At Paula Rizzo’s book signings, readers regularly ask her how they can stop feeling guilty about practicing self-care. A big reason for their guilt?
They fear they’re not fulfilling their commitments and promises to others. “They also feel like they should be doing something else with that time and can’t truly relax,” Rizzo said.
Maybe this sounds all-too familiar to you. You have similar fears and uncomfortable emotions.
Still, you wonder: How can I care for myself when I barely finish my work? How can I care for myself when everyone seems to need me every second? How can I care for myself when there’s so much to do?
These questions are valid. They’re totally reasonable concerns.
And they’re concerns that we’ve created. That is, we’ve mainly put ourselves in this impossible position. “I try to be as kind as possible when I say this but you’re part of the problem,” Rizzo said.
That’s because we say yes to too many things.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
There’s a variety of reasons: It might be your ego, people-pleasing tendencies, or poor time-management skills, said Rizzo, author of the books Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You and Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Successful, and Less Stressed.
“We set expectations for ourselves of what we ‘should’ be doing and how that looks to the outside world, instead of what we want to do.”
So what’s the solution?
According to Rizzo, the key is to make sure that when you’re saying yes to someone, you’re not saying no to yourself. Of course, it’s often much easier to say no to ourselves. There’s no fear of misunderstanding, rejection, criticism, or conflict.
And we tell ourselves no all the time. We have a lot of practice.
But that also means that we can practice saying no to others, too—and start prioritizing ourselves.
Rizzo, founder of ListProducer.com, shared these suggestions for getting more comfortable with declining (and finally saying yes to ourselves):
- Remind yourself that saying no now doesn’t mean saying no forever. “If the opportunity is truly aligned it will come back to you.”
- Think about what you could be doing during your free time. Let yourself daydream. What have you been yearning to do? What activities make you smile? What nourishes you mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually? What does a fulfilling day look like for you?
- Practice saying no. Know that it’ll feel unnatural, inauthentic, and awkward at first simply because you haven’t really done it. In other words, your discomfort isn’t an indication that you’re wrong for declining. Start practicing by starting with small, low-stakes situations. And you can even practice saying no aloud in front of the mirror. The more you do it, the more automatic and comfortable it’ll become.
“Putting yourself first feels selfish but it’s not,” Rizzo said. “It’s really truly the only way you can show up for other people in the best way.”
And remember that self-care can be many different things. In addition to the commitments you decline (or take on), self-care can be about how you set up your schedule, the support system you surround yourself with, and how you recharge, Rizzo said. It could be about “giving yourself permission to enjoy a good book, cozy up with your cat, or sit by the fire.”
In our interview, Rizzo mentioned another important reminder that can become a kind of motto for all of us: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” (Laura Vanderkam has an excellent podcast episode on this very topic.) That is, just because you technically have time to _______ doesn’t mean you should take on the commitment.
Because those minutes and moments could be (better) spent serving your soul.