I was at the gym, chatting with someone. He told me he’d put on 25 pounds in the past year. How, I asked him. He neglected his health because he had to take care of his mother, who was in the hospital, he explained. But he was at the gym because he realized that explanation didn’t hold up. Taking care of her, and taking care of himself, weren’t mutually exclusive.
There’s a reason why the friendly voice on the plane always tells you, in case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first. If you save yourself, you have a chance of saving your family, your kids, the other people you’re travelling with. If you try to put the mask on them first, you’re going to pass out — possibly before you even get the mask on them.
There’s a fine line between being helpful, and dealing with other people’s problems because you don’t want to get started on your own. Joe Rogan explains on his show:
“When you find someone whose problems are greater than your own, it lets you concentrate on things other than your problems, which you are not fixing because you are a lazy f—k. So you procrastinate. And people find really strange ways to procrastinate. One of the ways they find to procrastinate is create other problems in their life that take precedent over the problem they’re avoiding.”
That type of escape is also where workaholism originates. It’s tempting just to immerse yourself at the socially-accepted escape of work, especially if you’re good at it and you get fulfilment from it. But sometimes, we make these problems for ourselves. We chase promotions, start businesses, and juggle multiple side projects in order to avoid the problems we really should be dealing with (but don’t want to). The ones that we really fear. The ones that we’re embarrassed or ashamed of. The ones that are the most important.
Here are three ways to take care of yourself, no matter how little time you have:
- Do one thing that makes you happy, every day. Gym. Read. Karaoke. Write. Draw. Foundry Group partner Brad Feld recommends this for founders to avoid burnout. If you do something creative for a living,create something you’ll never show anyone else.
- Grow yourself. Develop your own vision and goals, know what you want to do and why, and remember that it’s your life — not anyone else’s. Find inspiration, by emailing people you admire just to send a short note of thanks or appreciation. Read a biography about someone who matches your definition of success.
- Increase the space between your load and your limits. Richard A. Swenson, M.D., wrote an entire book about this, entitled Margin. Give your brain a break and let it wander, without any structure.
Comedian Whitney Cummings writes in her Lenny Letter, “I understand on a soul level that I can’t give what I don’t have.” It’s easier to spread joy, enthusiasm, and inspiration to your friends when you’re brimming with it. So take the time to recharge yourself.
Herbert Lui is the creative director at Wonder Shuttle and a former staff writer for Lifehacker. He writes a monthly newsletter where he shares books and quotes to make you happier, more creative, and more productive.