How much time do you actually spend on yourself? I’m not talking about lying on the sofa with a bar of chocolate watching Bridgerton and hoping your housemates don’t walk in on the sex scenes. I’m talking about properly dedicating time to yourself and your goals. Whether you have career, fitness or creative goals, it can be difficult to find time to work on them.
Firstly, that’s because we’re so damn busy all the time. Many people go from bed to desk and back again, without taking any time to think about what they want to achieve. And even if you aren’t working full-time, or do manage to peel yourself away from your work, the rest of our time is often spent checking in on others, from FaceTiming anxious friends to doing the shopping for your next-door neighbour.
When it comes to those spare hours in the evening, our brains are usually too fried to do anything meaningful, so we find ourselves face planting into Netflix. It’s no wonder that the book you’ve always wanted to publish never gets written, or the sub-30 minute 5k never gets run, or the artwork you’ve envisioned placing above your couch is never gets painted.
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“We give our time, energy and attention to so many external things from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed,” says Adrienne Herbert, author of Power Hour and host of the same-titled podcast. “I think we have to be intentional about how we spend our time. We need to reclaim it, which literally means taking back something that was previously yours. Remember that your time is yours before you give it away.”
“Your frame of reference really matters,” agrees psychologist Dr Magda Osman. “If you see making time for yourself as something of an indulgence, that it’s taking away from the time that you should be doing work or childcare or other responsibilities, then you will see it as a selfish act because it is in competition with all of these other things.
“Reframe it by acknowledging that embellishing this aspect of your life is not taking away from the other things you have going on, instead you’re actually giving more to them, as you will be happier, more confident, more skilled.”
How to make time for your goals
Adrienne has made a brand out of finding time for herself. In her book and on her podcast, she delves into her principle of taking one hour every single day to focus on yourself. “The concept is about creating intentional, uninterrupted, focused time on something that you want to do,” she says. Adrienne discovered the benefits of that after having a miscarriage and craving “radical change. I was so fed up with feeling rubbish”.
So, she applied for a place in a marathon – and got one. “I realised I had no time to train with a five-year-old son unless it was while he was still asleep. So, I began to get up a bit earlier and prioritise my training every morning.”
Getting up earlier doesn’t sound like a radical suggestion for getting things done, but Adrienne insists that spending an hour on yourself first thing every day isn’t about swapping sleep for just another thing on your to-do list. Instead, it’s about starting your day as you intend to go on.
“It isn’t about more, more, more. It’s not about the hustle culture. It’s not about the perfect routine. It’s about finding time for yourself before you have given yourself to others. And when you prioritise yourself in the morning, it is easier to carry on doing that throughout the day. It sets up your direction and your attitude going forward.
“The morning also feels powerful because you are without distraction. If I sit down to write or try to exercise later in the day it’s harder for me to cultivate a focused environment. My inbox is getting bigger, my son is asking me for things and I want to dedicate myself to other people.”
If you want to start, but aren’t sure how you can simply leap out of bed tomorrow and start painting, cooking, doing a masters degree or setting up a business first thing in the morning, Dr Osman says it’s about slowly increasing the effort. In her research paper, Redefining The relationship Between Effort and Reward, she found that prioritising yourself is a choice we must make not once, but twice.
“You could get up early tomorrow morning and go for a run, lie in a little longer and just do a bit of exercise at home, or simply not do anything. If you intend to run, you pre-prioritise the reward of looking after your wellbeing.
“However, when it comes to actually implementing that the next day, there’s a revision process of the effort vs reward scale. What looms greater in your head this time round is the effort, because it is an immediate challenge. Why would you want to run when it requires a lot of work right now?”
However, by setting realistic intentions for how we spend our time works wonders, says Dr Osman. “If you just imagine you’re going to get up and reap the rewards of running without effort, you’ll be annoyed. So be realistic about the fact that it is a real effort to pull yourself out of bed, put your running clothes on and then go out.”
You need to acknowledge the hard work and allow yourself to build up the effort scale slowly, perhaps by doing a short run and gradually increasing the distance “until you form a habit. You will eventually reach the optimum point where the absence of that thing feels worse than doing the thing. That is, it becomes part of your routine, and you feel a little lost without it,” Dr Osman says.
Until then, remember that “ cultivating time for yourself is not punishment, it is a choice. You are doing it because you want to read that book or run that race,” says Adrienne. “I think that’s pretty powerful.”
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).