When Putting Yourself First May Be The Least Selfish Thing You Can Do
We’re better to others when we’re at our physical, mental, and emotional best. Ironically, sometimes we’re so busy doing things for others that we forget to take care of ourselves. We may not see the negative effects at first, but before long, we’ll start breaking down like a car that’s skipped a few oil changes.
Why This Matters
To paint a picture of what can happen if we don’t practice self-care, I’ll share this little confession – it’s about the time when I had an emotional breakdown. I became so unhinged that I had the dog cowering behind the toilet.
I was just leaving work. The weather was perfect but the way I dragged my feet made it seem like every step to my car was made through dense snow. A few Taylor Swift songs later, I was pulling into my garage. My wife, like most other days, came down the steps to meet me with a hug and kiss at the door. I know that sounds cheesy and absolutely made up but I’m seriously a lucky guy. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t make the 3 things that presently occupied my mind:
1) Boots off
2) Bags down
3) Food in mouth
So instead of receiving her welcome, I acted annoyed as if her signs of affection were roadblocks to my relaxation. I don’t know how she put up with this, even for a second. I certainly wouldn’t have. People, especially the super-loving ones, deserve more than that. We both knew this couldn’t keep happening, but it did… and neither of us really did anything about it until the day I had a breakdown.
It was a Friday. Again, I had a tough day at work. When I got home, my wife wanted me to go out with her and her friends. I said—“No.”
She asked again. I said—“No, I just want to read and sleep.”
She said that if I were asking her to go out with my friends, she would certainly go. I took this as her using guilt to get me to go. This combined with my burned out state proved to be too much.
I flipped. I yelled. I threw my hands in the air. I paced back and forth. I yelled some more. I was acting crazy. So crazy that the miniature schnauzer we were dog-sitting scampered to the bathroom and hid behind the toilet.
She said—“This isn’t you!”
On the verge of tears, she left to meet her friends.
I got in the shower. I don’t know if it was the water that was already flowing down my face but I began to cry. I knew something had to change—someone had to change.
It wasn’t always this way and it’s definitely not what it’s like now. I’ve been able to improve our nights after work without changing anything about her. I worked on the only person I could—me.
I figured out what can keep high-achievers like you and me from thriving in the areas of life that we say matter most to us—forgetting to take care of ourselves.
It’s true that there are seasons in our lives when we have to spend a disproportionate amount of time on a single area. For example, our work might require us to blitz a big project on a fast-approaching deadline. But if we operate like this over a long period of time, the other parts of our lives will suffer. Sometimes, like me, you get a do over even after an embarrassing breakdown. Sometimes though, you don’t. If you’re not up for taking chances, read on to the solution below.
So, if there is a way to have it all—to be healthy, build an awesome relationship with your family, stand out at work, or whatever else is important to you… what’s the secret?
1. Define what self-care means to you. It’s different for everyone. For me, this meant that I needed to exercise, sleep for a solid seven to eight hours, eat proper amounts of healthy food, and have time to myself. This seemed selfish at first but in time I found that if I care for myself, that I can give, do, and be so much more for everyone else. I do better at work. I’m better in my relationships. I am more productive at serving people with my business.
2. Next, create your action plan. Once I realized that taking care of myself was a form of preventative maintenance, like an oil change for my car, I became determined to break my status quo. I understood that better health was the byproduct of the process I followed and the habits I developed. So after I got honest about my current reality, I became intentional about what I needed to do differently in order to become healthier.
3. Last, take action. Planning can feel so good. After I scheduled my workouts into my calendar, I started to feel like I was already winning. But planning can turn into a false sense of accomplishment or a fancy way of procrastinating. We all understand that making a few clicks on our calendars is not the same as going on that run or getting in the ring to spar or stepping onto the mat to practice yoga. You must follow through.
By setting aside between 30 to 90 minutes of my day for physical exercise, my energy and focus levels have been at an all time high. Because of this, I feel that I really show up in every moment… at work or in my personal life.
This is possible for everyone if you define what self-care looks like, create an action plan, and take loads of consistent action.
The next time you’re at the crossroads between your gym and the interstate that takes you home, turn your wheel toward the right choice.
This decision isn’t just for you because taking care of yourself, as you’ve learned, is for other people too.