Priorities! It’s a word many of us have heard too many times, so much so that it’s lost some of its meaning. Indeed, it’s misused so much that I’m starting to think some people actually just don’t know what it really means. As one colleague of mine often comments: a list of 10 equal priorities is actually impossible — they can’t all be top priority. You have to order them by the very nature of the word!
When it comes to self-care and its contribution to our health and wellbeing, though, we often fail to prioritise it completely. Sometimes, it’s not until we reach some kind of crisis point that we can realise how much we have been neglecting our health, and by that point there’s often a harder slog to get back to ‘zero’ (let alone wellbeing) than there would have been had we been maintaining some focus on health the whole times.
So in today’s blog post I thought I would share a few of my favourite metaphors and stories to help remind us of how to prioritise self-care in our busy, busy lives.
Rocks in a jar
This one is likely familiar to you. It’s a common one that gets shared around social media a couple of times per year. It goes like this…
A teacher stands in front of a class holding a large glass jar. She fills the jar with rocks and asks the class if the jar is full. They all agree that it is. Then she takes a handful of small stones and pours them into the jar. The class watches as the stones trickle down and fill the gaps between the rocks. “Now is it full?” she asks? “Yes!” they cry.
But then the teacher begins to pour sand into the jar. The sand trickles down and fills all the gaps between both the big rocks and the small stones. “How about now?” By this stage some of the students are hesitant, but surely now the jar really is full. Finally, the teacher picks up the glass of water on her desk, and proceeds to pour the water into the jar until it is completely, utterly full.
We can imagine that the jar is like our life. The big rocks are the most important priorities. Health and wellbeing, family and friends, our top values. The small stones are lesser priorities, the sand and water are the superfluous things in life. Our big rocks absolutely have to go into our jar of life first. Otherwise, if we pour the sand and water in first, the jar will really be full and we won’t be able to fit the big rocks or the small stones in.
Where is health and wellbeing on that list for you? What kind of jar-filler is it, big rocks or water? Is that what you want it to be?
The next metaphor is that of building a house. Imagine your life is a house. You can put the floor and the walls up, and get a shiny new roof. Then you can fill the house with nice furniture and fancy decorations. And it will be a lovely house to live in, for a while. But what about the foundation? If you haven’t built the house on a strong foundation, there will come a time when it will not be as strong and lovely anymore. It may not weather the storms of life as well as the house next door, which has been built on a strong foundation.
So, do you have a practise of self-care supporting you to create a strong foundation of health and wellbeing to help you weather life’s storms?
Ok, maybe these are a bit trite. But I think by now you get my point! It’s important to prioritise the right things in life. If we don’t put our health and wellbeing first on the list, it will often end up being last on the list. Over time that really erodes our stamina and resilience for the trials and tribulations of life.
The last idea I want to share with you is the concept of ‘tilting’ which I learnt about from Brooke McAlary over at The Slow Home blog. This is an alternative view, which might be useful for those of you that find the previous two analogies just too sickly sweet! I personally have found it immensely useful for those times in teaching when life is just consumed by marking and report cards, or end of year concerts, or the hecticness of the first week back. Sometimes you just have to go with that, accept that life has tilted in that direction and lean into it knowing soon things will tilt back the other way.
By far my favourite metaphor, though, is about balls. All the things on your to-do list of life are balls that you are juggling. Some are rubber and if you drop them, they bounce. But some are glass, and if you drop them there’s going to be a really big mess to clean up and maybe some first aid needed! It is up to you to decide what things in life are your glass balls and what things are rubber. The list will be different for everyone.
For me, I know that sleep, solitude and food that gives me a happy tummy are glass balls. If I don’t get these three things very regularly (i.e. pretty much every day) then I am not going to function very well and it’s not that fun to be around me. Moving my body and quality time with my husband are next on the list. These are the things that make me feel really good and if I get them every day, then life will tick along pretty well even when some of the rubber balls are bouncing all over the place. Clean house? Up to date with my email inbox? Shaved legs? Lesson planning done a week in advance? For me, these are rubber balls that I obviously would prefer to keep in the air but I am not a circus performer and when (not if, when) things start to fall out of the sky, I’d rather it be the bouncy things.
What are your glass balls? I’d love for you to head on over to the Facebook group and let me know!
And if you’d like some help making you and your glass balls the top of your priority list, why not sign up for my free 14 day ‘Prioritise YOU’ email course!