The Art of Being Selectively Selfish

It’s International Women’s Day, and on just posting an article which I enjoyed, on not being a slave to doing everything, I thought it was worth expanding upon the theme.  

Most of my patients in clinic are women.  Men come in, often for a chat (apparently I am easy to talk with – I take this as a compliment, and do my best to ensure that I am giving good advice, or sending them to where they need to go to find better advice).  But with many of the women who come in, they have often created their own dilemma.  

“How do I achieve better health, when I don’t give myself the time to sit down with a cup of tea and just breathe?”  This is common and after breaking down the myriad of health and fatigue issues, is what it often gets down to.  I relate to this, because I always tell people of the benefit of actually sitting down to have breakfast, of eating mindfully, of engaging with your family, knowing full well that I eat my bacon and eggs standing at the kitchen bench, barking morning instructions at the kids and unloading the dishwasher.  I’ll plead the obvious, that mornings are not my best feature, and that efficiency and timing is valuable.  But the thing is, I do recognise this as an issue which is letting me down.  And I do make an effort to create time at other points of the day to generate a sense of rest and resilience.  

I call this ability to recognise that I need time “The Art of Being Selectively Selfish”.  Most women (I know this is a generalisation, but it is factual based upon what I see in my clinic) put everyone else first, and themselves last and this unfortunately becomes the basis of not only how we behave, but how our families treat us.  If you pick up all the dirty clothes, clean the kitchen while they are asleep, make all the appointments, drive everyone around, then this is the established normal.  Sometime you have to gently create change, to allow time for you to have breathing space, to become the new normal.  

I usually suggest to my patients that they set up a timetable for the family.  I am a spreadsheet queen.  I gleefully show my timetable for family weekly activities.  And marked into this timetable, alongside the kid’s circus training and rock climbing classes, is “Eve – Cardio Box” and “Eve – Body Attack”.  And everyone accepts that these weekly events are set in stone.  Don’t mess with my gym schedule, I say.  Because these classes are my small attempt to keep myself happy and balanced.  

It’s not all exercise either.  I give myself permission a few times a week to sit in the sun and read the newspaper, or a book.  I just finished making a daybed in my newly renovated front room, with the purely selfish intention of fighting the kids off from squandering a few hours of reading time.  I haven’t yet attempted this, but it’s a work in progress.  

I catch up with friends – not always for alcohol, sometimes for coffee or a walk, but I make time for checking in with those around me.  I ask the kids to do jobs around the house.  I am lucky in that my husband used to be a chef, so he cooks dinner most nights, while I am stuck at work, but this is a luxury which I appreciate and acknowledge that it allows me time to go to the gym, or out for a lecture, or finish work.  

Life is all about balance.  We are not two dimensional objects.  For us to stand up and feel strong, we need the balance of what we do for others, what needs to be done, and what we do for ourselves.  It is similar to the Japanese “Ikigai” theory to finding life satisfaction.  

I have always believed that we should enjoy the stages of our life, from the self-obsessed childhood (0-18), the selfish single stage (19 until whenever that changes), and that stage when (or if) you take on children and other responsibilities, and you need to become selfless for more years than are possibly realistic.  But even this selfless stage can eventually be tempered, and this is where this thought process comes in.  Eventually we all need to take back a small part of time in our day, to ask for help from those around us, and to accept help from those who offer it.  We need to enjoy (but not wallow in) the art of being Selectively Selfish.  Tell your kids to buy you a massage voucher for Mothers Day.  Make diary notes about going to “No Lights No Lycra” every fortnight and actually GO.  Go out with friends.  Sign up for a drawing class.  Go for a walk.  Create your own change, and appreciate the joy of feeling yourself and feeling recognised by those around you as being even more valuable, because you are happy and allowing them to see their role in that process.  

Happy International Women’s Day.  Go out and do something selfish…


8 March 2020.

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