How to Be Mindfully Self-ish – And Why It’s SO Important.

How to Be Mindfully Self-ish - And Why It's So Important

We are the foundation of everything in our lives – our relationships, our decisions, our thoughts, our feelings, our actions – everything. When we meet our own important needs we enrich and enliven ourselves and all that is connected to us.  On the other hand, when we are depleted and unsatisfied, it’s difficult to thrive and to have energy for the important things.

If you’re sitting there with the words in your head sounding something like, ‘Yeah, no – I’m actually great to be with when I’m exhausted and unsatisfied. Nobody can  tell – so – yeah, I’m pretty good like that,’ then it might be time to give yourself some loving – in the form of a reality check. People can tell. I promise you. They can tell because the relationship feels different. You feel different. And they probably miss the ‘you’ that is vital, energised, happy and full. If you’re still not convinced, think about the relationships you have been in where the person has been depleted or dissatisfied. You might not have felt differently about the person, but the relationship might have been short of where it could have been.

Everyone has needs and when those needs aren’t met we lose balance. We lack joy and meaning. We become disconnected – from ourselves and others. We get shades of anger, frustration, sadness shame and guilt. Ultimately, when we become less than who we are capable of being – less strong, less happy, less engaged. Other than that, we’re fine.

Putting ourselves first doesn’t mean putting others last. It is an investment of energy and resources into the foundation upon which our relationships and everything we think, do and feel are built. It’s restorative, strengthening and nourishing for ourselves and for everything that is connected to us. 

Nurturing Your Self:

We have to stop thinking of self-love – selfish-ness – as an option. It’s not. It’s essential. Here are some places to start. 

  1. Mindfulness

    If putting yourself first is something you’re completely unfamiliar with, it can be difficult to know where to start. When the noise of our lives is too loud, it’s difficult to know what we need. Sometimes, it is easier to be rolled around by the needs of others.

    Of course, it is important to be generous, supportive, empathic and flexible – but we also need to do those for our own selves. Being self-ish is so important because being other-ish will always have its limits. There are some things that only we can give to ourselves. One of the things that get in the way of this is our habits. We humans tend to think as we’ve always thought and do as we’ve always done. Our thoughts and actions become automatic, at least until there is a reason to take a good look at them and be more deliberate.

    Mindfulness changes this. Mindfulness is the act of being present with our own experience without the intrusion of future worries or old ways of thinking, being and feeling. It is being fully present with what is real and unfolding in the moment, without the intrusion of habits or old ways of being. It is a way to be fully engaged with the self in the moment. The stillness and sense of self that eventually comes from this makes it easier to notice any important needs in the ‘not met but waiting to be’ zone, that is of course if the act of mindfulness itself hasn’t already helped things along.

    Not only is the act of mindfulness a wonderfully self-nurturing thing to do, it also has so many benefits that will strengthen the foundations of ourselves.

    Research has shown that mindfulness can:

Ten minutes a day is enough to start making a difference. For anyone who thinks it’s a little too ‘zen’, it’s just breathing and noticing – and science is fully on board. The effects of mindfulness are so powerful, it’s easy to imagine that in a decade or so, the idea of ‘not practising mindfulness’ might be viewed in the same way as ‘not wearing a seatbelt’. People won’t ask why you do it, they’ll ask why you don’t (non-judgementally of course). 

By being mindful of our needs, it is less likely that we will trample over the needs of others to get our important needs met. When needs are mindfully noticed, it is likely that within those is also the need to stay connected to others, to be seen in a favourable light by people who matter to us, and to not do damage.

[irp posts=”802″ name=”Mindfulness: What. How. And The Difference 5 Minutes a Day Will Make”]

  1. What you focus on is what will become powerful.

    Thoughts, actions, feelings, people – let them be good ones. Every time we focus on something bad, it changes our physiology and the wiring in our brain. It’s much easier to notice the bad and be directed by that, than it is to notice the good. It’s also very normal. It’s called the the negativity bias and it’s what has kept us alive up to now. Our survival throughout the ages has depended on us being quicker to notice the bad (the sabre-toothed tiger asleep at the cave door) than the good (how cute it looks when it curls up like that).

    What this means is that the bad things tend to stick and the good things tend to slide right off us. To counter this, we have to be deliberate with our experience of the good so they are able to effect our physiology, brain and state of mind and assume more influence than the bad. There are two options.

    The first is to remove the bad things from our lives that draw our attention. This would be nice – so nice – but not always possible. Pity. Not to worry because there is another option. Take time out to expand the positive experience by letting it soak into you for 10-20 seconds. This is long enough to change the wiring in your brain in a positive way. One bout of 10-20 second feel-good might not make much of a difference, but over time the difference will be remarkable. The positive can be a text, a memory, the way a song makes you feel, a kiss, a chat with a friend – anything that makes you feel good. When it happens, stop, notice it, feel it and enjoy. 

    [irp posts=”923″ name=”Hardwiring for Happiness. How We Can Change Our Brain, Mind & Personality.”]

  2. Play

    Humans were meant to play. It connects, teaches and nourishes, which is why babies and children are so good at it. It’s often tempting to leave play until last. When the ‘important things’ are done, then we can play. Play is one of those ‘important things’ and has to be given its due place somewhere near the top of the list. If it’s been a while, try something that makes you laugh, something that makes you happy, or something that you used to love doing – try a team sport, a board game, going to a show, a drama group (you don’t have to be good at it), singing, cooking for fun, a picnic, throwing a frisbee or kicking a ball in the park, going to dinner, a movie, a date night, colouring your hair – anything that makes you feel lighter and happier.

  3. Choose good people. And know that it’s okay to walk away from the ones who feel bad to be with.

    Having good people around you is key to a happy, productive, fulfilled life. Ultimately, the people you have in your life is for you to decide and if there are some troublemakers there you can’t get rid of just yet (an ex who is also a co-parent, in-laws, colleagues) make sure you’re building yourself up in other ways and surrounding yourself with as many good people as you can. And it’s always okay to walk away from the ones who feel back to be with. When it comes to acts of self-love, this is one of the biggest.

  4. Go outside – just because.

    Spend time outside. Nature is healing. Be mindful of the world around you and experience it fully, with all of your senses switched on. That doesn’t have to mean being still, just being present with your mind fully engaged in the experience.

We have been conditioned to think of ‘selfish’ as something bad. It’s not. It’s important for ourselves and for the people around us. Though it’s important to be aware of the needs of others, it’s also important to be aware of our own. Unmet needs lead to a life that feels flat or disconnected. Even small changes will make a difference.

Putting yourself first sometimes, instead of staying somewhere near the bottom of your own list will strengthen you – mentally, physically and emotionally. Everything we do has an effect on our brain and our physiology. It might be in tiny, undetectable ways, but many tiny undetectable things over time eventually become something much bigger.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people around us to be the strongest, richest, most complete version of ourselves. Sometimes that will mean asking the rest of the world to wait. Looking after our own needs isn’t always easy, but when the return is a strong foundation on which to build everything that is important to us, it will always be worth it. 

8 Comments

Kathaleena

“And it’s always okay to walk away from the ones who feel bad to be with. ” This is a hard one, and so essential in the long run of our life span. Yes… sometimes it has to wait… as in… waiting for the death of a parent. Toxic family of origin and continued interactions are exhausting and debilitating. Your post is timely. Thank you.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Kathaleena. You’re absolutely right – even if walking away is the right thing for you, it’s not easy.

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Chris

Thank you for this article and so many others I have read from your sight. I cannot express the gratitude I have for you because I learn so much to help break the patterns of my VERY toxic/abusive upbringing. And my children benefit from this knowledge. And I just became a Grandma and I know that this new generation will benefit as well. Thank you!!!

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You could never know the difference you are making by being one who makes the strong decision to end family toxic patterns. You are amazing. Your grandkids are in wonderful hands.

Reply
Kerrie Byer

Well timed article and a great reminder. It is nice to read through the process to get back to putting myself first. Question: Would it be possible to add a “print this article” icon to print the articles without all graphics/advertisements?/

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Yes – absolutely. In the share functions, the green button at the bottom is the printer function and it will print a ‘clean’ copy for you. They are on the left if you are on a laptop, and on the bottom behind the grey ‘Share this’ bar if you are on a mobile device.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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