I told the truth and got into trouble. During a recent podcast interview the host asked me how I balance family and work obligations. I told her that I’m selfish and my needs come first, even before those of my seven-year-old son.
You would have thought I had said that I spank my kid on a regular basis. Tweets and posts came out calling me selfish and that my priorities were in the wrong place.
What I actually said was that my own self-care is a foundation of the strength of my family. I believe that we should take care of ourselves as well as others. I don’t abandon my kid for weekend-long raves, but I do take time away for myself to rejuvenate and refuel my energy tank when I need to.
Taking the negative vibe out of self-care is the first step to creating a culture where everyone is whole and healthy.
For me, "being selfish" means knowing when I need my partner to take my son to school so I can have an extra hour in the morning to do yoga or write. It’s meeting a friend at a café for an afternoon chat, or walking through the farmers market to buy fresh flowers. Being selfish sometimes means letting my son fall asleep in my bed so that I can go to sleep at 8:30pm along with him, clocking a luscious nine hours of rest. Having a babysitter stay late on Wednesdays so I can take a watercolor class. Buying and eating an entire pint of organic berries. Going away for a weeklong yoga retreat.
It’s all about learning what your soul is asking you for that makes you feel great, long-term, so that you return to life’s daily requests with a healthy vigor, intention, and peaceful outlook. In this way, selfishness becomes a spiritual practice.
But let’s be honest: taking consistent time for nurturing your body and mind, setting protective boundaries and just saying no to others’ requests of your time come with a cost. Our “bitch brains” start chattering about how lazy we are, how we don’t deserve, can’t afford, and shouldn’t need.
For the past 14 years, I’ve worked with thousands of women to help them get the life and body they desire, and I’ve seen too many work themselves to the bone for others, putting their self-care on hold. The constant striving to achieve goals created by our current corporate culture, family demands, and overwhelming school and beauty standards have depleted our spark and vitality. Because running toward someone else’s goals makes us forget our own. And even when we achieve what we “should” want, it’s never satisfying because it wasn’t what we truly desired in the first place.
It’s time for us to become the exquisite caretakers of our own desires.
And that means getting selfish.
Not just focusing on our own needs to superficially advance our egos. I believe we need to reclaim the word selfish as a way to be happier and healthier, and as a byproduct, support those around us to be happier as well.
Here are the top 5 ways you can make selfishness a spiritual practice:
1. Discover. To find out what you really need, put attention on your own body.
Listen in and bring your awareness to how your body reacts to each and every decision of the day. You can close your eyes and quiet your brain a bit (I find a bathroom stall is perfect for this time-out) and feel what your body is telling you.
Totally disconnected from your body and its messages? Maybe it’s time to get away for a few days, out of your normal life, to reconnect with yourself and others who have the same desires.
2. Visualize and feel your life and body as bright and healthy as you want them to be.
Then bring your pen to paper and see the words that describe your ideal self. Describing what you want is sometimes challenging, but it's powerful. Sometimes you can say on paper what you can’t verbalize out loud. Your daily diary can also be the schedule that you create to include a selfish surprise for your soul within every 24-hour period.
3. Learn how to say NO.
Perhaps you were raised to be “good” and take care of other people first, put your life into your work, or sacrifice your own well being in service of family or friends. A graceful no is possible. Just for the next 48 hours, try this: “I’m fully committed, but maybe I can help in the future.” This simple, kind statement honors the request, and protects your boundaries, time and energy.
4. Do yourself UP!
If "selfishness" is defined as being concerned with one’s own pleasure, why not make your appearance as pleasurable to yourself as possible? Your favorite shirt, best shoes, new hat, or cool jewelry are a representation of your style and artistry. Dedicated pampering time in the morning helps you connect with your true self. What you wear is a statement of who you are, and the energy you pull on with your outfit or new nail polish goes a long way.
5. Share your desire for more “me time” with others to help make it real.
We all need community to make any change stick. Let the people in your life know what you crave to make yourself happy. If they’re truly your friends, they’ll respect your decisions and probably sign up to help you do it!
Alexandra Jamieson is a creative leadership coach for driven women. The co-creator and co-star of Super Size Me and author of Women, Food, And Desire, she is passionate about pleasure, creativity, and positive psychology.
Join her and husband Bob Gower in using their All-In Method.