Learning how to put yourself first without feeling guilty is hard. I’ve always been the kind of person who would put other people’s needs in front of my own. I did this at work as well as in relationships and it led me onto the path of having a breakdown.
As women, we were raised to be good girls. We were told to be thoughtful, kind and considerate of others but somehow the most important part of the advice wasn’t shared with us.
Yes, we should be thoughtful, kind and considerate but not at the detriment of ourselves. And definitely not when we put our needs last or ignore them completely. We are just as important as the people we prioritise so why aren’t we prioritising ourselves?
A Much-Needed Breakdown
When I had my breakdown, I immediately went into counselling and he was amazing. For the first 3 weeks I wasn’t allowed to do anything unless it nourished me. I also wasn’t allow to beat myself up for not doing things that I thought I ‘should’ be doing either.
He told me to spend some time thinking about hobbies I used to do or wanted to try. I had to write a list of my good friends and make sure I made arrangements to spend a couple of hours with each of them regularly. I had to continue with my running and yoga, he also encouraged me to try meditation.
The first week or so was just weird but I started to get the hang of it. My best friend was also great at reminding me of my task and making sure I stuck to it. Another friend gave me a massive stack of books to work my way through (and still continues to be my own personal librarian).
It took a while to adapt to my new life and here are some of the most important lessons I learnt along the way.
1) Choose Who You Give Your Precious Time To
(And Make Sure They Deserve It!)
This was a tough one for me. How do you put yourself first and stop giving your time away?
I started by observing how I felt when I was arranging to see someone. Did I feel excited or did I dread it? You know who makes you feel good about life and who drains the life right out of you. This could be a colleague, a friend, a relative or a relationship.
I learned the hard way that spending time in an environment that doesn’t leave me feeling good has a negative impact on my mental health so I just won’t do it. I will only spend time with people who I enjoy being around.
Over the last few years, I realised that I’m an introvert and need time by myself to recharge after socialising. I felt a bit ashamed about this to begin with but then learned that it’s just part of who I am and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Now I love spending time on my own and look forward to it. I actually plan time into my diary to spend on my own and will take myself out for a date. It could be going for a hike, a walk and an ice cream in the local park or treating myself to a cuppa and cake at a cafe. Discovering cinema dates with myself was brilliant and I’ve really missed them since COVID changed our lives.
Once I’d accepted that my feelings and mental health were my priority, it made it easier to decide who I wanted to give my time to.
You’ll probably feel guilty for reducing how much time you are willing to give certain people but you need to do it anyway. Some people won’t realise that they are making you feel this way so you could talk to them about it (in a non-judgemental or criticising way, obviously).
Maybe suggest that most conversations can’t include complaining or judging others and have to be about positive things. Some people won’t understand how they make you feel but that’s not something you can control. Keep reminding yourself that you have to put yourself first and it will be easier.
People who actually care about you will listen to you and work with you.
2) Learn How To Say No
We’ve all done it, we’ve all said yes to things that we really didn’t want to do. It might be meeting up with someone when you just want to stay at home or it could be a work related thing.
Saying no can feel difficult and we worry about how we’ll look or what someone will think of us. It’s not your job to please others and you don’t need to justify your decision.
One day I was flicking through my diary and I realise how many things I had in there that I didn’t really want to do. It was about 75%. That sucked and left me feeling sad.
I made the decision there and then that I wasn’t going to say yes to things unless I felt good or excited about them. I wouldn’t come up with excuses but I would just politely say “no thank you.”
Bravery kicked in and I went through my diary and cancelled some of the things I’d already agreed to do. I needed to it for my peace of mind and I felt so relieved once I’d done it.
When we constantly put others first, we are subconsciously telling ourselves that they are more important. They are not more important. You are the most important person in your life so start treating yourself that way.
3) Good Enough Is Good Enough
I used to be a bit of a perfectionist. Nothing was ‘finished’ until I thought it was the best possible version. This meant that things either didn’t get finished or I didn’t actually start them because I didn’t think I was capable of making it ‘perfect’.
My counsellor told me that there was no such thing as ‘perfect’ and that good enough is good enough! I thought about it for a while and realised that I was putting far too much pressure on myself in life.
99% of the time other people wouldn’t have a clue if I thought something was perfect or not so why did I worry that it needed to be. I also realised that I was missing out on some great opportunities that life had in store for me.
I didn’t judge other people by my unrealistic scale of perfectionism so why the hell was I constantly judging myself? Holding myself to some ridiculously high standards was exhausting and needed to stop.
(Right now, I am giggling to myself as I tweak this blog post for the 8th time. I really need to take my own advice more often. Ok, no more tweaking – this post is ready to go!)
4) Yes This Even Works If You Have Kids
I don’t have kids but I have friends with kids who have nailed the ability to put themselves first. If they can do it then you can too! You need time to put yourself first. It’s as simple as that. Talk to your friends and family about this and ask them to help. If you don’t have family around then speak to the mums of your kid’s friends and arrange to help each other out.
An example is that I have a few running buddies who are mums and running keeps them sane. They prioritise their running and make sure it’s planned into their week because they know they need it and they can be a better parent because of it.
If you are tired, drained and at breaking point then you are not going to feel like parent of the year. Find something that you like to do and plan in the time to do it.
Maybe you love to read but don’t make the time. I go to bed 30 mins earlier than I used to so that I can read every day.
I’ve heard about this thing called ‘mum guilt’ and that it’s mostly other mums making each other feel like crap.
Some mums will be 100% involved in their kids school activities. They’ll volunteer for everything and that’s great for them. But don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty if you’re not one of those mums and you don’t need to justify it either. It’s ok if you can’t do every bake sale or attend school trips etc. You can’t do it all!
Also, you don’t have to be friends with all the other kids mums either. Especially if you don’t really like them. You can be polite but keep your distance and set boundaries.
Always remember that your kids want you to be happy too!
Ditch The Guilt!
I used to feel so guilty if I sat and read a book or watching a movie during the day. I’d tell myself that I should be cleaning the house or batch cooking or something. I didn’t know how to relax and just switch off and it took a long time to get better at it. Learning how to put myself first seemed like a ridiculous goal.
Even now I’ll be doing something for myself and my brain will automatically tell me that I should be doing X instead. When that happens, I try to remember to tell it to shut up and leave me alone instead of listening to it.
If anything, feel guilty for not putting yourself first more often. If you don’t take care of yourself then it will affect those around you.
So, your ‘put yourself first’ challenges from me are as follows:
i) Spend some time thinking about what you like to do or would like to try. What hobbies did you do as a kid that you’d like to do again?
ii) Write a list of the people in your life that have a negative impact on you and think about how you will deal with them going forward.
iii) Go through your diary/calendar and notice how many things you do that you wish you didn’t have to. Deal with it appropriately and with YOUR best interests at heart.
iv) Push yourself out of your comfort zone more often. You might feel anxious or nervous but that’s ok, just try.
Now I want to hear from you! Does this relate to you? Are you struggling to put yourself first? Do you have tips to share about how to prioritise yourself more often? Please feel free to comment below or drop me a message via my contact page.
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