How To Focus On Yourself Without Being Selfish (Great Advice From 8 Experts)

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Updated on 5 December 2020
Expert Content

We all need to focus on ourselves from time to time.

Sometimes we must address our own needs (without being selfish) before we can think about helping others.

But what are some of the key points to bear in mind when it comes to focusing on yourself during your self-improvement journey?

We asked a group of experts for their best advice on how to focus on yourself without being selfish. Here’s what they said.

Take Care Of Yourself Before Helping Others

Meredith Prescott, Psychotherapist

Set boundaries with others. Practice saying no and learn to get comfortable with it. Whatever is lost when you stand up for yourself is something that you have now gained! Do things that align with your values.

In order to help others, you must take care of yourself. Put your oxygen mask on before helping others!

Identify what goals you are hoping to achieve. What is your ‘why’? What makes you feel strong? Do things that move towards that.

Practice forgiveness and allow yourself to feel. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. We are imperfect humans!

Learn About Empathetic Negotiation

Dave Wolovsky, Relational Skills Expert and Founder of EffortWise

In coaching, I teach the art of ‘Empathic Negotiation’, which is a method for showing up to any relationship as your most intelligent self, and making others genuinely happy to give you what you want.

In my view, empathic negotiation is the key to focusing on ourselves without being selfish. Here’s why.

In order for others to want to help us, they need to feel empathy for us. In order for them to empathize with us, they need to feel understood and respected first.

In order to have the strength and energy to make them feel understood and respected, we need to use effective mind/body techniques to show up with relaxed confidence.

Such techniques include postural awareness, breathing and meditation, visualization, and most importantly, soothing touch (such as Havening techniques).

Ultimate success in any interaction is when both people are happy giving each other what each one wants.

If we want something from someone else (i.e. we’re focusing on a goal for ourselves), the most reliable and sustainable way to get it is to understand the other person’s reality, acknowledge it as important, and then frame what we want as a problem we need their help to solve.

In that way, we’re not being selfish, even when trying to get others to give us what we want for ourselves.

Why Is Self Love Important?

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

Quentin McCain, International Motivational Speaker and Mindset Coach

When we look at the word ‘selfish’, it means an extreme focus on oneself with disregard of others. This means that we are totally able to focus on ourselves without feeling bad about it. Selfishness comes into play when we disregard the needs of others.

Focusing on yourself actually should be prioritized. When we focus on our mental and physical health for example, we are then better-equipped and prepared to help others.

After all, if your glass is empty, how can you possibly pour into others’?

I will also venture to say if you are even questioning how to focus on yourself without being selfish, that may be a great indicator that you are currently putting way too much focus on others.

Your mind, body, or even spiritual needs may be using that very thought to direct more attention to the person that matters most…you!

If you are someone who frequently sacrifices your own wants and needs in order to tend to others, this could be a paradigm shift for you.

When flight attendants are demonstrating the pre-flight instructions, what do they say about the oxygen masks? That’s right! Make sure you put your oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else.

One great way to make this shift is to start small. Even if you take two days a week to focus on yourself you still have five days to help others, you deserve it.

Think Carefully About Your Diet

Lisa Richards, Nutritionist at The Candida Diet

Self-care comes in many forms and looks different for everyone.

One primary way to care for yourself is through the food that you eat. Giving your body the nutrients it needs to function at full capacity is beneficial for all areas of health.

When it comes to self-care and food we often think of the comfort foods and guilty pleasures we turn to at the end of a hard day. These are usually sugar-laden and ultra processed foods.

This may feel like self-care, but the side effects from poor diet choices will do more harm than good in the long-term.

Balance is key to self-care as it relates to food. It is acceptable to want to indulge in comfort food when taking a mental health day, but indulging on a regular basis is no longer self-care but habit.

Self-care may look like preparing meals and snacks ahead of time to enable you to eat a more balanced and nutrient-dense diet.

This is especially true for caregivers and those who are apt to spend their time and energy on caring for others rather than the effort to prepare their own healthy meals.

These individuals typically have to turn to processed convenience foods that lead to chronic inflammation and poor gut health.

We Can’t Love Others If We Don’t Love Ourselves

Sandra Glavan, Anxiety Expert and Founder of Amosuir

This is a topic that’s very close to my heart and one that I struggled with a lot, until I learned that ‘treating yourself with love and respect is the prerequisite for loving and respecting others’.

I suffered from anxiety for many years and during that time I was the ultimate people pleaser.

In my mind, as long as I made others happy, and did as they wish, I was a good person. But that kind of thinking led to a snowball of unhappiness and resentment that manifested into more anxiety.

When my anxiety became unbearable to a point of not being able to go to work, I was forced to look for ways to feel better.

Through intense research and reading of many self-help books, as well as attending numerous seminars and workshops on alternative healing, I finally understood that we can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves.

That’s because when we ignore our deepest desires and wishes for the sake of making people that we love happy, we forsake our own happiness and well-being.

And when we are unhappy and unwell, we have very little energy to love and support others. But when we stay true to ourselves and follow our passions, we become happy and energized, which reflects positively onto everyone around us.

Here are four of the best ways to focus on yourself without being selfish.

• Tell yourself ‘I love you, thank you’ in your mind or in front of the mirror as often as you can – I practice doing this every day. For example, when I go for a walk I will affirm ‘I love you, thank you’ for the entire journey. This is a quick anxiety relief tip and it also makes you feel great!

• Have a healthy breakfast each morning – When we are busy, skipping breakfast can become a habit, but missing the most important meal, sets the tone “I am not important” for the rest of the day. Wake up earlier if you need to, but make sure you eat a healthy breakfast because you are very important!

• Do 30 minutes of exercise daily, no matter how busy your day is – You owe this to yourself. Go for a walk, run, or put on your favorite workout video. Movement is essential for health and wellbeing, no matter how much we try to make it an option!

• Spend 15 minutes relaxing before going to sleep – Meditate, stretch, do yoga, or write in your journal. Give yourself this relaxation time each day to release. You’d be surprised how beneficial this is for your mental, physical and emotional health.

Meditating woman

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Focus On Yourself By Improving Your Awareness

Katie Hughes, Accredited Personal Coach and Founder of KH Personal Coaching

Improving your awareness is the best way to focus on yourself without being superficial or selfish.

Practising the skill of awareness through meditation and mindfulness has many beneficial effects, such as helping you to become aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours and how they affect each other.

This improved awareness of yourself, will help you to control your mindset and behaviours and interpret the behaviours of others, so you can interact with them in more helpful, positive ways.

Improving awareness therefore, is not selfish but improves your relationships with yourself and others around you.

Taking Care Of Ourselves Gives Others Space To Do The Same

Jonathan Lockwood, Public Relations and Public Policy Professional

Working for a decade in public relations and politics, I’ve had to develop ways to focus on myself, while juggling heavy workloads and grueling schedules, competing interests and scrutiny.

The best thing anyone can possibly do to help bring a healthier focus on their self, is to create boundaries and to enforce them.

Covid-19 has magnified a lot of the pressures people are facing, and I think people are reworking how to establish boundaries and make time for self-care.

Being honest with those around you and being gracious with others (and even yourself) is critical to success.

Creating a routine schedule and sticking to it goes a long way.

Communicating clearly what you need and want from others and figuring out the same for others is imperative to building trust.

I think when we show that we are taking good care of ourselves, that it gives others space to do so as well. And, I think that when we are taking good care of ourselves, we are actually better able to be there for others when they need us.

We are most valuable to loved ones, our groups and our society when we have nurtured our self dynamic.

Meditation and mindfulness

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

We Cannot Pour From An Empty Cup

Jennifer Teplin, Founder and Clinical Director at Manhattan Wellness

I believe that focusing on yourself and self-care is the first place anyone should begin.

Think of yourself as a glass filled with water – if you pour the water out to all of the individuals in your life, you may be left with nothing.

If you were to take care of your own needs and help your glass to overflow, you can then share with those around you – and you will also have your needs met. We truly cannot pour from an empty cup.

So often individuals believe that they must put others first to show that they’re important – but the most important individual in your life should be yourself.

Rather than seeing focusing on yourself as selfish, shift the mindset and see it as the highest form of respect towards yourself.

Becoming aware of your needs and meeting them for yourself is a fabulous way to begin because this enables your needs to be met and frees you to focus on others in your life.

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