In 2011, Michelle Obama told Barbara Walters that she makes herself her first priority. When asked if that could be seen as selfish, she remarked: “It’s practical… a lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else. One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”
There is an (often subconscious) mentality that tells women that they are here to serve — and this notion shapes so much of their lives. It lays the foundation for what they feel they deserve, and how much they allow themselves to be who they are, as opposed to who they feel they need to be for others.
Putting yourself first doesn’t mean only caring about yourself. It means having a grounded and realistic understanding that you are your first and only locus of control, and you have to be rooted in that before there’s any possibility of lending yourself to anybody or anything else.
Here, the reasons why the women who know how to do so are happier and better adjusted.
1. You teach people how to treat you by how you treat yourself. People who prioritize their wellbeing will naturally command the same of others. The amount of respect people show is directly related to how much they deem someone requires — you’ll seldom find someone disrespecting a person who won’t tolerate it.
2. Similar to how you apply your own oxygen mask on an airplane before you put on someone else’s — you are only able to truly extend yourself to people when your needs are taken care of first. When you’re emotionally spent there’s no way you can sit and listen to a friend’s existential crisis as well. Simply: you can’t offer the shirt on your back when your freezing or share a meal while you’re starving or help someone else while you’re seeking help yourself.
3. You’re more emotionally stable — you don’t attach expectation. The second you require someone or something to be any specific way for you to be okay is the second you hand over control of your life. You can only control how you act and react. Cultivating that is the most important thing there is to do, and is the result of learning to put yourself at the center of control of your life.
4. You learn to care more about your own opinions than those of other people’s, more about how you feel than how you look, and who you are rather than who you “should” be. When maintaining an image, fitting into a standard, abiding by an expectation, you’re inevitably selling yourself short. You’re molding yourself into someone you’re not. But people (women, especially) do this because they put other people’s expectations before their own.
5. Healthy habits become lifestyle, not something you scramble to do when you need to remedy a problem. Finding time to meditate, cook yourself a great meal, take a mental health day, find something inspiring, cultivate your home to be more relaxing, go for a long hike, stay up-to-date on your doctor’s appointments, etc. becomes as routine as brushing your teeth and having your coffee, and then it becomes preventative. If your health isn’t your priority, it will inevitably slip by the wayside, because you don’t see it as “necessary,” but little habits add up.
6. You get an idea of who and what is actually worth it. It’s not your job to make everybody happy. It is your job to decide who you want in your life, what you want in your life, and then to do your best to give to that whatever you’ve got.
7. You attract the right people, relationships and things into your life because being yourself is your foremost concern. The more genuine you are, the more genuinely you can find what suits you.
8. More importantly, you know when things aren’t right for you, and you respect yourself enough to leave relationships, jobs, friendships, etc. when they aren’t healthy anymore. When you care more about your own well-being, you don’t take bullshit. You don’t hang around because you feel you need something to be okay. You don’t compromise your own mental and emotional health for the sake of someone else.
9. You’re kinder to other people because you’re kind to yourself. Lashing out at other people (as well as speaking ill of them, gossiping, judging, etc.) has to do with one thing and one thing only: mentally placing someone beneath you to fill a hole where you feel inferior. When you’re kind to yourself, you can extend that kindness to others, because you don’t have to differentiate them as lesser to make yourself feel okay.
10. You don’t need anybody else’s approval. So you don’t waste your time seeking it.
11. You get more done. When you take care of yourself first, you’re not slugging through your day because you’re tired or distracted by a negative relationship or something. You care more about finishing the chapter of your passion-project than you do worrying about something that obviously matters less.
12. You understand the notion of “changing the world starts with changing yourself.” Working on yourself is the most noble and important thing to do. We all want to change society, but how many of us are actually willing to change ourselves? People are very blind to the fact that many to most acts of charity are actions of the ego. If every person took it upon themselves to do the really hard work, the true heavy lifting, the looking in the mirror and changing yourself before you try to change anybody else, we’d transform the whole world.