Self-care is fashionable. I see articles, blog posts, and videos published on the subject every day, particularly within the genres of fitness and popular psychology.
Interest in the topic has swelled, nearly tripling in search and publication related volume over the past five years as measured by Google Trends.
The primary message of most of these posts is to encourage the practice of regular self-care – taking care of our own health needs, without guilt.
Unfortunately too many of us, especially those who are active caregivers, perceive self-care as an indulgence.
Self-care is neither selfish nor a luxury. It is necessary. In fact it is the first obligation of any leader or any person upon whom others depend.
I would contend that not taking care of ourselves is negligent.
The folks who are relied upon the most have the highest obligation to take good care of themselves. If many people who are important in our lives rely upon us, we need to be as consistently dependable as possible. That can only happen by making our own health our priority.
Notice that I use the singular “priority”. Remember, when we have multiple priorities we have no priority.
In my last post, we explored the notion of essential intent. I encouraged us to reflect on what was the most important thing we should be doing, right now, that would have the highest impact on the quality of our lives and bring us the most peace of mind and contentment.
I then suggested that we should ignore everything else on our To-do list until we have taken a measurable step toward that objective. Then, do that again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until we have completed or accomplished our essential intent.
That becomes our priority and we ought to focus on that first, at the exclusion of everything and everybody else.
“Everybody? Did you say everybody???”
Yes, unequivocally and unapologetically.
“But, Paul, you don’t understand, I have so many other people who rely on me. I couldn’t possibly prioritize myself! That would be selfish! What would they do? How would they get along without me?”
Let me tell you a quick story about one of the first lessons that both our friend General Grant and I were taught at West Point.
A leader’s priority
A leader’s priority is to make sure their own personal needs are adequately met first, in as efficient and effective manner as possible, so that they are then capable of focusing their attention on the needs of their troops. Their fitness, nutrition, hygiene, and self-development are their first priority. If they don’t have their s#!t together how can we rely on them to take care of soldiers?
So, prioritizing our own needs is not selfish. It’s necessary. It’s a duty. In fact, it’s mission essential.
“But, Paul, that will make me feel guilty!”
Are you left feeling caregiver guilt when you put your own needs ahead of others? I get it, that emotion is real and it can be debilitating. I feel that same tug of obligation and duty, and sometimes even guilt. It’s absolutely human nature.
But, I’ve also been shown, through positive example and frequent hard lessons at the academy, that I have a greater obligation to make sure my own house is in order before I can assume the responsibility of leading and caring for others.
What’ a person to do?
So, what’s a person to do? How can we balance our obligation to take care of our own needs with our obligation to care for others? I mean, it’s just not possible to stretch ourselves any further, right?
Yep, you’re absolutely correct! Most folks I know are pretty tapped out and already stretched to the limit. There simply isn’t time left in these busy lives we lead.
The answer is pretty straight forward. Need more time? You’re going to have to take it. Nobody is going to give you more time, right? So the only solution is to take it back from the many priorities we have overcommitted to.
I’ll expand on this topic in my next post. Look for that soon under the title Come And Take It!
If, like so many good people in this world, you’ve neglected your own needs for years in the service of others, and you feel like you need to take back more of your time, here’s a simple but effective method that might help. Schedule your workouts like you would an important appointment. The act of putting it on your calendar changes how you think about that time. It becomes obligatory, a commitment you’ve made to the most important person in your life… you.
If you feel like you’re ready to make self-care your priority, Julie and I are here to help. One of the most effective ways to connect with us is by using this link. It leads to a very brief form that alerts us that you’ve reached out and gives us some insight into your situation. It takes less than two minutes to fill out. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours of your submission.
Thanks so much for your generous support!
Be strong and have fun.