As I wrote that title auto correct tried to give me many other suggestions of what I was trying to say not knowing that in not being able to find a fitting word for what I was trying to describe, I made one up!
Sure there are many hybrid words like self-care, self-compassion, self-love but none of them feel like they stand up to the potency of their nemesis: SELFISH
We live in a society where focusing your energy on doing things to look after yourself and prioritise yourself is seen as a dirty thing. It is seen as selfish. The traits of generosity, care and compassion are some of the most beautiful of the human qualities but there is a large proportion of our society that do not know how to look after themselves. They dedicate themselves to looking after everyone else. These are the selfless mothers and fathers that look after their children, sometimes long after they are adults themselves; the carers looking after family and friends who can’t look after themselves; those in helping professions; partners who have unconditional love and empathy for their partners; and the list goes on…
When I ask these people questions like, “How do you look after yourself?” “How could you make yourself the priority here?” I often hear, “But that feels selfish.” So I have been talking to my clients about being selful. Make sure that you are full first before you give your depleted supplies to someone else. Make sure you receive from the people around you as well as doing the giving. Sometimes the giving has to be done to oneself.
There are the usual metaphors that outline this so perfectly. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others. We can hear these and understand the concepts but knowing what this is in action or catching our normal patterns of behaviour can be more challenging.
I did some professional development last week and one unit was about burn out, which is such an important area to think about for people in the helping industry, but also for all the people I mentioned above. Burn out is an emotional exhaustion. Sometimes it can sneak up on us without us realising. The presenter talked about the concepts of soft rest and hard rest. These were new ideas to me, especially since I pride myself on not needing to rest. She explained that soft rest is either in response to checking in with yourself and seeing that you are feeling a bit tired or run down or also predicting that a particular day will make you tired and you do restful things. These can be going to bed early, getting take-out instead of cooking, making no plans for the weekend etc. Hard rest is the longer rest of taking a few days to a week (or weeks) off and getting a change of scenery. This should happen at least twice a year and planned ahead so that you have something to look forward to.
Something I have been trying to work on since this workshop is checking in with myself. I think this is the essence of being selful. Asking yourself how you feel, how much energy you have physically, mentally and emotionally and asking what do you really need right now. Because people who are selfless aren’t used to asking themselves this question a good way to figure out what they need to do for themselves is asking, “If this was your (insert name of person they care for) what would you do for them or advise them to do?” This answer comes a lot more easily.
The goal of being selful is vitality. So it is actually more than just being rested. It is about feeling like our best selves. To feel like we know ourselves and we carve a significant place for ourselves in this world. Of course many things contribute to this more than just rest but the idea of being selful is a foundational first step. It is a mindset shift that is important that says I matter, my health matters, my needs matter.
So I set you the challenge to think more selfully. Check in with yourself to see how you feel and what you need. Plan some rest times into your calendar. Give yourself permission to choose your wellbeing over whether you cook a meal everyday. Take the steps to finding your vitality.