You cannot giveth from an empty cup

When our cup runs empty, in its void we become a worse version of ourselves. Tap into the secrets of those who find the time to refill theirs.

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young man looks frustrated and exhausted with his head in his hands

Fact. But HOW does one filleth ones cuppeth? This is the oldest wellness proverb in the book. Dating back to a time before we were constantly bombarded with wellbeing and self-care tips on every social platform there is. I have no idea which wise person said it first but we get it, we’re all now bought into the concept. There is however, one glaring omission in the theory….causing me to mostly want to slap this sentiment into next week! How, please tell me HOW?? I think most of us know what we should be doing (ranging from moderately reducing our red meat consumption up to the more aspirational wellbeing seekers finding some self actualisation). But my to-do list is full, replete, overflowing. Including, but not limited to, WORK (occupying 10-12 hours of the day), children (occupying 10-12 hours of the day/night), get roof fixed, deliver shopping to Mum, write thank you cards, buy cat food, buy father’s day presents, buy shed, dye hair, remove Curly Wurly stain from rug, wash linen, bleach ALL of #2’s clothes to remove food stains etc etc) you get the gist. As I aimlessly scroll Pinterest, I learn that I should be adding to this list, several of the following ‘rituals’; 20 minutes of heart rate increasing exercise, evening restorative Yin Yoga, meal prep to ‘save time’, a daily meditation practice. Where do these fantasists think I may find time to do all these crucial, time saving, wait LIFE saving tasks?

Whether you’re a new parent, run a busy family, have elderly relatives to care for, work a stressful job or all of the above, my guess is you just about keep your head above water. Most days. Some days, only with the help of wine. We just don’t structure our modern lives to revolve around prioritising our own wellbeing. At worst it’s perceived as indulgent and selfish. You dared to prioritise your own resilience (?!), the implication being that you have done this at the expense of someone else. We all secretly hate those who manage to weave it into their lives so seamlessly… “Oh, you still manage to go to spin class every Thursday Jo. How lovely for you. I wish I had the time to commit to that,” you say while wanting to stab Jo in the eyeball. Narcissist. Because Thursday night spin class is now a speck in your distant memory.

Just as a car cannot function without fuel, oil and water, nor can we. We manage to find the time to ‘maintain’ our vehicles with services and MOTs and yet we cannot credit ourselves with the same care? Similarly, we would never neglect to show our children and loved ones compassion, we know humans cannot thrive without it but many of us would not even understand, far less entertain, the term self-compassion. When our cup runs empty, in its void we all become a worse version of ourselves. We lack empathy, patience, compassion – all of the qualities we need to care for those around us. And herein lies the irony of excluding self-care from our routines in order to prioritise the overt needs of others, in doing so, we are less capable of caring for them. It really is a false economy. We rob ourselves of the creativity, problem solving and collaboration skills that are so unique to humans and without which we are useless to our employers. Working longer to deliver more is a further contradiction when we know that productivity actually declines over 40 hours of work a week. When we don’t take time for ourselves, we fall into the hormone trap. Riddled with cortisol, our bodies turn to all of the quick fixes, alcohol, sugar, sleeping pills to give us the energy or the dopamine high that we crave.

You CAN find more balance in your life. There is no silver bullet, it is small choices, new habits and you can start today. At Welfy, we believe there are four key areas to focus on in order to care for yourself: Rest, Eating Well, Moving More & Recharging yourself. So how do you make space, re-prioritise and start to incorporate some of what we know we should be doing into our hectic daily lives? We have five top tips to help you make a start:

1.     Identify waste – in our workshops we ask people to identify hours in their day where they do stuff that adds nothing for them or others. On average people identify a whopping two hours in their day that could be put to better use. The common culprits are social media scrolling, accessing news websites, binge watching box sets. Now we are not suggesting you don’t unwind with some TV at the end of a long day (have you SEEN Normal People(?), so good) but what if you only watched one episode instead of two? Did a HIIT and got to bed half an hour earlier? What if you clawed back 30 mins from your social media scrolling and batch cooked a curry? And there are more subtle time stealers secreted within our day. Did you know that the neurons that are helping us to make decisions are living cells with metabolism? They require glucose to function, and they don’t distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. In The Organised Mind, Daniel Levitan tells us that it takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions as important ones. It’s why Steve Jobs only wore one outfit. What mindless decisions, wardrobe or otherwise, could you cut out of your day? You will be amazed at the energy it unlocks. And there may now be a whole raft of new time savers unveiled to us as a result of lockdown. Can we cut the commute? Can we only ever shop online?

2.     Don’t be afraid to barter – with a partner or anyone else in your household with whom you can trade some of the to-do list tasks with some of the good stuff so that the ratio evens up. Can you be back from home early enough one day so that your partner gets to go and do a PT workout in return for him getting up with the kids one day so that you can go and do some early morning photography, or whatever floats your boat? Trade weekends – a ski trip for a yoga retreat. We should avoid commoditising our wellbeing but in the game of wellness, everyone truly is a winner.

3.     Know yourself – a lofty ambition, true. But as we said, at Welfy we believe there are four key areas to focus on but even within this you can prioritise. Try to understand and distil, what really throws you off? Do you spiral out of control when you don’t get enough sleep? Or is it exercise that’s critical for your mind and body? Consider what is most restorative to you. Is it a person, is it a place, is it an oasis in your home, is it pursuing your passion?

4.     Habit stackingJames Clear’s brilliant book, Atomic Habits, explains how habits are formed and how to stick with them. It’s based on one critical thought: positive changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. We really believe in this. For a habit to stick, there must be a cue, a craving, a response and a reward. And when we couple habits with another existing habit, it is easier to embed and more likely to stick e.g. when I have my morning coffee, I will meditate for 10 minutes.

5.     Micro wellness – so perhaps you’re in the 10% reading this article who have found it almost impossible to identify any wasted time in your day. Some periods in our life are just busier than others. If this is you, then micro-wellness could be your solution. Apparently standing for: Making Incremental Changes to Reconnect Ourselves – Micro-wellness is the favoured approach of functional and integrative medicine specialist, Dr Frank Lipman, whose celebrity clientele includes Gwyneth Paltrow and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The theory is that setting small achievable changes – often using technology as a hack – to improve our day to day lives makes failure and loss of motivation less likely. An example would be using the brilliantly simple Daily Dozen App from the author of How Not To Die to get into the groove of eating well.

When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. Eleanor Brown

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