What Self-Care Really Is, What It Isn’t And How To Make It Work For You

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”

~Jean Shinoda Bolen

In Malaysia and Singapore, where I spend most of my time, there’s one question that we ask each other a lot, and it’s this: “Have you eaten yet?”

It can sound a little strange to the uninitiated, but in my mind as well as that of others in my community, this question has always translated to “are you taking care of yourself?“, and is meant to let the person you’re asking know that you care about them.

To the natives here, how well one eats has always served as a key barometer of how well they’re taking care of themselves, and if they’re not, it’s a cause for worry.

Which makes perfect sense.

But for awhile now, the concept of ‘self-care’ has started to take on a different meaning — one that’s more indulgent, superficial and entitled, even. 

These days, the idea of self-care almost always comes attached with external or material connotations, which brings me to the next point I really need to make.


It’s not…

Spending hours at the spa.

Splurging on a new pair of Louboutins.

Blowing your paycheck on weekly shopping sprees to blow off steam.

Buying yourself a first-class ticket to Paris.

Eating at a fancy sushi restaurant.

Scoring yourself a country club membership.

Swapping your car for a newer, flashier one.

Because you’ve worked hard and deserve it.

Mmm hmm.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself to any of these things, provided you can afford them and have a healthy financial life.

In fact, bringing things you love into your life is absolutely a part of a well-rounded self-care agenda.

But it’s not the whole picture, and making it so is likely to leave you feeling empty, confused (should there be more to feeling ‘well’?)  and a little bit (or a whole lot, depending on how much you spend) broke.

How do I know this?

Well, let’s just say that I’ve checked some of the boxes above and they weren’t all that I cracked them up to be. In hindsight, I could’ve spent my time, money and energy on more fulfilling, long-term causes.


When you strip away the material stuff, the external and superficial, what do you have left?


You should be at the heart and centre of your self-care routine.

This means…

Getting enough sleep.

Managing your anxiety, jealousy or anger so it doesn’t manage you.

Making sure you’re socking away money for your future every month.

Spending within your means.

Giving your body the food it needs to thrive, in the right proportions.

Not allowing someone else’s negativity or toxic behaviour affect your well-being.

Having difficult conversations because difficult situations need to be resolved.

Learning how to be a kind person without being a doormat.

Getting rid of the stuff in your life that’s weighing you down.

Making more space in your life for peace, joy and creativity, even if it means un-following the herd.

Doing the hard things that allow you to live with honesty and integrity.

Feeling the pain so you can feel hopeful and be ok again.

Recognising that you don’t have to want what someone else wants for you.

Recognising that your needs are just as important as everyone else’s.

Having clear and firm boundaries in your relationships.

Deriving joy from a quiet, peaceful moment with a slice of cake and hot cup of tea, snuggled under a blanket.

Cuddling with your cat.

Playing fetch with your dog.

Listening to the rain fall and appreciating it as you drift off to sleep.

Investing regularly so that you’re well on your way to achieving financial freedom.

Cultivating relationships with people who have your back.

Surrounding yourself with the simplest things in life and feeling glad that they make you happy.

Carving out moments of hygge.

Discovering your ikigai.

Or finding your lagom.


Taking better care of ourselves sounds easy in theory. But pulling it off and doing it consistently? Well, that’s a whole other ball game.

You want to get some exercise in, but work keeps creeping into your evenings.

You want to go to bed a little earlier, but the kids won’t let you.

You want to start cooking your own meals, but not knowing how to cook is standing in your way.

You’ve been thinking of having that uncomfortable conversation with your partner, but it just never feels like a right time.

You want to try meditating for 10 mins, but your mind won’t stop running at a million miles per minute.

So you give up, or put if off. Again.

After trying and failing at my fair share of self-care attempts, I finally found the one thing that would make it work: Focusing on one thing at a time.

So instead of trying to sleep better, exercise more, learn how to meditate, be more intentional and improve my eating habits all at the same time, I pick only one to work on at any given time.

This way, rather than try and fail at all five things because I end up scatterbrained, I’ll try and succeed (or at least make some kind of meaningful progress) at only one. Just one.

Which is fine by me.

Over time, I’ll eventually try and likely succeed at all five.

Deliberate focus = Self-care success.

If peace of mind, more moments of clarity, joy and space to breathe are what you too, are looking for in these times of hardship and uncertainty, I hope they come to you soon.

In the meantime, have you eaten yet?


(Disclosure: These suggestions contain affiliate links, which means that I’ll earn a small commission if you decide to buy by clicking on these links. Buying won’t cost you anything extra, but it’ll allow this blog to earn money―thank you if use them! You can read my full affiliate disclosure here.)

Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo Being able to pay attention to the little things in your life starts with decluttering — not the easiest thing to do if your living (or even work) space is disorganised and drowning in stuff. This is my bible as far as tidying up my space and keeping it that way goes.

Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill This classic is so much more than what its title implies — it’s also a guide to taking control of the biggest driver behind everything you do and the reality you create for yourself: Your mind.

The Simple Living Guide When life feels overwhelming, this guide-and-workbook-in-one will help you gain clarity with your values, well-being, career, relationships and money.

The Good Morning Guide If your mornings are typically rushed, chaotic and stressful, I made this guide to help you start your day calm, sane and strong.

Lose 4 Pounds in 4 Weeks Without Going On A Diet Struggling with constant overeating and uncontrolled weight gain? In this email course, I show you how to get started with the exact steps I took to stop feeling like a slave to the food around me, lose over 22 pounds of fat and keep them off for almost a decade now.

Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From The Best In The World by Timothy Ferriss Nothing beats having a mentor in your life who can personally guide you from day one. But not everyone does, and if (like me), you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the best virtually or through books. Take what you need from the likes of Ray Dalio, Ben Stiller, Bear Grylls and more in this varied but comprehensive compilation of bite-sized advice on life, work and purpose from some of the best minds in the world.

The Filofax Personal Organiser I’ve been using my trusty, old Filofax to plan and organise my life for the past 18 years and don’t see myself being tempted to replace it with a digital one any time soon — there’s something really comforting about putting my to-dos and ideas down on paper. When I’m not at home, my hardcover Moleskin pocket journal goes everywhere I do (well, almost).


If you’re too busy surviving, chances are, you’re not thriving. You’re feeling tired, unhealthy, unmotivated and just plain worn-out from life. I created my FREE Daily Self-Care Ritual Workbook just for busy folks like you who want to take back their health, peace of mind and happiness. Get your very own copy of the workbook HERE. No spam. Just helpful, good-for-you stuff. Pinky swear.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

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