What It Really Means To Focus On Yourself + 13 Ways To Start
There comes a time in every person's life when they must reflect, go within, and "focus on themselves." This can be particularly challenging if you've found yourself geared toward accommodating other people's needs—and what does it really mean to focus on yourself anyway?
We asked experts for their best advice on what it means to focus on yourself and actionable ways to actually start doing it, for real. Here's what to know.
What it means to focus on yourself.
To focus on yourself means to put your own needs first, even if you may be conditioned to people-please or abandon yourself for the sake of others.
As licensed therapist Lair Torrent, LMFT, tells mbg, "To focus on yourself instead of others means to do what I call 'choosing you.' It means giving yourself the gift of time, drawing firm boundaries around time spent on yourself and with yourself."
For many, this may not come naturally, he notes, explaining that for people who tend to put others' needs before their own, it can feel a bit selfish and egocentric to focus on themselves. "Having said that, this time should be seen as an investment in one's own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being," he adds.
To that end, as clinical psychologist Tracy Thomas, Ph.D., previously wrote for mbg, "Part of the cultural problem is that most people, perhaps unconsciously, associate the idea of loving others with forgetting about ourselves. Because of this dynamic, we often build up resentments and frustrations that go undiscussed (and can actually end up hurting the people around us without even realizing it)."
So really, in order to actually show up as your best self—for your own sake and the sake of everyone in your life—you have to give yourself all the love, support, and energy you may be pouring into other people.
Focusing on yourself and not others:
There's nothing wrong with wanting to positively impact the people around you, but not at the cost of your own peace. As therapist Maria Sosa, M.S., MFT, previously wrote for mbg, "People-pleasing behaviors take on the shape of self-neglect and disregard for ourselves in order to please, cater, and accommodate others. In turn, we feel a sense of approval and are soothed by the positive attention we receive. Unfortunately, it often comes at the expense of our own preferences, wants, needs, and overall well-being."
In simple terms, focusing on yourself rather than others can basically look like asserting yourself more in every day situations, whether it's asking for what you need, saying no to things you don't really want to do, or even choosing which restaurant you're going to for once.
As Thomas puts it, "Loving ourselves—by taking care of ourselves first and foremost—ensures that our care for others ultimately can come from a place of inner abundance, a feeling of already being taken care of from within."
Focusing on yourself in relationships:
Focusing on yourself in relationships might sound contradictory, but in fact, it's essential for a healthy relationship to flourish and thrive. As Torrent tells mbg, focusing on yourself in a relationship looks like taking time outside of the relationship to cultivate solid connections to yourself and to others.
"Allowing for personal space gives you room to grow personally. It can be a chance to remember who you are as an individual and guards against the formation of codependent bonds where the relationship can begin to define you," Torrent explains, adding, "People who spend time on themselves tend to be happier and more grounded in who they are and, consequently, tend to be better, more attentive partners."
(Here's our guide to asking for alone time in a relationship, if you need some ideas on how to go about it.)
Focusing on yourself when you're single:
The aforementioned points about the importance of focusing on yourself within relationships apply to being single as well. For one thing, it's easy to start investing all your energy into relationships if you're more focused on others and their perceptions of you, and further, it becomes that much easier to neglect your own needs in the hopes of finding a partner.
By focusing on yourself, you'll not only attract a partner who is genuinely aligned with the truth of who you are, but you'll also have a much better sense of what you're looking for (and not looking for).
As Torrent tells mbg, "Focusing on yourself when you are single means cultivating a relationship with yourself, getting curious about who you are, what's gotten you to this point, and what makes you tick," adding, "This can be a journey of self-exploration and discovery, that might require touching into old wounds in need of healing. Those who do this might be alone for a time, but they are rarely lonely."
Why focusing on yourself is so important.
When you're operating from a place of focusing on yourself, you're much more equipped to make decisions that are reflective of your true self rather than what you think others want from you.
"Taking time and focusing on yourself means time for reflection. Those who take time to focus on themselves tend to get healthy across the board—mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually," Torrent says.
This then allows you to get in touch with your "intrinsic goodness," as Torrent calls it, or the thing that makes you truly unique or special. "From here, all of our relationships tend to get markedly better because you simply have more to give. Since you have taken the time to fill your cup, you now have an abundance of energy to share with others," he explains.
And for what it's worth, when you don't focus on yourself for an extended period of time, it can throw you off in some major ways. Not only can stress, resentment, and tension build, but as Thomas explains, all that stress, anxiety, and exhaustion wreak havoc on your physiology1 over time. "Stress is our internal alarm system that tells us that we are approaching troubled ground," she adds.
Small ways to start focusing on yourself:
Find some form of solitude every day.
As you embark on a journey of self-discovery and focusing on yourself, Torrent suggests finding some solitude each and every day. "In this case, truly focusing on yourself might mean giving up the apps and anything else that might divert your attention away from you," he adds.
Get to know your inner voice.
What Torrent calls your "intrinsic goodness," others might call your inner voice. Whatever you call it, think of it like your highest self. As professional intuitive Tanya Carroll Richardson previously explained to mbg, "It's that wise part of you that can float high above the details of the moment, your own emotions, and the emotions of others to get an eagle-eye, more objective perspective on a situation," she says. When you can get in touch with your inner voice, who you really are will become more clear.
Take calculated risks.
If you've been putting others first for what seems like forever, the idea of focusing on yourself can feel foreign and even scary. But according to Torrent, doing a scary, risky, or otherwise different thing is likely exactly what you've been missing if you've been ignoring yourself and your needs. (And FWIW, we're not talking reckless behavior—think asking for your needs to be met or having the courage to walk away from a bad relationship.)
Figure out what makes you respect yourself.
To focus on yourself will subsequently allow you to cultivate a genuine respect for who you are. And according to doctor of psychology Danielle Dowling, Psy.D., you'll want to consciously look within and question what practices make you feel your absolute best. "Then," she says, "pay yourself the respect of prioritizing them daily," adding, "For example, exercising regularly, starting every day with a green juice, and being under the covers by 10 p.m. are all ways I show myself respect."
Be honest about who you are and who you aren't.
When you begin focusing on yourself and getting to know yourself better, you'll learn a lot about yourself—but also unlearn. If you've been people-pleasing for some time, you may come to some harsh realizations around how you've been lying to yourself or abandoning your truth.
As Dowling writes, "Lead with honesty. This means that if you know working outdoors at a farm sanctuary is what you're here to do, then you have no business working 9 to 5 at a desk job for the next decade," adding, "You're disrespecting your talents and interests, and you're keeping the desk job from someone who'd actually excel in that position."
Make a bucket list.
One of the best parts about focusing on yourself again is getting back in touch with the things that excite you, inspire you, and give you something personal to look forward to. To that end, Torrent recommends making a bucket list of experiences you'd like to have in your life. The practice itself could be revealing, and then you can give yourself the gift of checking things off the list.
Figure out (and keep) your boundaries.
Having firm boundaries is going to be essential if you truly want to focus on yourself. The truth is, not everyone will understand your newfound sense of independence, and opportunities to fall back on people-pleasing behavior will present themselves.
But according to Torrent, knowing what your boundaries are—and keeping them—is key. And as licensed marriage and family therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, previously wrote for mbg, keep in mind that most of the time, people are not trying to violate your boundaries—they just aren't aware of what they are. "Sometimes," she says, "this is because we are not clear with ourselves or other people about what we want or need."
Identify your growing edge.
We all have a "growing edge," or some area of our lives where there's an opportunity to improve. Torrent suggests figuring out what your growing edge is and nurturing it. In this case, perhaps your growing edge itself is the whole act of focusing on yourself, but it could really be anything you want or need to learn, such as improving your communication skills, getting more organized, or even picking up a hobby.
Keep a journal.
We'd be remiss not to give a shoutout to a staple of any personal growth: getting your thoughts down on paper. As Torrent recommends, pick out a good journal, and even grab a few great self-help books while you're at it, "to allow you to get to know yourself better."
Here's our full guide to journaling if you're just getting started.
Figure out what you're passionate about.
If you haven't focused on yourself in some time, there's a chance you may have gotten out of touch with your passions. The good news is, they can be rekindled, or even discovered for the first time. As relationship therapist Ken Page, LCSW, previously told mbg, your passion is "where you feel the beating heart of your humanity, where you feel most deeply the things that matter, and you live out of them with ever-increasing skill."
Here's more on how to find your passion, in case you're curious.
Choose a partner who respects you.
According to Dowling, one of the first places all of us tend to throw self-respect out the window is when we're dating. "I speak to countless people who have so much to offer but are stuck in a relationship that forces them to compromise some part of themselves and live in a state of numbing self-sacrifice," she explains.
If this sounds familiar, she says, "They need to muster up the self-respect to start over," adding, "Though scary, breaking off a relationship will be less painful than being with a partner who doesn't want or isn't capable of giving you what you need."
According to licensed psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., if you want to get to know yourself better and focus on yourself, mindfulness can help you do so. It's essentially the process of slowing down and noticing things (particularly your own thoughts and behavior) with more conscious awareness.
"A mindfulness practice helps us to be more attuned to our inner, true feelings," she explains, adding that sometimes we just need to get in contact with our inner selves to bring them to the forefront.
Consider talking with a therapist.
Last but not least, mental health professionals can be an incredible resource on any journey of personal growth and exploration. Not only can they ask the right questions to help you dig deeper, but further, they can help you understand the tools you can use to thrive. Torrent, of course, recommends finding a solid therapist you can trust.
How can I focus more on myself and less on others?
It's important to assess your motivations for why you put others before yourself. Whether it's a fear of abandonment, or rejection, or loneliness, in any case, getting clear on your "why" will bring clarity. From there, it's a matter of recognizing your own wants and needs and honoring them—even if other people don't like it.
What would it mean to take a year to focus on myself?
To take a year to focus on yourself would look like getting rid of (or distancing yourself) from things that drain you or divert your attention away from yourself. With more room in your life for you, the idea then is to do things for yourself that help you learn, grow, and yes, feel good. This will look different for everyone, but it comes down to self-discovery, getting back in touch with your truth, and living from a place of internal wholeness.
How do I focus less on dating and relationships and more on myself?
Spend some time digging deeper into why you pour so much into your relationships and not enough into yourself. This behavior can also be indicative of an anxious attachment style, which is usually an underlying fear of abandonment. Know that you are complete on your own, and all the love you have for others is available to yourself. Start doing things for you and no one else—this is how you find a truly healthy relationship anyway.
We all have friends, family, and relationships that we want to nurture, but that doesn't mean we should neglect ourselves in the process. When we take the time to focus on ourselves, not only do we operate from a place of inner wholeness, but it further strengthens our healthiest relationships in the long run.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.