Busy executives and business owners often say to me, “I just don’t have time to (insert self-care activity ….go to the gym, go for a walk, eat lunch, etc.” They often then throw in, ”Heck, I can’t even get to attend my child’s school sports carnival.” They feel guilty and frustrated that their business or high paying career is not giving them the freedom they would like.
I contend that the issue here is not busyness. It is not even planning. It has little to do with self-management. It has EVERYTHING to do with a lack of self-respect. They do not keep appointments with themselves. I ask them, “Who is really in control of your life? It appears not to be you.” They usually argue about how hard it is and list all their activity and hard work almost as a badge of honour. The truth is, they are acting like a victim in their own business or career. These very capable people, intelligent and highly qualified, are acting like victims. Like people who have no control; who have lost all their power to change their life and their circumstances. They do not usually like it when I point out to them that their mentality is very similar to the long term unemployed person who feels powerless to change their situation and who has developed an entitlement attitude to the Government payments they receive each fortnight.
I contend that the issue with a lack of self-care is not lack of time, busyness, or the demands of work. If you ‘forget lunch’, or ‘don’t have time for lunch’, or ‘snack on unhealthy rubbish because there was no time to bring a healthy lunch from home’, that is entirely your choice. It says to me that you actually do not respect yourself enough to look after yourself. In fact, your own welfare is not even in your thinking. You are so used to doing doing doing that you are chasing your tail most days. In the rare moments that you have time to relax, you probably sit there like a zombie and scroll through Facebook or play a mindless game on your computer.
How I learned who is really in control
I learned this lesson the hard way. Almost 10 years ago I went through the lowest period of my life. After 25 years serving people I suffered a burnout experience that led to me resigning my role as CEO of a large community organisation. This led to the breakdown of my marriage. I had nothing left. I had no money and no job. I was emotionally shattered. I moved into a small unit in a convenient part of the city close to where I had managed to secure a part time casual job. I was alone.
However, even as I hit the rock bottom of my life, I discovered something. I did have a level of self-respect, all be it very torn and weathered. I made a few decisions at that time which, looking back, were good decisions. I realise now they came from a deep ingrained sense of self-respect. I realised who is really in control. And so, I decided three things: 1. No matter how little money I had, to always eat nutritious food 2. To join an exercise class and attend at least twice a week and 3. To do whatever it took to stay solvent and not go bankrupt.
This was huge for me. It was my salvation at that time. I am truly grateful for the lessons learned over a lifetime that helped stir the courage that comes from self-respect. I slowly began to rediscover myself. I found that health and nutrition were important to me. Over 25 years in Senior Leadership I had not exercised regularly and had added quite a few kilos and centimeters to my waist line. I now found that exercise was a great stress release. 10 minutes into a class and I could not remember the events of the day. I would de-stress so quickly. I found it a welcome release from the general stress around my life at that time. I started to enjoy running. I would run most weekends and some mornings. The simple joy of doing something regularly that was good for me and was building fitness and strength in my body. My emotional and mental health was being helped as well.
With debts, I learned to enjoy ticking off payments on the various credit cards. In our marriage my wife and I had become sloppy and accrued unnecessary debt. It was a source of tension in the marriage. Instead of standing up and leading in this area, I chose to trade my values around money and debt for peace. Over almost 4 years, I worked 3 jobs at times, in order to make sure every payment was made.
Self-respect saved me. It enabled me to regroup. I learned lessons in that very dark period that still help me every day. It is vital to build your life on effective self-care strategies. When you are busy it is even more important. I learned the hard way. And one of my missions in life now is to sound the alarm and help as many people as possible to avoid unnecessary pain.
Who Is Really In Control?
Self-care is a choice. It can be done. It requires first that you respect yourself enough to become committed to looking after yourself every day. Not just for a fad or a season, but all of your life. If you want a long life, with as good health as your genes will allow – then make a plan and stick to it so you can eat well, exercise regularly, take time out, relax, build a garden, play golf, ride motor bikes, whatever it is that helps you to look after you. This is something that ONLY you can do. No-one else will understand you, and make the decisions required to make this happen. So, don’t wait for anyone else to do it for you. It will not happen. Let this article give you permission. It is time to respect yourself enough to stop acting like a victim, stop complaining about how busy you are, and focus on this area and begin to make it happen. Your future self will thank you for learning who is really in control.