Why Self-Care Requires Self-Discipline

Last summer, I spent nearly two months trying to find a pair of jeans that fit.

It wasn’t easy.

Some of them kept sliding down, and I had to be constantly adjusting them. Some of them were too tight; others were too baggy. All of them had one thing in common: they didn’t fit me.

I had just about given up when I finally found what appeared to be the perfect pair of jeans. They were neither too tight nor too loose. They were exactly the shade of dark-blue denim I was looking for.

There was just one problem: they were size longs.

My cousin told me that I could hem the legs. “It’s really easy,” she assured me.

Since the store didn’t have a regular length pair of jeans in my size, I decided to take her word for it. I found a tutorial on Pinterest. “It’ll only take me a couple of hours,” I thought.

But then, I kept putting it off—again, and again, and again—for nine months.

Nine. Months.

That’s just ridiculous, frankly. But I digress.

This month, I made a list of all the tasks I’ve been putting off for weeks or, more frequently, months. At the top of my list? “Shorten jeans.”

One day, I decided to spend a slow afternoon on my to-do list. So I grabbed my jeans and sewing kit, dug up my Pinterest tutorial, and got to work.

It took me less than two hours to take 3 inches off the hem of my jeans. Two hours to finish something I had been putting off for nine months.

It’s embarrassing, really. But the point is that now, every time I wear my jeans that fit and are just the perfect length for me, it makes me really, really happy.

Self-care? Or self-discipline?

Shortening my jeans was an act of self-care. I gave myself a comfortable pair of jeans that fit me almost perfectly, and I got to cross something off my to-do list. That’s one less to-do jumbling around in my head, which equals me feeling more relaxed.

But this task also took self-discipline. I had to choose to set aside a chunk of time for it. I had to choose to say, “I’m not going to read this afternoon; I’m going to shorten my jeans.”

That’s the thing about true self-care: it requires discipline.

The kind of self-care that requires nothing from me usually doesn’t make me feel as relaxed in the end. Imagine I ignore my responsibilities to spend an afternoon reading. For one, I often don’t enjoy myself as much as I’d like because the weight of my unfinished work is hanging over me.

On top of that, though, at the end of the day I still have a long to-do list, and because I’ve ignored my work all afternoon, I’m even more behind than I was when I started.

When so-called “self-care” ends up increasing your stress level instead of decreasing it, it’s not really self-care.

Look at the big picture

Abandoning my responsibilities in the name of self-care is focusing on the short-term at the expense of the long-term. It feels nice in the moment, but it makes the root problem—stress—worse.

Real self-care, on the other hand, takes the long view. What will make me feel more positive and relaxed at the end of the day? Or the week? Or the month?

Often, taking the long view requires more discipline.

  • If I want to spend the evening reading without feeling stressed by all my unfinished work, I have to make sure the day’s work is done by then—which takes discipline.
  • If I want to have friends over, I have to find a time when my friends are available, and I need to make or buy some kind of food or snack—which takes discipline.
  • If I want to feel strong and energetic, I have to choose to workout or be active in some way—which takes discipline.
  • If I want to feel less pressured by an endless to-do list, I have to finish a task from my list—which takes discipline.

In the end, though, this discipline is an investment in my long-term wellbeing. By expending a little more effort today, I set myself up to feel better tomorrow. Self-discipline is itself an act of self-care when you look at the big picture.

And every time I wear my super-comfortable, not-too-long jeans, I remember that.

What counts as self-care for you? Have you noticed a connection between self-discipline and self-care in your own life?

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