How to make yourself a priority
I recently took a whole month off work. It wasn't planned - it was meant to be a two-week break, however, I ended up having surgery and so two weeks became four! I can't remember the last time I've taken that much time off. However, in hindsight, I think it was needed. These past couple of years have been a wild ride for us all and I didn't realise how much I needed to stop the world!
I don't think I'm alone in feeling like that, many of my clients are also exhausted, yet they are struggling to make themselves a priority and be responsibly selfish to take care of their own emotional, mental and physical well-being. When we naturally have a tendency to focus our attention on other people's needs, it can be really difficult to wrap our head around putting ourselves first, let alone knowing where to start!
Even though, deep down, we know that what we are currently doing isn't working and can't be sustained long term (like a hamster on a wheel), it can be difficult to slow down or stop without crashing out in spectacular style!
To put yourself first, you need to believe and act like you’re valuable and capable.
You need to know that you can count on yourself; that you’re going to do what’s in your own best interest rather than abandoning yourself to make someone else happy.
Of course, these are difficult things to do, so let’s break it down into smaller pieces that you can work with:
1. Reconnect with yourself
When we've learned to focus our attention on others, our identity is often linked to the roles that we play - being a good parent, employee, role model, sibling, spouse, friend etc. We pour all of ourselves into trying to keep the people around us happy and we can end up losing ourselves in the process.
Many of my clients are very disconnected from themselves and struggle to identify how they feel, what they want or what they need. They are so used to 'going with the flow', 'keeping the peace' and 'not rocking the boat' that they've become numb to what's going on in their own body and head.
So, a really good place to start is to reconnect with your inner world and begin to figure out your own likes, desires, interests and preferences. I have a toolbox full of tools to help people do this but here are a few simple suggestions:
- Start to pay attention to things you like and things you don't like. Make a note in your phone each time you experience something that brings you joy or something that creates a negative reaction inside you.
- If you don't know what you want, start to make a list of what you don't want. Then review the list and see if you can flip the things you don't want to identify the things you do!
- When you find yourself feeling really indecisive, start to play with 'acting as if you do know'. Make a choice, even if you don't know if that's what you'd prefer. Just pick one option and see how it feels.
- If you are undecided between two options, try flipping a coin. Notice how you feel when the coin decides for you. Are you happy with the choice the coin made or do you feel disappointed? Remember you don't have to do what the coin says, you use the coin to help you determine your own preference.
2. Listen to your feelings
When we are highly attuned to others needs and feelings, we are usually pretty good at minimising and disassociating from our own. We are masters at being the strong ones that get the job done. Because of this, people rely on us and we often take responsibility for situations and problems that aren't ours.
We find it difficult to sit with uncomfortable emotions and watch other people struggle, so we jump into action to tidy up the mess so that we can feel OK again.
Listening to our feelings (instead of avoiding or numbing them) is the key to accessing our inner world, figuring out what's important to us and starting to build a better balance in our lives. One of my favourite exercises for reconnecting with our feelings is outlined in a previous article I wrote, Ditch the self-care checklist and try this instead.
3. Feel the fear
Fear is neither good nor bad. It's an emotion that is telling us that something feels unsafe. However, the part of our brain that deals with fear hasn't evolved to cope with our modern world and is really bad at differentiating between something that is genuinely life-threatening and something that feels scary.
This is why you'll notice your heart beating faster, your body tense and your senses on high alert when you are watching a scary movie! Logically, you know you are nice and safe in your house, yet your body is preparing you to have to hide, run away from or fight a crazed killer! My point is that you cannot always trust your anxious feelings.
Fear's job is to prepare you for the worst-case scenario and, often, this doesn't happen. And, even if it does, in most instances, it's unlikely to kill you (unless of course you really are being chased by a crazed killer!).
The hard truth is that fear never really goes away, but we can get to a point where it doesn't hold us back from taking care of ourselves if we can build the courage to take action in spite of our fear.
4. Make time
It's never convenient to prioritise your needs. There will always be something else to do or someone else who 'needs' you. If you are playing a game of 'beat the to-do list' then my advice to you is to stop. To-do lists are never-ending - there is always something else to add to the end of the list!
If you are putting your well-being on the back burner waiting for the right time, I'm here to tell you it's now!
Historically, a martyr is someone who chooses to sacrifice their life or face pain and suffering instead of giving up something they hold sacred. If what you hold sacred is what everyone else thinks about you, then this is the highway to pain, suffering, exhaustion and burnout.
One of the reasons you struggle to say yes to you is that you can't say no to others, and consequently your life is full! You hate displeasing and disappointing people so you prioritise their wants and needs, and never get around to pleasing yourself.
So, a really big part of making yourself a priority is making space. This requires clarity about what isn't working and how you would like it to be different.
This is covered in my free guide How To Say No, which is packed full of inspiration, tools, and tips to help you to master saying no to others, so you can make time to start saying yes to you.
5. Keep commitments to yourself
Keeping promises to ourselves and doing what we say we are going to do is how we show ourselves that we matter too. Not only does this build trust in ourselves, but it also shows others how to treat us.
Start by setting a small, manageable goal that feels achievable like drinking more water, moving more, or taking 30 minutes each day for yourself.
The key is making a commitment that you are 99% sure you can keep. As you build your confidence, you can set bigger goals and take more chances. But to begin with, set yourself up for success by starting small.
6. Embrace guilt
Guilt arises when we feel or believe we have done something wrong. It can actually be a really useful emotion as the discomfort can be a catalyst for making changes and learning from our mistakes. However, sometimes our definition of 'wrong' is a little bit wonky and we can end up feeling guilty for things such as taking care of ourselves, having needs of our own, asserting ourselves and expressing a different opinion.
When we have patterns of people-pleasing, over-functioning and over-giving, we are prone to this type of 'unhealthy guilt' because our self worth is attached to what we do and how we are perceived by others. Consequently, we feel bad about things we didn't do, couldn't control and that aren't our responsibility (and wonder why life feels so damn hard!)
I would like to invite you to start to see your guilt as a sign of change - it means you are veering off-script and trying something new. Rather than trying to get rid of the guilt as quickly as possible, give yourself permission to sit with it for a little while and get curious about it.
If guilt is something you struggle with you can also check out my previous article, How to let go of false guilt and take better care of yourself.
7. Be your own best friend
I've done a lot of work to let go of caring what others think of me and, yet, the part of me that deeply wants to be liked is still there. And that's OK. The reality is that it's part of me and it's there for a really good reason.
The mistake we can make is labelling these parts of us as wrong or bad and feeling like we need to exercise them from ourselves like an evil spirit from our soul! When we can approach these parts of us with love, compassion and understanding, it allows us to stop beating ourselves up and begin to take imperfect action to make helpful tweaks and changes.
No one is always their best self. Choose to love the messy you that's present right now.
Personal growth can be challenging. Go slowly and gently and, if you need help, you can book a 60-minute complimentary coaching session to troubleshoot and get some support on your journey of becoming responsibly selfish.
These sessions are completely 'pitch free' - this is one hour of pure coaching drawing on everything I know about becoming responsibly selfish to serve you. Interested? Have questions? Reach out and let's chat.