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A mental model for self-care

Self-care is the conscious practice of doing something for your own well-being.

David Luescher
3 min read

As the mental health movement advances, many people are looking to better understand how they can take care of themselves and foster their mental well-being. Yet getting started, even to the point of setting up simple routines, can be surprisingly hard.

There’s not shortage of information. Excellent books, articles and podcasts exist on various pieces of the puzzle - meditation, regular physical exercises, journalling, therapy and so on. But how do these pieces fit together? Is there really a one size fits all solution?

The goal of this piece is to provide a mental model for everyone who wants to practice self-care. While far from perfect, my hope is that this work might serve as a useful orientation to those trying to get up to speed quickly on this important topic.

Why self-care is important

Most of us want to live a happy and fulfilled life.

However, when life keeps us busy and our energy is focused on a special project (e.g. starting a new business, building a new home, etc.), it’s all too easy to find ourselves off balance, not paying enough attention to other important areas of our lives. While we need to have drive and focus if we’re going to get things done, taking this too far can lead to frustration and intense stress - at the cost of our own well-being.

That's when it's time to take a "helicopter view" of our life, so that we can bring things back into balance.

A mental model for self-care

The goal of the mental model for self-care is to help you figure out “How can I take care of myself?”.

The underlying hypothesis is that if our core needs are met, we experience higher levels of well-being and that core needs can be represented by the following six dimensions:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Intellectual
  4. Spiritual
  5. Social
  6. Sexual

If we want to improve one of those aspects of our lives, we have two main levers to achieve that goal:

  1. We can start or continue an activity
  2. We can reduce or stop an activity

The figure below summarises this idea:

A mental model for self-care

How to start taking care of yourself

If you want to start taking care of yourself (or improve doing so), I suggest you follow the steps below:

Step 1: Assess how you feel in the different areas of your life

Consider each dimension, and on on a scale of 0 (super bad) - to 10 (awesome), write down how you feel in that area of your life.

Step 2: Assess how much attention you devote to each area of your life

Consider each dimension, and on a scale of 0 (low) – to 10 (high), write down the amount of attention you're devoting to that area of your life.

Step 3: Assess the overall picture

Check what the overall picture looks like. Do you feel well in the areas of your life that are a priority to you?  Are you devoting enough attention to the areas that may feel a bit out of balance?

Step 4: Brainstorm activities

Consider each dimension and answer the questions below:

  1. What can you start or continue to experience higher levels of well-being?
  2. What can you reduce or stop to experience higher levels of well-being?

For instance, to improve on the physical aspect of your life, you might want to start getting a solid 7.5 hours sleep every night.

Step 5: Mark a date in your calendar

Keep in mind: different areas of your life will need different levels of attention at different times. Self-care is not a one-off exercise, but rather a blend of reflection and continuous practice.

Also, activities that help one person might be something that is of no use at all to you. Be honest, dare to experiment, and mark a date in your calendar (e.g. in one week or month) to review your progress and adjust your strategy if necessary.

Conclusion

Self-care is not a one size fits all practice, and what works for one person might not work for another. However, having a mental model for self-care can help provide some guidance on how to get started. Self-care can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. If you follow the steps in this framework, it becomes much more manageable.

I hope that this model provides a starting point for all who want to practice self-care and that it encourages all others to continue to do so.


P.S.: You can download the self-care worksheet below to get started immediately.

Mental ModelsNewsletterEssays

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