How Changing Other People's Expectations Is The Key For Healthy Habits
When I work with busy professional women, one of the first things they tell me is “I don’t have time to take care of myself”. “Ok” I say. Having heard the same excuse a million times, I know my mission will be to show them how they can fit whatever they want into their schedule, no matter how crazy-busy it is.
The biggest problem when it comes to carving out time for ourselves is that we are squashed under the weight of external responsibilities and expectations. Our boss, our children, our partners, our friends, neighbors, colleagues. People want stuff from us, and they all feel important and urgent, even when they often are not. When everything feels urgent, it’s inevitable that we put ourselves and our health on the back burner.
My Personal Experience
When I was in London working in corporate finance for an American multinational company, I went to the gym every single day during my lunch break. I didn’t have to wake up at 5am in the morning to fit it in. Even though waking up early is a great way to accomplish that (and something that I do now that I’m a parent), it didn’t work for me at the time.
So, I went to my boss and shared with him my need to take a 1-hour lunch break, instead of the 20-30 minutes everyone else was taking. I explained to him that going to the gym was important to me, made me feel more focused and productive at work and that I would have delivered the same (if not more) even though my lunch break was double the length of everyone else’s.
Put like that, it was a no brainer. He understood my reasons and agreed, without much trouble. So, I blocked that hour in my calendar and went to the gym every single day. Needless to say, this new habit completely changed my energy level, my motivation and productivity at work and no one ever complained about my performance.
Often, we just don’t think of asking. Either we do nothing and give up on our needs or we try to start the new habit without clearly communicating and setting other people’s expectations. The problem with that, though, is we end up feeling stressed, guilty and soon give up.
What's Your Non-Negotiable Stuff?
I couldn’t have gotten the guts to ask for that extended lunch break if I wasn’t clear on what I wanted and why that was so important to me. At the end of the day, you need to negotiate and have good points to support your case!
So, the first step of this process is to clarify what you really want in your day or week. What I call non-negotiable stuff.
How do you figure out what is it? Ask yourself this question: What are the things that energize me and that have the power to turn a bad day into a not-so-bad day?
Now, write them down.
Fit The Non-Negotiable Stuff Into Your Day
Now that you know what will make your day better and make you feel more energetic and productive, you need to make a plan.
What part of the day do you have the most control over? What part of your day is more stable and predictable, where last minute things are less likely to come up and cancel your plans despite your good intentions?
That’s when you want to plan your non-negotiable stuff.
Set External Expectations And Drop The Guilt
Other people expectations are often an obstacle to our lifestyle transformation journey, so let’s think about it. Whose expectations won’t you meet if you start fitting this new non-negotiable stuff into your routine? Who are you taking time away from by creating your new habit?
Once you’ve identified this, go and talk that person (or those people) and explain the reason why this is important to you.
It could be explaining to your boss or your colleagues why you need to skip that 8 am meeting so you can work out. Or telling your spouse you won’t be there for dinner because you have a yoga class after work. Or having your kids playing by themselves for a while so you focus on your passion project.
Whoever these people are, speak up and clearly share your needs and wants. This not only will make them feel better and more involved in your decision, but will also lift a huge weight from your shoulders. You will feel less stressed and anxious when taking time for yourself and you will be more likely to succeed and stick to the habit.
Trust me, everyone and everything, will benefit from your enhanced motivation, energy and happiness - your boss, your family, your friends, your kids. So, there’s really nothing to feel guilty about!
Now go, identify what you want, communicate it clearly, set your intentions, make a plan and take action!