Self-care and tree guards; what the heck do they have in common?
A trend I’ve seen with many intelligent, high achieving people (especially women) is that they believe self-care means they’re selfish. So, they never put themselves first. And after a while, the whole idea of self-care becomes a foreign concept to them.
Eventually, they experience massive burn out and come to visit me.
To get used to the idea of putting yourself first, you’ll need to build small practices of self-care: stay in bed longer, read a book just for fun, go on a long walk with your dog, take your family out to dinner so no one must cook or clean. Or my personal favourite, have a night out with your friends – no kids and no partner. This, in my books, is a must.
Self-care becomes a battle of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’
I’m working with an amazing client who’s lost her mojo, is burnt out, and for the first time in her life, doesn’t know what direction she wants to take. Unsure of her feelings, she’s only sure of one thing – she’s utterly exhausted.
With nothing left in her tank, she’s running on pure adrenaline and willpower.
She explained how she genuinely struggles to take care of herself, always putting others first, both in her workplace and at home. When she thought about taking some time out for herself, she was riddled with guilt.
Her battle of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ was real.
There was housework that MUST be done. There was money that SHOULD be spent on her kids, the house, the anything else but her. There was never any mention of what she MUST or SHOULD do for herself.
She said, ‘My values around self-care feel like a small plant with much bigger, spikier ones beside them that constantly threaten to take over’. Great point hey?
She reminded me of the story of a lone pine
No matter how small a step you take, even being able to vocalise how you feel, you need to protect your new values. Just like tiny, fragile tree saplings, you must do what you need to protect it (and that’s using more than a measly stake and an old pair of stockings).
Many years ago, my dad’s Vietnam Veteran’s association planted a lone pine tree. It was a scrawny, unattractive little thing, standing 30cm tall and about as thick as your pinkie finger. Gangly little white roots hang down while little twigs begged to be called branches.
To look at this pathetic little twig, many people would think, ‘Why bother? That’s going to take ages to
grow. Surely it’ll be easier to start with something bigger?’.
But my dad’s association had gone to a lot of bloody trouble for this little tree in the making. Donating it to the council, they took their time to find the perfect spot and acted like this tree was destined for great things.
Sourcing a tree guard that was protecting a well-established tree, the council erected it around the baby tree, adding pavers around its base to protect the roots. It truly looked like massive overkill at the time and was one of the funniest things I had seen.
Years on and this lone pine is now the most attractive tree you’re likely to find. It’s destined to be the most magnificent tree in the entire park as it continues to grow. It’s survived cockatoos pecking at it, kids riding over it with bikes, dogs peeing on it – all because of this huge tree guard as ugly as it may be.
How to protect ourselves when we accept self-care
Just like the little tree, when our values and practices of self-care and kindness are new and vulnerable, we need to protect them ferociously so that they can grow and develop.
Your guard needs to be a little flexible; overly protective in the early days (like chook wire), and then be adaptable to all for your practices (or tree) to grow (remove that chook wire).
And you’ll have to be able to access your little self-care saplings easily. You must be the protector, checking in and making sure it’s developing and getting what it needs to survive. You need to make sure you give your sapling enough water to flourish, but not so much that it drowns. It’s a bit like Goldilocks; it must be just right.
When you build your fierce guard around your new practices of self-care and learn how to nurture this, you’ll eventually grow stronger, and those nagging voices in your head that tell you that you’re selfish will shut up. To reach that point is truly magnificent – you’ll feel free, like the massive branches of the lone pine tree waving in the wind.
How I practice self-care
If you want a laugh, picture me right now standing in front of you with a tree guard wrapped around me! My journey started only 5 years ago. I made my practices of self-care and kindness my priority and guarded them like a lioness with her cubs.
I ate clean. I slept soundly. I trained hard. I loved fully. I lived vitally.
And after a while, it simply became what I did. But I was overly rigid, and I broke, there was no room for a little bending (which we all need).
Sure, illness sucks, but I allowed my self-care practices to die. I stopped watering them, and I removed the guard. It stopped mattering to me, and I started being less and less kind to myself. I left myself open to being pecked by cockatoos and peed on by dogs!
Several amazing clients have recently had similar stories, reminding me of my journey. Every time I chat about this topic those little voices at the back of my mind call to me, ‘Remember this? Remember how this felt? Remember how alive you were?’.
Yep, I sure do! So, with kindness and compassion for myself, I’ve decided it’s time to go and reclaim my discarded tree guard and protect and nurture my self-care values once more.
Feel like joining me?