Early in working with a client (before I use my life-changing voodoo on them), I often have conversations that start like this:
Me: “How have you been doing?”
Client: “Oh, I’ve been bad. So bad!”
Even though this happens a lot, I still do internal double-takes when someone tells me they’ve been bad. I’m immediately transported to a drafty confessional in the church I went to as a boy wondering if I really had to tell the priest I masturbated. It gets worse. In my horrific flashback, I’m not a horny teenager, I’m the frickin’ priest, the sultan of shame. I determine whether you’re good or bad, whether you get a one-way ticket to heaven or hell. Spoiler alert to Catholic novices: You’re most likely going to hell. Because you’ve been bad. Really bad!
How do I know you’ve been bad? You just told me for crying out loud! I asked you how you’d been doing (as a wellness coach, not as a priest), and you told me you were bad—your words, not mine. I wasn’t actually asking a good-or-bad question. But you’re conditioned, so you cast me in the priest role and yourself in the sinner role. Even if you were lucky enough to have grown up in a way that didn’t include a church where it was common for priests to sexually abuse children, you grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture steeped in shame. Shame is the lens you see the world through. It’s why you call yourself bad. You miss a workout—you’re bad. You eat something less nourishing—you’re bad.
You come to me looking for me to issue 10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers and I’m just not playing. I don’t agree with you. You’re not bad. You never were.
You don’t have some of the skills of self-care as well-developed as you’d like—that’s all. It makes sense actually since no one ever taught you. In fact, they did everything they could to strip your natural ability to care for yourself from you.
You loved to play and play and play. They told you to “settle down”. Then they sent you off to sports practices run like boot camp by suburban dads. (Boot camp turns people into highly efficient killers.) “Is exercise fun? Is it war? You tell me to stop when I want to run. You tell me to run when I went to stop.” No wonder you’re confused.
You knew when you were hungry and when you were full. But they knew better and force-fed you with the choo-choo spoon and indoctrinated you into the clean-plate club. Good-bye instincts for eating well.
Getting your natural ability to take great care of yourself back is actually fairly easy because, well, it’s natural to take great care of yourself. But, and it’s a very important but, you’ve got to get shame right out of the way. It blocks any chance you have. If you’re caught in a tango with a personal trainer, nutritionist, other professional (or worse, yourself) that revolves around them telling you the rules, you failing and telling them you’re bad, them telling you to try harder and lamenting why you won’t just do it, and you, in a twisted way, enjoying their priest-like shaming, then hit the eject button right away and abort your mission. Self-care need not be a game of rules and sins and penance. That approach feels lousy and doesn’t work. I encourage you to let it go.
Instead, today, I wish you a day of self-care that’s your choice, done for you, because it feels good to do so. You’re allowed to feel good as you take care of yourself. I encourage you to give it a go. Here are three ways to do that today:
- Think about a form of exercise you really enjoy doing. Perhaps you love to go hiking? Maybe you feel great doing yoga? Or you’re in your element while swimming? The important distinction here is pick a form of exercise you want to do—not one you think you should Make plans to do the workout you enjoy.
- Go to a food store you like (I love my local farmers’ market) and buy a supply of vegetables you really enjoy. Pick vegetables you find visually appealing and tasty. Then plan a meal that centers around these vegetables. Be sure to select vegetables you love—not vegetables you think you should love.
- Call a friend you really want to spend time with. Identify an activity you’d both enjoy doing and put it in your calendars. Most activities are better with friends, so if it feels good to you, invite a friend or friends to workout with you and share in your delicious meal too.
This all gets you flexing your want muscle and lets your should muscle atrophy. When you start to feel your should muscle getting weak and your want muscle getting strong, you’re really getting the hang of this! You’re living from your true self, not from shame. You were never bad. You were always and will always be amazing!
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.