Many of us hold lofty aspirations to be the best spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend, colleague or professional that we can be. Yet, somewhere between waking up shattered each morning, getting the kids to school and then getting ourselves to work, before dealing with the myriad of competing demands from colleagues and external clients, we rarely find time to look after ourselves and our own needs.
Breakfast may be optional, exercise sporadic and time to ourselves an elusive luxury. So why is it that, when it comes to our own self-care, we prioritise everything and everyone else ahead of ourselves? Many of the people I meet tell me that they simply don’t have the time to sleep or exercise enough, let alone relax. It would be too self-indulgent, when there are so many other priorities that need to be met. Yet, paradoxically, as a result, we become a lesser version of ourselves with less energy, love, patience and commitment to share with those we care for and the things we care about.
Permission to put ourselves first
What if self-care wasn’t a luxury, but a necessity? Being stressed-out, short-tempered, more negative, angry, less focussed and less creative in our interactions with others, whether at work or at home, doesn’t seem the like the optimum approach to life. What if we gave ourselves permission to put our own self-care needs first, so that we can be at our best with others?
Imagine you are on an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. All of a sudden, the cabin depressurises, and the oxygen masks drop down. If you ignore the safety instructions and fail to put your oxygen mask on first before tending to others, you will soon pass out and become unable to care for others. Worse still, you will become a burden that others will need to take care of (the exact opposite of your original intention).
We often convince ourselves, as a result of societal pressures and erroneous beliefs that our needs are secondary. Yet, approaching each day depleted of energy, motivation, focus and patience doesn’t give us the best shot at success. I know that when I haven’t cared for my personal needs, I am less patient with those I care about and am less able to give the energy, love and understanding that those people deserve.
There will never be enough time
We all have the same 24 hours each day, so why do some people profess to have less time than those who do prioritise self-care? If there was an emergency and the boiler broke or one of your children was sick and had to stay home from school, you would likely find the time required to re-prioritise your day and deal with the emergency. So why can we not prioritise our own self-care needs? The problem is, often we are too busy tackling emergencies at work or at home to worry about ourselves – our needs appear secondary. However, if we do not give ourselves permission to fuel ourselves with positive energy, we will become far less effective at dealing with the pressures of our day to day lives.
We have a natural tendency to want to please others and say yes, but the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to others is to set clearer boundaries around what you need to be at your best. Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions posits that we are far more resourceful in a positive emotional state than a negative or neutral one. Feeling momentary positive emotions broadens our thought-action repertoire, allowing us to grow exponentially over time. Happiness fuels success at work and in life. So the question you should potentially be asking yourself, is what can you prioritise today that will energise you? Finding activities that energise you, means you will have more energy to give to others and to your work.
Carving out more ‘me’ time
From sleep and relaxation to exercise and social connection, there are some fundamental basic needs that help us to be the very best version of ourselves. If you could identify two things you would like to change in order to bolster your sense of happiness and wellbeing today, what would it be? Would you like to feel less stressed-out, less anxious or more centred? Or perhaps feel more fulfilled, more relaxed, more loved or more energised? What activities could you prioritise to fuel a better sense of wellbeing? What gift could you give yourself to help you give more to others?
Could you switch-up your morning routine? Perhaps schedule in 10-mins of meditation when you wake up (before the kids wake up, you opt to check your emails or life simply gets in the way)? If you have kids, can you alternate your parenting ‘duties’ with your other half so that you both get to exercise, read, sleep or do something that re-energises you regularly? Can you give yourself permission to gift yourself ‘me’ time, that enables you to better give to others? By way of example, a close friend was taking on too much of the child-care responsibilities following the birth of their first child and not taking care of herself. As a result, within less than 6 months, she was suffering from burn-out and under her doctor’s care.
When you are at work, do you schedule time-out to re-energise yourself? Can you carve-out time at lunch to go for a walk or grab lunch outside with a friend? Often, the people I coach are working through lunch, believing that it means they are being more effective. However, in reality, they are depleting their precious internal resources rather than replenishing them. As a result, they become less effective, less focussed, less engaged and are less compassionate with others. Just taking 10-minutes for ourselves can enable us to do better work through the rest of the day and have better interactions with others. Ideally, we should be scheduling regular breaks at least every 90-minutes.
Do you stay late most nights to ensure you meet never ending work-deadlines? Do you cancel social engagements at short notice because of work? Does work come above everything (or everyone) else? What would happen if you put yourself first? We may think we are being selfish by prioritising our needs and leaving work on time, but if we are approaching work tasks with minimal energy and focus, how effective are we actually being?
Finally, many of us live for the weekends. Yet, we can all too easily end up depleting our energy resources further. If you find yourself being ‘dragged’ from pillar to post at weekends and don’t feel that you have any time for yourself, how might you be able to carve out some ‘me’ time? If you go to watch your children play sport at the expense of exercising yourself for example, could you watch half the game and go for a walk (with another parent) for the other half? Can you combine family or other commitments with self-care e.g. could you exercise as a family or schedule some some quiet time as a family?
If you have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends with friends, could you change it up a little so that you agree to go for a cycle ride with friends instead of hitting the pub? Or perhaps schedule a morning yoga session with a friend rather than lounging on the sofa and binge-watching boxsets? Or perhaps you culd turn down a social engagement every once in a while, if it means you can get a good night's sleep?
While taking care of our needs may appear selfish on the surface, it enables us to give more to those we care about, regularly and sustainably over the long-term. If you choose to do one thing this new year, give yourself permission to put your self-care needs at the top of your list of priorities.