Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's Not OK to be Selfish

When is the last time you felt guilty for taking the time to brush your teeth? How about flossing? Taking a shower? Anyone?? For the overwhelming majority of people, the answer to these questions is, "never."

Then why is it that many people seem to feel they are being selfish for taking time to exercise?

I'm asking this because I am noticing more and more exercise people giving us little pep talks about the need to be 'a little selfish' and get in some exercise. For example, I recently read the following on the Pure Barre website: "Make this hour about you. Arrive a few minutes early to get set up and ready your mind and body for one hour where you can let everything else go. Keep your phone out of sight, out of mind. You spend so much time worrying about everyone else, this is time for you to be selfish!"

Now, I don't mean to pick on Pure Barre, because I really like them. Pure Barre runs many barre studios throughout the United States and, in my experience, they're really good. But they are just one of many who repeat the 'it's ok to be selfish' thing. They say it's important for your health and well-being, and that you will have more to give to the people in your life if you are healthy and well.

Regarding the latter bit, I couldn't agree more. I see exercise as an essential component of self-care. To me, it's like brushing my teeth. I could go a day without some movement, but I'd rather not. Just like not brushing my teeth, it's yucky. It doesn't make me feel good. This doesn't mean I go all-out, everyday. I have easier, rest/recovery days, but I always try to get in some movement. I'm creaky if I don't.

The former bit, however, the part about 'it's time for you to be selfish' makes me crazy. Why are we trying to re-define selfishness? It is not ok to be selfish. Selfishness is a bad thing. Being selfish means you're putting your own wants before other people's needs. It's a lack of consideration for others. Getting in some exercise, being clean, brushing your teeth, eating a nutritious meal when you're hungry--these are all things you need to be well, both physically and mentally. I cannot fathom why the word 'selfish' has any association with these things.

Can exercise be selfish? Certainly. If you're tossing Goldfish crackers to your hungry kids so you can workout for two hours, I'd call a foul on that. If you're neglecting people and things you really need to do so you can exercise, then yes, maybe you're being selfish. But walking a couple of times around the block to clear your head and move your body while your spouse bathes the kids? Learning to say, 'I've done enough today' at the office to get a little exercise? Turning off the computer to get in a workout a few times a week? Wise, not selfish.

The thing about selfishness is that, really, anything can be selfish--even acts that appear remarkably selfless. Let's say Suzie Homemaker irons everything her family wears. She makes everything from scratch, and includes sweet little notes in her children's lunchboxes. Suzie is room mother and den mother. She's everywhere and everything... serving everyone at every turn. This all seems so blessedly selfless, doesn't it? My goodness, Suzie is so dedicated and giving to her lovely family... and if Suzie is truly doing this out of love for her people, then by all means, Suzie--fire up your iron. But maybe Suzie is doing this so everyone will notice what a wonderful Mrs. Homemaker she is. Maybe Suzie is doing it for praise or admiration. In other words, Suzie is doing it for herself--not to bless her family.

Now imagine Suzie is wheezing on her way up the stairs with all those crisp, starched shirts. Her body aches. She's worn out at the end of the day. She's becoming increasingly snippy towards her people. Even with all that ironing, Suzie isn't really getting a lot of challenging movement, especially since Mr. Homemaker gave her that super lightweight iron for Christmas last year. (Mr. Homemaker should know better than to give his wife an iron and try to pass it off as a gift. I'd say that's a pretty crappy gift, but that's just me.)

So really, aren't we going to encourage Suzie to take care of herself? Isn't that in the best interest of Suzie's whole family? Aren't we going to tell Suzie that it isn't selfish to get some exercise? Because really, Suzie's holding everyone together and if she falls apart, they're all going to suffer. And walk around very wrinkley... at least until Mr. Homemaker starts pumping a little iron himself.

We could substitute the Homemakers with office workers, charity workers, you name it--the result is the same. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others, to do what you're called to do. And really, it doesn't take a lot of time to reap the benefits of exercise. Just a few minutes here and there can yield major dividends. This is why I talk about working movement into your day, because not everyone is able (or maybe willing) to devote big chunks of time for exercise. But it's important, just like brushing your teeth.

Let's not try to parse out 'a little bit' selfish from 'a lot' selfish. It's all bad. After I've gotten a little exercise, I move more freely, I'm more relaxed and patient with my small people. That's not selfish, not even a little bit.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Stephanie. Selfishness is a bad thing and has nothing to do with taking care of oneself.
    I feel selfish when I have the kids sit and watch some program without interrupting me so I can get a workout in, so my aim is to get it done while they sleep or are at school. Much like your exercising during naptime or when your husband can be with your children.
    I think we are setting a good example when we make exercise a priority. My children know I make their exercise a priority too! Movement is as important as nutrition and sleep!