It's been a crazy busy couple of months as I race to get my book finished by the deadline. At the weekend I realised I had rescheduled out all of my own important commitments this week in order to work around various client requests. I was more than happy to do it at the time but as I reached the weekend I was aware I was completely frazzled! It was a good reality check for me: I could feel a bad habit creeping back in: the need to please, to not be perceived as "selfish" and the inability to say no!
Rescheduling what's important to you (your run/yoga session/coffee with a friend) because someone else's needs require fulfilling has a short-term psychological payoff. We feel like a good person for going out of our way to help someone else, or putting the needs of our client/employer/child/spouse before our own. They are happy: therefore we are happy.
As an occasional thing it's absolutely a win-win: everyone gains in happiness and our sacrifice of personal needs is balanced by the feelgood factor of helping someone else get what they need.
As a long-term strategy, however, it's a disaster. If we consistently put other people's needs before our own then it leads to burnout and resentment. I see many clients who have fallen into this trap. I see it a lot with mums who make time to taxi their kids to 17 different after-school activities but can't seem to make time for one thing for themselves in the week, or the next week, or the week after. Also with busy professionals who defer their weekly game of squash, or acting class in order to get that big project at work finished. And then the next week there is another important, urgent work issue. And the next. And on it goes.
It's faulty thinking. Somehow we get into the habit of deferring our own perfectly valid needs because other people's needs matter more. Their happiness matters more. Meeting their needs becomes more important. It doesn't make sense and here is why. If needs matter then all people's needs matter, not just your boss/husband/child but yours too. Either everybody counts, or nobody counts.
A wise old boss once put it to me this way: if you say yes to everything, what is your yes worth? Being able to sometimes say "no" and stick to it makes your "yes" much more valuable.
It's your job to stand up for what you need to be healthy and happy, even if that means that someone else doesn't get what they need (or think they need) all the time.
The opposite of selfish is selfless. And this is absolutely what we get. We are so busy trying to avoid being selfish that we get less of ourselves, less of what matters to us in our lives.
I'd like us to think about being "self-full" instead of selfish. That we can carve out time to replenish ourselves, and we should. When we do this we have so much more juice in the tank to give to others. It's that classic analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask first in a crashing plane so you can then help others.
When we have commitments to our own needs in terms of what is a good life-work balance for us, what we need to look after our own physical, emotional and spiritual health then we have so much more to serve the world.
Your needs are just as important as anyone else's.
Either everybody counts, or nobody counts. It's not selfish. It's self-full.
Make a list of 3 things YOU need to keep you happy and healthy each week. What are your non-negotiables? It's not selfish for you to diarise them and then let the rest of life flow round those commitments. Your needs matter as much as everyone else's, so drop the guilt!
Louise Thompson is a life coach, yoga teacher and corporate escapee. For more from Louise visit positivebalance.co.nz.