When was the last time you put yourself first? There’s a big difference between putting yourself first and being selfish, but a lot of us are taught they’re one and the same.
“Many people — and women in particular — are raised to believe that nurturing and caring for others is more important than tending to the self,” explains Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear.
But, ultimately, you have to put yourself first to stay healthy long-term.
“Taking care of both your physical and mental health can be an integral part of choosing to prioritize your overall well-being,” explains Tatyana Mestechkina, Ph.D., Founder and Clinical Director of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Better Living.
“This can include exercise, balanced eating, good sleep hygiene, check-ups with doctors, and going to therapy,” she adds.
Why Put Yourself First?
Putting yourself first is healthy. “When you put yourself first in mindful, balanced ways, you benefit your overall well-being,” explains Manly.
She adds that addressing your needs can increase your self-esteem and deter stress and burnout.
Though you might believe putting yourself first is selfish (spoiler: it’s not), Mestechkina emphasizes that it may actually allow you to be more fully present for others.
Prioritizing our own needs “is actually an investment in not just ourselves but in our relationships and commitments,” she explains. “It can energize and refuel us in a way that can lead us to be better, more present and effective when with others or when doing things for others.”
You’re also cultivating relationships in which people don’t take you and your efforts for granted.
Manly explains that when you prioritize yourself, “others tend to value and respect you for your intentional contributions.”
And you deserve people in your life who appreciate you.
Additionally, you may inspire others who struggle with people-pleasing, Manly notes.
If you grew up believing you were “bad” for taking time for yourself, you could break that cycle for your children by modeling self-care and healthy boundaries.
In a sense, you’ll be living proof that it’s possible to love and care for others without neglecting yourself.
How to Put Yourself First
If you’re trying to stop being a people pleaser, using just one of these tips is a significant accomplishment.
Don’t feel like you need to pull a 180 and try to put yourself first every single time.
“It’s not all or nothing,” reminds Mestechkina. Your goal may be to find a good balance between prioritizing yourself and others.
“You can value taking care of yourself and also value taking care of others,” she adds. “They are not mutually exclusive.”
Try the steps below to work toward prioritizing yourself.
Adopting these practices may take time, but countering negative thoughts about being “selfish” or “indulgent” with positive-self talk can help the process.
1. Realize Your Health Is Your Responsibility
Unfortunately, no one’s going to take care of your health but you — and that means you have a responsibility to yourself.
“Even those who deeply fear being labeled selfish can appreciate the truth that you can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself,” says Manly.
She encourages people to think about safety precautions on an airplane: They instruct you to put on your mask before helping others.
Prioritize your health by making exercise and nutrition non-negotiable. If you’re short on time, even a 20-minute workout can be effective.
If you need help dialing-in your nutrition, try a daily superfood dessert (what? Yup!) like Shakeology. Satisfy your sweet tooth and fuel your body with high-quality, necessary nutrition.
2. Start Saying “No” When You’re Overloaded
If something feels overly taxing or demanding, it’s self-care to decline. Saying no is a positive first step, but Manly challenges you to go beyond that.
She encourages you to work toward simply saying no and thanking the person for the invitation “rather than feeling the need to apologize or offer a detailed explanation.”
3. Schedule Your Self-Care
If there’s something you should be doing for your health, whether it’s getting in a workout or taking some “me time,” put it on the calendar.
Treat these scheduled events as you would a work meeting or a doctor’s appointment.
4. Make Time for You Every Day
Some of your time needs to go to you. Even a consistent 20 minutes daily “signals to yourself and others that you are worthy and valuable,” says Manly.
When you do this, “you are modeling healthy behavior,” she adds. If you find this hard, consider using some of that time for daily affirmations.
5. Set (and Stick to) Healthy Boundaries
There will always be people and things that will take the time you make for yourself if you let them. That’s why setting boundaries is crucial.
Manly encourages you to say something polite but firm “if others pressure you to put their needs first.”
It can be as simple as: “Please respect my boundaries by not pressuring me.”