A Case to be (a little more) Selfish

 By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

By Sasha Taskier, AFMT

The word selfish has such a negative connotation. From a young age, we are taught not to be ‘selfish’ – we are taught to share, to be generous, to even sometimes put others’ needs before our own. While all of these lessons remain important, and are a part of the recipe for harmonious and reciprocal relationships, I have to ask: have we taken it too far? Have we gotten stuck in a cycle of putting everyone and everything before ourselves?

Recently, I’ve been hearing more and more from clients, family, and friends just how exhausted they are. Exhausted by their work, by their social calendars, and by the expectations they’ve put upon themselves to be stellar employees, parents, friends, and partners. We’ve put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to show up in these roles, and while I absolutely believe these efforts are meaningful and worthwhile, how long before we are trying to pour from an empty cup?

When I suggest to my clients that perhaps they need to focus a bit more on themselves, it is often met with resistance; “but, I have no time” or, “I know it’s bad, but this is just a difficult time of year” or, “I honestly have no idea what that would even look like.” I would be lying if I said I couldn’t identify with every one of those excuses, because they are true! We do have a litany of obligations; we do have friends and family depending on us; we do have impossible work schedules that make the idea of a regular exercise routine seemingly comical. And yet, I wonder, how far are we willing to push ourselves? And, more importantly, to what cost?

How can we be the stellar employees, friends, parents and partners we strive to be if we are running on fumes? How on earth can we respond to each other with compassion and patience when our reserves are diminished? I like to think about an electrical outlet – envision the many things plugging into you for energy: your families, your job, your home, even, maybe your pet… but what do you plug into? What is your energy source (and how often are you using it)?

Organizational psychologist and author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, Bob Rosen states: “When you take care of yourself first, you show up as a healthy, grounded person in life…If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t care for others. Being selfish is critical.” So, while perhaps an unpopular perspective – maybe we can encourage ourselves to be a little more selfish, not only as a necessity for our own well-being, but also as a service to those we love most.

Here are a few ideas and exercises to think about on this topic:

  • Write down 20 things that you love to do. No specific order, no right or wrong answers, just jot down 20 things that make you happy. (For example, reading a novel, taking a yoga class, traveling internationally, having dinner with friends, exploring new neighborhoods, walking the dog, etc.) Then, write next to each item, when the last time you actually did that activity (days/weeks/months/years). It can be a glaring exercise to realize that we haven’t engaged in activities that bring us joy in months or even years. [Activity adapted from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron]                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • What can you say ‘NO’ to this week, (or this month)? Sometimes things that are supposed to bring us joy – like seeing friends, or going out for dinners etc., bring us more stress than we realize. We are so accustomed to saying ‘yes!’ to invitations and expectations, but what if we chose just one thing and said no rather than yes. Barricade yourself at home for the evening, (or in a happy, relaxing place) and play hooky.                                                                                                               
  • Engage in service. This might seem counterintuitive – but if you have ever spent time sitting with someone who is ill, or serving food in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an animal shelter, you know – there are few things more energizing than giving back to those who truly need your help. Not only is giving back good for our communities, but it is good for our spirit. You can search for volunteer opportunities at chicagocares.org.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Take 10 minutes for yourself. Whether it is walking to get yourself a coffee in the middle of the work day, or setting your alarm a bit earlier to sit quietly or stretch first thing – this tiny exercise in slowing down, can help us towards a more mindful reset.                                                                 
  • Plan something indulgent. While we can’t necessarily treat ourselves to a getaway or a massage every day, or even every month – there is research that suggests that the ‘build up’ and excitement for planning a trip is even more enjoyable than the trip itself. So, maybe begin to plan that trip you’ve wanted to take; savor the entire process. [Source]

New Years Resolutions

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.
— Melody Beattie

As the New Year approaches, I keep thinking about sitting down to write a lofty list of resolutions and intentions for 2017. The list sometimes feels endless: I want to break my sugar addiction. I want to heal relationships in my life that have gone unattended, or that have had conflict. I want to expand my gratitude practice. I want to find creative ways to give to causes I care about … I could go on and on about ways I want to feel better and be better in 2017.

People usually fall into two ‘camps’ of making resolutions: those who love to make lists, set goals and who find resolutions to be useful and empowering and those who feel like resolutions are a total waste of time, and usually set them up for disappointment or failure. (Of course, there is the secret third camp, those of us who are so exhausted from the year and so busy during the holiday season that the idea of sitting down to think about New Years resolutions is just not going to happen.)  

There is no denying that there is immense power in setting intentions. You can read about it in: ‘the power of your mind and setting intentions’ and ‘five steps to setting powerful intentions’. And, while I believe there is greatness in striving to be a better version of ones self, sometimes we’re not quite ready when the New Year rolls around. In fact, certain neuroscience research suggests that spreading out resolutions over time is the best recipe for success. No need to do it all at once!

A few tips for achieving your goals and making them more meaningful–

1.     Think about what you need more of this year. Talk about it with your therapist, your spouse and your friends. What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What combats your depression and/or anxiety? What is something you’ve wanted to tackle but haven’t gotten to yet? Start to make a list that serves you.

2.     Be specific with your goals. What does ‘getting in shape’ mean to you? What does it mean to ‘be healthier’? Choose specific things that you can stick to – like, practicing yoga twice a week, or finishing 3 water bottles every day.

3.     Measure progress. Perhaps this means writing down your progress in a journal, tracking it in an app, or creating milestones that you can use to track your progress. This feedback loop, hopefully, can act as a source of motivation.

4.     Share your intentions. Holding yourself accountable, in a more public way doesn’t mean you have to shout from the rooftops. You can share it with your friends, family, and/or therapist – and ask them to help support you in achieving a specific goal.

5.     Be patient and kind to yourself. This is hard stuff. We are all mere mortals. Be gentle, and remember that progress is not always a straight line, it can be forward, backwards and zig zagged.

There is a very tricky balancing act between pushing yourself to be better each year and being able to be gentle with yourself and remember, ‘I am enough – no matter what I do or don’t accomplish this year, I am enough.’ At the end of the day, no matter how much we achieve, if there isn’t some self-love attached to that self-motivation, it’s all for naught. (I love this manifesto by Jennifer Pastiloff)

So, to those of us who feel ready to tackle our intentions before the New Year, have at it! To those of us who set intentions and then slip up on the second day of the year, it’s ok. Mistakes do not mean that your intentions no longer count, or that you’ve failed. Keep going. And, to those of us just hanging on by a thread at the end of 2016: take a break; enjoy the holidays, catch up on your sleep, and reclaim your self-care. There is no reason you have to write your resolutions before January 1st, 2017. There is no rule that says you cannot write resolutions (or re-write them) in February, March, April, May, June, …or any other month of the year for that matter.

Perhaps you can keep this proverb in your back pocket and remember:

today is the first day of the rest of your life’ (Anonymous)

With that, wishing you a new year filled with motivation, love, care and peace.

Here are a few articles for inspiration for getting started & additional resources:

Self-compassion

Daily Resolutions

Ideas for resolutions

Resolutions from real people