Prioritize Yourself

We’re busy, there’s no question about it. We have work, family, social obligations, chores, hobbies . . . the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? There are a lot of competing interests in our day.

How do we make this fitness journey thing work when we’re overextended, overworked, and pressed for time? The answer: PRIORITIZE.

Sure, you’re thinking, that makes sense. I do prioritize. I’m sure you do. But are you prioritizing correctly?

Preferences Aren’t Priorities

I can “prioritize” eating potato chips over broccoli, but that doesn’t mean my priorities are in order. It’s the same with chores–I can do the chores I like to do (grocery shopping) and ignore the ones I hate (doing laundry), but eventually we’re going to run out of underwear and have way too many boxes of cereal.  Preferences aren’t priorities.

Don’t Prioritize Excuses

I’m really good at this one. Say I don’t feel like getting my workout in. I know if I just say, “Nah, not feeling it today,” I’m going to feel guilty about it. So instead, I’ll say, “I really have to get that laundry done,” or “It would be irresponsible of me to go to the gym when my dog needs a bath.” Now maybe the dog does need a bath or perhaps there are three baskets of laundry waiting to be folded. But guess what? They’re not running away. They’ll still be there after my workout. And even if I don’t get to fold that laundry, I can easily dress myself out of the basket. And the dog doesn’t even like baths. Don’t conveniently weight your excuses.

You Are a Priority

This is a big one. Put yourself–your goals and self-care–on your list of things to do, right at the top. It sounds selfish, doesn’t it? We’re used to putting others before ourselves. And that’s good and noble, for sure, but it’s not always necessary. Look at it this way: if you’re not taking care of yourself, mentally and physically, you WILL fall apart. It’s inevitable. And who will you be helping if you’re a physical and emotional wreck? No one, that’s who. There’s a good reason flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. It’s not just applicable on an airplane.

You know what else? Constantly putting others’ needs before your own (especially when they’re not critical) gets old. You were created to be a person with talents, skills, desires . . . and when those are constantly frustrated while you attend to other people, you’re not going to be happy and fulfilled. It’s not like those innate qualities disappear. In fact, they become a significant source of tension. You may find yourself inexplicably irritable, short-tempered, resentful. And that does not go unnoticed.

One thing I’ve learned over the years (and I’m guilty of that mother-martyr complex) is that I am a FAR better partner, parent, and person in general when I feel on top of my game. When I’ve accomplished things that make me feel good (staying on track, working toward a goal), I am recharged and refreshed. I am able to be more present for those who rely on me.

Take Action

Experiment with this. Try prioritizing your own needs (needs, not wants–there’s a difference) for a couple of weeks. Get your workouts in; eat healthfully; take steps to meet your goals every single day, even before you tackle other tasks on your list. See how it goes; record your experience in your fitness journal.

Don’t underestimate the negative mental stress of self-neglect! I’ve been down that path and know many others who have too–mainly parents. It doesn’t end in a good place.

Starting today, put your priorities in order, shuffling something just for you to the top of the list. It might not feel good at first, honestly. You might get complaints from your family members. But stay strong. Maybe you’ve trained your family to rely overmuch on you, and retraining them will not happen overnight. But it will happen. It’s okay for the kids to make their own lunches or fold their own laundry; it’s actually good for them.

Furthermore, achievement is inspiring. You’re not neglecting your responsibilities; you’re setting a good example. I’ll be honest . . . for a long time, I didn’t do this. I felt guilty whenever I prioritized one of my own interests. Eventually I realized that was false guilt. It was coming from a tape in my head that was recorded in my own childhood, and it just wasn’t true for me now, as an adult. I am a conscientious parent, partner, and coworker; but I also know how to prioritize my personal goals and interests. You know what? My kids have never said, “Mom, if only you would still clean my room and make sure the house is spotless.” But they have said, “Mom, I’m really proud of the stuff you’ve done. You’re inspiring me to work hard at something I want to do.” Guess which feels better?

Stay the course. Love yourself like you love your family; which is to say, recognize where you fit in your own list of priorities. Eventually, everyone around you will benefit from the new, more relaxed, more accomplished you.

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