Last year I made a number of big observations about myself. One of them was that I was - to borrow a tech term - DDOSing myself. I wasn't giving myself the opportunity nor the space to allow my needs, my wants, and my desires to take any kind of shape.
Looking back at that piece, I found one throwaway sentence I want to come back to.
I'm thus carving out a space where I can get my needs met and also still be a non-jerk.
At the time I wasn't quite sure what that space would look like, so I didn't discuss it much. That post was more about the fact that, oh yeah, I have needs - and they are important. At the time, giving myself permission to feel that was a big step forward.
Just having that feeling is a great start, but I felt a little lost on what to do next.
Knowing Your Needs
I find it useful to check in with myself about my needs. Then, and only then, can I deal with them in a satisfying way. Here's a few ways I approach this.
First, is it immediate? If my stomach is rumbling, I'm hungry. I should try to not wait until I finish my current task to take care of myself unless I am physically unable to do so (like, say, giving a talk.) Whitney & I discussed this in episode 1 of Designing Yourself. (transcript here, below edited slightly for clarity)
...I can definitely remember times when I’ve held off going to the bathroom because I’ve really got to finish this screen or I’ve really got to finish this thing. And for goodness’ sake, your body’s saying, hey, we’ve got to go now. ... that’s a part of self-care. And it’s really weird to me, and very troubling when it’s a matter of something like going to the bathroom. These are really basic things. ...these are super basic, and we deny them. We say, "Hey, that can wait." Is that really taking care of yourself, really?
Short answer, no! It's not! If it's immediate, take care of yourself now. NOW.
All right. If it's not immediate, then I start to figure out when I can satisfy myself. For instance, if I feel the need to move my body, I check in with myself and see what I can do. Can I do something now like stand up from my desk and take a walk? No? Okay. That's sad. I think about time next: can I find a time soon that I can do this?
Mind you, a part of me will be upset if I can't find that time right now, but I need to call on other, calming parts of myself to say, "No, it's cool - we won't let this slip. It's important." One example: I would very much like a massage. But it requires a bit of planning (checking the schedule, finding a babysitter, scheduling the appointment, finding the money for it in my budget...) so I can't do it right now. Thus, I'll pop it in my to do list and prioritize it appropriately.
If the need isn't immediate and I feel it's important, then yes, it comes down to prioritizing this against everything else in my life, which is probably the most difficult thing to do. A massage for me isn't just a one-hour period of rest and care; it's also the planning that goes into it, including putting myself in a state of mind and presence where I can truly enjoy the massage and not feel stressed. That is not trivial!
The planning piece, then, includes all of those tasks outlined above plus this: is there anything that my family needs that is more important at that particular moment? Now, I always used to default to, "Yes!" in an effort to be selfless. But I found that if I always did that, I was actually not helping because it meant I was saying no to self-care. And when you don't take care of yourself, then you can't take care of others. Simple as that.
(I'm also in a position where I'm not, say, taking full-time care of a family member, or the like. I recognize this is a luxury and a privilege.)
At some later time, I'll (hopefully) come back to my to do list and break out "Get a massage" into discrete tasks. It's mechanical, but the mechanical parts of me need to lend a hand so I can have my needs met. Otherwise, I'll feel longing and sadness over having "Get a message" on my list and seeing no forward progress on it. And then I'm not really taking care of myself.
Again, self-care is important. Over time, you'll find an amount of care that you need. Sometimes it will be a lot more and sometimes it may be less. But be sure to not cut it out of your life altogether.