Why is self-care so hard? And 6 steps to motivate yourself
Updated: Aug 29
We all know that self-care is good for us, right? So why is it so hard? This is one of the most common things I hear from women I work with, and yet it’s really not spoken about enough.
Whether consciously or not, it's common to feel like you need to prioritise the care of those around you, whether it’s your family, your work, or both. And that can leave little time and energy left for you. You might intellectually know that self-care isn’t selfish, but when it comes to your unconscious behaviours, it can be tough to actually put that into practice.
Another reason could be that your idea of what self-care looks like is too rigid or unrealistic, and, frankly, it's just too much effort! Often we conjure up a glossy image of hitting the gym three times a week for a HIT session, eating kale salads and smoothies for every meal, or tying ourselves up in yogic knots.
That might be self-care for some, but it doesn’t have to be for you.
Self-care is making small actions and decisions to look after yourself. It can be as simple as saying “no” to a social engagement because you’re knackered. It needs to be realistic for your schedule, and in tune with what helps you to feel balanced and content.
If you’re struggling with feeling motivated about self-care, here are 6 steps to take to get started.
6 simple steps to get motivated for self-care
1. Recognise what you’re already doing
We can all tend to self-criticism. But I bet that there are things you are already doing to look after yourself that you might not recognise as self-care. Brushing your teeth, getting to sleep on time, walking the dog, drinking a glass of water in the morning. Self-care is made up of these small actions.
Write down everything you can think of that you are already doing to look after your health and wellbeing. I think you’ll be surprised.
2. What’s your why?
We are all hard wired to respond more powerfully to emotion rather than logic. If I asked you, “Why do you want to do more self-care?” and you said to me, “I want to get healthier and lose some weight.” These are fine answers, but they’re not going to keep you motivated on their own. Ask yourself, why do you want to do those things?
Is it because you’re struggling with low self-esteem and you want to feel more confident in your clothing? Is it because you know that exercising more regularly will improve your mental wellbeing and you’ll feel more resilient to handle what’s going on at work? Is it because you want to set a great example of self-care for your children?
Answer the question, why do I want to improve my self-care? And keep asking yourself “Why?” again and again, to get to the true emotional root of your desire. Writing down and remembering your why can be a powerful motivator when things feel hard.
3. Pick one thing, and start small.
Setting unrealistic expectations is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. We all do this. When I support my clients with goal setting, I ask them to really question the size of their goals and what they’re taking on. Ask yourself, is it really realistic that I can achieve this goal? If not, make it smaller and easier. Keep going until you are 100% sure that you can achieve it.
This might feel strange and even pretty unexciting to start with. But starting extremely small is the best way to remain motivated to stick with your new self-care habit. When we achieve something (however tiny!), the reward centre in our brain lights up and we get a hit of “feel good” dopamine. You’ll feel a fantastic sense of achievement when you complete it, and it will be much easier to build up.
4. You might be exhausted
Being chronically tired means we aren’t always capable of making good decisions. We seek instant energy from high sugar foods, we become much less resilient to stress, and a self-care routine can become nigh on impossible to achieve. Why on earth would you feel like going for a run when you’re exhausted?
If this has been the case for you, I urge you to let your other expectations of yourself go, and focus on how you can get more sleep. Try getting to bed a half hour earlier. If you’re impacted by insomnia or find yourself lying awake at night worrying, look at my post on sleep for helpful tips.
5. Set up your environment for success
How we set our environment up can have a big impact on whether we achieve our self-care goals or not. If you are determined to go out for a short run before you start work, putting your trainers by the door, and your running clothes in a pile by the bed (with a small snack, if you need to eat first thing like I do!) will make you much more likely to actually follow through when the alarm goes off.
Remove as many small barriers to your self-care activity as you possibly can when you’re feeling excited and motivated, so that when your motivation wanes, you are more likely to keep going when it feels hard.
6. Recognise shame around self-care, and let it go
Shame is an insidious emotion and self-care can unfortunately attract it. It could be guilt for not looking after yourself, or even a quiet underlying belief that you’re not deserving of that love and care.
Recognising shame, and bringing it into the light, is the first step to letting it go. Self-compassion here is so important.
When you find yourself not feeling motivated to do what you had planned to do, rather than criticising yourself, notice what’s going on with your thoughts and emotions. Spotting patterns is a helpful way to begin understanding your underlying beliefs so that you can start to make a change.
Our self-care needs are always changing
Remember, motivation will wax and wane. And our expectations of ourselves need to flex and change with what’s going on in our lives. When you’ve had a particularly stressful or tiring week, sometimes just letting yourself flop on the sofa instead of exercising is self-care. Let yourself relax and recharge.
Knowing when self-care turns to self-indulgence is highly individual, and only you can understand what that relationship looks like for any given activity. Finding the right balance takes time but with small steps to incorporate self-care into your life, you can figure out what feels right for you.
If you’re struggling with the motivation to include self-care in your life and it’s impacting your wellbeing, I can support you to unpick what is holding you back and work with you to reach your goals so that you can feel calm, balanced and in control of your life again.
I offer a free 50 minute consultation, with no obligation, to talk through your challenges and where you’d like to get to. Contact me today to schedule your consultation, I’d be delighted to hear from you.