Many well-intentioned people forego their own mental, physical and spiritual nourishment thinking it gives them more time and ability to take care of those around them. This simply isn’t true, and unless you take care of yourself first, you’re doing those you lead and love a disservice. Before you think I’m being narcissistic, let’s consider a common example that screams “me first!” for a good reason.
If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline, you know that the flight attendants give you a safety spiel before the flight departs. When they describe how to use the oxygen masks that drop from the ceiling, they emphasize that you should put on your own mask first, and then help those around you.
As a dad this sounds ridiculous because my instincts tell me to help my family before I help myself. But you and I both know why they say we should put on our own mask first – when the side of the plane rips open and oxygen is being sucked from the cabin, we’re going to have a very brief moment to act. If we don’t quickly get oxygen to our own brain, how can we possibly help the person sitting next to us?
Stepping back from the scary plane scenario, let’s consider this concept in terms of your life; it applies exactly the same way but is much more significant than you might think.
Check out this rationale from the book Living Forward:
- “If you aren’t fed spiritually, you won’t have the resources to edify others. This is why we strive to read the Bible and pray daily.
- If you don’t look after your health and become sick, you can’t best serve your family or co-workers. This is why we exercise regularly and eat nutritionally.
- If you don’t make time for reading great books, you won’t have the intellectual resources you could otherwise have to share with others. This is why we strive to read at least a book or two a month and listen to others audibly when exercising or traveling.
- If you don’t make the effort to work through your emotional wounds, you end up reacting to others instead of being in a position to help them. This is why we take regular emotional audits and uproot any seed of bitterness we find growing.
- If you don’t get sufficient rest, you get grumpy and nobody wants to be around you. This is why we try to sleep seven-plus hours nightly.
- Plus, we want to model how to take care of ourselves, so that those we lead will take care of themselves.”
If You Don’t Go First, You Can’t Help Others
In the list above, Hyatt and Harkavy describe what they do to make sure they take care of themselves, but what you don’t see is the key principle: you have to make those things come first in your calendar.
If we don’t book time in our calendar for these things, they don’t happen. If they’re just an idea in our heads, there no more than an intention. Intending to exercise regularly or eat nutritionally is great, but it’s easy to supersede good intentions with an average excuse. “I have a big project due soon… I had a long day I should probably relax… I’ll catch up tomorrow…”
Commit to putting the health of your mind, body and spirit first – before anyone else – and then schedule that time into your week. The longer we put it off the harder it is to break the habit, but it’s never too late to start.