“Put your own mask on before assisting others.” It’s a familiar part of any airline’s safety briefing. “In the unexpected loss of cabin pressure, masks will drop from a panel above your head.” We all know these phrases, but rarely do we heed the advice outside of the airplane cabin. Instead, we believe that caring for others is more important, and we can survive with the leftovers. We believe that once everyone else has been taken care of, we can take care of ourselves. But this doesn’t always work.
The wisdom in putting your own mask on first is that, once your mask is on, you won’t pass out due to lack of oxygen. Being conscious is an important prerequisite to helping others. If you put on your mask and then help others after they’ve lost consciousness, all is well. If it happens the other way around, you may or may not get the oxygen you need.
Buried in this is the awareness that you can’t help others if you’re not able to help yourself. If you’re unable to stay conscious and to help others, then you won’t be of help to anyone.
Trust and Acceptance
Much of the challenge for not caring for oneself in the moment comes from a lack of trust that others will be able to survive without you. The belief is they’re not able to function without you personally. You don’t trust your coworkers to do the same level of job that you would do – whether that level of care is required or not.
We fail to accept that others can do a good job even if that good job isn’t exactly the way we would do it. Acceptance that it can be okay even if it’s different than our way holds us back from ensuring we’re providing care for ourselves.
Rarely do we frame our lack of self-care as our lack of trust and acceptance of others, but that’s what it is. If we’re unwilling to develop our trust and acceptance of others, we may never feel comfortable doing the self-care we need.
When Albert Bandura started working with people who had severe phobias, he worked on desensitizing the individual by making the smallest possible step towards their fear and making it okay. If they had a fear of snakes, then the first step might be showing them a picture of a snake. After they became comfortable with a picture, he might show them a snake in another room or in a cage away from them. This progressive approach works in the positive direction as well.
A great way to increase trust is to make a small bid for trust from someone. It might be a simple and small request that anyone would do for anyone else, like turning off the lights in the next room. After this, a series of progressively larger set of bids for trust are made until, ultimately, you feel comfortable that the person will meet their commitments to you. That is, after all, what trust is. It’s the confidence that you can predict the behavior of another person, and the behavior will be what you’ve asked for or need.
Trust only gets us so far. It’s one thing to trust, but it’s another to accept the other person’s approach and let go of the specific details of the way we think things “must” be done. Just because someone folds their towels differently than you doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, it’s just different.
You start by letting go of your control. You learn to trust. You learn to not worry about others. Then you can decide to do the self-care you need in the moment. Take a break or simply sit and reflect for a few minutes before getting back to helping the team succeed.