9 reasons why you should be selfish

There is a difference between being centered on yourself, and being "selfish" in the traditional sense of the word. While many of us constantly ruminate about ourselves and our position in the world, we aren't typically ruthlessly going around and taking things for ourselves so that others can't enjoy them. The word "selfish" almost always has a negative connotation (like caring only about yourself while disregarding others) but it's time to rebrand the word in order to highlight how healthy and productive selfishness can be.

The other side, the "good" side of selfishness, is that you take care of yourself enough to be in top form for doing whatever you want to spend energy on — taking care of your kids, excelling at your job, and maintaining great relationships. In fact, even staying alive requires a certain amount of "selfishness." You have to eat. You have to sleep. You have to get yourself some kind of shelter. These are examples of a necessary and healthy selfishness. So why should you ditch the guilt and feel good about putting yourself first? Here are nine reasons why from psychologists, doctors, and self-help experts who agree that sometimes you should be selfish.

Being selfish in some areas can allow you to be more generous in others

You may remember how in a 20/20 interview in 2011, Michelle Obama told Barbara Walters, "One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others." She explained this concept in the now common, though incredibly apt metaphor of putting on your own oxygen mask on the plane before assisting others. How will you aid and improve the lives of those around you, if you don't make sure you have enough of what you need to operate at your best?

This concept can also be easily compared to giving your car fuel and oil so that you don't break down from attempting to run on empty, and it's called self-care. The World Health Organization gives a broad definition of the concept of self-care as "the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider."

In our contemporary pop culture, the concept has blossomed to include making sure to give yourself more of the things you need to be happy and cutting down on those self-sacrificing outlays of your valuable energy. The idea is that the happier, healthier, and more self-fulfilled you are, the more you'll have to give to the causes and people who matter most to you.

You'll have more time for the things you love

You have probably heard of the phenomenon that some people, usually women, are constant caretakers, doers, and helpers—sometimes at the expense of their own health and happiness. These people are known for their inability to say no — to doing a favor, to staying late at work, to picking up the slack on someone else's project — the list goes on. Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, a therapist and radio relationship expert, told me she recommends "guarding your time, talent, and treasure so that you can give out your time, talent, and treasure [elsewhere]."

The idea is that when you protect your time by saying no to things that aren't enriching or interesting to you, you can learn to identify and develop your real areas of unique talent. And those areas are where you have the most to contribute to others and the world around you anyway. "The more you embrace your worth and identity through self-discovery, the easier it will be to say 'no' when needed and 'yes' when prompted," she said.

"As you invest in yourself, you'll have more to offer the world around you. The time you spend learning about yourself, developing your talents, and sharing your treasure will be used to love others in greater ways. You'll offer more insight and wisdom on a topic. You'll help a friend that will benefit from your skill sets."

You can stop blaming others for your problems

When you are constantly over-giving of yourself, your time, and your energy to others there is no way around it — at some point you will start to feel some resentment. Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, self-help author, and expert in hidden depression told me that "Sacrificing for others can build trust and a realization of the joy in seeing others' needs or wants met, [but] carried too far, self-sacrifice can morph into martyrdom — a sense of constantly doing for others at a huge expense to self. For true success, you need self-awareness," she said.

"This means that you're aware of your own needs or what's important for you to succeed. You don't believe or live as if working on your own goals is selfish. However, you're also aware of those around you, and will feel more fulfilled as a person if you're not always focusing on self. You also give, but without resentment or overkill."

You will be physically and emotionally healthier

Imagine you have a ton of work to do (probably not much of a stretch to visualize), but you decide to take the time out to go to yoga class anyway. Result: you will finish your work a bit later than you would have, and your family will have to hold dinner for you, but you feel refreshed and invigorated from exercising and clearing your head with meditation.

Dr. Rachel Goldman refers to this concept as "healthy selfishness." Dr. Rachel is a licensed psychologist specializing in health and wellness and also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. We had a very interesting conversation about her work in the area of selfishness. "If you think about everything we do for survival, such as sleeping and eating, those are examples of behaviors associated with a 'healthy selfishness,'" she said.

"We need to participate in these behaviors in order to survive. We also need to participate in other behaviors to be healthy, such as taking time out of our day for us, for 'me time,' and to relax or destress. For some that may be going on a run or going to the gym, for others that may mean a quiet and relaxing bath. Whatever it is, it is needed to allow you to destress, refocus and be able to be productive and accomplish what you need to accomplish. Without some of these behaviors and acts of 'healthy selfishness' we will eventually burn out and not be productive, in any aspect of our life, if that be personal or professional."

You will feel more balanced

How do you live a balanced life? For some, it's all about planning out your time and energy with intentionality. Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of clinical psychology and self-help author, said she actually likes to stay entirely away from terms like "selfish" or "selfless" with her clients, because words like these are so often imbued with personal judgements. Instead, Irwin takes a more "mathematical" approach to helping clients figure out how much time and energy they want to give to different areas of their lives.

Many of her clients find that a "healthy lifestyle is a balance of enough self-care/self-expression/purpose and others-care (equal relationship, volunteering, giving, etc.)." But how do you achieve the right balance for you? Dr. Irwin said she actually has her clients "work out their time mathematically so they know exactly what their priorities are and how they are investing their time. For some, it is 80 percent me (work, exercise), and 20 percent others (family, mate). Others want to work toward 50 percent-50 percent."

Thinking about yourself prevents living on autopilot

In the field of psychology, the concept of autopilot refers to when you go about your business without the cognitive awareness of self or choice. This can mean something as simple as zoning out while driving home from work, and can extend to encompass years of living life without a particular direction beyond getting through each day, or making enough money to pay your basic bills.

You have no doubt heard of someone you know going through a "mid-life crisis" where they seemingly "wake up" from a fog one day, and feel that they have missed out on living a purposeful life. That's where the brand new red sports car, or the move to Costa Rica comes in. All of a sudden, the newly mindful person feels the need to make up for years spent ignoring their needs for fun, pleasure, and fulfillment in favor of cash, empty accolades, or sacrificing for others in their lives.

Here's the good news: when you make a specific effort to put yourself first on your list of priorities, you necessarily live a more mindful life. The practice of making sure your own needs are met requires actually identifying and taking stock of your own needs (both physical and emotional). So when you focus on you and giving yourself what you need, you are less likely to "wake up" one day and feel like you've wasted or sacrificed your time.

You learn to be your own advocate

"Self-care and self-advocacy comes from a place of self-awareness and worthiness," said wellness expert and author, Julie Burton, who was kind enough to speak with me about the benefits of being selfish and the dangers of ignoring your own needs. In her recent book, The Self-Care Solution, Burton gives readers reflective, self-assessment questions as an objective tool for gauging how well they're managing their own needs while simultaneously caring for others. Being a caretaker can be a difficult position to be in while still acting as your own advocate as well (whose needs come first?) but learning to "fill your own cup" first can help you balance this challenge.

You will inspire others

Do you want to be a positive example for other women in your life? Especially if you spend any time around young girls, modeling the behavior of valuing yourself instead of unintentionally playing the martyr can make a big difference. Being selfish, said Burton, is "about being grounded enough to understand your needs, and confident enough to make sure you work toward meeting them so that you can reach your full potential.

This is a recipe for success for you and for those around you. Your example will inspire your partner, children, co-workers to tune into their own needs establish their own boundaries to make sure they are able to take good care of themselves, and reach their potential as well."

You'll gain self-confidence

The concept of self-confidence can be elusive, but when you value yourself enough to put living a fulfilling, balanced life at the top of your priorities, you will set yourself up to spend more time feeling good and confident, and less time feeling burnt out and incapable of achievement.

Valuing yourself

Selfishness, it seems, may have gotten an unfairly negative reputation in the past, and I think it's time we reexamine our understanding of what it means to put oneself first. It takes a lot of bravery and self-possession to stand up and say "I'm worth it!" to others, and even just to yourself.

Remember that caring for yourself is all about committing to taking care of your own needs the way you would for your very best friend. It's about setting yourself up for balance and success, and it's about valuing your health, opinions, and time. You deserve it! And when you are "selfish" enough to set yourself up to feel your best, you will be able to give your best to the world around you.