I want to read and learn all I can, write thoughtfully and truthfully, live according to reason and ever more mature wisdom, and savor every wonderful little gift of life.
Do you ever fall into this trap? “If I can just get all these little easy tasks done, then I’ll be free to focus on _____” (fill in the blank with some important task or self-care activity, such as spending time on leisure and hobbies). Perhaps this logic is valid in some contexts, such as time management at work, but I think it’s often just a trap. And it’s one I fall into ALL THE TIME. It’s so tempting and instantly gratifying to get little easy things done and check them off my to-do list!
But that idea–that once I finish completing a bunch of small tasks, I’ll be able to more fully relax and/or focus on more important tasks–is a lie. Things never work out that way. What actually happens is that when I’m finally finished bustling around taking care of trivialities–if I ever finish–then I have no time or energy left over for the more important things.
And guess which important things I most tend to put off in this manner? You guessed it: self-care activities. For example: taking a relaxing bath, journaling, talking with a good friend, making time for quiet meditation or a “mindfulness walk” outside, reading poetry–things like this that meet various needs in my life, according to the different aspects of health (which also correspond to my examples just now):
– spiritual, and
Somehow, since these needs are always there under the surface, they seem to get pushed out of the way by the little surface-level things that are temporary and trivial. When this happens consistently, my soul begins to feel shriveled, sad, and stressed, and living becomes a chore rather than a joy, because I’m not getting what I need.
So I’m learning that it’s better to face the cold, hard truth from the beginning: I will never get everything done that needs to be done and then have time and energy left over for self-care.
This means that I must make choices about how to spend my limited time and energy. And that means I must let some of the lesser things go in order to have time for self-care, which is the biggest thing of all. So if, for example, it’s late Sunday evening after a busy, draining weekend and I have to choose between sweeping the floors or spending time on myself, I must live with dirty floors and go indulge in relaxation or whatever particular form of self-care I most need. Sanity is more important than clean floors!
When making decisions about how to use my time, my mindset tends to be “What do I need to get done?” when it should instead be just “What do I need?” If the answer is really that I need to get these certain things done, then by all means, do them. But the answer might be that I need to rest, or talk to a friend, or read a book for fun, or go for a walk, etc. And if I can’t tell what I need (which happens more than you’d think), a helpful follow-up question is “Okay, what do I want to do?” or “What do I feel like doing?” Usually the answer to those questions helps indicate the answer to “What do I need?”
Granted, this dynamic assumes the luxury of autonomy over how to spend my time, which I don’t always have (for example, at work, or–as will be the case very soon–when I have two infants to take care of!). But within the limits of whatever amount of choice I do have about how to spend my time, I need to remember this principle: big things before small things.
1. Self-care (meeting my needs physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, & intellectually)
3. Dependents-care (children and pets)
4. Fulfilling responsibilities I’ve committed to (which I have hopefully used wisdom about when making the commitments)
5. Relationships-care (friends and other family members)
Small things: everything else.
Have you seen the object lesson of the jar? When I saw it (in a sermon when I was a teenager), it was done with marbles and larger decorative balls. But all I had at hand were sewing/crafting supplies, so here is my crafty version for you:
The goal is to get all the objects in the container. If you try to do it by putting in the little things first and then the bigger things, it won’t work.
But if you put in the big things first and the small things second, then the small things can fit in the edges around the big things, and it works!
(I promise, all the spools are in there. I guess this object lesson is most effective in person.)
That’s how, for maximum health, happiness, and effectiveness in being the kinds of people we want to be, we should operate all the time: making the big things our first priorities–starting with taking care of our needs in every area of health and wellbeing–and letting the small things fit in around the edges.
Wish me luck as I attempt to achieve this balance as the mother of twin babies!