You give your time to so many people and things. Your job. Your friends. Your hobbies. Your family. Even your pets need something from you. With so many external priorities, taking care of yourself is too often the first thing to fall off. Though you have your own needs, it can be hard to recharge without worrying about your growing to-do list, or the nagging sense that the people who depend on you might see any moment of self-care as selfish.
But pushing yourself past the point of exhaustion isn’t the secret to success, and burning out isn’t a badge of honor. In fact, it’ll only make it harder to maintain those relationships and responsibilities you’ve placed before yourself. Just like airline safety briefings remind you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others, you need to realize that if you can’t make your own needs a priority, it’ll eventually become impossible to tend to anything else.
Shifting your perception around self-care is one thing, but putting it into practice is another. Here are seven steps you can use to plot a practical course towards prioritizing your own needs. With an intentional approach, you can create the space and balance you need to pursue whatever goals have meaning to you.
Achieving a goal (and especially a fitness goal) often requires you to sacrifice something, whether it’s your time or short-term pleasures. But you need to put yourself in position to make those sacrifices count. If you’re stuck in a rut, think about your goals, and hone in on what it is that might be holding you back. What are you struggling with? What change in another area of life could lead to the results you’re looking for?
For example, a key goal for you could be weight loss, but you regularly find yourself skipping exercise due to work demands, or running on fumes before you even get moving. In this case, it could be a matter of changing your priorities to focus on getting more sleep, and/or shifting your exercise to an earlier point in the day before those emails start rolling in. Every journey is personal, and no two people will need to make the exact same set of changes. Reflecting on your situation can help you figure out how to give yourself what you need, so you can go after your goals with more gusto.
Once you have a sense of which priorities can smooth the path to your goals, it’s time to figure out when you can introduce those changes or beneficial practices into your routine. But with an overstuffed schedule and only so many hours in a day, how is it even possible to find time for yourself? As it turns out, it just takes a calendar and some awareness.
On your next “average” busy day, take an honest inventory of how you spend your time, tracking when and for how long various activities like meetings, meals, and even your TikTok time take place. Then, plot out your ideal day full of time for the self-care rituals or goal-oriented activities you want to prioritize. Envision what that day looks like, scheduling it as best you can from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed.
By bringing more awareness to both your existing and ideal schedules, you can identify pockets of time that aren’t serving your priorities and ponder what might take their place. Can you replace random periods of mindless scrolling with more intentional windows for self-care? Are there any recurring activities you’ve stuck to purely out of habit and inertia that you can replace with something better? You don’t have to quit your job or rearrange your life, but finding even just 15 uninterrupted minutes you can regularly use to tend to your needs can be transformative.
With a plan to use your schedule more mindfully, it’s easy to recognize the value of your time. Now, make sure others know that your time is valuable, too. Treat those scheduled moments for self-care or high-priority activities just like you would a doctor’s appointment, an important meeting, or anything else you can’t afford to miss: block off the time on your calendar and let people know you’ll be unavailable.
The situation may require some explaining (more on how to handle that in a moment). But letting family, friends, and colleagues know they should try not to disturb you during those windows of time creates healthy boundaries and solid structure. And when you put your plans in writing and treat them like anything else you can’t afford to miss, you get a tangible reminder to take that time for yourself with intention.
So what do you do with that time? You don’t have to have all the answers right away. Once you’ve found your windows of self-care time, experiment with any practices and rituals that appeal to you in the moment. On any given day, that could mean keeping up with your skincare regimen, meditating, journaling, or doing some light exercise like yoga or going for a walk.
The most important thing is to keep this time from feeling like just another obligation. Go with the flow and focus on being present, avoiding the temptation to rush through the activity with your mind off somewhere else. Don’t worry about the “right” way to take time for yourself: all that matters is that you simply show up mindfully and without expectations. As you go, the practices or behaviors that provide what you need will reveal themselves.
Self-care doesn’t always happen at a specific time. It’s also something you can cultivate by making choices that demonstrate compassion for yourself and respect for your longer-term goals. Drinking more water, eating nourishing foods, and catching up on sleep are all examples of decisions that can help you thrive both physically and mentally.
While turning those actions into habits may require learning a little self-discipline, there are plenty of other ways you can step back from your usual patterns. Instead of becoming your own harshest critic next time you make a mistake, speak to yourself with forgiveness and kindness. Set boundaries by saying “no” to certain things that you feel will detract from your ability to focus your finite time and energy on what matters to you. These changes may feel uncomfortable at first, but they’ll soon become second nature with a little practice.
Just as assumptions about your schedule can stop you from taking time for yourself, so can your worries about how others may perceive your self-prioritization. Here’s some shocking news: the people you care about care about you too and want to know what’s going on in your life.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and need to make some changes, talk to a friend or family member about your desire to prioritize your health. Talking points can include why your old habits or routines were no longer serving you, what you feel needs to change, and what you’re hoping to get out of making a conscious effort to prioritize yourself. Don’t feel like you have to bare your soul, but a little vulnerability goes a long way.
You don’t have to open up out of the blue, either. If someone wants to know why you’re suddenly staying in when you used to go out, or why you put a new recurring block of time on your calendar, that can be a perfect pretext for discussing the changes you’re hoping to make.
Instead of upsetting or burdening the people you care about, these conversations actually make it easier for them to empathize with your needs. Without an explanation, suddenly saying “no” to things might make people feel like you’re pushing them away. But by clarifying why and how you’re creating boundaries, they’ll understand your priority shift.
Once everyone’s on the same page about your goals, it’s easier to find the support and accountability that can make them a reality. Who knows? Someone you confide in may be enthusiastic enough about making similar changes too, and soon your self-care won’t have to be a solo practice.
No matter how much you reflect on your priorities, no matter how well you lay out your schedule, and no matter how much support you have, things won’t always go smoothly. Instead of lamenting what you can’t control or torturing yourself over small slip-ups, embrace and accept life in all of its messy imperfection. After all, if everything was so predictable, that wouldn’t be very fun, either.
Treat those days where everything seems to go wrong or your energy seems non-existent as opportunities to practice kindness and compassion towards yourself or anyone else you may be tempted to blame for the situation. Let go of the need for perfection, and take a deep breath. Just because you missed a goal for the week doesn’t mean you’ve failed, especially if you’ve learned something in the process.Taking better care of yourself is a never-ending act of recalibration, and there’s always the chance to learn something new if you keep your eyes open.
Your road may zig and zag, but don’t lose sight of how far you’ve traveled in the right direction. If you can focus on the bigger picture, it’ll be easier to continue prioritizing the practices and goals that matter to you, no matter what comes your way.
You deserve to be the best version of yourself, and the people (and pets) in your life deserve that too. Starting to shift priorities and set boundaries isn’t easy. But as you introduce small practices that showcase self-respect, you’ll internalize the notion that your wants and needs are worth caring about. Over time, that ripples outward and creates more favorable circumstances for achieving your goals. And one day when you reflect on the journey, you’ll realize that all of those little efforts were so worth it.
Sometimes, it can take a little help from someone else to put yourself first. That’s where a Future coach comes in. With hundreds of coaches to choose from, it’s easy to find an enthusiastic expert who meshes with your personality and fitness priorities. Your coach gets to know who you are and what drives you, so you can find a smart way to align your daily activities with your unique long-term goals. And no matter where you work out or when you make time for what’s important, they’ll be there with the advice, accountability, and inspiration you need.
Sign up, find your coach, and cancel at any time if you’re not completely satisfied.