How's that New Year's Resolution going for you right about now? Were you able to stick with it? Did you lose that weight, read those books, cook more meals at home, and spend more time with family? If your answer is "no", which is the case for most people, then maybe you should try a different approach. Maybe simple resolutions are setting you up to fail.
Let's start with mindset. Have you ever noticed that people often take better care of their pets than themselves? They become concerned with their pet's diet, exercise routine, veterinarian visits, and overall happiness far more than they do personally. Although this is great for the dog, self-care falls behind in most cases. The dog gets 2 cups of nutrient-rich kibble and always has water in his bowl. Meanwhile, the owner is eating chips and watching TV only to get up for a different snack when Netflix asks if they're still watching. There has to be a change in mindset so that you take care of yourself the way you would take care of someone else (a child, patient, parent, friend, pet, etc...).
If you're struggling to make that shift in mindset, it might help to understand why self-care is so important. Despite its namesake, self-care is exceptionally altruistic in nature. It allows you to be there physically and cognitively for others in need. You can't walk the dog for an hour if you can't walk for an hour. You can't provide emotional support to a loved one if you're too emotionally impaired to function. You also can't go out and contribute to your community if you're stuck on the couch. These are hard truths, and in some cases, they are brought about by aging or other processes outside of your control. Still, you can delay the inevitable rather than invite it into your house, and the best way to do that is by taking care of yourself physically and psychologically. If you want to help others, then you must find a way to help yourself first.
What comes to mind when you think about yourself? What are your habits and character traits? Now, ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years. Maybe you want to be stronger, smarter, further in your career, or have more free-time to spend with your kids. Everyone is different. Regardless, the path to these achievements is going to require time dedicated to improving yourself.
Next, ask yourself what kind of person you want to be. What do you want to be known for and how will you think about yourself? With these thoughts at the forefront, you can adjust your stride and change direction as needed. It's almost certainly the case that what you consider an ideal self today will look different in 10 years.
When it comes to actually making changes, it's best to chase habits. For instance, it's better to become a person that reads frequently rather than to set a goal of reading 20 books in a year. Instead of setting a goal of losing 20 lbs, you should set a goal of becoming someone who exercises consistently. When you "become" these people, you start to visualize yourself that way. Reading and exercising become habitual, and they also become part of who you are. When you think of yourself, you think of an athlete or a reader. Once that happens, you know you've actually changed your life in a meaningful way. Anything less is superficial. You can't lose 20 lbs then go back to the way things were. Doing so means being 20 lbs heavier in 6 months. In the long run, nothing actually changed.
This approach also prevents unnecessary disappointments. For instance, when you set the goal to cook at home every Thursday for the next year, you will inevitably miss a Thursday. This can bring up feelings of failure which can cause many people to give up. The same thing goes for spending time in the gym. Instead, become the person that likes to cook and make that a part of your self-image.
Doing something enough for it to become a habit is one of the best ways to make meaningful changes in your life. Habits, as we all know, are hard to break. Luckily, that's true for good habits as much as it is for bad. Habits don't require motivation either. They're just second nature, like drinking coffee in the morning. Going to the gym, reading at night, eating well, getting 8 hours of sleep, and spending time with your family can all become second nature. Align your habits with what you imagine your ideal self to be. That is how you actually become that person both externally and internally, whether someone is thinking about you or you're thinking about yourself.