Years ago I saw an expression I liked that read “you can do it all, just not all at once”. And it struck a chord with me because it seemed to blend hopeful and inspiring with a bit of practical realism.
What I took from it was that we can invest in the things we really want to do, without urgency and with faith that we’ll be able to fit it ‘all’ in eventually, somehow.
At any given moment, it’s about assessing what the priorities are and making a conscious deliberate choice to invest time in those priorities.
Putting Yourself First
I’m sure you’ve heard similar bits of advice before. But here’s my twist on it – whatever that priority is, it should always be you. My Mum says “put yourself first and everything else will fall into place”. And I wholeheartedly agree.
Personally I think there’s no shame in making every minute of your day dedicated to the pursuit of your own happiness.
What are the benefits of putting yourself first?
- When you invest in yourself you’re practising self-love. People who love themselves have healthier relationships because they don’t need to rely on others for validation.
- People who love themselves tend to be more compassionate, more patient, and more kind. And compassion, as research is increasingly beginning to show, is responsible for so much of the goodness in the world. Compassionate people are happier as well as generally enjoy better physical and psychological health.
- People who love themselves treat their bodies well. They’re likely to exercise more, eat better, and live healthier lives.
Particularly for women, the concept of putting yourself and your own needs first can be foreign and hard to accept let alone implement. When I ask you what your priorities are, it’s highly likely you’ll say something about family and/or friends or your job. Your emotional health, your physical health, pursuing hobbies, or doing something for the pure fun of it is likely to be further down the list.
So, assuming you accept the premise of putting yourself first, how then do you find the time for it? The cry of ‘but I don’t have enough time!!’ is probably the most common excuse I hear for why people don’t exercise, or cook nutritious food. And it’s rubbish.
We all have 24 hours in a day. If others are putting that time to good use and seemingly managing to ‘do it all’, then why can’t you?
Finding time to exercise and eat well
Here’s my suggestion for how to start. Take a typical week and keep a time diary, just as you might keep a food diary if you were planning to start a diet. This should shed some light on your time habits and illuminate those empty pockets of wasted time.
For example, do you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock for an hour each morning? Do you mindlessly trawl social media during your commute to work? How do you spend your lunch break? After dinner do you flop on to the couch and stare vacantly at the TV for 2 hours? (Actually, there are some days where I think that’s exactly what you should do in the evening if it’s been just ‘that kinda day’).
Are you efficient with your housework or do you just potter about for hours never seeming to actually get it done?
Once you’ve worked out where that empty time is you can find more productive ways to fill it. And productive here doesn’t necessarily mean busy – the cult of busy does not need more members! Productive means doing something just for YOU, that’s going to produce the result YOU want, and deserve.
Happiness vs Pleasure
Don’t do anything because you think you should, do it because you want to. And when it hurts or it sucks, like exercise can for example, it can help to remember the difference between happiness and pleasure. Happiness as a longer-term baseline state doesn’t mean doing only things that are pleasurable.
And pleasurable things you might do in the here and now can often be directly working against your goal of longer term happiness. Over-eating is a prime example.
If you’ve taken a long hard look at how you spend your time – you’ve collected the data and analysed it, and you honestly can’t find any little chunks of time that could be better filled, then the other solution is to drop a commitment or reconfigure your responsibilities.
Do you regularly spend time with people that you don’t actually get any joy from? Ditch them. Life is too short to be surrounded by negativity. We’ve all got obligations to other people in our lives, obviously, but where possible I think be brutal and selfish with your time, remembering that this doesn’t make you any less worthy.
‘Selfishness’ can actually turn you into a kinder, more compassionate and generous person, and therefore pay huge dividends.
If you’ve got a hobby you’ve been plugging away at for some time because you thought you wanted to do it, maybe you’ve invested some money in it, and you think it would be a really Good Thing to Do, but you’re still just not loving it and it feels like a waste of time – ditch it.
You can always pick it up again later when moving into a new stage of trying to ‘do it all’.
I put myself through a similar exercise recently in order to find where my ‘dead time’ was, and the answer for me was first thing in the morning.
My usual routine was to get up early, sit on the couch with my coffee for 20 minutes or so, pondering the day, then get in the shower. By the time I’d washed my hair, put some makeup on, gotten dressed, got my lunch together, 90 minutes had gone by.
People I know can’t fathom how it could take me at least 90 minutes to get out the door. I’ve always been a morning person – getting up early isn’t the issue – it’s how to use that morning time most effectively.
Mornings are the best time to get things done
Most successful people and Life Coach types will tell you that mornings are the best time to get anything done that’s really important to you.
There are two main reasons for this.
- This is when our brains tend to be most creative. The explanation I’ve read is that we’re still in a semi-dream state where thoughts flow easily and we’re less likely to start immediately filtering our thoughts out with ‘realism’ and unconsciously curbing our creativity the way the modern, adult world has taught us to do all day long. So if your goal is to pursue something creative, early mornings are your friend.
- The second reason is that our resolve is usually strongest, so many people exercise first thing in the morning so they have less time to talk themselves out of it, and also because then you can go about the rest of your day truly satisfied and energised, knowing it’s done and you’re not going to have to face a mental battle later on in the day.
So, I have two things that I’m really committed to at this point in my life (apart from work, which mostly fits into 9-5 hours) and that is working on GI Gen and exercise. So now when my alarm goes off at 6 I bounce straight out of bed, make coffee, sit at the laptop and write.
I don’t filter myself overly, I just write whatever I want to, knowing I can edit later. I resist the urge to check any email or social media – that can wait until I’m on public transport on the way to work. I get into the shower about 6.45 and I no longer have time to faff around being overly picky with hair or makeup.
Lunch is made the night before so that’s another 10 minutes I’ve saved myself. I’m out the door by 7.45 having already ticked off one of the important things on my list.
Evenings are when I exercise because I have the time, usually the energy, and I don’t often (anymore) have to talk myself into it, so there’s little danger I’m going to have lost motivation before the end of the day (although of course there are still days when that can happen).
When motivation for hard exercise wanes there’s always walking. Exercise as transport is one of my favourite ways to get exercise in. It’s only 7km from my work to home, so if I don’t think I can be bothered going to the gym in an evening, I have the option of walking home. I have to get home somehow, right, so why not walk?
This is the routine that’s working for me at the moment, but at different times in my life it’s worked differently. When I had a gym membership instead of access to a home gym I would occasionally use the gym before work or at lunchtime.
While I loved having the evenings free, I resented having to be so organised and lugging all my gym/work gear around with me. It felt stressful, and we’re doing this to minimise stress, not create it, remember? There is nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error.
At this point you’re probably thinking ‘well that’s great, but I have kids, and after the daycare pick up is done and dinner is being organised, etc etc etc there is just no time to even think about exercise or eating well’.
Somehow, they’re finding the time to plan their meals and exercise. They’re not making excuses, but you are. As I’ve written elsewhere, mindset is absolutely THE most critical thing for successful weight loss and in fact for achieving any goal that you have. You have to believe it’s possible.
So stop making excuses, because you deserve better, and you’re worth more than that.
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