Non-negotiables and self care

It’s self-care week! This campaign is led by the Self Care Forum and the NHS have got on board too. The focus of this week is about empowering ourselves to look after our health and to take steps that might reduce our chances of needing medical intervention later down the line. Self-care can operate on so many levels and can mean different things for different people depending on their lives and the things they might be facing at a particular moment in time. Today I wanted to share something that has been really important for me in my self-care journey (it really has, and continues to be, a journey…!), that is non-negotiables. 

What does non-negotiable mean?

The definition of negotiable is something that is open to discussion and thus modification. In contrast, a non-negotiable is therefore defined as something that ‘cannot be changed through discussion’.

What is a non-negotiable?


Most of us have non-negotiables in our lives that we probably aren’t even aware of. They might be in place through personal preference (e.g. you won’t date someone who does drugs) or they may be enforced (e.g. you can’t eat gluten). But it can be really useful to hone in on what your non-negotiables are, whether they are coming from a good, authentic and healthy place and whether perhaps you need to put some into your life.

The important thing about non-negotiables is that even though you might have them with regard to self-care, they are often an act of self-care in themselves. Identifying and putting non-negotiables in place involves you feeling a certain way about yourself and valuing whatever it is you are prioritising (which I’ll talk a bit more about shortly).

What are my non-negotiables?

Upon beginning my PhD I had done a lot of work around self-care and prioritising my health and well-being above all else so I was very clear on some of the non-negotiables I would be bringing into my life. Some examples of those early non-negotiables include:

  • not working on anything PhD related in the evenings
  • not working on anything PhD related at the weekends
  • not replying to emails in the evenings or at weekends
  • not doing more than a certain number of hours of part-time work per week

As I have got more into my PhD things have changed and there have been other non-negotiables that have come and gone, including:

  • no more than 3 late nights a week
  • at least one yoga class per week
  • having at least one half day off during the week (more when it was a particular busy week)
  • attending therapy/holistic appointments are prioritised over PhD work
  • having at least one clear schedule day for writing
  • scheduling at least one day to work in a different environment

Though some of these are directly related to self-care, such as getting enough sleep and not overworking, some others may seem slightly unrelated, but in reality all of these contribute towards me feeling good and though they often improve my productivity, the most important thing is that they improve how I feel whilst being productive.

What are some blocks to introducing non-negotiables? How can they be overcome?

Whilst I feel confident now implementing my non-negotiables there was a time when I really didn’t. Self-care was completely off my radar and it took a while to be able to put myself first above all else (and it’s still a work in progress!). I had to work through a number of blocks before I could really put my non-negotiables in place.

Time: It can be SO easy to think that we are limited on time, and sometimes we are. Sometimes it can seem completely impossible to fit in something to our schedule when we are already bursting at the seams. But sometimes we just need to bite the bullet and prioritise whatever it is we need to introduce into our lives. Before we know it everything will have shifted and we’ll be used to a new flow. For me the ‘time’ issue wasn’t always to do with the actual amount of time I had, it was to do with my perspective on time and my belief that I just didn’t have enough of it. A perspective change was really important here. I had to remind myself that my non-negotiables might take up time, but they would improve not only my productivity but also my quality of life. I could force myself to work those eight hours at a 50% capacity, or I could have a lie in or yoga class and work 5-6 hours at 75% capacity – whilst not feeling like I’m dragging myself through mud.

Guilt: One thing I really struggled with was needing to say no. To having to put myself first and to remind myself that if my non-negotiable felt important to me, then that was all that matters. Everyone’s non-negotiables will be different, you might not understand why someone else finds it vital to get their 6am run in, they might not understand why you can only deal with 3 late nights a week. You don’t have to convince someone of the importance of your non-negotiable. The only person you need to convince is yourself.

Another aspect of this guilt is saying no to people who you are closest too. A social event might be suggested for the night you go to your regular yoga/painting/self-defence/music class, obviously in this instance you might prefer to go to the social event, but if you don’t fancy it, it can be hard to say no. Ultimately you are choosing yourself over someone else, but this is not a bad thing, this is not selfish, and in fact so many of us could benefit from doing this more often! What I’ve learnt is that those most important to me, and those who get me and want the best for me, will either understand my need to do whatever it is I do, or they will find a way to work around it.

Self-worth and value: This was, and still is, the kicker for me. Putting non-negotiables in place requires a certain level of self-worth, value, love and compassion. You have to respect yourself and know that you are important enough to have these non-negotiables in place. Self-care is not selfish, nor is having self-worth or value. It makes you a better person to be around – for yourself and others! It’s not easy, I’ll give you that, and I don’t have all the answers. But there can be something deliciously fun about going against the grain and the typical view of society and putting yourself first. You might make people feel slightly uncomfortable, as you challenge their views on self care and self worth, but that is ok. Sometimes for me it feels like a little act of rebellion and I have started to feel proud of myself for putting myself first in my life and doing things my way.

How do we know what our non-negotiables are?

It can be helpful to look at the things that make you feel good, happy, alive or connected – these are the kind of things you want in your life on a regular basis.

Asking yourself ‘if I could have anything right now in this moment, what would it be?’ or “if money or time weren’t  a restriction, what do I need right now?” and you can break this down further if you struggle to identify your needs: “what does mind need right now?”, “what does the extrovert/introvert in me need right now?” or what does my body need right now?”. 

Developing an awareness of the things that your mind or body craves may start to indicate what your non-negotiables might be. Keeping a list can be handy so that you can start to incorporate them into your schedule.

How to begin?

My suggestion for getting started with putting non-negotiables in place would be to just try it! Decide on one thing you’d like to practice putting into your schedule, perhaps one exercise class at a certain time, or a coffee date with one person regularly. Keep a note of what thoughts your mind throws up, whether you have any specific blocks or what things might be barriers to you having your non-negotiable in place. be honest with friends if you need to, explain what you are trying to do and tell them that there might be occasions where you simply have to say ‘sorry I can’t tonight, I have my non-negotiable/yoga class/cookery class/whatever’. It can be a fun experience and it can be really useful (if you are a researcher) to almost see it like a little experiment, observing your reaction and the reaction of others.


I’d love to hear if you have any non-negotiables, whether you’ve come across this concept before and whether you’d like to introduce some into your life.

Take really good care of you. Until next time 🙂


Self Care Forum

Thrive‘ – Arianna Huffington

The Little Book of Self Care‘ – Mel Noakes

The Self-Care Project‘ – Jayne Hardy

The Self-Care Revolution‘ – Suzy Reading

From Coping to Thriving‘ – Hannah Braime

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