You First! It's More Than Just Putting You First...

Updated: May 31, 2020

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

Through my work with EPIC 4LIFE, I support individuals and organisations to create a 'You First' approach to life and performance. At this time of global turmoil, we are seeing varied responses to this. Some people neglect themselves, others desire to put themselves first but don't know how, whilst some are taking this time to really put themselves first, finding healing and empowerment in a way they never thought was possible. Whilst people are speculating about what will happen to the world post-pandemic, what we might need to really consider is how might my world change post-pandemic?

In this blog I want to provide a short introduction to this 'You First' paradigm that we are working hard to inspire the world with, my hope is that I can contribute further to this blog project of EPIC 4LIFE in a way that will provide genuine take home messages which you can reflect and build on during your lockdown.

What is 'You First'?

To best answer this I need to explain what I mean when I refer to paradigm. A paradigm is a pattern or model of something. In the context of how we live our lives, a paradigm is a model for how we can experience life. Paradigm, is a word often used in education, business and science. Within business one paradigm might be how an organisation markets and engages with their consumers. This organisation may decide to shift their consumer engagement paradigm and create a whole new way of doing it, resulting in new beliefs, strategies, thoughts and feelings. This would entirely change the way this organisation engages with their consumer, and completely alter their experience. Here is the key to paradigm, it represents the whole-experience.

With that basic understanding of paradigm, I can now fully introduce the 'You First Paradigm'. As the title of this blog states, this is so much more than just simply putting yourself first. I often use this metaphor; when you are on an aeroplane, you will be given safety instructions by the organisation's personnel. Within these instructions you will be told, if the oxygen mask falls from the cabinet overhead, you are to calmly place it upon yourself first, before you help someone else, including children. I remember hearing this at a young age, I was a young father to two children, I recall thinking and feeling that this is an outrageous instruction. I would place my children mask on them first before taking care of me. My children coming first was noble, right? When discussing this with a mentor, they pointed out to me, how can you help your children when you have no oxygen yourself, or worst when you die because of a lack of oxygen. This metaphor has stayed with me all my life.

I want to highlight two significant lessons I have learned from this. First, if your are not taking care of yourself, you will never have the appropriate resources to empower your growth. Second, if you do not put you first, you will never be in the best possible position to empower and inspire others in their growth. These are simple enough lessons to understand and believe, yet so many of us do not live our lives this way. Are you metaphorically putting oxygen masks on other people before yourself?

At EPIC 4LIFE our mission is to empower people and inspire change to create generations of emotionally resilient and mentally healthy people. We do this by training, developing and consulting with individuals and organisations on how they can shift their paradigms to 'You First'. In our training we use this simple definition to introduce the 'You First' paradigm for optimising mental health, emotional wellbeing and performance;

"'You First' Paradigm: Your mental health and emotional wellbeing coming first in order, time, amount, quality, and importance. Empowering you to optimise your life experience, the quality of life, and performance in life. Thus, being best placed to empower others to do the same."

Below is a brief description of what we mean by order, time, amount, quality and importance:

  • Order - Your development, self-care and self-management comes first

  • Time - You allocate the time you need first

  • Amount - You allocate the right type and amount of resources first

  • Quality - You ensure the highest quality goes into you, do not settle!

  • Importance - You come first, so you can empower and inspire others

Notice the emphasis on 'YOU', in reality no one is ever going to do these things for you. I am reminded of a quote from Maya Angelou "Never make someone a priority, when all you are to them is an option". We are only ever options to each other; we are not the solution. However, to ourselves we are always the solution. This doesn't mean we always have the solution and that others do not have a solution, but that we are the only person who can find out and decide the solution for us. Another reason why I was reminded of this quote is the importance it places on 'you' being the priority for 'you', before other people. Understand that it's not about reducing the significance or importance of others, it's about recognising and acting on how important you are. It is about taking personal responsibility in the good, the bad and the areas for improvement. Dr. Jordan Peterson said this:

“Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, ‘He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.‘”

We find our purpose and empower our true capability to support others when we truly live our lives in a 'You First' paradigm, taking complete personal responsibility, optimising our mental health, emotional wellbeing and outputs.

Another important part of understanding a new paradigm is raising our awareness to our existing paradigms, our current experience. At EPIC 4LIFE we refer to two alternative paradigms that reflect most people's lives, who are not living 'You First':

You Last Paradigm - We believe there are 4 variations to this paradigm, people put themselves last because; a) it's the right and noble thing to do b) they are unaware of any other way living c) their circumstances don't allow it d) nothing ever goes their way or they are not deserving, so why bother.

You Later Paradigm - We believe there are 4 variations to this paradigm, people try to 'get round' to themselves when; a) others allow them to i.e. family, friends, employers etc. b) when others have been taken care of c) when their circumstances change d) when they become aware that they have to.

I have provided nothing more than a snapshot into what the alternative paradigms can be like, it is obviously a lot deeper than this. The more we can understand our current experience and raise awareness to the existing paradigm we are living in, the more empowered we can be to shift toward a 'You First' paradigm.

'You First' in Lockdown

Arguably there's never been a better time for people to shift their paradigm to 'You First' or to look at how they can optimise their experience with mental health and emotional wellbeing. Here's 3 steps you could take towards paradigm shifting during your lockdown:

1) Reflect: Take some time out to reflect on three core aspects of who you are. First, take at least an hour to review your deepest held values. What is most important to you in all the world. Get some paper and coloured pens, be as creative and artistic as you wish. Place the word values in the middle of the page, perhaps draw a cloud around it. Then write down words that represent all the things which are important to you. Spread the words out all over the page around the cloud. Highlight up to 5 that stand out as most important and represent as many of the other words you have written down as possible. Write these 5 words or phrases down on a separate piece of paper, give them a definition of what they mean to you. Highlight some key behaviours that would demonstrate you are living these values. Make some personal commitments (write each one down) of how you will improve in living your values and associated behaviours.

Second, create a vision board/poster of what the ultimate 'You' looks like. At the end of your life what will 'You' have achieved? who will 'You' have become? create a poster of multiple images that are the ultimate reflection/representation of every aspect of your vision. Ensure you map your values into the vision board either through the images or by adding captions to provide further context to your chosen images. Third, create a legacy board/poster using multiple pictures and words which reflect everything you have achieved towards this vision so far in your life. With all three exercises be as creative and curious as you can and want to be. The creativity and curiosity you bring to this reflection will be cemented into your mind as a firm foundation to build on moving forward. Once you have done these three exercises ask yourself, what have you learned? What paradigm are you currently living in? How do you need to shift to a 'You First' paradigm?

2) Accept: The purpose of this step is to raise your awareness to your current paradigm. There are many ways this can be done, here’s a couple of suggestions: Explore your current paradigm and reflect which one you are living in; You Last, You Later or You First? Your exploration can be fun and creative. Try talking it over with people you trust, discuss with them the different paradigm types and ask them which one they think they are. Or ask people you know which paradigm they would put themselves in. With both of these suggestions pay attention to your emotions as you listen and reflect on what they are saying, what resonates with you, what is this telling you about the paradigm you are currently living in?

Another idea you could try; get a piece of paper, draw four columns on it. In the first column write down as many ways as possible you could start putting ‘You First’. In the next column write down how each of these ways could optimise your mental health and wellbeing. In the third column produce a list of ways this could benefit other people. In the final column, tick each one that you are currently doing. Treat this exercise as a ‘You First’ audit, and reflect on how you might shift your paradigm where needed. Another suggestion for raising awareness to your current paradigm is to carry out a ‘Calendar or Tasks Audit’. Look at your calendar, or list all the tasks you have carried out for the previous week (or more if you wish) and label each task as ‘You Last, You Later or You First’ Then look at the final result, what are you seeing? How much of your life experience is ‘You First’? What paradigm would you say you are currently living in?

3) Change: This largely depends upon how well you have done the previous two steps. The key to this is planning and commitments. No lifestyle can change without planning and priority shifting. The first thing to do is identify the small and simple changes you can make. Look at one week coming up and what you might do to adapt and change that week.

You might have identified areas where you will find it difficult to change, this is normal. Look for people who can support you with the change. Perhaps you need to learn something new or learn a new skill. The process of learn, change and grow can be challenging, I’ve never met anyone who is living in a ‘You First’ paradigm that does not invest time and/or money to optimise personal growth.

You First’ is a Paradigm for Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow once said:

"One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again"

I would add to safety, comfort, and to fear, discomfort.

Our minds are structured to keep us safe and comfortable. Paradoxically this works for and against us. Potentially then, the key to optimising mental health and emotional wellbeing is making as many things as possible, as comfortable as possible. In other words we need to find ways to make ourselves as comfortable as possible with whatever is required to achieve our ultimate vision. This growth process is not easy, but it is worth it! Dr. Jordon Peterson argued in his 12 Rules For Life book:

You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued”

If we could treat ourselves in the same way we would treat something which required the investment of we all we had, how much differently would we treat ourselves, others and our lives. The most amazing result of this paradigm shift, is that the ‘return on investment’ is beyond your wildest dreams. Earl Nightingale said:

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway”

The truth for all us, is that life moves forward with or without us. We are either lying down, standing still or walking forward. There is almost zero meaningful and fulfilling personal growth in ‘You Last’ or ‘You Later’ paradigms. As we shift to a ‘You First’ paradigm we learn to see and embrace the true power within all of us. Marianne Williamson said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

At EPIC 4LIFE we rephrase the end of this quote by saying that as we are liberated to a ‘You first’ paradigm, our example and presence automatically empowers people and inspires change for life.

Do not underestimate your ability to learn, change and grow. Begin to see yourself as the most valuable investment you will ever make. It is not noble to put 'You Last', there’s no circumstances that can stop you from thriving. With the right plan, support and guidance you can truly optimise your mental health and emotional wellbeing and become the greatest YOU!

Timothy Pattenden

Performance Psychologist | Emotional Intelligence Specialist | Co-Founder of EPIC 4LIFE

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