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Overcoming Excuses: Why to Pay Yourself First

“I just lost my job and my health insurance, but long ago I lost my health itself. I’m here to get my health back.”

This member’s statement shocked me. Even now it jolts me with the reminder that health really is so fundamental - even when other protections and cornerstones of life fall away.

Now when I hear people share similar messages about being fed up with “life” taking priority over their health, I get excited. These people mean business. They’re serious about taking control of their destinies, and nothing will stop them.

Something has pushed them into new motivational territory, and they resolve to pay themselves first. No matter how crazy “life” is, where there’s a will, there’s a way for these folks. It seems to me there’s something we should be learning here. 

Why We Choose to Shortchange Ourselves

Maybe there’s a bit of that “grab-the-bull-by-the-horns” style in each of us. I’d like to think so. It’s difficult to intellectualize our way there, however. Difficult circumstances, life transitions, harsh realizations or scary diagnoses can abruptly kick us into gear. We suddenly see how we’ve paid the price for shortchanging our well-being. 

When I talk about paying yourself first, I’m not suggesting anyone wallow in gratuitous solipsism or self-spoiling. Paying yourself first isn’t about self-indulgence. It’s about self-investment. Furthermore, it’s a counter-cultural message. Living healthily is, indeed, a revolutionary act. The work of living a truly healthy lifestyle, the time and money invested in living a healthy lifestyle, the choices and pastimes de-prioritized in living a healthy lifestyle can push us toward the margins. We might question ourselves or flat out doubt our decisions. (Maybe others question them for us!) In the end, that discomfort is actually a good sign. It’s no news flash to readers of this blog: when it comes to being healthy, being "normal" is too often a recipe for disaster. 

Paying ourselves first means realigning our energies in such a way that we prioritize filling the well. We let go of deprivation and martyrdom thinking. We talk ourselves out of discounting our needs. We all know how this cycle works. What starts out as good will and generosity toward caring for loved ones and fulfilling other “important” activities or causes can ultimately spiral out of control. Our good intentions end up creating patterns of self-generated chronic stress. Self-care then is always the first to go - when it’s the last commitment that should be sacrificed. 

How Boundaries Make for a Balanced Life

The key is to stop living from the outside in. What I mean here is letting outside circumstances and events filter right past our goals and interests to direct our lives and determine our self-investment. “If the day allows for time to exercise, I’ll make it to the gym.” “If my mood after all my afternoon meetings and rush hour traffic encourages me to eat a healthy dinner, I will.” “If my kids’ activity and homework schedule allows tonight, I’ll get enough sleep.” When we frame our self-investment this way, how much is likely to get done? It’s a recipe for constant self-depletion. 

It’s not unlike that situation we’re told about before each airline flight: “In the event the plane loses cabin pressure, be sure to secure your own mask first.” We all understand the logic here. We’re of no use to anyone else if we’re out of oxygen. The ten seconds of help we could offer without it is nothing compared to the limitless assistance we could offer when we secure our own basic well-being first. The same principle holds true for daily life. 

We tend to reject this logic on a day-to-day basis, however, because we tell ourselves we’re not dealing with a dire situation. It’s not an emergency. It’s just one day. How many days do we make that same justification? As a result, we sacrifice our health and well-being piece by piece, day by day, choice by choice. Those days then add up into stress unchecked, pounds gained, health unraveled strand by strand. 

Until a sudden, jolting event shocks us back into clarity (or maybe not)... When we put off living healthily, many of us will eventually face one diagnosis or another. The rest of us will just settle for a life increasingly zapped of vitality. We don’t even realize the opportunities we’re giving away - the chances enhanced energy, presence, and confidence could offer us if we were willing to invest in ourselves.

Whether we’re struck by a life-altering situation or think our way to embracing a better lifestyle, we’ll ultimately need to rebuild our health the same way we gave it away - day by day, choice by choice. That’s why journals, logs and training/weight loss counseling  are such effective tools. They push us toward regular accountability. They encourage us to celebrate small gains, observe our process, and gauge our motivation as it surges and wavers. We can appreciate our progress and ask for the support and guidance we need along the way. 

We can also make a concrete plan that helps us recommit every day with the encouragement of others. Instead of living at the whim of circumstance, we can direct our days from conscious priorities that keep us running on full. We will finally decide which demands, tasks, and actions truly deserve our mental and emotional energy and which should be shrugged off.

What priorities allow us to live the life we ultimately want? What choices are sustainable in the context of living healthily? Leo Babauta’s book, The Power of Less, is a great guide for taking control of precious time and energy to ultimately re-establish priorities - starting with you. As you’d expect, The Power of Less is short, which means there’s no excuse not to read it (or listen to the audio version)! Consider it one step toward owning your health and moving yourself to the top of the day's agenda.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How have you learned to you pay yourself first? Are you interested in striking a better life balance in order to prioritize your well-being? Talk to a weight loss coach today. 

In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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