How do you practice self-care?
Are you sleeping enough?
Do you check your phone first thing in the morning?
Maybe get a massage?

Self-care is a funny thing. It means different things to different people.

Think about what self-care means to you. For some, self-care equals spending money on manicures, spa treatments or a new pair of shoes. For others, it means time alone or a piece of chocolate cake or something else that pampers us and makes us feel good.

Those things are lovely, but they also overlook something important about self-care that we rarely talk about: it isn’t just about pampering and feeling good. The most important forms of self-care can be downright unpleasant, at least in the short term.

You know those times you say yes when you really mean no?
Or when you live up to an obligation because you said you would?
Or when you don’t like the way someone treated you but you can’t put your finger on exactly why, so you assume you’re being oversensitive or making a big deal over nothing?
Or when it just feels easier to do the thing someone else wants of you, even when it’s not right for you?

Self-care means setting boundaries even when it’s hard and unpleasant.

It often feels easier to just go along with what someone else wants instead of asserting what you really want. It’s often easier because people get upset when we say no. They have tantrums. People will try to shame you for your needs. They’ll blame you for being who you are and wanting what you want.

People, even those who truly love us, make us so uncomfortable, we’d rather just stand down and give in. It feels terrible to tell someone we love that we simply cannot do what they want us to do and then have them look deep into our souls and hear them reply, “What’s wrong with you?”

It feels easier to just let things go, but in truth, when you don’t set and hold boundaries with people, you are not practicing self-care.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.

Then there are the times we sabotage ourselves because doing what’s best for ourselves and taking care of ourselves in the way we most need is anxiety provoking and unpleasant.

Go to bed early? But I want to stay up and watch just one more episode of Stranger Things.

Spend the morning writing? But I just want to check Facebook once.

Go to the doctor? But if I don’t go, then no one will tell me I have that terrible cancer I may find out I have.

You hear what I’m saying, right?

You have to believe in yourself.

When you begin to believe in your own self-worth, you begin to grow, because it is only when you believe in yourself, even a tiny bit, that you can do the unpleasant work involved in becoming better.

Here’s the secret.

It only takes one small action to do differently. Send one pitch. Write one sentence. Make a phone call you don’t want to make. Do one Google search to find the information you need.

One small action. Then another and another. They add up.

And here’s another secret.

You have to be your own support. You have to recognize your worth and see the value in your words. If you don’t do it, no one else will.

What if no one wants to read what you have to say? If you never write it, you can be sure no one will ever read it, so you never have to brave the pain of feeling devalued, unwanted and rejected.

How do you become your own support system?

First, stop focusing on the no and instead focus on what you can learn.

I recently heard from a past mentee thanking me for being a recommendation for her TED scholarship application and letting me know she didn’t get the scholarship.

But it was never about getting the scholarship. It was about applying. She created a plan for an art project to present to TED. Her plan exists whether or not she is part of TED. Her plan continues to evolve as does her art and photography. And let me tell you, she is a gorgeous photographer. I see her posting new images online and she only gets better and better.

She also becomes more confident with every application she sends, with every post she writes and with every new photography project she completes. Success doesn’t happen all at once and if you don’t learn to recognize your small successes, the larger than life, I-never-thought-this-would-happen kind of success never feels quite right until you learn to celebrate all your wins and see the positive in all you do, even the things that feel small and insignificant.

Do the things you need to do in order to be the person you want to be. Do them even when they overwhelm you. Do them even when you feel alone. Because this is the part of taking care of yourself that is hardest. The part that risks failure, leaves you anxious and makes you doubt yourself.

And here’s one final secret that will help you keep going when everything feels like too much.

It gets easier. The more you risk failure, the more you see that risk doesn’t always end in disaster. Sometimes, you’ll get the yes, you’ll publish, you’ll be paid, you’ll be lauded and you’ll succeed and do amazing things.

And then you’ll fall again. It’s all part of growing and leveling up and continuing on the path to creating the kind of life you truly want.

You win. You fail. You fail again. It will not always be pleasant. But if you are reaching toward your goals and working toward the kind of life you truly want, with kindness and forgiveness, that is the crux of self-care.