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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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