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.)

Online-Therapy.com Therapy has taught me to look at my life and the metaphorical mountains (mental, emotional, and physical) I’m climbing from a different perspective, and how to navigate them in better, healthier ways — skills that I feel everyone should have but aren’t taught in school, and rarely, at home. Online-Therapy offers you an affordable way to get the help (or mental health flossing as I like to call it) you need starting from $40 per week. Membership comes with a live, 45-minute session with your therapist plus unlimited messaging each week, and access to their online cognitive behavioral therapy program. Together, these tools equip you with the skills you need to navigate difficult emotions, as well as yoga and meditation videos for additional support. If this is your first time using Online-Therapy, you’ll receive 20% off your first month here.

$5 Meal Plan Cut back on the stress of cooking your own meals, and save time and money with a meal-planning service like $5 Meal Plan. As a member, you’ll get a pre-made meal plan, recipes and shopping list for five dinners and sides, plus one breakfast and lunch emailed to you every week. Prefer to have a custom plan for each week? You can pick specific recipes by cooking method, ingredients, dietary preference and meal of the day. Sign up for a free, 14-day trial here.

Amazon Fresh Barely have time to cook, let alone do your grocery shopping? Shop online and have all your ingredients delivered to your doorstep with Amazon Fresh. Get all the fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy, whole grains and even kitchen supplies you need to cook healthy, flavorful meals at home.

Amazon Meal Kits Want healthy meals that taste good and all the ingredients you need picked out, prepped and sent to your doorstep? Amazon Prime members (not one yet? You can sign up for a 30-day free trial here), have the option to order Amazon Meal Kits, which contain fresh, prepped, one-pan meal ingredients that you can whip into a meal in 10 minutes or less.

iHerb This I order all my daily vitamins plus my favorite healthy snacks and natural personal care essentials from iHerb because all the products they sell are independently tested by third-party laboratories to verify their quality and authenticity. Shipping is usually quick and free (with a minimum purchase), making it a convenient alternative. If this is your first time buying, you get 10% off their first order.

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.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend Not having boundaries can end up wreaking havoc in your relationships and leave you feeling resentful, used, and disrespected. In this book, Cloud and Townsend show you how to get over the guilt of setting limits (this is particularly helpful if you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me) and equip you with the skills you need to build healthy relationships that will fulfill, not drain you dry.

Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen and Roger Fisher Lousy, conflict-ridden conversations strain relationships, and don’t make difficult relationships any better. Here, the authors take you into the process of managing and expressing your feelings constructively rather than constantly muddling through who’s right, who meant what and who’s to blame — all of which keep us from handling difficult conversations well.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret To Recognizing And Coping With Narcissists by Dr. Craig Malkin I never realized narcissists existed until I became tangled up with one for several years. It was only after I discovered what a narcissist was that I understood the damage that had been done to me. Dr. Malkin, a therapist, explains the true nature of narcissism — the good and bad, how unhealthy levels of narcissism can wreak havoc on your life, how to spot red flags that you might be dealing with a narcissist, and how to not only cope, but thrive when dealing with the narcissists in your life.

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.

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.


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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