But What is Self-Care, Really?

Do you practice self-care regularly? Most of us don’t. 

One major reason we fail to infuse self-care into our daily routines is that we don’t actually know what it is. We don’t know what counts as self-care. To understand what self-care is, it’s important to understand what it is not. According to my research… 

Self-care is not self-development.

Self-development involves activities that don’t feel good now, but feel really good later (hello, home gym!). When we practice self-development, we’re planning for our future. Examples might include working out, reading a financial planning book, or practicing an instrument that we’re not proficient at yet. Self-development is a wonderful thing to practice, but it’s important to recognize it for what it is—and not mistake it for self-care.

When people practice self-care, they strengthen their compassion, self-compassion, and resilience.

Self-care is not self-indulgence.

Self-indulgence involves activities that feel good now, but might not feel so good later. For example, that bottle of wine may be lovely now… but not so much tomorrow morning. Another example is scrolling Instagram for an hour. It might be fun to scroll while you’re doing it, but afterward you might feel experiencing screen fatigue, social comparison, or a healthy dose of FOMO. Self-indulgence isn’t holistically problematic—sometimes a gargantuan slice of cake is exactly what is needed—but it’s important to label it for what it is. 🙂

Self-care is not self-sacrifice.

Self-sacrifice involves activities that don’t feel good now, and also don’t feel good later. One example that immediately comes to mind is the act of doing your taxes when you know that you won’t get a refund (ouch). Another example might be calling a relative who loves to complain; you know the call won’t be pleasant, and you probably won’t feel awesome afterward. This category of activities reflects the things you feel obliged to do. #adulting

The goal is to identify and amplify the activities in our lives that rejuvenate us.

Then what is self-care, really?

Self-care involves activities that feel good now AND feel good later. For me, these activities include bubble baths, hiking, and baking yummy gluten-free desserts. What activities do YOU do that feel good now, and also feel good later? Although the activities will be different for everyone, self-care is a particular category of activities that recharge, refuel, and reset us. Self-care captures joy in the moment and sustains us when we’re finished. 

Why is self-care important?

Self-care leads to better decision-making and wiser action. When people practice self-care, they cultivate the necessary energy to deal with life’s challenges with compassion and resilience. For this reason, self-care is even more critical during times of stress and disruption. By practicing self-care, people are able to restore their own wellbeing and provide better care (and leadership) to others.


Reflecting on the categories above, identify 3-5 activities that fall into each group. Try to choose activities that you do on a somewhat regular basis (e.g., every day, week, or month).


What activities do you do regularly that feel good now and also feel good later?


What activities do you do regularly that don’t feel good now, but feel good later?


What activities do you do regularly that feel good now, but don’t feel good later?


What activities do you do regularly that don’t feel good now and don’t feel good later?

Once you’ve completed each quadrant, notice if it was easier to come up with activities in certain quadrants over others. 

    • Which quadrants have the most activities?
    • In which quadrants did you most readily think of activities?
    • Were there certain quadrants that were more challenging to fill?

Now, take a minute to focus on that top left quadrant: SELF-CARE.

    • How often do you engage in these activities?
    • Are they individual activities?
    • Do you do them with a friend or partner? Could you?
    • If desired, how might you increase the frequency of these activities?

My goal with this self-care framework is for you to identify and amplify the activities in your life that really rejuvenate you. That said, the goal isn’t to get rid of the activities in the other three quadrants–all four quadrants serve a purpose. Where you run into trouble is when they become unbalanced, with self-care taking a back seat. 

Simply noticing self-care (and differentiating it from self-development, self-sacrifice, and self-indulgence) is a vital step in creating more of it in your life.

How will you practice self-care today?

May you find freedom and flourishing.

Dr. Sophia Town

Interested in learning more?

If you are interested in scheduling a workshop or working together on research, please feel free to contact me below!