Why Always Putting Others First Sets You Up to Fail
A common issue I see in the Transformation Community Forum in my online course is the failure that comes with putting others first – before yourself. While many of my students are fairly able to get work for others done in a timely fashion, taking care of themselves leads to continual procrastination. This often impacts their work life, and certainly impacts their well-being and happiness.
There are many psychological reasons for doing this. Many of us have issues tied to self-worth, our roles and expectations based on societal norms, and early childhood “training.” While it’s good to look deeply into this and heal our proclivities to put others first, we can also take steps to do things differently and that, in turn, can also affect our psychology.
“On a daily basis I seem to be putting my health as one of my last priorities. Even though I have already recognized this about my life, it seems to be difficult to change.”
— Peggy D
The Problem With Putting Others First
When we are in the midst of living our lives; when it’s time to make those little decisions, such as should I eat this or that? Should I walk or take the stairs? Should I watch TV or exercise? should I relax after a hard day of work on writing my book? Our well-being often loses out to habit, comfort, or the cheaper/easier alternative. We often unconsciously choose actions that reinforce our (sometimes negative) self-image.
A Wake-Up Call to Self Care
This was the case in my own life. I lied to myself, saying that the amount of daily movement and exercise I had was sufficient. Until one day, I got a wake-up call in the form of a bone density scan that was perilously close to osteoporosis. I signed up for a gym membership right away, but I had a hard time giving myself permission to take the time to go and workout. My subsequent bone scan showed even more loss, and it was only then that I began to take it seriously.
Have you had that wake-up call? Whether it’s the moment you finally can’t zip up your favorite pants, the health crisis, or missing out on a longed-awaited opportunity, your wake-up call is what can finally get you moving. It made me buy that gym membership, after all. But there was still something missing.
What was missing:
#1 My decision to take ALL the necessary actions
#2 Figuring out how to make myself take those necessary steps
#3 Getting the necessary support to keep me going through thick and thin
My wake-up call catalyzed my decision to act. When it came to the choice to exercise or do something else, exercise still often lost. Many times my choice was not between relaxing in front of the TV or exercising, but doing necessary work that was sedentary instead. No matter how important that other work was, my bones were still going to disintegrate if I didn’t move around sufficiently.
My second scary bone scan forced me take it seriously. I made exercise a priority in my life, but that was a general thing that was easy to procrastinate. My challenge was to make myself act on that priority during any given day.
Making A Plan to Prioritize Self-Care
First of all, I made a plan for self-care and not always putting others first. Because my life is so varied, the plan needed to be flexible, but it also needed to be very detailed so that I couldn’t get away with cheating. By cheating, I mean following the letter of my plan, but not its spirit.
My plan codified the spirit of my regimen. For me, flexibility meant that I had a weekly quota of exercise that I could do anytime during the week, establishing my end-of-week tally as my goal.
Plans are an important starting point. Unfortunately, I still loved my plan even as it sat on the shelf. I felt a certain amount of accomplishment in just having it, even as my bones continued to deteriorate.
Reinforcing the Plan
My next focus was to figure out how I could make myself want to carry out my plan. I did things to make my time at the gym more fun. I gave myself rewards for going. Plus, I allowed myself other forms of exercise that I enjoy. These tactics helped me somewhat, but not consistently since my life is too irregular to have an exercise buddy.
I looked at my choice points to see in which cases I tended to procrastinate exercising. It generally wasn’t because I didn’t feel like it or a preference to do something sedentary. My willpower could overcome those obstacles. In my case, I put it off when I was choosing between working (often at my computer) and exercising. This was an important insight because if I could put exercise in the work folder of my brain, then my overactive work ethic wouldn’t be sabotaging me.
Accountability for Self-Care
This made a big difference, but it didn’t give me the consistency that I required. For that, I needed accountability. There are lots of ways to hold oneself accountable, and I tried many of them.
I started with the easiest approach – scheduling exercise into the week and keeping a log of when I did it. That enabled me to see when I was telling myself the truth about getting enough exercise. As time went on, though, I began to take it less and less seriously.
I know myself enough to understand that I will do things for others before I’ll do them for myself. Deep down, I knew that if I had someone to report to, someone who would acknowledge whether or not I’d done my exercise, then I just might succeed.
One way to do this is with a public statement such as a Facebook post, but that’s not really my style. Another way is to simply report to someone, just like reporting to my mother or a teacher. That idea could work for me. I decided to take it a step further by finding someone else who needed accountability and partner with her to make it into a game.
For our game, we both choose 3 areas where we want to be held accountable. Those areas are not the same, but they are of similar difficulty. Then we made our plan, which included reporting in to each other on Sundays. At the end of each month, we tally all of our points and the one with fewer points buys a coffee or something similar for the other. If we’re tied, we go for a walk. The next month we start again fresh.
One important takeaway for me was to agree to be competitive. I’m generally a non-competitive person, but making accountability into a game motivated my desire to WIN. I was amazed to find out how fun that was.
Balance and Self-Care Mean NOT Always Putting Others First
We all know that we need to take good care of ourselves in order to be our most effective. For me, focusing on my work (for others) needed to be in balance with my self-care. The gap between that knowledge of personal balance and what we actually choose to do is what makes the difference. You can help yourself choose better when you:
- Recognize your need for better self-care
- Know what works for you
- Set up systems to implement your goals
- Get the support you need
If you find yourself procrastinating more than you want to and need help to change that, Transform Your Procrastination may be the tool for you. Over the course of 20 weeks, you look inside yourself at the specific ways and times you procrastinate. Then you utilize insights from the areas where you already don’t procrastinate, apply that introspection to suggested strategies, and then mold them to fit you like a glove. I coach each learner throughout the course in The Transformation Community Forum.Learn More About It