Life Is More Satisfying When…
You Think of Yourself First!

See also: Personal Change Management

Before you read any further, stop. Recall the last time your day was filled with a half a dozen activities or requests that were for someone else’s needs. How about the last time you said yes to something that you instantly regretted committing to? Or hung up the phone annoyed because the person on the other end didn’t even ask you if you were busy before listing what they needed you to attend to.

If your answer resembles how my life used to be, then it looks like just about every day for a really long time.

Now of course there are reasons for a big chunk of this. I am a wife, a parent, and a business professional. I have living parents, siblings, and in-laws. Not to mention that I have always been very approachable, so co-workers, colleagues, and supervisors have always found it easy to nab my attention for assistance, support, or direction.

The real issue here isn’t what was filling my time. The issue was how I allowed it to transpire. How I allowed it to become who I was, opposed to being part of how I liked to live and feel. Nice gestures and being helpful does feel good, right? And let’s be real here, being a spouse and a mother requires a great deal of support and giving.

Ask yourself this...

Do I know what I like to do for fun? What are my interests outside of my personal role? Do I have a social life outside of the workplace? Does any of what fills my schedule satisfy a personal need or desire?

Next. reflect on how you define yourself. Where does your self-esteem come from? Can you readily answer the questions “Who am I?”, “What’s my purpose?”, and “What are my passions?”

How it unfolded for me was I no longer knew who I was outside of my perceived roles. I had no idea what was or could be fun outside of participating in other people’s activities. I didn’t have a social life outside of the home. Well, ok, my kids would tell you I had lots of “friends”, they just so happened to be the salespeople at the stores I visited quite frequently, and we had lived in our community a very long time. But we weren’t friends, we didn’t exchange phone numbers, and we certainly didn’t talk unless I was at that particular store. And I did socialize at my husband’s business functions once a year, but was never one to go to an office party where I was working.

I defined my self-worth through what I did daily inside of my role of wife, mother, daughter, and so on. That is the only place I had any self-esteem. And even in that role, up to deciding it was time for change, I felt as if my thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions and beliefs were not seen as valid and did not add value. I believed my purpose was to be that role. And passions? Well,  they were never really something I looked at.

The fact is this, most adults live some version of what I have described here. And a great deal of them answer those question by describing the things they do.

Listen closely.

You are not what you do! Your roles in life do not define you the person.

For a great number of us time-givers, our ways get in the way. Instead of bringing joy, relief, fulfillment, or appreciation, it only brings discomfort. That might sound strange but bear with me here.

If you really look, I bet you can see arguments you have had with your spouse that stemmed from an internal feeling of disregard, especially for your efforts. Days of being agitated or frustrated at your children because they are pitching fits over having to clean up their own mess. Conversations with a sibling that went sideways because they discounted your opinion, after they asked for it. And then there is the all too often presence of hurt when someone tells you that you did that whatever it was nice thing for them wrong.

What’s happening here is that you are not putting yourself first and it is high time you start. Life is so much better when you do. I wouldn’t be suggesting it if I hadn’t tried it first and found it to be true.

I’m not saying you have to stop doing the things you do for others. That would be unrealistic. And quite frankly, it wouldn’t be honoring a big part of who you are. You don’t need to be a different person. You just need to do a little rearranging mentally, emotionally and physically (time).

Here's a little education to back this up.

We are going to look at the dynamics of our external versus our internal drive. This part is going to stem from Julian Rotter’s Locus of Control Theory. It’s a favorite of mine, and has not only changed my life, but many of the people I have worked with over the years have said understanding it has been a crucial turning point for them personally and has positively impacted their relationships.

So here we go. (this is a summary of a section from my Building Milestones® program.)

Many people seeking direction or support with a life change come with interpersonal problems they do not understand how to navigate through in a healthy way.  These issues can be with their parents, friends, spouses, children, work and so on. And each piece of the pie is described with great emotion and detail.

You see, they are in a place that has them believing that everyone but themselves has the right and the power to define their world (External LOC, see below).  And now, whether they know it or not, they have become dissatisfied with this agenda; they feel angry, frustrated, victimized and “out of control”.  They are often attempting to put order in their world by controlling others.  Which of course usually ends poorly for everyone involved.

In short, the External Locus position is referring to an individual who believes his or her behavior is directed by external circumstances and they attribute their experiences to fate, chance or luck. In contrast, the Internal Locus position refers to an individual who believes his or her behavior is guided through personal decisions and effort. They control their destiny.

As babies, we are naturally born in the external control position, our survival depends on it in every way! As we grow and mature, we naturally begin to move in the internal direction but hold on to that need for external validation from our family and our peers. But when we remain in an external control position as adults we don’t feel in control of our own destiny. Often, we feel responsible for other people’s irresponsibility. We tend to blame others for the things that have not gone right in our life and we take on the victim role, all of which will perpetuate a dysfunctional environment where no one is in charge of themselves.

Now, when people come to understand the dynamics of External vs Internal Locus of Control (LOC), what it looks like when they are in the external mode, how it feels, and can notice when it is happening, they are able to apply the necessary shifts or corrections successfully to their lives so that they move towards the more functional position of Internal LOC position. This is where we become our own CEO!

The Challenge

Develop and strengthen a filtrating boundary system
(this will protect you from taking on what isn’t for you)

Set and maintain reasonable limits and limitation with yourself and others
(thereby taking responsibility for your outcome)

Allow room to be influenced by others in your decision making

Make the choices that make the most sense to you

Be willing to live with the consequences

Three steps to make living for yourself (first) happen – start here:

1. Create a daily structure for the week.

Note: This is not a schedule. Generate time blocks starting with the things that are for you.

  • Block time for coffee, time for bathing, time for activity (i.e. reading/personal development), time for movement (i.e. exercise or a lap around the office), time for nutrition, time for reflection, and then I teach the importance of periodic time to check in with your core non-physical feeling. Then you put in work and family blocks. Now you know where your available space is. (This is a very simplistic system but, when done on a weekly basis, can be extremely empowering).

2.Learn to say no without saying no.

This is a tough one for most of us. Here’s an example;

  • (Friend/sibling/whoever):Hey Tricia can you go to this business function with me tonight? I just don’t want to go by myself, all my co-workers are married, and I think their wives hate me because I’m the only woman in the office”.

    (Me): Wow, I can imagine that would be a bit uncomfortable. Unfortunately, with this amount of notice I am going to have to pass, my day is packed, and the week is incredibly busy. I’m sure you understand. But hey, next time if you give me like a week heads-up, I totally would go to support you.

3. Honor what you are doing and the space you are in.

This is where we really must be in tune with our boundaries, limits, and limitations. It is where we learn that we are not “on call” and the things we are engaged in are not “menial” (even if they are). Here’s a real-life example of what I am talking about;

  • Picture yourself watching a movie while enjoying a snack, your spouse comes in and starts on about everything the kids have “done” today and seems quite hot about it. You have two choices here; (you) “I am just about done with this movie and I want to give you my full attention, can you give me 10 minutes?” or “I see that you are quite stressed about this, would you like for me to push pause so we can discuss this? I want to give you my full attention.

Of course, there is a quite a bit more work that generally needs to be done when we truly want to live for ourselves first. This entails skillsets like the art of pause and learning to be responsive versus reactive. Developing the ability to be an active listener who can approach situations as a learner, as opposed to a judger, is particularly handy as well. And it’s also a must that we incorporate tactics that foster distress tolerance and emotion regulation.

But I’m here to tell you that by engaging in the challenge and incorporating the three tactics I have just described, I was able to change the way I felt in my daily interactions. I no longer felt unjust for asking someone to give me a few days’ notice when they wanted my assistance. I no longer felt like an inattentive wife when my husband had something to talk about or just share. And I was able to begin to lead by good example for our children where time management and personal needs were concerned.

Since then, the last seven years have been an engagement of continual mastery of skillsets, those other essential practices, that day after day show me that I am perfectly good experiencing my life the way that feels right for me.

The best part, I still get to do wonderful things for the wonderful people in my life.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Life

The Skills You Need Guide to Life

This two-part guide is an easy-to-read summary of the essential skills you need for a healthy mind and body.

The first eBook, Looking After Yourself, covers some of our most popular content and will help you to live a happier, healthier and more productive life.

The second eBook, Living Well, Living Ethically, considers how you can live your best life all the time. It helps you to answer the question: how can I avoid having too many regrets about my life?

About the Author

Tricia Parido

Tricia Parido is a speaker, writer, instructor and Master Addictions Coach based in California who has co-authored a recent release of Raising the Bar, was featured on Innovators Radio and NBC, and has been published in Living Lavishly magazine.