How To “Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First”

Many of us have been on a plane before, hopefully travelling to some exotic destination. Picture yourself in the seat of the plane with your seat belt on, all excited about your future destination. The plane starts toward the runway and the flight attendants start their “pre-flight safety briefing”. They point to the exits, they show you where the life jacket is under your seat and then they talk about the oxygen mask. “If there is a drop in cabin pressure, the oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling”. They then make a very important statement. “Please make sure that you fit your own mask first before you assist anyone else around you”. You know what? I think this statement is also a fantastic analogy for life as well.

We tend to run around to everyone we know with an oxygen mask in our hands and say “here can I help you”, “here can I help you”, “here, can I help you”. But the whole time, we’re the ones passing out from lack of oxygen. Why? Because we didn’t put our own mask on first.

“The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot”                        (Anon)

We are all so focused on taking care of others and being productive for every waking moment we have. But do we need to consider that presence is a far more rewarding pursuit than constant productivity. We have fallen into the trap of measuring our worth against how much money we earn, how efficient at tasks we are and how many “things” we own. But as Annie Dillard put it, “how we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives.” So do you feel that you run around like a headless chook, or do you stop and smell the daisies occasionally? And if you do stop to smell the daisies, are you actually present in that field of little flowers or are you off in your constant ruminations about the next task you have to complete?

Consider just some of the opportunities you have to put your own oxygen mask on first.

Consider the 3Ps

1)   Presence

When we focus only on the outcomes and the goals we have to achieve, we tend to judge our days on how productive we have been. But if we are having an opportunity for presence, we have the opportunity to focus on the moment without trying to achieve anything else besides our own internal experiences and recharging our batteries. Remember productivity is pretty much useless if what you are producing isn’t meaningful to you or others in some way. Productivity should be about actually achieving our goals. However do we often just sit back and reflect on what we actually want our goals to look like. Or are we marching ahead aimlessly, doing what we’ve always done, because that’s all we’ve ever known or that’s all we think we’re good at?

2)   Plan

Sometimes I think it’s good practice to simply sit down and reflect on what I would actually find most useful for my day and what I really want to be doing. Consider:

·         When I look back on the past hour, what will make me feel good about the way I have spent that time?

·         What would give me the greatest sense of pride at this time?

·         What would I like to have achieved today?

·         Am I really engaged in what I am doing?

·         When I take time out to reflect and relax, I know I am usually more productive afterwards. So when am I scheduling that time for myself during the day?

3)   Produce

Time is one of our most precious commodities, and yet we never seem to have enough of it. Are we organised in the way we spend our time? There is always “stuff to do”, always people to take care of, always a mess that needs cleaning up (personally or professionally). It’s obviously important to recognise that the time we do have is limited and that we need to ensure we are using it in the best way we can. Are we organised? Do we manage our time effectively? Do we have goals and develop specific action steps? Do we try and complete one task before going onto the next? Do we use all the resources we have around us or think “we are the only ones who can do this properly?”

Remember, all that productivity and goal setting and action planning needs to have a reward.

But what is that reward?

Have we even considered and reflected on what that reward looks like for us? Is it time to just sit and be mindful? Time to reflect. Time to look at a sunset. Time to hold someone’s hand. Time to be truly present with where we are, and who we are with, and what we are doing. Time which does not represent your mind being in a constantly busy state.

One of my favourite places to visit is the Sydney Aquarium. I walk through with my kids and look at all the different displays. But my kids know that when we get to the very end, there is a huge open aquarium with a massive floor to ceiling glass panel. There are thousands of fish and I can’t help but stop in front of that window and sit on the steps. I could just stay there for hours and look at that window. The kids just know to leave me alone and they wander off, or look in the gift shop. But in front of that window, I don’t think of anything else but watching those fish. How they move, how they interact, their colours, shapes and sizes. I am completely mindful, in the moment and not thinking about anything else except watching those fish. It is truly relaxing, replenishing and a relief not to have to think about anything else. I put my own mask on first in those moments.

So………… Do you have a place? Do you schedule time? Do you take an opportunity for presence? When are you going to PUT YOUR OWN OXYGEN MASK ON FIRST?

Want to take the first steps to putting on your own Oxygen mask? Contact Michelle at  to arrange a free 30 minute coaching session to work through your needs.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or