We’re taught to put others first; to give, to sacrifice and to be selfless is to be noble.
“If you’re happy, I’m happy”
These are very respectable but potentially detrimental ways of thinking if they aren’t exercised in some moderation.
Selflessness is admirable. For some of us, it’s even part of our nature. We go out of our way to look out for others, to protect their best interest and to ensure their happiness. But the question is “at what cost?” and often, the answer is at the cost of our own wellbeing. We allow ourselves to be worn down for the sake of pleasing others, even when this isn’t the right thing to do. For many of us, we’re unfamiliar with putting ourselves before others. We are afraid to be selfish. What I’m becoming more aware of is that there is a need to rebrand “selfishness” so that we can look at it with a more positive perspective.
The reason why I’m writing about this is because this is a pattern of behaviour that I’ve personally shown time and time again. The mistake I regularly make is that I fail to realise when it’s time to say “no” and as a consequence, I burn myself out mentally and sometimes even physically. This behavioural trait of mine has been commonly highlighted as a risk to my mental health and there have been times where it’s contributed to my anxiety and depression quite significantly.
I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I’ve made.
So, here are five practical steps to become more selfish:
It’s not easy to embrace selfishness – it can feel unnatural. At the start especially, when you being to be selfish, it might feel wrong to you; you may start to feel guilty for not always being there for others. What you must recognise is that you deserve the best version of yourself and the people you want to be there for deserve the best version of yourself too. How can you expect to give someone 100% if you feel worn down physically, mentally or emotionally? How can you give your best effort to your career, to your health and to your relationships if you’re not even able to give your best effort to yourself?
It’s often said that you can’t pour from an empty cup – to help others you must help yourself. Realise that taking care of yourself first will benefit your personal happiness, productivity, mental and physical health, relationships and so on. You owe it to yourself to exercise self-care, so accept selfishness as a constructive tool to a better and healthier version of you.
Consider what you enjoy doing – what makes you happy? Think about what adds value to your life; whether it’s an activity that benefits your progression, your health or your happiness, it’s important to prioritise these activities within your lifestyle. Progress, productivity and a sense of accomplishment all help to generate a feeling of happiness in your life. When we are meeting our own expectations of ourselves, we feel satisfied and content.
So do more of what makes you happy and do more of what keeps you healthy.
Now this point is especially important, perhaps even more so than “doing more”. I say this because a lot of us have been taught that doing more, even the things we don’t want to do, is respected and worth merit. When your manager asks you to take on an extra task at work, even when you know you’re at full capacity, you feel obliged to say yes. Why? Because we’ve been taught that overworking ourselves and overloading ourselves is the fastest road to success.
Don’t be mistaken, however, hard work is essential to your success. The fact is that sometimes we’ve got to do the things that we don’t want to do; that’s just life. But what’s important is knowing when to say no. When it’s appropriate to decline an unwanted request, do it. You’ve got to be aware of your own boundaries and draw the line. Where you can, cut out the things which have no benefit to you at all. You’ll be amazed at how much this can influence your daily happiness and the way in which it can free up your time for other things.
Planning ahead and organising your time can be helpful tools in being more able to reschedule your life around self-care. Using planners or diaries are just some of the many ways you can organise yourself more effectively – find what suits you best.
I’m sure you’ve been there before… You’ve wanted to have that hour to yourself, undisturbed, where you would’ve been able to go to the gym, had a read of that book that’s collecting dust on your shelf or catch up on that growing to-do list, but you just couldn’t get to it. You were just too busy.
It’s important to have a non-negotiable attitude to the things that matter to you most. Whether it’s that uninterrupted time in the day to exercise or that hour to yourself before bed, make sure that you don’t compromise on it. As soon as you compromise on it too often, you’ll make it a habit.
You care about the people around you – you don’t want to push them away by saying no when they ask for your help. They need you. Communicating what you’re doing and why you’re doing it can really go a long way. If they understand why you’re being selfish and why you’re prioritising yourself, they’re far more likely to be patient with your new way of doing things. Don’t keep them out of the loop – remind them of your intentions and still be there for them when it’s appropriate. Eventually they will adjust.
Remember that empathy and communication are two critical factors in all of your relationships.
With that being said, I understand that the steps above are difficult, even if they are practical. I’m still trying to learn to be more selfish, but I accept that this will take time and a lot of practice. So I’m going to stick with it and I hope that you do too – we deserve it.
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” – Christopher Germer
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