One of my hobbies is asking every random person I talk to how they feel about their health. The stories I hear range from super sad to downright hilarious. Yet despite the diversity, a few common themes emerge.
Most people agree that health is important. And while answers may vary about what actually constitutes “good health,” few people believe they have achieved it or are satisfied with where they are at.
Where things really get interesting though is when I ask someone what stops them from being healthier. Surprisingly few people give hedonistic reasons such as “I love junk food too much” or “I just don’t want to cut back on TV,” although I do hear it occasionally.
Instead, the majority of people I speak with give one of two answers:
1. Family responsibilities take up too much time and energy
2. Work (or school) responsibilities take up too much time and energy
Sometimes they say both.
Caring for your loved ones and building a career, whether for passion or money, are understandably the most important things in your life, and it is normal to assume that these responsibilities take priority over everything else.
Compared to family and business, focusing on your own well-being feels selfish. Like if you’re creating time and energy for yourself you are taking it away from someone or something else that needs it more. And you, obviously, are not a selfish person, so your needs are just going to have to wait.
This logic is so pervasive in so many cultures that few of us ever stop to question whether it actually makes sense, let alone step up and challenge it publicly. But if you’re being crushed under the weight of all your responsibilities and watching your health deteriorate year after year, it is time to do just that.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to argue that your health is more important than your family. Even if it were true, I know a losing battle when I see one.
Instead let’s examine the logic directly.
The first basic assumption inherent in this reasoning is that caring for family or work and focusing on your health are mutually exclusive, or can’t be done at the same time. That there are only so many hours in the week, and you couldn’t possibly stretch them any further.
Certainly this feels true, particularly when you’re trying to figure out how to get food on the table after a long day. But there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
I’ve learned from talking to people who do manage to take care of their health that family and career are no less important to them. Somehow they’ve found a way to make room for everything.
These people aren’t aliens from another planet, they’re simply using a different strategy. They understand that health, family and work are not zero-sum, and this is the key insight.
When you assume that work and family take priority and ignore your health, it’s easy to believe there is no room for anything else. But when you ask people who manage all these things together how they are able to do it, their answer is that they couldn’t possibly have the energy for everything they do without making time for self-care. That fueling, maintaining and resting their bodies is essential for having the energy for everything else they do.
The flawed assumption is that making time for health takes time away from other things, when in reality it makes greater things possible by increasing your focus and energy. It doesn’t increase the number of hours in your week, but it makes those hours easier and more productive.
Making the transition to a healthier life is a big, long-term change.
It requires dedication, and the first step in the journey is believing that it is worth it. Not for selfish reasons (although those are perfectly valid), but so you can be the best version of yourself for all the people in your life that depend on you.
It doesn’t help anyone for you to be exhausted, stressed, run down and constantly scrambling to barely get by. Your family and career need you to be present, calm, effective, and physically able to do all the things you’ve signed up for.
If you aren’t healthy you’re doing the least you can do, not the best you can do.
Once you’ve internalized this truth it’s possible to start making the small, gradual changes that add up to a healthier life. You can make the slight effort to eat a few more vegetables each day and be just a little more active. You can skip that last TV show you’d like to watch and start getting ready for bed a little earlier. As your energy builds you can then make bigger changes, like cooking dinner or starting a workout program.
But until you see that your health is essential and not a luxury, getting started will be nearly impossible. Taking care of yourself is essential for taking care of others, and ignoring this is the truly selfish act.