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Self-Investment Rules: Why You Should Pay Yourself First

By Paul Kriegler, RD

“I just lost my job and my health insurance, but long ago I lost my health itself. I’m here to get my health back.”

This member’s statement shocked me. Even now it jolts me with the reminder that health really is so fundamental – even when other protections and cornerstones of life fall away.

Now when I hear people share similar messages about being fed up with “life” taking priority over their health, I get excited. These people mean business. They’re serious about taking control of their destinies, and nothing will stop them.

Something has pushed them into new motivational territory, and they resolve to pay themselves first.

No matter how crazy “life” is, where there’s a will, there’s a way for these folks. It seems to me there’s something we all could be learning here.

Why We Choose to Shortchange Ourselves

Maybe there’s a bit of that “grab-the-bull-by-the-horns” style in each of us. I’d like to think so. It’s difficult to intellectualize our way there, however. Difficult circumstances, life transitions, harsh realizations or scary diagnoses can abruptly kick us into gear. We suddenly see how we’ve paid the price for shortchanging our well-being in the past.

When I talk about paying yourself first, I’m not suggesting anyone wallow in gratuitous solipsism or self-spoiling.

Paying yourself first isn’t about self-indulgence. It’s about self-investment.

Furthermore, it’s a counter-cultural message. Living healthily is, indeed, a revolutionary act. The work of creating a genuinely healthy lifestyle, the time and money invested in living a healthy life, and the former choices de-prioritized to make room for new positive habits can push us toward the margins.

We might question ourselves or flat out doubt our decisions. (Maybe others question them for us!) In the end, that discomfort is actually a good sign. It’s no news flash: when it comes to being healthy, being “normal” is too often a recipe for disaster.

Paying ourselves first means realigning our energies in such a way that we prioritize filling our own wells, so to speak. We let go of deprivation and martyrdom thinking. We talk ourselves out of discounting our needs.

We all know how this cycle works. What starts out as good will and generosity toward caring for loved ones and fulfilling other “important” activities or causes can ultimately spiral out of control. Our good intentions end up creating patterns of self-generated chronic stress. Self-care is always the first to go – when it’s the last commitment that should be sacrificed.

How Boundaries Make for a Balanced Life

The key is to stop living from the outside in. In other words, we need to stop letting outside circumstances and events filter right past our goals to govern our days and crowd out our self-investment.

We need to direct our days instead of letting them direct us.

“If the day allows for time to exercise, I’ll make it to the gym.” “If my mood after all my afternoon meetings and rush hour traffic encourages me to eat a healthy dinner, I will.” “If my kids’ activity and homework schedule allows tonight, I’ll get enough sleep.”

When we frame our self-investment this way, how much is likely to get done? It’s a recipe for constant self-depletion.

It’s not unlike that situation we’re told about before each airline flight: “In the event the plane loses cabin pressure, be sure to secure your own mask first.” We all understand the logic here. We’re of no use to anyone else if we’re out of oxygen. The ten seconds of help we could offer without it is nothing compared to the limitless assistance we could offer when we secure our own basic well-being first.

The same principle holds true for daily life.

We tend to reject this logic on a day-to-day basis, however, because we tell ourselves we’re not dealing with a dire situation. It’s not an emergency. It’s just one day. Yet, how many days do we make that same justification?

As a result, we sacrifice our health and well-being piece by piece, day by day, choice by choice. Those days then add up into stress unchecked, pounds gained, health unraveled strand by strand.

Until a sudden, jolting event shocks us back into clarity (or maybe not)… When we put off living healthily, many of us will eventually face one diagnosis or another. The rest of us will just settle for a life increasingly zapped of vitality.

We don’t even realize the opportunities we’re giving away – the chances that enhanced energy, presence, and confidence could offer us if only we were willing to regularly invest in ourselves.

How to Begin Re-investing in Yourself

Whether we’re struck by a life-altering situation or think our way to embracing a better lifestyle, we’ll ultimately need to rebuild our health the same way we gave it away – day by day, choice by choice.

That’s why journals, logs and training/weight loss counseling are such effective tools. They push us toward regular accountability. They encourage us to celebrate small gains, observe our process, and gauge our motivation as it surges and wavers.

We can also make a concrete plan that helps us recommit every day with the encouragement of others. We will finally decide which demands, tasks, and actions truly deserve our mental and emotional energy and which should be shrugged off.

Instead of living at the whim of circumstance, we can direct our days from conscious priorities that keep us running on full.

What priorities allow us to live the life we ultimately want? What choices are sustainable in the context of living healthily, and which aren’t?

Take time today to reflect on these questions and see how your answers compare to your daily schedule. Consider it one step toward owning your health and moving yourself to the top of the day’s agenda.

Are you interested in striking a better life balance that prioritizes your well-being? Talk with one of our professional staff members today.

Thanks for reading. If you liked this and learned something new, please share it.

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The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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