A few weeks ago I was feeling disgruntled, and a little bit resentful, if I’m honest…
Why? No particular reason…I’d just had a few busy weeks at the clinic, it was a full-on time, with no spare time for me. It felt like everyone was having a great time apart from me! In fact, it felt like I was going out for my way for everyone. But definitely not for me! I remember thinking (about no one in particular…just anyone that was around me), “It must be very nice to have someone go out of their way for you. It must be nice to have that! How nice for you that I don’t go out of my way for myself, but I do for you!”
Hmm…something in that thought made the penny drop almost instantly. “Yes, Bridge, you do go out of your way for other people. You don’t go out of your way for you; especially not when you’re busy or a bit stressed”.
“It must be nice to go out of my way for myself…even just a little”.
Was my next (rather surprising!), thought. As a therapist, I’m very aware that new habits don’t start well if you go all-out at first. We have to start with a very small change at first. A new habit will grow out of that change, as it naturally gathers momentum over time and develops almost by itself. (The trick is, that you just have to enjoy it). It’s the best kind of strategy for habit formation, as it starts gentle, not much pressure, just enough to nudge yourself in the right direction. Think about starting a new exercise regime, for instance- you’re far more likely to succeed and keep going if you don’t attempt to go all out with HIIT 5 times a week on your first attempt! I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’d just talked myself into something monumental. I can happily say that one little thought has changed my life over these last few weeks in a very pleasant way.
The first time I went out of my way just a little was a few days later when I was in the supermarket. My basket was already loaded with stuff, and I wanted to get something for myself that was quite heavy. My initial thought was “I’ll come back later for it” (in other words- I’ll come back later and do this thing for ME). Then a little voice whispered back to me “Just get it now, you won’t be carrying the heavy basket for long, and you know you won’t come back”. The truth was, I knew that if that heavy thing would have been for someone else, I’d have picked it up and carried it to the checkout without missing a beat. We brush those little things for us to one side. We tell ourselves “If it’s my need, it can wait”.
We prioritise others’ needs above our own especially when we’re busy or a bit stressed. These are the times in life when we tell ourselves that there’s only so much of our energy to go around, and if we’ve used it all up on other people, work and responsibilities, then there’s none left over for us. And yet… Our thinking isn’t quite as sharp when we’re stressed, either. there’s a feeling of just wanting to get everything over and done with so we can just relax and take some time out. Neuroscience will tell us that our brains behave a little differently under stress. We don’t see the bigger picture very well and our perspective narrows. And we seem to be stressed an awful lot of the time these days! And yet. And yet…have you ever found that the energy actually becomes just a little bit bendy when someone asks you for one more little thing. A tiny thing that doesn’t feel like much, and you’ll do it happily (or maybe begrudgingly, but you do it!), because you know it’s not much.
Your energy, it appears, isn’t finite after all, there was a little bit of reserve in the tank for that one last “can you just do xxx, for me, pleeease?”
And this is that little bit of energy that you can take for yourself, to go out of your own way just very slightly for your Own Sweet Self. It’s not much, and I this is the real value of using that little bit that you’ve got in reserve in the tank. It feels like you’re not being too over selfish (heaven forbid!!!). After all you’re still there for other people, still meeting their needs, and all those other responsibilities too. You also get to carve out a small amount of space in your life to meet your own needs too. Coming back to the idea that habits must start small…this is a new habit that you can make just for you. You’re not a ‘done deal’ by any means. We never are. Neuroplasticity is the science that says we can change our brain no matter how old we are, we just have to make a little bit of effort to do it. So you can create little changes that go a long way, for you as well. You can give yourself a breathing space in your day. As an example-when you feel like there’s nothing left and you just want to zone out and fall into social media, or otherwise put your needs to one side- remembering that there is a spare drop in the gas tank, actually, and it’s yours! Even if it’s only half an hour…especially if it’s only half and hour. Get off that phone and go and do what you wanted to do 3 weeks ago, but put to one side because of someone else’s ask. Whatever it was, JUST START. Go a little way out of your way for your Own Sweet Self. It starts with noticing that little voice in your head. She’ll be telling you- “I’ve done enough, there’s nothing left”. But that’s just old thinking habits. You’ve thought them for years, and they’re just there, on repeat, on a never-ending loop…trust me, they won’t ever change because your brain acts subconsciously on auto-pilot and doesn’t like the effort of change. Right there is the moment to gently jump in with a “No, I’m just go to do a little bit for me”. If you keep it small at first it’ll be a little bite-sized chunk and will feel more do-able that way.
It also doesn’t feel too challenging to honour your needs when you just do a small thing. In all honesty I think a lot of us hide behind other peoples’ needs so we don’t have to look at our own life and what we’d like to really do with it. It can almost feel noble and self-sacrificing to ignore our needs! I wrote about this topic in another article about guilt, and you can read here if you’d like to know more.
Going out of your own way just a little, I think, feels a bit less THREATENING. You don’t have to explain, ask or excuse yourself to others if it’s just a small thing that you’re doing for yourself, as it will often go completely under others’ radar anyway.
Some of the ways my clients have used this strategy to make small changes in their life have been:
- Eating more healthily, whilst still feeding the family different meals…they are going out of their way just slightly to prioritise their health by making a different version of the family meal for them;
- Taking half an hour out of the evening away from the telly/SM to do their ‘own’ thing, instead of joining in with the family…again this is that sense of going out your own way just slightly to prioritise your needs. You could start out with taking half an hour out once a week and see how that feels;
- Doing that one small thing for themselves that they’ve always wanted to do, even when they don’t feel they have the energy for it. Perhaps taking up an old hobby, picking up a book that has interested them, or even just picking up the phone to chat to an old friend.
Whatever small thing you want to give to yourself, just so that you feel you’re doing something ‘just for you’, you DO have the energy for it I promise you that. It just FEELS like you don’t. It will be something so small to start off with, but it always begins with noticing that thinking, that comes with a sense of ‘putting yourself to one side’. Once you start noticing it, you might be quite surprised at how often that thought and feeling comes up for you in a single day! It happened to me just this morning- I’ve been thinking about this blog for ages, I’d drafted the structure, and kept putting off actually finishing and publishing it because I didn’t ‘have time’. This Sunday morning, I just told myself to go and ‘do a little bit on it’, and see what happens…and voila! I finished it! How nice is that feeling??
What is it that you’ve been putting to one side? If there’s nothing that springs to mind right now, just notice if that ‘no energy/time/room for me’ thinking comes up in your day, and gently remind yourself that you DO have a little in reserve, and it’s not going to take much to use it. Go for it and see how you feel afterwards. It’s the BEST feeling in the world when you actually honour your needs, just a little, I promise you!
And the habit of giving a bit back to you will build over time all by itself, because you’ll be enjoying the process. And don’t worry, you won’t turn into a selfish monster, just a more fulfilled human being, and that’s a guarantee!
Lots of love xxx