Last year I wrote about how to be selfish in the new year. It was just another way of looking at prioritizing your own health so that you can be a better person and inspire others to do the same. This installment is admittedly a similar message, but with a little more emphasis on the “how” as opposed to the “what.” So this version assumes you’re already focused on improving your health this year and making some changes that will stick.
All that being said, it is helpful to acknowledge why you haven’t prioritized your health lately or before now. Perhaps you tend to view things like exercise or preparing a healthy meal as just one more thing to do and how that will just add more stress to your life. Well, is that really true? Aren’t you better able to handle the day’s tasks when your brain and body are nourished and when you are feeling good about yourself?
Another possible reason is that you think less of yourself than you do of others. Yes, this is as bad as it sounds! Your sense of self-worth is lacking and so you put the needs of others ahead of your 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.”
The funny thing about the “selfish” judgment is that it tends to be a projection. When someone calls you selfish, what they are really saying is that you are not doing what they want you to do or 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 someone else’s perspective and that is not a perspective that serves you well.
How do you go about prioritizing your own health and making it stick this time? Here are six steps to follow, in this particular order:
1. Acknowledge that you are worthy – This is the first step for good reason. If you can’t convince your self that you matter and that you deserve to be healthy and happy as much as anyone else, than there is no point in moving on to the other steps. This does not mean that you are better than anyone else or that by acknowledging this you are choosing to neglect your loved ones. It just means it’s time to stop neglecting yourself. If you need convincing, make a list of your accomplishments and good qualities. You might even hold a little informal celebration for these accomplishments if you never did when they happened.
2. Forget the past – It is easy to use past failures as an excuse not to try again, but it literally has nothing to do with the journey you are about to embark upon. And the only way in which the past can serve you here is as a reminder to avoid making the same mistakes. Your best chance of success this time is to view it as the first time. Because the person you were and the place you were in the last time you may have pledged to strive for a similar goal is different from the who and where you are today. The truth is you have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Your best hope of succeeding is believing you can and forgetting who you were and what happened before this moment.
3. Announce your intentions while asking for support – The best chance you have of seeing this through is establishing a support system. No need to make your job more difficult by allowing others to sabotage your efforts. Rather put the people who have depended on you to work for you. Sit down with each of them and explain 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.
4. Just begin it and others will do their part – This is especially true if there is any initial resistance to your request for support. What you will find is that when others see you respecting and prioritizing yourself they 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’ll be happier and, ultimately, so will they.
5. Practice self-compassion – This is a tricky one. If you have ever found it challenging to have compassion for someone else, you probably lack self-compassion as well. Some people are very compassionate toward others, yet they are seldom able to turn it inward. Prioritizing your health is an expression of self-compassion. Every time you are feeling unmotivated to exercise or are craving junk food, remind yourself why you are doing this. Remind yourself that you are worth the effort and attention. Think of a healthy habit as an act of self-love. And the best part is when you begin to practice self-compassion, you find it easier to have compassion for others. It will just flow naturally.
6. Recommit daily – 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 recomittment on a daily basis before it will become part of who you want to be. And while studies have shown that writing down your goals and commitments increases your chance for success, it is easy to fairly quickly lose site of these same goals and commitments. It can happen in a matter of just a few days. To avoid this pitfall, wake up every day with a new commitment to be and behave healthy. Say it to yourself out loud or write it down each morning as if it were the first time. You might even meditate on it to really imprint the dedication. This keeps your commitment fresh and mindful.