Episode #67: Does Your Self-Preservation Button Work?
Last week something occurred to me that hadn’t hit me in quite the same way before. Some of us may not have our self-preservation button engaged. Or, we are so accustomed to overriding the warning signs, that we don’t take reasonable steps to stop and fuel ourselves when the need is imminent.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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Last week, I pulled a stupid. Part of it was poor early morning math. I can blame it on lack of coffee, right?! Let me explain. . .
Last week, my middlest and I went to the pool to swim some laps. Then I had to go home and pick up my youngest and take him back to swim practice.
When I left the house for the first time that morning, I had about 14 miles worth of gas in the car. When I got to the pool for the first time . . . about 9 . . . back to the house . . . 5 . . . back to the pool . . . 0.
But here is the moment I have been reflecting on since then. When I had about 1 to 2 miles of gas left, I had a choice about which path to take. If I turned left, toward the pool, I was driving further away from the closest gas station. If I kept right, I would have made it to a gas station in a mile or less.
I went left.
In hindsight, that decision made absolutely no sense.
I could say that my son would have been late to swim practice if I stopped for gas. But he wouldn’t have been late.
And even if he would have been late, my decision still didn't make any sense.
I got lucky that day. My ex was headed to work nearby AND had a gas can with him AND the gas can had gas in it.
But I have been pondering . . .
Why didn’t I choose the path of self-preservation? The path that would have gotten me to the gas station, and back to swim practice, without the necessity of an emergency?
Have you ever done something like that? Made the decision that created an emergency or a crisis even when you could have made a different choice and prevented said emergency or crisis?!?!
My story illustrates what I think can happen with burnout.
Somewhere along the way, we become conditioned to pushing past limits.
We learn to ignore warning signs.
We don’t set boundaries to protect our precious time and energy.
We may be so comfortable with chaos that we no longer try to avoid it.
Ignoring helpful and important warning signals can actually become a game . . . how far can we go before we have to stop and refuel?! Notice this analogy applies both to cars and people.
You might be familiar with the safety cord that is attached to a treadmill or a jet ski or wave runner. You are supposed to attach the cord to you so that if you fall off of the machine, the cord will trigger the kill switch and the machine will stop running.
But for those of us who are accustomed to pushing the envelope, it’s like we forget to attach the safety cord. Or maybe we find some other way to bypass the kill switch.
And here is the thing, we are actually biologically designed to be able to bypass our own kill switch in certain situations. But those same biological processes that allow us to exceed our limits, begin to degrade every system in the body if we come to rely on them for functioning every day.
The heartbreaking part of this experience is that, when we do not act in the interest of our own well-being, we are actually abandoning ourselves. And our soul knows. Even if we don’t intellectually register the dissonance.
One could say that we break our own hearts, over and over again, each time we choose to self-abandon.
As my brain has noodled this deeper awareness of my experience of self-abandonment, I have also become more aware of how often it happens.
Just this weekend, my daughter and I were traveling for a sports tournament. . . we had come up with a plan to get food from a particular restaurant before we embarked on the 6 hour drive home.
Well, it turned out that what I planned to order (and had been looking forward to for the previous 24 hours) was not available at that day and time.
I was already emotional about some things that had happened earlier and I had not been sleeping well for the prior few nights. In that moment, my instinct was to just say “forget it” and get on the road . . . even though I had expressly stated the day before that the one thing I wanted out of the weekend other than being with and supporting my daughter was not to eat a bunch of fast food.
But my daughter repeated back to me what I had said that I had wanted . . . what I had said that mattered . . . that I was now completely prepared to abandon.
And she encouraged me not to give up so easily.
It took us longer to get back on the road to drive home, but my soul was soothed by the fact that I didn’t completely throw in the towel on myself and my hunger pains.
This morning, I went to the pool to swim some laps before a 3-hour group facilitation. In contrast to my standard modus operandi, I actually printed all of my materials last night and fully packed my car, with everything I needed for the swim, the shower after, and facilitation on-site at another location. Normally I would be gathering everything at the last minute and running out the door; barely getting it all done in time and exposing myself to unnecessary stress and anxiety.
But it wasn’t until I was on my way to the pool that I realized I had forgotten something. I hadn’t made a plan to eat. If you have been a listener for a while, you know that not eating when I get busy or stressed is a pattern.
And in the not so far distant past, I would have chosen to ignore this inconvenient reality. In other words, I would have shown up at the facilitation fueled only by my morning bulletproof coffee and water and expected myself to handle that facilitation with my typical high expectations until the 1pm end time.
I had a choice. Would I take the path of least resistance which for me would mean not trying to figure out how to squeeze food into my stacked schedule? Or would I make the time and effort to eat?
With a renewed awareness of my tendency to completely self-abandon, and some awareness of what this self-abandonment actually costs me, I made the other choice. I thought through food options located between the pool and the facilitation, placed an online order, and swung by on my way to my ultimate destination.
I am also aware that my tendency to self-abandon shows up in how I prioritize certain spending.
Does your self-preservation button work? Do you hit the override switch? Did you hit the override switch a long time ago?
Awareness is the first step toward change.
The second step is recognizing that we have a choice.
The third step is giving ourselves permission to make the choice that is life-giving, that is a step away from crisis and chaos, away from self-abandonment and toward our well-being, and ultimately our joy.
The fourth step is doing the thing. Filling up on gas before you hit 0. Making a plan to eat something that you actually enjoy; that feels nourishing and intentional. Taking the nap. Doing the thing that fills your cup. Saying no to the thing that costs too much (in whatever currency that may be . . . energy, time, money). Doing something just because it brings you joy.
We don’t actually get bonus life points for being experts at self-abandonment. Really, we don’t. No matter what our conditioning may tell us.
It doesn’t serve us. In fact, the cost of self-abandonment could be running out of gas (potentially in a dangerous place). And again, the analogy applies to cars or people. It could be burnout. It could be ignoring ourselves so long that we explode. It could be chronic or even fatal illness. It could be our lives.
And guess what?! Our self-abandonment doesn’t serve other people either.
Because the highest and best version of us is well tended, nurtured, cared for and supported.
And the highest and best version of us by its very nature is connected to and committed to the well-being of the whole.
Until next time, I hope you will take notice of the times you abandon yourself (or are tempted to do so).
And remember, that just because you have been conditioned to respond to life a certain way, doesn’t mean that you have to keep responding in the same way.
And if you are like me, you might be a little sad when you realize how much of yourself you leave behind on a regular basis. And that’s okay. You can reclaim yourself, one choice at a time. And I am right here with you.
Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content.
I look forward to being back with you next time!