A relentlessly pragmatic approach to self-care

Hey, I was asked to be part of this amazing series from Mara and Tamarisk on self-care. I’ve linked to the rest of the series at the bottom, so you can read this first, okay?

There are lots of people who regard self-care as a deep spiritual practice.

Sometimes I am one of them.

But mostly I regard self-care as a pragmatist. And the pragmatic approach to self care says this:

My business requires three pieces of equipment: a computer, an internet connection, and me. If either of the first two break down, I can find alternatives. So really, the only piece of irreplaceable business equipment I own is my brain.

Therefore, adequate maintenance is not optional. And self-care is maintenance of me.

My self-care needs vary depending on the time of year, my workload, whether I’m going through a growth period, the busyness of my personal life, etc. But these are the baseline essentials:


Three nights of bad sleep will destroy me. After even one night I feel fuzzy and I’ll struggle the next day. Most of the time, I don’t have to do much to ensure I get enough sleep: if you took me to a party attended by everyone I’ve ever admired and they spent the whole night telling me how amazing I was? I’d still be asleep by 11:30.

I am careful to ensure I have enough time to wake up naturally, which includes staggering my first appointment time depending on the season. In summer, I’m usually up and about by 5, and I sometimes do sessions at 6am. In winter, my first session time is usually 9am, so I have plenty of time to sleep in and still have breakfast before my first call.


Sometimes I try to pretend I don’t need this, and then wonder why I get so vague and crabby at 10am. In winter, I almost always go with porridge with dried apricot. In summer, toast with Vegemite and cheese (not as healthy, but I am yet to find an alternative I like better).


Especially in winter, where a daily dose of D3 is one of my secret weapons against Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also C and B12, and a cod liver oil.


I’ll usually go through a bottle of this during a client call. Back-to-back sessions have increased my talent as the Fastest Pee-r in the West, because I usually have less than a minute to refill my bottle and empty my bladder. Welcome to the classy world of the entrepreneur!


A new tool in the toolbox is an enforced rest every 90 minutes, which I’m defining as 15 minutes in which I neither create nor consume anything.

A shower counts, as does sitting in the back yard watching the fish in the fish pond. Doing the dishes would count, but I never do those in the morning. And lying down, comfy but not too comfy, is fab too, when I can resist the urge to bring along a book. A walk (without an iPod) also is a favourite, especially in autumn.

More and more, this is starting to feel like an absolute requirement. The science backs me on this, as does studies of successful practitioners, but also my personal experience. I feel less fuzzy, more focused, and less likely to drift off target.

Fallow periods are fab for freeing up short-term memory, and also for incubating new thought. The times when I don’t stop shoving new information and distraction into my brain are the times when I don’t create anything worthwhile.

Bored brains are creative brains. So I carefully feed myself measured doses of Nothing To Do on a regular basis.


I’m not perfect.

It’s on the to-do list?


I get engaging social contact online, which meets most of my needs. But I still require and receive plenty of hugs from The Dude.


If I go more than a few days without singing along to something, I start to feel lacklustre. I tend to put on music while doing things that don’t require 100% of my concentration – like World of Warcraft – and while cleaning.

Making things

This sounds funny, because I make things all day. But as The Dude put it, “You’re very tactile. You need to make things you can feel.”

So this year I’ve committed to the idea of making something non-business-related every day. Right now, I’m wrapped up in a Super Secret Project, but I’m also dusting off the sewing machine and sewing myself a tunic dress from a custom pattern.

Pocket money

Gods, this was a hard one to learn. When cash flow was tight I would always skip this and declaim, “No! I must live on sackcloth and ashes! It is what I deserve!

But honestly, having a wee bit of money to spend on myself every fortnight is a stunning investment with an excellent ROI.

(I bought a new dress! It is so pretty and so comfortable!)


Right now I have a coach, a hypnotherapist, an accountability buddy, and the Provocateurs.

They are 90% of the reasons for this long beautiful list of self-care activities.


I read a book a day, on average. This includes some days where I read nothing, and some where I devour three of them.

Since I now live near an excellent library, and go there once a week for biz planning, I’m reading at least one new fiction and one non-fiction book per week, and it’s usually more like five books.

I’m also enjoying picking one book each week far outside my usual sphere. This week, I’ve chosen a book about a basketball gambling scandal. Should be fascinating.

Bedtime ritual

As previously mentioned, I’m an early-to-bed kinda lass, while The Dude is an insomniac. So he puts me to bed every night, and we spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour snuggling and talking about things. During the time I was staying with my family, we both signed up for phone plans from the same provider so we could continue this every night without running up staggering phone bills.


If I’m not learning, I’m stagnant. Sometimes this is from books, but right now I’m also working on improving my extremely rusty French with a module of Rosetta Stone every week.

Once I’m finished French I’m eyeing off Italian. And then maybe Russian. YEAH.

Holy shit, I have a lot of self care!

I never looked at it in a big-ass list before.

But it’s also a recipe for how I want to live my life.

I mean, not everything I want – or want to want, in some cases – is here. My diet is still less than amazing, I don’t exercise, and I don’t go out and have adventures or do major volunteer work like I always planned I would.

But it’s still an interesting and enlivening life. It’s full, and meaningful, and quietly successful.

Which is of course where the pragmatist gives way to the spiritualist.

This relentlessly practical here’s-what-I-need-to-keep-myself-working list is also a pretty comprehensive list of Things Catherine Loves And Would Feel Sad Without.

Because Keeping The Catherine Machine Running as a priority (because the Catherine Machine is a valuable piece of capital equipment) is almost entirely indistinguishable from Loving The Ever-living Hell Out Of Catherine.

For me, I’ve found it easier to justify – ugly word, but there it is – really huge systems of self-care as a business decision. I honestly don’t know if I would have been so goddamn thorough with it just as an expression of self-love. I mean, I’m awesome, but this is a lot of time and energy here!

But does it matter? I’m still getting almost everything I need to thrive and be happy (and productive). Does it matter if this was more of a cold efficiency decision than a warm fuzzy one?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

And go check out the other articles in the Perfectly Imperfect Self Care series here! They are neato.

10 thoughts on “A relentlessly pragmatic approach to self-care

  1. Lists are magic for understanding how much of something we have. 🙂

    I think of self-care as maintaining a system so that I can naturally be my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self. I discovered an amazing thing within the last several years — it’s actually a pleasure to take care of me, to do the little things that keep the system humming along. Like keeping the dishes washed so I can make a good breakfast in the morning (one of my two top priorities). Or smiling without giving in to the temptation of an adult beverage after dinner so that I can sleep through the night without waking up at 3 am (my other top priority).

    I actually don’t see the system approach as one of cold efficiency. I think it’s feet-on-the-ground, everyday self-care. There’s more to my realm of self-care than just the system (like inspiration and creativity and hugs), but none of the rest of it actually matters (or makes me feel cared for) if I don’t maintain the system!

    1. I’m finding an odd blessing in not always enjoying self-care, but doing it anyway. Like brushing my teeth before bed – it’s awesome to say, “I don’t actually wanna do this. But I’m gonna do it anyway.”

      Systems FTW.

  2. What a great list! I am absolutely with you on sleep, but sometimes it seems like there’s so much to do that the only way to fit everything in is to skimp on sleep. But, still, it’s a bad decision. Also, I really love what you said about bored brains being creative brains. Down time is something I’ve been wanting to schedule, but I have been a fantastic failure in this regard. Most of my ideas come when I’m trying to go to sleep or when I’m in the shower, so losing the distractions completely works for me! 🙂

    1. Going without sleep is always a terrible decision. ALWAYS.

      I’m struggling with regular boredom, of course. My brain likes to be distracted all the time! It’s probably why I’m finding walks and showers and such easier than just laying down and not reading. But the better I get at it, the better things go.

  3. I really love your approach to something I find doesn’t come too naturally, and which I often resist because I get trapped between the hardcore woo woo version and the ‘takes itself very seriously’ version. It’s down to earth and not too serious, but not frivolous and daft either. It makes me feel much more inclined to incorporate self care into my life in more ways if nothing else because it keeps the Tara Machine running {and therefore gives me much more to offer the world as well as myself}. 🙂

  4. I think it can be both a cold efficiency and a warm fuzzy decision, because, let’s face it– sometimes you are not in a place where “Man, stretching right now would make me feel so *in my body*. Yeah! Let’s do it!” Sometimes (most of the time?) it’s more “I haven’t moved from this chair in 4 hours and if I don’t stretch I’m going to regret it tomorrow.”

    I, at least, always need that calculating efficiency to prime the pump. Once the feedback system is going, spirituality can take over, but to get started, I need to be prodded.

  5. Whoh. I wish I had read this about… a week ago? Yeah. Major down down down in a hole week of hell with anti-care rearing her ugly head. I’m getting on track again, and connecting with others around such issues helps a lot. Thanks. And self-care for moi? Good food, plenty of water, in to bed by 9pm. So much more than that, really. And also listening to Mr Man.

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