Are You Prioritizing YOU?

We need to make time for what we feel is important. What on your to-do list makes sure that it gets done? When I forget to make a grocery list, I inevitably forget something when I go to the store. A to-do list reflects what you find to be important.

I was reminded about the importance of the to-do list recently. I was at a community meeting in the East End of Richmond. We were discussing how we, as programs that serve children in our community, can help children and families to express their feelings in the interest of their mental health. One community member who was in our group made the statement, “sometimes expressing my feelings just isn’t on my to-do list.” This statement spoke volumes to me.

She shared her story, which she described as mostly crisis for one reason or another. The quiet space between crises was rare and fleeting. Her priority list was not capturing basic personal maintenance that many of us take for granted. It was a good reminder that we, in the many ways, interact with our community, have the opportunity to help make sure basic needs are met in order to help folks move beyond.

Getting Our Basic Needs Met

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs does a good job of illustrating this. We need to have our physiological needs met and feel safe in order to do anything beyond the basics of life. When we talk about trauma, we talk about the skewed perception of danger and safety. Often times someone who has experienced trauma becomes hypervigilant to threats around them because of this need for safety, and they perceive threats even when none existent. Imagine if your day was spent walking through a minefield. Each step could be your last. Imagine if you spent each day working frantically to earn enough money to keep the lights on and some food in the fridge. You know that you are one paycheck away from living on the street.

Whether real or imagined, these threats cause measurable distress for those experiencing them. When overwhelmed, it is difficult to prioritize tasks that are beyond day-to-day survival. When we work in therapy with our clients, we help them to reframe and refocus their to-do lists and make sure that there are elements on it that create sustainability and are future-thinking

Prioritize Yourself

Therefore, I spent some time thinking about my own sense of priorities, my own to-do list. I thought back to therapy sessions with individuals, couples, and families. Making sure that what you value will create sustainable success is vital to prioritize. Staying at the level of physiological needs and safety are like treading water in the middle of a deep lake. You don’t make much progress and will eventually get tired and sink. Sometimes we forget to put what is really important on our to-do lists.

I wanted to share some of my thoughts, as a reminder to make sure that your to-do list reflects what is really important. It is easy to assume that things will get done, but just like the carrots I forgot to put on my shopping list, they will rarely get into my cart unless I put them on the list.

Time for Relationships

Put time on your calendar to nurture valuable relationships. This includes relationships with your children, your partner, and with friends. When was the last time you actually reserved time for fun with your child? It is important to set this time aside. Plan for it and let your child know, so that he or she can look forward to it.

I remember that was the prescription I wrote most commonly when doing marital and family therapy. Too often, do we take relationships for granted and assume that they will remain strong even when we don’t put additional energy and focus on them for growth. Spending time together needs to be on your to-do list in order to maintain relationships and help them to continue to grow.

My challenge to you is to create a calendar item to spend specific, scheduled time with each child in your life, and with your partner, in individual and special ways. Try it for four weeks. See what it does to your relationships.

Time for You

What do you do to take care of yourself? Can you name ten options for what you would do at the end of a really rough day that you can honestly say are healthy choices for relieving the stress? How many have you done in the last month? Moreover, how many of those do you employ as prevention? Do you have a schedule for exercise, meditation, or personal reading? We need to help ourselves on a daily basis. We need to be strong not just for today, but for tomorrow too. We need to invest in ourselves in order to thrive. I need a cup that is not empty. As a helping professional, I know that fact very well. Nevertheless, it is true for all of us. We have to find ways to fill our own cup. We need to be able to sit with ourselves in the silence and be happy with ourselves.

My challenge to you is to schedule a few minutes each day to be with yourself and try it for the next four weeks. See how it changes your outlook on life.

You can incorporate these two simple practices into your daily routines. It is important to reflect on your priorities. Our priorities, and our to-do-lists, are our roadmap to success. If it is important to you, it should be on your to-do list.

By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education

John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity.

His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.

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