I woke up this morning thinking about how people underestimate the value of giving to themselves first. Many of us are concerned with serving others and doing what we think we are supposed to be doing. This is what makes a good person, right? Service to others is noble, so the more we serve the better we are?

Herein lies the paradox. When we forgo our needs in order to help other people, we actually diminish our ability to consistently help them in the highest way we can. I believe this happens more often than we acknowledge.

Think about a 5-gallon water jug, like the kind that’s in many offices. Everyone goes to fill up their own water bottles until it’s empty.

What if a little elf poured water in the top of the jug every time someone filled up their cup? There would always be water. In this scenario, you are the water jug, the “shoulds” (e.g., professional & social commitments, work, people) are the people coming to fill up their cups, and the elf represents ways to replenish yourself. If you take time to fill up your jug (i.e., you) along the way, you will always have reserves…for others AND for yourself. It takes less time and effort to refill a little at a time, than it does to refill the entire 5 gallons.

When was the last time you spent time doing something you truly enjoy? Are your days filled up with work, meetings, mundane household tasks, helping others reach their goals…doing a bunch of “shoulds” (I should go to that, I should help with that, I should contact so and so to have lunch, etc.)?

I challenge you to un-should your life and fill up yourself first.

This means focusing on what you sincerely enjoy and reducing the times when you find yourself saying “I should.”  The great thing is, you will continue to help people. You will continue to be productive at work.

By constantly forcing ourselves into arbitrary should-molds, we drain our sincere service reserves. Sure it’s the safe route. Although we may verbalize that “you can’t please everyone,” I’m willing to bet our actions are most often driven by an underlying thought of “no one can object if I always do what I am ‘supposed’ to.” While this approach seems to make things easier to judge as right/wrong and provides nice clean slots to put people in, it stifles creativity and stomps your soul. By filing up our own vessels first, we can be certain that we are providing help and service from a healthy and genuine place.

Like-minded people will follow. They will understand. This is a way we can foster growth for all. You do you, you accept others for doing them, and we all grow. The more you do for yourself, the more you will recognize it in others, and your circle will expand with people who allow you to continue in this way. Caveat here…some people are incapable of helping others OR themselves. This is ok. All of us have been/will be in a place like this. However, you will need to assess how much space these people take up in your life. If they are consistently incapable of helping themselves, the self-caring thing for you to do is distance yourself.

In order to move forward with prioritizing you, start with the following:

A.     Listen to yourself.

Assess your thoughts. Do you say “I should” a lot? Do you say “he/she should” a lot? The latter can be indicative of your beliefs, even though it’s not directly about you. If you think others “should,” you can turn the mirror around and know that you place the same rules on yourself. Do you have some idea of how you are “supposed” to spend your days? Work X amount of hours, prioritize others, be available when others come by your office/email/call, always say yes, max out your schedule. Do you allow yourself to turn someone down for a favor or social outing, even when you have nothing better to do than sit in the no-pants-zone (aka your house) and read a book?

B. Contemplate what you truly enjoy doing.

For those of us who have only been in touch with this part of ourselves peripherally and sporadically, this may be challenging (if you haven’t figured it out already, this [and most] blog topics stem from a personal place). Finding these activities may take time. As you have more space for yourself, you will realize new things that you enjoy doing. Things that come to mind are: reading, knitting, creating art, moving your body around in an athletic fashion, cooking, singing, playing an instrument, engaging with animals, taking photos, being outdoors, listening to music, attending theater, dance, or live comedy shows, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and gardening.

Segue into Challenge #1 - Eliminate things with screens from your list of ways you genuinely like to spend your time. I’m referring to television/movie/Netflix viewing and things that require you to be in front of a computer/tablet screen or to engage with your smart phone for the bulk of the activity. I feel OK about requesting this, because there are still plenty of options for ways to spend your time. AND I am your advocate, which means I advocate for you even when you aren’t advocating for yourself.

I can hear you objecting. I can see you shaking your head with bug-eyes while white-knuckling the remote. I can hear your reasons why you prefer these types of activities, how much you love some TV show, or how you really do love relaxing with a spot of online shopping. And I’m sure you sincerely believe you do. But I’m here to help you challenge your current beliefs. The screen time phenomenon is driven by comfort. Netflix is a ratty, soft blanket that smells like home. And sometimes there is a place for it…I just curled up with Netflix + NadaMoo last week when I had (yes more!) dental work done.

BUT growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. If you are truly ready to experience positive, sustainable changes in your health and overall well-being, you will find your answers out from underneath your security blanket.

I challenge you to take out these screens for your “you” time for at least two weeks. A month would be even better. The point is you need to give yourself space to experience the new activities, absence of old ones, and the associated thoughts & feelings. This will require overt effort on your part.

Which leads me to Challenge #2 - Go overboard on “you” time. For at least 2 weeks. I say this, because I think many people believe they already have enough time for themselves and that what they really need to do is work more (or whatever it is that you think you should spend your time doing). This binge won’t be forever. You don’t have to maintain huge alterations for the rest of time. I recommend you do this so that you can see that the world will go on…you will continue to be productive, others will survive even with lessened instrumental support from you, no one will starve if they are left to fend for themselves for a meal or two. Taking a concentrated amount of time for yourself during this period will help you re-learn how to set boundaries so that you are better able to help yourself first in the future.

What will people say when you take a 2-hour lunch in order to go for a walk? What about your friend’s reaction when you bow out of your regular coffee date because you would prefer to garden (Calm down. Just today. Not forever.)? What will your family say when you tell them to figure out dinner for one night so that you can go to a photography class?

Don’t worry, just tell them it’s doctor’s orders ; )


Much love y’all,