It’s very easy to be dragged kicking and screaming through the day by events outside our control. From bosses demanding more work, partners and family members asking us to do little favours for them and friends on social media asking (indirectly, of course) to like their latest picture of them drinking a cup of coffee. We all fall into this routine and for many, it becomes the sum total of their lives. Living their day to day existence on the demands of other people.
The damage this does in the long-term is incalculable. It’s not that running around after our highly strung and disorganised boss for one day is going to hurt our career prospects or damage our health, but when this is repeated every day it does damage our wellbeing and our own personal development because it stops us from working on our own lives, doing the things we enjoy and spending time with the people we love and care about.
One of my language student’s average attendance rate is one class every six weeks. She’s supposed to have a class every week, but she always has some crisis that needs attending to. It could be her boss has just given her some urgent work to do, or one of her colleagues is upset and needs someone to talk to. I’ve heard all the excuses. From having to go to the bank to not feeling very well. She’s mastered the art of finding excuses.
The thing is, learning English is something she decided to do as a valuable self-development activity. Learning a language might not be urgent or result in an immediate benefit. But it is something you do for yourself. Likewise, if you were learning anything such as a musical instrument or martial art. None of these will result in an immediate benefit. Before you receive any benefit there will be a lot of hard work, consistency and frustration. But the benefit to you by pushing through those difficult times is worth it.
Anchors keep you grounded.
It is important to have a few anchors for your life. Things like having a morning routine dedicated to your own self-care. Having time dedicated to physical exercise each day, quality time to spend with your family and an evening routine again dedicated to your self-care. These are essentials that should be non-negotiable. Your boss, customers, friends and colleagues should not be allowed to take that time away from you and the only way that happens is if you let them.
The skill is learning to protect your time and to say no. Of course it easy for me to write that, much more difficult to do, but then learning to drive a car is difficult if you have never driven a car before. With practice, driving becomes an automatic response. You don’t need to think about starting the engine and driving off after a few weeks of consistent practice and the same goes for learning to say no. At first, it will be very hard — uncomfortable even — and you will feel guilty, but after a little time your default response will change from yes to no and then you will find it easy to protect your time and the activities you have decided are important to your life.
Learn the skill of saying “no”.
And that is the skill — turning your default “yes” into a default “no”. We are programmed from an early age to please people and a part of pleasing people is to say “yes” to their requests. If you want to take control of your day, though, you are going to have to default to “no” and to protect your valuable time. Unlike money and material things where if you lose those you can always get them back, time is something once gone has gone forever.
I protect two-and-a-half hours each day for “me time”. I have forty-five minutes for self-development and fifteen minutes for quiet reflection every morning. I also have thirty minutes dog walking and fifteen minutes for planning each day as well as forty-five minutes for exercise. That’s just two-and-a-half hours out of twenty-four. Of course, in that twenty-four hours, I need to include sleep, washing and eating time, but time focussed on me is just two-and-a-half hours. If I am available for my bosses, colleagues, friends and family outside of those hours each day, then I have nothing to feel guilty about. And that is how I see it. I dedicate two-and-a-half hours to me-time every day and outside that time I am available to anyone else if I can help them.
Those two-and-a-half hours each day keep me grounded and focused on what is important to me. I see them as a vital part of my personal wellbeing and would never consider sacrificing even one minute for anyone else except in an extreme emergency.
Saying “no” is not selfish.
It is not selfish to give yourself some me-time each day — in fact, I would argue it is vital to your own wellbeing — because when you take care of yourself you will always be in a better position to help other people with your energy, knowledge and strength. When your life is a spiral of drama, gloominess and negativity you are not going to be of much help to anyone. When your life is a beacon of energy, light and positivity you will inspire others to lift themselves up and be like you. That is not being selfish, that is giving back to the world at large and one very strong reason why you should be protecting your me-time every single day.
So how much time are you going to give yourself every day? What will you do with that time and how will you protect it from the demands of others? If you haven’t answered those questions yet, perhaps now would be a good time to do so.
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