My New Year’s Resolution: To be more selfish…..when it comes to my health.
Well that certainly sounds…..selfish! That’s right, it is! And isn’t it about time you put your health first? Hasn’t your health taken a back seat to so many other things and to so many other people in your life for long enough? Now I’m not saying to disregard the needs of others for the sake of your own. What I am saying is that you might serve the needs of your loved ones better if you prioritized your own need to be healthy and happy.
Think about it. You aren’t much good to anyone else without the energy and focus required to do all the things that need to get done each day. And for those who look to you as an example, such as your kids, how effective are you as a role model if you aren’t taking care of yourself? If you are trying to teach them to take care of themselves, how much credibility do you have as a teacher if you can’t even take care of yourself?
Herophiles, physician to Alexander the Great and the founder of the scientific method, said: “When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless.” When someone falls on hard financial times, it is often said: “Well at least he has his health.” Translation: your health is everything; without it you’ve got nothing.
It’s not like this is news for any of us. We all know it to be true! How many other adages about the importance of being healthy do we need to finally get it? So why do we keep coming up with excuses why we can’t exercise today or why we can’t prepare a healthy meal? Is it because that’s just one more thing we have to do? After all, if you neglect yourself, it’s one less person to take care of.
Another explanation for self-neglect is that we think less of ourselves than we do of others. Yes, this is as bad as it sounds! Our sense of self-worth is lacking and so we put the needs of others ahead of our own. Part of this is cultural. We are taught at an early age not to be selfish: “Stop thinking about yourself all the time!” or “Stop being so self-centered!” Sound familiar? We are conditioned to believe that it’s wrong to put ourselves first. Likewise if our parents were critical and we were conditioned to feel like we couldn’t do anything right, we developed a low self esteem and that’s just another way of saying “I’m not good enough” or “everyone else is better than me.”
What is interesting about the criticism we receive from others is that it is not based in fact. It is simply their perception. When someone calls you selfish, what they are really saying is that you are not doing what they want you to do or you are not behaving the way they want you to behave. It is about them, not about you. It is your choice whether to take it personally. So essentially any belief you have that you are not good enough or that you are selfish is based on myth. It’s all about perspective.
So how do you change this self-destructive thought and self-destructive behavior? How do you go about prioritizing your own health when others have come to expect you to put yourself last or to depend on you to take care of them?
The first step is to acknowledge that you are worthy. Make a list of your accomplishments and your good qualities. You must begin to convince yourself that you are good enough and you are worth taking care of. Again, this does not mean you are choosing to neglect others. It just means it’s time to stop neglecting yourself. It is important to be compassionate, but having compassion for oneself is just as important. In fact, if you can be self-compassionate, you will find it is so much easier to have compassion for others. It will just flow naturally.
The next step is to sit down with each of the people in your life who depend on you or who you perceive to be dependent upon you and explain to them that you need to do this for yourself. Explain to them that if you don’t begin taking better care of yourself, you won’t be much good to them. Ask them for their help and support. Explain that the best way to support you in this effort is for them to take more responsibility for themselves. Whether it’s having them help prepare family meals or taking on more responsibilities around the house so you can get to the gym, tell them how they can chip in.
Now obviously this will be difficult with younger children and you can tailor your talk for different maturity levels, but children are often more capable then we give them credit for. If there is resistance to your request, what you find is that if you follow through with your commitment to yourself, most people tend to step up and do more for themselves. They will either be inspired by your new commitment to self or they will do so out of self-preservation. Either way, your life will be easier and you will be happier and ultimately, so will they.
The final step is to practice, practice, practice. You have probably spent years or even a lifetime of putting yourself last. So change will not come so easy. As Mike Dooley, author and self-help guru, said: “When one stops looking for the quick and easy way, the quick and easy way soon finds them.” It will take a recommitment on a daily basis before it will become part of who you want to be. Likewise, your loved ones—your “dependents”—will need reminders as well.
So make this year’s New Year’s resolution a selfish one! It’s time to stop neglecting yourself and to decide to prioritize your health, for your own sake and the ones you love.