When we are flying with an airplane the safety instructions remind us that in the case of loss in air pressure we should put on our own oxygen mask first, before helping others. This advise can also be applied in a broader sense in other parts of your life.
Today’s modern society comes with heavy demands. You should perform at work, as a daughter/son/parent, a friend and on social media. None of them telling you to put your own need first. And why should you?
If you are going to help others and “perform your best” in roles above the following is a requirement; you need to be happy and healthy. You need to thrive. That means putting your own need first. Prioritize your sleep, your nutrition, your training and your downtime.
The social norm is not quite there yet. Your employer expects you to say yes when she/he asks if you can do a task. As a parent, you are excepted prioritize your children before anything else. You are expected to be there for your family or friend in need. Especially women, which in general have much higher demand from society, and have a bigger tendency to sacrifice themselves, are struggling with this.
I am an elite athlete. People have a bigger understanding when I am “selfish”. When I prioritize to train, instead of working overtime or prioritize drink alcohol-free beer at parties and leave it early to get in bed. My wife is not an elite athlete, but she is an elite performer in her role as a partner in a law firm. She has a similar need as me to perform her best, without the social norms to put those needs first.
To prioritize your own need to be happy and healthy doesn’t mean you always must put your every little need on the cost of others. You don’t need to be an unsympathetic asshole. I usually prioritize doing fun activities together with my soon 4-year old son, at the cost of optimal recovery. If I do a good job of sleeping well, training correct and eating plenty and healthy I have the energy to do it with a smile, most of the times. If I, however, are very tired and need to put my legs high, I sometimes use the option of arranging a “movie night” instead.
To sum up this post I give you a few actionable advice
- Find out what you need to be and stay happy and healthy.
- Write a list of the things that are important to you (like family, friends, training, work etc).
- Prioritize the things that are important to you
- Say politely NO to the things which are not on that list – it often helps to give a short explanation why you say it (one example is when my employer asked me to work full time again. I explained my reason for declining was a significant inconvenience for my family and that I prioritize my family higher than my employer).
- Remember that if you are going to perform your best to help others, you first must meet your own need.