"What do you look like when you’re at your most cared for?"

When therapist Dr. Racine Henry asked that question during a recent digital event hosted by Ethel’s Club focused on healing and self-care, it stopped me in my tracks. It was something I hadn’t thought to document or acknowledge—but it’s one that feels so important to explore.

Why: Too often, it's easy to focus on what we look like at our least cared for selves.

Psychologists refer to this as our "negativity bias," and it's the way our brains tend to get stuck on negative things—like negative thoughts, traumatic experiences, and more.

It can impact our motivation to do a lot of things, like pursue new goals or prioritize our self-care. But one of the many ways we can combat that negativity bias is by "reframing," aka changing the way we think or talk about something.

When it comes to my self-care, I’m often quick to think about the ways I’m doing it wrong, whether that’s how I’m failing at keeping a routine or setting boundaries or just caring for myself overall.

This tendency manifests itself with questions like: Why am I doing this wrong? or How can I fix my routine? They're a lot more accusatory than the one Dr. Henry posed.

So when that question—What do you look like when you’re at your most cared for?—was brought up during that digital event, I immediately recognized how it'd help me reframe my self-care journey.

To Henry, tracking your most cared for self helps you establish a baseline of happiness and health set on your terms and no one else's.

It can help you reflect on routines or habits you need to incorporate again into your life. Plus, it can help you break down your self-care journey into small, approachable steps.

“When you break down the process into these smaller bits that feel more manageable and feel more possible, you're not getting defeated by your own plan and you're not losing focus,” Henry tells Shine. “It gives you a stepping stone.”

Tracking your most cared for self helps you establish a baseline of happiness and health set on your terms, and no one else's.

First, ask yourself these questions

To explore what it looks like to be at your most cared for, Henry suggests asking yourself some tough questions. Think through or journal your answers to the following questions:

●︎ What did it look like when you were last at your healthiest mindset?

●︎ How were you functioning? Specifically, what were you eating? When were you eating and sleeping? How much were you eating or sleeping?

●︎ How much were you laughing or smiling?

●︎ What were the things that you were doing that brought you joy?

●︎ How were you talking about yourself to other people?

●︎ How were you letting people talk to you?

●︎ How were you talking to yourself?

●︎ Who was in your life at that time?

●︎ What kinds of things did you do to take care of yourself or celebrate yourself?

●︎ What was your everyday routine like?

These questions may seem detailed, but Henry suggests that even if you’re living in this healthy place now, thinking about it can help you crystalize your own lived experiences. Then, when you need to look back, it's even more powerful documentation because “it isn't something that a therapist told you or books told you, but you yourself have lived.”

Then, move beyond reflection

Once you’ve created a baseline of your most cared for self, you can start finding ways to bring those things that worked for you into your current day-to-day life.

Think: How can you incorporate the things that made you smile and laugh into your day now? Or, the everyday routine that helped you get the rest you needed? Or, start talking to yourself and setting boundaries in a way that supports you again?

Once you know what you want to work on, Henry suggests breaking those goals down and revisiting routines that have worked for you in the past.

When you break down your goals into smaller steps, “you gain motivation and you can feel like you’re doing something towards that goal,” Henry explains.

And be sure to check in with yourself along the way and not confuse "progress and movement."

“Movement keeps you going in this circle. Whereas progress gets you from point A to point B," Henry explains. "So I think it's important to ask ourselves, Am I moving? Am I making progress? Because you can do a lot of busy work. You can do a lot of things like planning and list making, and 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that,' but never actually get anywhere.”

Find small ways to do the work of caring for yourself, and know you have a lifetime of self-care knowledge and experience that can help you get there.

Read Next: 4 Reflection Questions That Are Helping Me Find & Use My Voice