This phrase keeps wiggling through my head: "self care."

It's a phrase that I had never heard before my Gestalt training during the past year. In my coaching training class, the faculty raised our awareness of the importance of taking care of ourselves, as coaches, so that we are as healthy as we can be to help others.

The Business of Self Care
During the 1980s, John O. Whitney, one of the most celebrated professors I ever encountered, first introduced me to this idea during his lectures on Turnarounds at Columbia Business School. As we addressed the punishing work schedule of a corporate executive, especially when turning around a troubled business, he argued:

First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. You need exercise, sleep and proper nutrition. You cannot heal a sick company if you yourself are sick.

That's how I remember his admonition. Possibly because I am mis-remembering his specific words, this phrasing seems dated. In the ensuing decades, we have become increasingly enlightened about what it means to be "sick" and how people with physical limitations can indeed do great things, such as healing sick companies. I think an updated version of his teaching would be:

First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. You need exercise, sleep, proper nutrition, meditation (or some form of mental quiet). Stay as strong and healthy as you can be, so your greatest strength and health can help to heal the sick company.

What Is "Self Care"?
It sounds self-indulgent. It sounds extravagant.

So what is it? I don't know about you, but here is my own prescription for self care:

  • Limit corrosive behavior. When I face opportunities to hurt myself for fun (alcohol, drugs, roller coasters), I have to ask myself: whose side am I on? Don't get me wrong: I'm glad to drink a glass of wine. But when does a culinary delight become a numbing agent? The same goes for television, of course.
  • Don't rely on artificial advantages. I have come to love coffee, but I am also wary of over-consumption. And I won't explore intelligence-enhancing drugs. Even if the world around me is willing to brain up, I'm willing to compete with one lobe tied behind my back. As Mr. Hess concluded our high school biology class, "Here now is the meaning of life from what we have learned in science: there is no free lunch."
  • Avoid crazy makers. Some people wake up on the wrong side of the bed. They are angry about everything. I avoid them, unless they are coaching clients seeking to move from anger to equanimity. (I love that word. Just saying it inspires me toward calm and tranquility.)

Beyond these avoidances, there are behaviors I seek:

  • Practice rest and restoration. I strive to meditate, write, contemplate, walk mindfully, worship. Do I practice enough? No. But I do not reject my ideals because of my faulty implementation. I will walk in the woods this coming weekend.
  • Eat right, stay hydrated. I know when I am treating my body respectfully. I am eternally grateful for my keeper, who feeds me nutritious meals.
  • Enjoy treats. Eating right is only half of it. The other half is ice cream and chocolate. I find self care in these delights. 
  • Be ever more self aware. This week, I'm in New York City, studying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™. From Gestalt to MBTI to whatever will suddenly be next — I find that I am enjoying a burst of exploration about who I am. Self care? It would be hard to care for the self without ever deepening understanding of who this self is.

By dinnertime tonight, I'll be certified to administer and interpret the MBTI instrument. I'm particularly interested in applying the MBTI to help corporate executives and their teams collaborate more effectively. Let me know if this appeals to you.

  • Exercise. I have recently found that my 54-year-old body responds very well to MAT (muscle activation technique) and fitness training. The well-educated and patient experts at Fitness Matters are encouraging and teaching me to walk freely. (For me right now, it's all about the knees.) I am very wary of rigorous Boot Camp training; I see contemporaries injuring themselves as they call their workout "insanity." Two days ago, I practiced my subtle physical therapy exercises in the median of Park Avenue in front of the Waldorf. A taxi driver smiled. 
  • Sleep. You have already seen what Alisa taught me, early in our marriage, about sleep. I wish I knew more about sleeping well. When it happens, I'm at my happiest, most tranquil, and most productive. Today? Tired and sleep-deprived. It's like a hangover without the fun memory of a party.
  • Feed my wonderment. I need to go to new places, meet new people, learn new skills, encounter new ideas. 

What else cares for this self?
What am I missing here? I'm typing swiftly, rushing off to breakfast. (Oatmeal would be self care, but I will order comfort food.)

What does your practice of self care include?