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How to Build Your Toolbox of Self-Care

Posted on: October 2, 2023

Professor Narelle Lemon, Edith Cowan University

I’m writing a post I didn’t think I would. But I know I have a voice, and with this privilege comes the importance of integrity to be honest, open and courageous with a rawness where my vulnerability helps I, we and us. I have a wellbeing literacy base, that is a mindful use of language about and for wellbeing, and in writing this post I’m helping me, also help you.

Right now I’m stressed. I’m not coping in some areas of my life. I’m writing this in the middle of relocating interstate, starting a new job, and celebrating plus grieving saying goodbye, see you later, to friends, colleagues, and a city I’ve called my home for some time.  I’m tilting towards unproductive coping mechanisms, I’m numbing sometimes. Part of me knows this is not ideal, the other half of me does it anyway in a way to ignore, bury, not deal with and pretend for a moment I don’t have to handle my current reality and some of those stressful moments.

This is really interesting. We know that when we are stressed, anxious and not at our best we forget what is on offer to help us. If we haven’t done the work in best self mode, we generally do not know what it is that will help us return to flourishing when in the depths of this moment. If we don’t know who we can ask for help everyday, at this stage we most definitely feel like we do not know what we can do or who we can go to.

What does this tell us?

Building a toolbox for self-care is one way we can think about this where in the everyday we are building the capacity to comprehend and compose a language to talk about our wellbeing. In this way we think about how we are mindfully intentional across varying contexts with an awareness and adaptability. As we maintain, grow and protect our wellbeing while drawing on diverse areas of wellbeing science our toolbox of resources expands, we expand tool options and choices across time and contexts, and we are forever curious and courageous with what might be possible. Now when we are flourishing this is easier to do. When we are languishing we forget what tools are on offer at times. So this is a moment where we begin to think through how can future self be assisted when there is a dip or slide, that inevitably will happen for most of us as life is about the ups and downs, dark and light, negative and positive. This is where the growth occurs. 

To navigate this path successfully, we can turn to Sonia Lyubomirsky's insights from her book, A Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want: The How of Happiness*. She explores the "how" behind sustaining wellbeing strategies, identifying five critical mechanisms of action. Let's delve into these mechanisms to understand how they relate to self-care, unveiling the five keys to sustainable self-care.

The Five Keys to Sustainable Self Care

1. Positive Emotion

Engaging in self-care practices that immerse you in the present moment with positive experiences and feelings is the foundation of sustainable self-care. These practices should empower, excite, and uplift you, offering moments of joy and fulfillment. Positive emotions are not only beneficial to you but also contagious to those around you. By embracing positive emotions, you can inspire and motivate yourself and others on the path to wellbeing.

2. Time

Time is a crucial factor in sustaining self-care. Consider the following aspects:

  • Self-experimentation: Discover what works for you and when.
  • Time duration: Vary the duration of your self-care practices, from brief moments to extended periods.
  • Timing: Explore different times of the day that align with your self-care needs.
  • Frequency: Determine how often you should repeat each practice.
  • Start small: Begin with manageable self-care practices and gradually build over time.

To sustain your self-care routine effectively, start with small steps, align them with your intentional goals, focus on yourself, prioritize immediate needs, be honest about your commitments, embrace revisions, and don't hesitate to reset or pause when needed.

3. Social Support

Seeking help and comfort from others, whether it's from partners, family, friends, colleagues, or professionals, is crucial for maintaining self-care. This is where we acknowledge that self-care is relational — we need others to inspire, motivate and action some of our tools. Social support provides encouragement, appreciation, and perspective, motivating and positively reinforcing your wellbeing journey. 

4. Motivation, Effort, and Commitment

Developing a strong self-care regimen requires commitment and dedicated effort. Focus on:

  • Resolving to practice self-care daily.
  • Learning what works best for you.
  • Identifying the level of effort required for each practice.
  • Maintaining your commitment even when things are going well.

5. Habits

Forming habits is the cornerstone of sustainable self-care. Keep these principles in mind:

  • Initial effort: Understand that starting a new habit requires the most effort.
  • Habitual actions: Aim for practices that become second nature, requiring little conscious thought.
  • Repetition and practice: Habits form through consistent repetition.


Remember not to compare your self-care journey with others. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you establish and nurture these habits.
We all have moments of languishing. This is normal. Ups and downs, the negative and positive are a part of all our lives. What’s important is that we learn how to move out of the languishing with an intentionality. In this moment we are drawing on our current wellbeing literacy and growing it simultaneously. And as you coach yourself consider these guiding questions: 

  • How am I feeling?
  • What do I need?
  • What’s working for me?
  • What do I need to revise?
  • What needs tweaking?
  • What will I stop doing?
  • What can I celebrate?
  • What do I appreciate that I have learnt about myself?
  • What can I let go of that is not serving me?

*Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). A Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want: The How of Happiness. Piatkus Books.