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Why It’s Not Selfish to Put Yourself First

One piece of advice that I’ve come across in the writings of several life coaches is that we should act in our own best interests. My initial reaction to this is to feel uncomfortable – like most people, I worry that I’m being selfish if I put myself first.

But I’ve come to realize that acting in your own best interests, when done properly, isn’t a selfish act – it’s a way to ensure that you’re making the very best of your life, so that you can help those around you to make the very best of theirs.

So, what are your best interests? How do you base your actions, your goals, your time-management and your life on them – and how will this affect the people around you?

I would suggest that acting consistently in your own best interests involves four areas:

  • Meeting your physical needs, such as getting enough sleep and exercise
  • Meeting your emotional needs, such as asking for support when you need it
  • Meeting your mental needs, such as having a stimulating job
  • Meeting your spiritual needs, such as taking time to meditate or pray

Physical needs

If you’re regularly exhausted because you never take time to eat a proper meal, get a good night’s sleep, or get some exercise, then start making these things an absolute priority.

Do you stay up late with your spouse, watching TV whilst slumped on the sofa half-asleep, because you think he/she will be offended if you go to bed alone? Are you the one who always insists on getting up with the kids in the night – even though your partner would be perfectly happy to? Do you have no time for your own breakfast because you’re too busy preparing lunchboxes for your children?

“You eat on the run because you believe that you shouldn’t take time for lunch; there’s too much work to do. You eat the éclair, the doughnut, the cake, all the while knowing this isn’t really taking care of yourself. But to really take care of yourself, you have to think of yourself first.”

- End Emotional Hunger: Take Care of Yourself First

Being well-rested, and taking care of your health, means that you’ll have the energy you need to help those around you. If you feel constantly frazzled, you’re likely to snap at your loved ones when you least mean to.

Emotional needs

Some of us end up being the “rock” who friends and family come to with problems. It’s a great privilege to be known as a good listener, but sometimes it’s hard when you feel you need support – but you’re worried about burdening people.

Ask a good friend or a relative if you can have a chat with them. Explain that you’re going through a difficult time, and it would help to have someone to talk to. They’ll be more than glad to help, especially if it means they can return a favor that you’ve provided for them in the past.

Healthy selfishness is a way of thinking and acting in which there is a deep appreciation and concern for yourself. It includes a willingness to respect your own feelings, desires, and needs as well as to trust your knowledge, ability, and experience. … In a practical sense, it means doing such things as resting when you’re tired or asking for emotional support without apology.

If you don’t reach out to other people when you’re feeling sad, angry, low or lonely, you can end up turning to unhealthy sources of comfort. Whether it’s supersized bars of candy, a bottle of vodka, or drugs, all of these will eventually be damaging to you and to those around you.

Mental needs

We all need to feel challenged and stimulated by our daily life. If you never learn anything new, never push yourself to think a bit harder, or never do anything that tests your limits – you’ll probably end up feeling that life lacks meaning.

On the flip side, if you’re completely out of your depth with a particular area of studying or work, you’re unlikely to be unhappy, stressed and anxious.

These are three classic scenarios of people whose mental needs aren’t being met. See if you recognize yourself in any of these:

John works in a factory. It’s boring, repetitive and low-paid work, but it’s a secure job. His real passion is computers, and he started a couple of programming courses once – but he quickly gave up, convinced that a career change would be dangerous to his family’s security.

Amy is at home all day with three small children. She loves her kids dearly, but misses her high-powered job in journalism. But her family need her, and she convinces herself that she’ll be able to restart her career once the kids have all left home.

Mark is a Physics major, and hates it. He wanted to study Theatre Management, but his dad insisted that there was more money in science. Mark spends every evening struggling over his textbooks, feeling more and more lost as the semester goes on.

Do you think any of these people are able to meet the needs of those around them? Do you think that John, Amy and Mark’s loved ones want them to feel unhappy and unfulfilled?

Spiritual needs

When life is busy, it’s hard to take time for things which feel unproductive – like attending a religious service, meditating, taking a long bath, or praying. You might feel guilty about “sitting there doing nothing” if you’re engaged in one of these activities.

But it’s crucially important for us to find space and distance from day-to-day life, in order to take a fresh look at things. Some great thinkers have flashes of inspiration in the bath (Archimedes’ Eureka moment comes to mind…). I’m sure that you’ve had your own experience that sometimes the solution to a tricky problem, or a new insight on life, comes when you’re just relaxing.

Letting yourself take the time you need, without feeling guilty, means that you’ll be able to support your family and friends with your perspective on problems or situations that they might be in. You’ll be in a better state to not only cope with, but excel in, your own life.

Do you consciously act in your own best interests? Have you ever felt guilty about doing so? How does putting yourself first help you to be a better human being?

 

Written by Ali, who runs the blog Alpha Student: helping students get the most out of university.

Image by Todd Baker.

  • http://thedanielrichard.com Daniel Richard

    By placing myself first, I can have more energy to help others who are around me. That way there will be like lesser chance of being burnt out or feeling in a slump.

  • http://www.yinvsyang.com Pete

    What an amazing post. This sums up what took me a long time to figure out. There is that inner voice that tells you not to be selfish, and then your natural instinct to do what’s best for YOU. It takes awhile, at least for me it did, to overcome that guilt and realize what you said, by being more in tune with me, I am a better person to everyone else.

    I’m sending this to my biz partner. He needs it!!!

    http://yinvsyang.com/

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  • http://ourbestversion.com Ari Koinuma

    That’s a good overview of why it’s healthy, ethical and moral to take care of yourself.

    Coming from a religious background, I’ve always had a big problem with selfishness. “Deny yourself and follow God” seems to be one of those lines that created conflicts inside me.

    In a way, I’ve come to a new understanding of what that means — I believe that I am made the way I am for a reason. And by surrendering to that and allowing myself to be what I am, with all its essential needs fully met, I honor the intentions of my Creator. I am here to do work that’s given to me, with desires to do them innately planted in me. And I am learning to surrender to that, allow myself to be nourished, fed and grown, so that I can most effectively do the work given to me, and by doing so I honor my Creator.

    So, in the other words, neglecting yourself to follow some god or others is no longer logical, ethical or moral to me. It is in the best interest of everyone, including my Creator, if I meet my own needs so I can sustain doing what I must do in my life.

    ari

    • Christine Duval

      I love your comments as well.  It’s to say…. God made me, if I don’t value myself from someone whom God made, then it’s like telling God, hey, I don’t care that you made me, I’m not going to care about myself, when he wants us to.  It’s as though we’re putting God down.  We’re showing him lack of respect by us showing lack of respect for ourselves.  WOW, THAT JUST CAME TO ME AS I WAS TYPING THIS.  That’s an epiphany moment!!!!

  • http://www.coachandcounsel.net/yrlfcoach Di

    Thank you for a very interesting and detailed post. I feel that you have really covered the aspect of meeting your needs. It is true that many of us feel guilty about meeting our own needs and fear that others may consider us selfish. But to me the selfishness arises when we put our needs to the detriment of others. Caring for and nurturing yourself is far from being selfish.

  • http://www.tipr.org Evert de Ruiter

    I agree. The act of selfishnes is always a matter of putting yourself first. You are the most important person in your life, you should always be put first.

    But there’s always something left to give to other people :) And that should be enough, you can’t help the whole world.

  • http://jimschroeder.blogspot.com/ James Schroeder

    Great Post!

    Something I tell people who have trouble creating appropriate boundaries and caring for themselves when I counsel.

    The first rule of the lifeguard…

    Do not drown yourself. If you die, everyone dies.

    Lifeguard trainers go so far as to instruct lifeguards to punch or otherwise disable a hysterical victim lest they pull both people under.

    Putting ourselves first sometimes allows us the opportunity to best serve others.

  • http://createabalance.com Stacey / Create a Balance

    Lately, I have been blogging about the need to “practice be selfish”. I self nurture and self nourish…and truly believe that to provide great value to the world I need to take care of myself first. It’s the airplane/oxygen metaphor…you must first put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

  • joe

    you guys are just weird. need lives

  • http://credit3.ru/ Mike

    Thank you for very interesting post. I’ll link it!

  • http://proffstroi.ru/ Gorden

    Agree with Mike!

  • http://www.cmoe.com Employee Coaching

    An interesting post, and I agree with many things that you have stated, by I must also interject that I have found that selfless behavior can also give us an added strength that goes beyond what we thought we would be able to do. I have found that by making sure that the needs of another are met before my own, I have always had time to do what I need to do and felt energized to do it.

  • http://www.harmonythiessen.com/blog Harmony

    Thanks for this healthy post! The thing is, if we don’t monitor ourselves and nuture US we then expect others to do it for us. And that = TROUBLE. :-)

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  • igor

    An important topic and some helpful remarks.
    But let’s not pretend selfishness doesn’t exist.
    A lot of current new-agey self-affirmation fashion does actually make people selfish, in my view.
    The question I’d like to be able to better answer is: how to distinguish between healthy self-nurturing (good) and selfishness (bad). There may be a grey area in the middle, I’m afraid.

  • catherine

    Actually it is selfish to put yourself first. And it is moral. Ayn Rand was the first to prove it, philosophically. Her philosophy is called Objectivism.

    I’ll just add a quote from her here in case that interests you.


    At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

    1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
    2. Epistemology: Reason
    3. Ethics: Self-interest
    4. Politics: Capitalism

    If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

    If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life.

    • Craig

      Just a small correction, selfishness is NOT moral – it is however ETHICAL. morality is a behavioral modifier of religions and socialists. Ethics, guide the self-aware and self-determend. The distinction is worth thinking about. All the best on your life journey. $.

  • http://www.codeflow.co.za Juliet

    Hi Igor

    Apologies if this is a repeat, but my PC crashed ;)

    In terms of keeping with good-selfish versus bad-selfish, I think that it is important to:
    1. know oneself
    2. be aware of your goals and what you want to achieve
    3. assess the situation

    If you keep your behaviour and actions in line with what you want to achieve, then you’ll keep on your path. If this is a selfish path from the start, then, so be it.

    For example, I am a person who needs a fair amount of personal space (I know myself).
    My friends are important to me (I want to maintain, improve, grow these friendships).

    To achieve the latter, I need to spend time with my friends. However, given the former, I know that, if I am in need of space, time with friends will not be quality time. I won’t be able to give as much as I would like and it will drain me even further. If I am in this in-need-of-space frame of mind, I don’t think that it is bad-selfish to decline an invitation. I want to be able to give of my best to these relationships. That said, I will always muster the energy if a friend is in need.

    So, for me, it’s self-awareness, purpose and assessment of the situation.

    Juliet

  • Eileen

    I’ve always liked being selfish, and I certainly don’t have a problem putting myself first!

  • http://www.themasterssecretkey.com/ Candace

    Great post.

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  • Chris

    I would like to comment on what a wise man once said;
    “Love your naighbour as yourself”.
    How do I then give anything to somebody else if I don’t first love myself?
    To love others IS to put yourself first.
    Selfish is not to love yourself at all.

    • Christine Duval

      WOW!!!  I LOVE WHAT YOU SAID.   Very inspiring.  Thank you.  Christine

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  • http://zidditamana.wordpress.com Tamana

    Thank you for this article. It took me a long time to realize everything you’ve written here. But when I came across your article I realized that I knew all of this before hand. I just needed a reminder.

    Thanks for the reminder! :)

    Tamana~

  • alana

     I don’t think its selfish to put yourself first. I’ve learned that the hard way, I use to always put everyone else ahead of myself. Then I realized no one really cares about you, but themselves, and it does hurt when people you care about, don’t think of you the same way you think of them. It’s draining; it’s not fun. You have to put yourself above everyone else to guarantee your happiness, or you may crash hard.

  • alana

     I don’t think its selfish to put yourself first. I’ve learned that the hard way, I use to always put everyone else ahead of myself. Then I realized no one really cares about you, but themselves, and it does hurt when people you care about, don’t think of you the same way you think of them. It’s draining; it’s not fun. You have to put yourself above everyone else to guarantee your happiness, or you may crash hard.

  • John

    Great article! I’ve realised alot of mistakes that I’ve made throughout most of my life are due to not thinking that my own needs are as important as others. The problem with this is that I assume that other people are constantly thinking of my needs, but they’re not.
    “No more Mr Nice Guy” is a great book on the subject (ignore the cheesy title). As the author explains, caring should come from a place of abundance. People  who value their own needs are often more delightful people to be around.
    Of course, everything can be taken too far to the point that you never care about anyone else.

  • John

    Great article! I’ve realised alot of mistakes that I’ve made throughout most of my life are due to not thinking that my own needs are as important as others. The problem with this is that I assume that other people are constantly thinking of my needs, but they’re not.
    “No more Mr Nice Guy” is a great book on the subject (ignore the cheesy title). As the author explains, caring should come from a place of abundance. People  who value their own needs are often more delightful people to be around.
    Of course, everything can be taken too far to the point that you never care about anyone else.

  • John

    Great article! I’ve realised alot of mistakes that I’ve made throughout most of my life are due to not thinking that my own needs are as important as others. The problem with this is that I assume that other people are constantly thinking of my needs, but they’re not.
    “No more Mr Nice Guy” is a great book on the subject (ignore the cheesy title). As the author explains, caring should come from a place of abundance. People  who value their own needs are often more delightful people to be around.
    Of course, everything can be taken too far to the point that you never care about anyone else.

  • John

    Great article! I’ve realised alot of mistakes that I’ve made throughout most of my life are due to not thinking that my own needs are as important as others. The problem with this is that I assume that other people are constantly thinking of my needs, but they’re not.
    “No more Mr Nice Guy” is a great book on the subject (ignore the cheesy title). As the author explains, caring should come from a place of abundance. People  who value their own needs are often more delightful people to be around.
    Of course, everything can be taken too far to the point that you never care about anyone else.

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  • Candk_70

    Thanks-I needed that!

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  • http://twitter.com/pendragon05 pendragon05

    It took me a long time to realize that once I became an adult, no one would take care of my needs but me. I was “socialized” into putting off my needs, interests, and life for others. Didn’t do me any good until I changed my mindset. Happy ‘Me Day’ to everyone out there today. :)

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  • Stew

    And I’m good enough, smart enough, and, Gosh darn it, people like me. – Stewart Smalley

  • Short Hair

    Good post about Why It’s Not Selfish to Put Yourself First

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