Healthy Selfishness: How To Stop People-Pleasing and Start Prioritizing Yourself

Chances are, you can name one thing you could be doing to take care better care of yourself. And despite knowing that drinking more water/meditating each day/ flossing your teeth is good for you, I’m willing to bet that you’re still not doing it.

It's likely because:

  1. You don’t have enough time
  2. It’s inconvenient or annoying
  3. The advantages/disadvantages are too far in the future to seem relevant
  4. It tastes/feels like crap
  5. It would involve saying “no” to something or someone else

I often write about issues #1-3 when discussing procrastination, time management, or motivation.

But, today I’m doing a deep dive into issue #5: Setting Boundaries. Or, as I like to call it, “how to say “no” to them and “yes” to me without seeming like a selfish jerkface.”
(And sorry, I can’t do much about Issue #4. Kale will never taste like a cupcake.)

Like most people, I care what people think. I care whether my friends think I’m supportive and I care whether the guy at the bakery judges me when I ask him to write affirmations in icing on the 5” chocolate cake I buy for myself (true story!)

Unlike most people, I’ve accepted and internalized that self-care needs to be my biggest priority. But that wasn’t always true. For most of my life, I put others first only to be surprised when I’d get sick, feel disappointed, burn out, etc. I assumed that I felt sick, tired, or sad because of the job, the boyfriend, or the autoplay feature on Netflix. But, like all things, the common denominator was me. If I wanted to feel balanced and blissful, I was the one that needed to change.

As we all know, change sucks and is never easy.

A lifetime of saying “yes,” people-pleasing, and over-achieving wasn’t going to change overnight. In fact, it was so ingrained in me that I often didn’t even know I was saying “yes” when I really meant “no.” Over time, all of those yeses added up to exhaustion, frustration, and unmet expectations. I struggled to find a way to support others sustainably without compromising my health and happiness.

Once I accepted that I was my biggest obstacle, I started looking at the ways I kept these patterns alive. And that’s when it hit me: I was giving away my time and energy, telling people I had no expectations when I most definitely expected them to reciprocate my actions in the future. I’d tell friends “of course, I don’t mind picking you up from the airport,” only to feel disappointed waiting for a cab in the dead of winter.

If my life is the result of my actions and non-actions, then changing my life is also within my control.

From that moment, I started employing a strategy that changed my life. It empowered me to communicate effectively, transform my relationships, and create more energy, happiness, and time. Here it is:

Is your “yes” really a “no?”

The goal of this exercise is to identify, manage, and communicate your needs so that you’re better able to prioritize yourself.

1. Pause.

Before offering to help, accepting an invitation, or saying “yes,” ask yourself:

  1. Am I prepared to do this without any hope that it will be returned to me in any shape or form (now or in the future?)
  2. What will this cost me now? 6 months from now? (consider your time, energy, and sanity)
  3. Is my desire to say “yes” driven by generosity or because I think that prioritizing myself will result in a negative outcome?

2. Decide.

If you can’t act without expectation, consider the cost.
If the cost is too great, consider your reason.
If your reason is based in fear, consider yourself more.

Simply put, decide whether saying “yes” to them means saying “no” to you. If so, choose to prioritize yourself.

3. Communicate.

State your boundary clearly, directly, respectfully, without qualifying statements or rationales. Saying “I can’t work late on the project today” is more effective than “I can’t work late because my cousin’s friend’s baby is having a birthday party, but I will work on the project when I get home at 10pm.”

4. Maintain.

The other person’s reaction has nothing to do with you. Avoid the temptation to weaken or take back your response. Doing so damages your self-trust, continues to prioritize others, and teaches others that your words have no meaning.

5. Reinforce.

You may need to remind yourself and others of your boundaries. That’s okay! Putting yourself first is a new behavior and will take practice and patience.

Use this tool to ensure you're creating space for yourself, your needs, and your happiness.

One more thing...

I want to hear from you! I’m committed to creating content that address your exact needs. Fill out this quick survey and get the time tracking worksheet only available to Take Back Your Time participants. This worksheet will help you identify your secret time-wasters, giving you the info you need to prioritize yourself more effectively.

Balance & Other BS Stories We Need To Learn To Forget

I’ve never been the best at balance. Whether it’s the ballet barre, binging on babka, or bearing my soul before the Barolo arrives on a first date, I’m an all or nothing type of girl. So it’s no surprise that I’m baffled by the frustratingly over-used term “work-life balance.” In a recent conversation with a group of women, a friend said, “There simply isn’t enough time for balance. Everything is important and everything is urgent.” To this I replied, “if everything is important and urgent, then nothing is important or urgent.”

Self-help junkies (myself included) spend a good deal of time looking at whether their priorities align with what they truly want. One such person, Brian Dyson of Coca-Cola, was asked a question about balancing his needs and the needs of the world around him. To this he responded, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air: work, family, health, friends, and spirit…Work is a rubber ball; if you drop it, it will bounce back…Family, health, friends, and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

To this I respond:

Dear Mr. Dyson,
I am not a juggler. And balls do not only come in rubber or glass. Some are plastic, some are silver, and some are simply paper that’s been crumpled into a ball-like shape before swiftly being tossed into the trash.
So, sir, I have balls. Big ones.
Many ones. Some, like my family, are made of silver and while they may get scratched and tarnish, are pretty freakin’ resilient. Others, like my hobbies, are made of whatever tennis balls are made of. They are brightly colored, make me happy, and sometimes get stuck in tall trees. I don’t need to engage in a life of juggling. I’ll take each ball off the shelf and return it safely to its proper place when I’m done, trusting that it’ll be there when I’m ready for it again.
Yours truly,

Now, I could go on my soapbox and discuss the importance of prioritizing, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about knowing that your priorities aren’t set in stone. There are moments when work helps me to find meaning and contribute to the world, and there are times when focusing on my work is just plain wrong. Sometimes a glass ball turns into a rubber ball. And that’s okay.

So here’s the Takeaway:

Work-life balance isn’t about committing to your priorities for the rest of your life or even for the next 3 month. It isn’t about maintaining a perfect ratio of kids: work: personal time. It isn't about over-thinking and over-stressing and over-asking yourself whether or not you feel balanced. It’s about recognizing that everything ebbs and flows. And that a perfectly measured approach might make for a perfect babka, but not a perfect life.

So the next time a friend asks me about work-life balance, here’s my response: Do whatever feels right, know that it won’t feel right for long, then adjust accordingly.

P.S. 15 Tips To Manage Distractions & The Upcoming FREE ECourse is only available for a limited time. check it out!

The Surprising Benefits of Wasting Time

Looking back, there are some choices I wouldn’t make again:

  • I wouldn’t have dated certain guys (what was I thinking?!)
  • I wouldn’t have bought that mutli-colored faux-fur & denim vest (yes, it’s as ugly as it sounds)
  • And I wouldn’t have had that second donut (for the second time)

Sure, you could argue that I needed to learn those lessons to grow, and you’d probably be right.

But no matter how many dumb mistakes I made, here are the ones I’ll never regret:

  • How much time I spend with my friends & family
  • Doing things that bring me joy
  • Pursuing hobbies (even the ones I’m embarrassingly unskilled at)
  • Going on vacations
  • Watching TV (gasp!)

You might be saying, “Doing fun stuff is great. But on your deathbed, won’t you regret watching an entire season of Glee in one sitting when you could have been doing something more worthwhile?”


First of all, the first season of Glee was pretty good. So don’t judge.

Second, major life regrets (the kind you talk about on your deathbed) are caused by NOT doing the exact things I mentioned.

In a study by palliative care nurses who cared for patients at the last moments of their lives, the most frequently expressed life regrets were:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Having fun isn’t a selfish act.
It doesn’t make you lazy or unsuccessful, it makes you smart.
It makes you the type of person who can think ahead to the moment when you'll have a greater perspective on what truly matters to you.
It makes you the type of person who exercises choice.
Isn’t it time you prioritize what truly matters?
Isn't it time that you get clear on what you truly want? 
After all, clarity is power.

So here’s my question & challenge for you:

On your deathbed, what will your greatest regret be?

What action can you take today to prevent that from happening?

The Takeaway:

Life is for the living. Do it on your terms. 

What will you regret not doing?
Share your story in the Comments section below!