Putting your own needs first is NOT selfish – it is selfless

We are taught from an early age not to be selfish and that it is selfish to put ourselves first, but this is often misinterpreted or misunderstood. Someone who only thinks about themselves and doesn’t give any consideration to other people could be considered selfish, but this is not the same as looking after your own needs.

The reason looking after your own needs is selfless not selfish is because when you are looking after your own needs, you are balanced, you feel good, you have the right chemical balance and life balance. Then and only then you are in the best place to look after the other people you need or want to and give full attention to the other important things in your life.

Only you can look after your own needs. People who care about you will tell you that “you need to do this” or “you should do that”, but only you can make the decisions and actually do something for yourself.

You cannot just give and give and give if you are not right yourself, you need to be in a good place first.

Think of the emergency safety instructions you hear before any flight takes off. You are told to put your own oxygen mask on first BEFORE you help others, even young children. If you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone.

Your wellbeing and mental health is exactly the same, you have to look after yourself first as a priority, then you can look after others.

When you give to other people, but quietly resent them for it, then that is selfish – how do they know you are so drained yourself you don’t have the personal resources to keep giving? Some people even go as far as insisting on giving, even when someone says there is no need, because they’ve decided that the other person needs their help – they then get stressed at the time it takes out of their day and resent the person who they insisted on helping.

Look after your own needs and you will become happy to give selflessly.

Looking after yourself as a priority is as vital, as is becoming aware of your triggers, early warning signs and effective solutions for the very unique you and is the secret to good mental health.

I have a tattoo on my right wrist, where I see it every day, it says

“Memento Vivere”

which means “Remember to Live”

I’m not suggesting everyone gets tattoos, but the reason I had it done was to remind myself to get a life and live. I have a tendency to become too focused on work. I love my work, I’m very passionate about it, but it can take over my life if I don’t keep a check on the balances in my life.  When this happens I stop looking after my own needs and my serotonin levels drop. It usually takes about two weeks for me to notice I’ve dropped if I ignore my intuition screaming at me and let it go too far. The areas I compromise for work are socialising and exercise (running).

When this happens, I deliberately arrange to see friends or I arrange social engagements and activities. I don’t want to at the time, I want to work because I’ve become focused on something in particular and I’m determined to fix something or get a piece of work finished that I’m struggling with. However, I know that I’m not as focused as I should be, I know deep down that I’m procrastinating and I’m easily distracted, I’m cutting corners, I’m not putting 100% effort in when I am working and the results are not my best work – I know this and I’m annoyed at myself.

The answer is NOT to work harder.

The answer is to put it down and go and have some fun and take some time for me.

When I return to it, I’m refreshed, refocused, sharper and I have new inspiration and energy.

Focusing on the problem is not the solution – it never is.

When we are not doing the things we think we should or are obligated to do, we feel guilty and so we punish ourselves with not having fun, we don’t think we deserve it, so we do nothing at all and feel even more guilty.

Having fun and enjoying yourself, engaging in positive activity, positive interaction and positive thinking (that we do when we’re enjoying ourselves) will create serotonin.  Serotonin makes you feel good, it motivates you, it helps you cope with whatever life throws at you, makes you braver and helps you cope with fear and pain.

So you can understand that if you have tough things to deal with, you need to get motivated for something or summon the patience to cope with caring for someone, you need to stop, look after yourself and create serotonin first.

My prescription for today – plan to take some time out for yourself and do something you enjoy doing – everything else can wait for a couple of hours 🙂


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