time to do whatever that is. Maybe it’s taking a 10-minute nap or finding a quiet corner and meditating for a few minutes. Perhaps you need a healthy snack or maybe a walk in the fresh air. You are Number One – remember that.

We must recharge our batteries first, so we can be a light to others. This is the concept of self-care. We must fill our own well first, so we can quench the thirst of others. We must feed ourselves first – physically, emotionally and spiritually – so we can then feed those we love. We are not being selfish when we do this. We are being wise.

All of the world’s great spiritual traditions tell us to put others first, to be selfless, to serve others. We applaud self-sacrifice as a noble virtue. Mother Teresa said, “Unless life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile.” With similar messages from wise, respected sources all around us, it is all too easy to confuse self-care with being selfish.

The greatest part of self-care is the basics. It’s not about the fancy soaps, exquisite massages, luxury cruises or expensive anything. Superb self-care is as simple as taking a nap, soaking in a relaxing bath, getting enough sleep, eating an apple instead of a muffin, saying “no thanks” when you’re overcommitted and going to bed just a little earlier.

Practice these words as your mantra for the week: “I won’t let what I can’t do keep me from what I can do.” Look for little things that you can do in areas that are important to your self-care. Maybe you can’t go to the gym, but you can go for a walk. Maybe you can’t go for a walk, but you can touch your toes 10 times. It doesn’t matter – just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

Several years ago a famous writer and speaker came to Louisville for a presentation and fundraiser for the National Center for Family Literacy. I worked there at the time and was asked to make sure he had everything he needed. He had a terrific attitude about self-care and said: “Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” He quoted this from his lovely book about important lessons learned from kindergarten. So have a glass of milk (cookies are optional), find your favorite “blankey” and take a nap every day this week.

Perhaps Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull says it best about the self-care: “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know it as well as you do. We are all learners, doers and teachers.”

Take care of yourself!

Bob Mueller is the senior director of mission and stewardship at Hosparus. The views in this column are those of the writer.