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How To Be Selfish

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I was having coffee with a very wise friend (who also happens to be a Zen teacher) and we were discussing the issue of selfishness. He told me that he believes our lesson in our lifetime is to learn to do that which is difficult to us. For instance, if you have trouble extending to others, sharing, opening your heart and giving others a space in your life, then your work is in learning to say “yes” to others more often. In other words, if you’re selfish, then you can grow by learning to be more selfless. If you fall into that category, this article isn’t for you. Move along.

I’m writing to those of you who have no difficulty saying “yes” to everyone around you, but often end up shortchanging yourself. According to my friend, your work is to learn to say no to others. Your work is to learn to say yes to yourself and to consider your own needs. Why? If you are only saying yes to others because you are incapable of saying no, you are acting out of habit, and not by choice. When we do not feel that we have choice, we create resentment, anger and difficulty. In other words, we make ourselves (and others around us) unhappy.

I’m currently teaching an Artist’s Way course. Every time I lead or participate in this admittedly demanding course, the same questions come up for me: how can I possibly make seven hours a week to address my own creative needs? Isn’t that SELFISH? This is a common theme that I hear from participants in every AW workshop I teach. Indeed, it is something that Julia Cameron identifies as one of the main obstacles for artists or creative people: the myth that time spent attending to our own needs is wrong or bad.

How often do we show up for others? I bet that if you look at your weekly calendar, you’ll find that you spend a lot more than seven hours a week keeping the appointments that you make with other people. I bet that you make an effort to be there on time. I bet that you often prepare in advance. I bet that you even dress up.

How much time do you spend:

- Championing or encouraging the dreams of others?

- Facilitating solutions for others?

- Using creative energy to pull people out of bad situations?

- Feeding people?

- Cleaning up other people’s messes?

How would your life change if you made a decision that you deserve at least as much of your time and energy as other people in your life? What would happen if you started showing up for yourself with the same diligence and consistency and lack of guilt with which you show up for others?

If you gave yourself that same time, energy and space to invest in your dreams, what kind of changes might you see in your:


I invite you to take this challenge for one month: show up for you. Here are some ideas for how to do this:

- Schedule regular time for yourself. Put it in your calendar at the beginning of the week. Always keep that appointment. Show up for yourself.

- Guilt is not allowed. No negative labels.

- Don’t say yes to anything of anyone else’s without checking in to see how you feel first. I typically advise clients to respond to requests by saying, “May I think about it and get back to you?” Think about the request, what would be involved in fulfilling it, and notice whether your body feels tense or relaxed at the thought of complying with the request. If it doesn’t feed good, politely decline. Or be impolite, it’s up to you!

- If you tend to listen to others constantly without saying anything about yourself, practice inserting yourself into conversations.

- Make a list of obligations that you don’t enjoy. Pick a few that are not essential and figure out how to delegate or drop them.

- Start tracking the changes and notice how your life changes. If you start to feel guilt or resistance, that’s good! It’s a sign that you are pushing out of your comfort zone and doing what is difficult for you. Just notice the feelings, step over them and keep moving forward. It will get easier and more natural in time.

Heather Jassy is a licensed therapist and life coach to brilliant, groovy folks around the globe. Read more about her at http://emptyspaceblog.net/bio/

Link to article: http://emptyspaceblog.net/2009/07/how-to-be-selfish/

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EmpowHER Guest


July 16, 2009 - 4:31am

I think the hardest part about learning to be more selfish is learning to let other things go.

If we go to the gym, perhaps the laundry doesn't get done.

If we sit down with a glass of wine and a book, no one takes the kids to soccer practice.

If we give ourselves an hour of time a day, just for us, emails may go unanswered, beds may stay unmade, groceries put off until tomorrow. Or the next day.

And if those things go undone, tomorrow gets worse.

We are so overbudgeted and running like hamsters that when we have some free time, it's almost that we don't know what to do with it. I know my sister, who is a mom to four children from 8 to 21, would look up in astonishment if she ever looked at her calendar and saw an empty hour. (Then she'd take a nap.)

I loved this column, especially the part about checking in with ourselves before we commit to something. My problem is often that it always sounds great when I'm committing to it, but then I regret it later. Maybe if I give myself more time on the front end to make the decision, that will stop happening.

Thanks for the thinking.

July 9, 2009 - 8:31am
EmpowHER Guest

Enjoyed the post. It's very much like the message I'm sharing on www.themostselfishwomaninamerica.com.
Good work! Happy Living! Christia

July 7, 2009 - 9:22pm

Excellent Article. I find many women will not spend time on themselves and they deserve to. Thanks for taking the time to point that out to them.

July 7, 2009 - 5:06pm
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