As my flight got ready to take off this week, I watched the safety video that includes the familiar message I have now heard hundreds of times: “In the case of an emergency, secure your own mask first.” The airlines remind of this each and every flight because they’ve learned that we are more likely to focus on helping our kids first than ourselves, which could do more harm than good. This pragmatic tip is really an important metaphor for how we should live our lives.

For example, many of us don’t prioritize our own life goals and needs. We put ourselves last and too often say “yes” to other things and people, which divides our energy into too many disparate activities. The result is that we aren’t as successful, nor are we as effective at helping others as we could be.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around the concept of putting one’s self first and being selfish. I, personally, don’t see them as one in the same. Being selfish is more about believing that the world revolves around you and your needs and not caring about the well-being of others; putting yourself first is about not compromising your own needs.

If we don’t put ourselves first, then everyone we come across tends to get a suboptimal version of us. To be at our best – for ourselves and others— we need to make sure we are living in a way that leaves us happy, healthy, and rested. Some of the most generous and giving people I know are those who are very disciplined about their own priorities and goals.  The result is they have the capacity to give the most in a sustained way.

Here are three simple tips to help you get better about putting yourself first:

  1. Saying No: If we say yes to everything everyone asks us to do, we will never be in control of our own priorities. Think about using the “hell yeah or no test” to decide when to say no and relieve yourself from the associated guilt.
  2. Prioritize Basic Needs: Sleeping, eating, and movement (exercise) are all basic needs that should be an uncompromising priority in our lives. To point number one, this often requires saying no to other things.
  3. Keep a Journal: I keep coming across article after article about the benefits of journaling. An interesting aspect of this practice is that it provides a window into your stream of consciousness, self-accountability, and mindfulness.

The next time you find yourself making an excuse for something that you want to do for yourself, I encourage you to take a step back and consider the three tips provided above. If you are constantly putting your own needs and goals behind those of others, you’ll likely end up being too tired or resentful to enjoy your own success and achievement. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish; it’s often the best thing you can do in the service of others.


Quote of the Week

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

Eleanor Roosevelt