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“Me first” – Does it sound selfish when you hear someone say “Me first”?

I used to think that it was. Last week, I had a few conversations around the topic of where people were putting others first instead of themselves. I can also speak from experience, often putting others first. As I’ve grown older and hopefully a tiny bit wiser J, I realise that it’s not selfish, it’s essential. I’m still learning to put myself first as it’s not always easy.

How do we know if we are putting others first without meeting our own needs?

It may be done out of habit that you don’t even see it.  Perhaps you are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, feeling like there’s too much going on, then stop for a moment and ask yourself: Do I say yes to anything straight away? Do I find it difficult to ask for help? Am I starting to get resentful? Do I feel like other’s needs are more important than my own?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time to take a step back and breathe. The first part is always becoming aware. If you aren’t aware that you are doing something, then you can’t do anything about it.

What happens if we continue down this path?

Well, it’s not sustainable in the long run. You may start feeling it physically in your body through aches and pains as you’re not listening to what you want and need. You’re using up all your reserves and energy and not replenishing it. You may start to feel more tired, groggy, irritable and resentful.

Life can start to feel lifeless because you end up doing everything for everyone else and not enough for yourself.  When we are running from an empty cup, it’s not sustainable. We’re burning up our resources in an unhealthy way to the point where there will soon be nothing left to give. And then, no one wins.

How does this happen?

There are so many reasons this can happen. It may be a learnt behavior because you have seen it done as a child and therefore you learn that this is the best thing to do. For example, you see your mother doing everything for your father, putting his needs before her own without meeting her own needs. We often copy the behavior of our parents as they must have got things figured out correctly right?

It may be a taught behavior where you are told to put your siblings, your grandparents or your friends first. Parents often want to teach you to respect so tell you to wait your turn, allowing others first so you end up thinking that this is what you always have to do.

People pleasers often find it hard to put themselves first as their first reaction is to say yes to others without asking themselves if that is what they want. This can be out of habit. How we interpret events influences us and know that our subconscious is always trying to protect us. The behavior can be reinforced if you experienced negative consequences when you put yourself first and positive consequences when you put others first.

It can also be part of your role. Parents have to look after their newborn children otherwise they won’t survive. At some point, the child may be able to find some food for themselves from the fridge, they may be able to dress themselves so it’s up to the parents to let the children do more so that the children can grow, freeing up time for the parents.

What can you do about it?

Once you realise that you are putting others first without meeting your own needs, then it’s time to take a step back and make a list of all the things that you feel you are doing for others. Then go through the list and ask yourself if you are genuinely happy to do the task or would prefer not. You may find yourself being ok with doing some of the tasks for others.

See if you can identify any patterns, do you say yes to people straight away? Do you find it difficult to say no to family, work or your kids? When you start to see a pattern, then you are able to catch yourself before it happens next time. I used to say yes to a lot of requests but now I say “I’ll come back to you” which gives me some time to think whether it is something I actually want to do.

Learning to say no to the things you don’t want to do is a whole new topic and it takes some practice if you are not used to doing it. I find that politeness goes a long way in life, so a simple “Thank you for thinking of me, but I will have to pass this time”. Some people like to add a why to the sentence like “I’ve got a lot going on” or “I’m busy with setting up my new business” but you don’t have to explain anything, you only include it if you want.

Go back to the reasons why you have found yourself in this pattern and work together with your subconscious mind on it. You can journal on the topic, use techniques that work with the subconscious mind (for example, EFT, Resonance Repatterning) or Rapid Transformational Therapy with me J or someone else. It’s easier to change thoughts and beliefs at the subconscious level as you are going to the root and cause of your behavior now.

I’m a big believer in the multiple action plan. Work at it on all levels to support yourself. Now ask yourself what you do for yourself that is purely for you and recharges you. If you can’t identify anything, then think about what you would like to do. Look at your calendar and carve out some time just for yourself. Where you get to do something just for you, it can be something small to start, like 5 minutes of just sitting on the sofa but telling yourself that it is for you, taking a walk in nature, read a trashy novel, go to a cat café, listen to your favourite music blasted out loud, potter about the garden admiring flowers, visit an art gallery just because you fancy it, whatever floats your boat.

If you are someone that loves giving, you’ll be able to give more when you look after yourself first. You will be given to areas you truly want to give to and not just anything that comes your way. It’s your life lived with purpose.

If you would like to find out more about living with purpose, I am running a Life Purpose Workshop together with my good friend and coach Edson Williams. Find out more here.