For most of us, being helpful and agreeable is an instinctual behavior. As a general rule, we want to do things that make other people happy or make their lives easier. That’s why it’s so easy to fall into the habit of making too many commitments, taking on too many obligations, and letting your own passions, pursuits and interests slide to the back burner.
All too often, people tend to equate “self-care” with “selfish”—but that’s simply not the case, says Theresa De Armond, LPC with Believe Counseling Services, LLC. “Protecting your time is a critical element of self-care,” she notes. “If you don’t respect your own time, then others won’t either.”
And if we don’t protect our time, our lives can become unbalanced, warns Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW. “We might then find unhealthy ways to take care of ourselves, such as addictions or dependencies, or we might feel resentful of getting so few of our needs met, or ultimately become burned out,” she says.
As life becomes busier and more fast-paced, it’s important to take these steps to protect—or defend—your time to make room for what matters the most to you.
Recognize “you time” as integral to your health.
According to Koenig, the way to become more balanced is to intentionally examine and change your beliefs about “you time,” and to learn to view it as a healthy choice. For example, try adopting a mantra like, “I am entitled to take time for myself,” or “I am not selfish because I take time for myself,” or “Saying yes and no in the right balance is a healthy goal.”
Schedule “you time” just as you would work, exercise or an appointment.
Your “you time” can take on whatever label you choose, notes De Armond. Maybe that’s yoga, meditation, mindfulness, recharging or just taking a few minutes to read a book and clear your head. “Self-care is a skill, and skills take practice,” she says. “Once you redefine ‘you’ time, you are unlikely to ever go back to ‘everyone else time, all the time’ again.”
Set and maintain boundaries.
If we effectively manage our self, health, energy and time by setting clear boundaries, then when we are available, we are better able to give the best of ourselves, says De Armond. “For example, in the context of our loved ones, we generally want our time with them to be ‘quality time,’” she says. “If we fail to set and maintain boundaries, that time has a lesser quality.”
Weigh the benefits and the costs before taking something on.
Even if you support a particular cause or care about a certain person who is asking something of you, take the time to evaluate what you would have to sacrifice to add this new item to your life. If the benefits outweigh the costs, you can accept with peace of mind—but if it requires you to give up something that is important to you, or if it goes against your goals or happiness, it’s in your best interests to politely decline.
Make a list of your “universal nos.”
If you find yourself succumbing to the same time-sucking, energy-zapping activities again and again, perhaps it’s time to create a set of “universal nos” to avoid having to evaluate the request each time. For example, if your lunch hour is an important time for you to recharge and regroup for the rest of the day, you might make a rule that you will not agree to work through lunch. Or if you find that spending time with a certain group of people leaves you feeling judged and belittled, make the decision to not attend those functions any longer.
Be clear about communication expectations.
Maybe you prefer that co-workers email instead of text, or perhaps it’s difficult for you to take phone calls during a certain time. Let people know your communication preferences up-front, so they won’t expect you to be accessible on their terms.
Make a list of your biggest values/missions and vow to prioritize them.
Once you have your list, make a promise to yourself to put those above all other obligations. Better yet, share the list with your family and close friends, so they know what is important to you and won’t try to change your mind when you decline an invitation or request.
Your time is perhaps your most precious commodity. By giving it the attention and protection it deserves, you can ensure that every moment is used wisely and with intention.