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.

The Practical Tool I Used To Cultivate Self-Compassion

Truth be told, I’ve known I need to write about self-compassion for some time. Not just for my readers, but for myself. The reason I put it off? I suck at it. And I wasn’t quite ready to give up the part of me that believed that being gentle with myself would lead to stagnation. My high expectations of myself and others have propelled me forward, yet they’ve also been what kept me stuck. So now, as the Holidays begin and I sort through the proverbial piles of projects I’ve taken on, I’ve decided to say “fuck it!” and learn this lesson once and for all. After all, as Pema Chodron notes, “nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”

So, let’s start by defining “Self-compassion:”

Simply put, it’s being gentle on yourself. It’s treating yourself as you would a friend when she comes to you with a struggle, failure, or self-critical belief. It’s the ability to lean into your feelings of discomfort rather than ignoring them. This means no longer asking for permission to feel your emotions. Instead, it’s learning to self-validate, stating “this is a difficult time for me and it’s okay that I’m struggling. What can I do to give myself the comfort I need and deserve?”

Self-compassion is not the same as complacency.

You can still work to achieve your goals, but it’s done through self-love instead of self-discipline. It’s the difference between “I need to do this or else I’m worthless,” and “I want to do this because I care about myself, my potential, and my dreams.”

To approve of oneself is to know divine love.

Self-compassion means honoring that you’re not perfect in the same way you (sometimes begrudgingly) accept imperfection in others. More than anything, self-compassion comes from understanding that mistakes, transition, and unmet expectations are all part of being human. These experiences and feelings are not unique to you. The more you fight this truth and aim to be perfect, the harder it will be to cultivate compassion for yourself and others.

If you’re anything like me, this is easier said than done.

So how did I ACTUALLY do this?

For me, the biggest challenge was the critical voice in my head that said things like “other people can do this, why can’t you?” And sure, I could tap into more loving parts of myself and reason with that voice, but it didn’t come easily. It took A TON of work. And since the Buddhist approach of “releasing judgment” was a bit too much of a stretch in times of stress, I tried a different path.

One of the daily exercises I assign my clients is to practice self-validation in a structured way. I ask them to write “one thing they did well” in a daily chart. It can be anything from “I got out of bed when I didn’t want to,” to “I made a healthy choice for lunch” to “I didn’t flip out on my mother when she asked me about my relationship status.”

However, in times of stress and overwhelm, doing this in one area wasn’t enough. I needed a holistic self-validation overhaul. To do this, I made a daily chart and touched on each of the 5 pillars. Each day I recorded one thing I did well in each area of my life: Nutrition, Physical Activity, Relationships, Career, and Personal Philosophy. For those who are new to this or find this to be too open-ended, here are some

Questions to help guide you:


  • What’s one healthy food choice I made for my body?
  • How did it feel to nourish myself lovingly or allow myself to indulge?

Physical Activity:

  • What’s one way I was kind to my body?
  • What’s one thing I appreciate about my body?


  • What’s one thing I did for another person?
  • What’s one thing I appreciate about another person in my life?
  • What’s one way I reached out and connected with someone?


  • What’s one thing I accomplished today?
  • What’s one step (even if it’s a baby step) I took toward achieving my goal?
  • What’s one thing I learned today?
  • What’s one moment where I felt grateful for sharing my gifts with others?

Personal Philosophy:

  • What’s one thing I marveled at?
  • What’s one thing I love about myself?
  • What’s one way I tuned into my higher self?
  • What’s one way I appreciated nature?

The Takeaway:

If you can’t seem to accept that you’re a human instead of a superhero, treat yourself as you would a friend by building your self-validation muscle.

P.S. I know the holiday time can be stressful so I'm opening up a handful of mini-intensive coaching sessions. This 2-3 session series will get you through the holidays and into the New Year with a sense of calm, surrender, and direction. Contact for more information. 

How to Give Yourself The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift

V-day can feel like D-Day.

The day is, in my opinion, slightly ridiculous. But probably not for the reasons you think. I have no problem with the cheesy commercialized crap. I like cinnamon hearts and I even miss making those old-school valentines out of construction papers and doilies.

The ridiculousness is my expectations. When I’m single, I beat myself up for not being with someone. And when I’m with someone, I hold him to impossibly high standards. Is it too much to ask that my boyfriend give me a puppy with an engagement ring around his collar all while singing a song that he’s written especially for me?!

Yup, my boyfriend is screwed.

It’s not like I actually want another dog. I’m certainly not ready to get engaged. And I’m betting that he’s tone-deaf (based on the fact that I’ve never heard him sing).

So if I’m not actually interested in any of those things, why do I want them so much? Where are these crazy expectations coming from?

I want the feeling I think they will give me.

  • A puppy makes me feel loved.
  • A ring makes me feel desirable.
  • A song makes me feel like I’m worthy.

So this Vday, I am going to give those feelings to myself, no ring needed. But before I jump into my action plan, I’m going to digress for a minute. About a year ago, I wrote a post dispelling the all-too-common belief that self-love is selfish. Not surprisingly, this belief is perpetuated with dated (and crappy) definitions:

Self-love [self-luhv]
the instinct by which one’s actions are directed to the promotion of one’s own welfare or well-being, especially an excessive regard for one’s own advantage.
conceit; vanity.

It’s no wonder we have such a hard time choosing to love ourselves before we love others. On a very deep level, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we don’t deserve it, that it’s wrong, or that it’s selfish to care for ourselves.

And that’s largely why I expect someone else to give me the love I could be giving to myself.

Whether you’re single or hitched, self-love is your primary relationship and the cornerstone of every healthy relationship to come.

So here’s my Self-Love, I-Don’t-Need-a-Ring, I-Can-Buy-My-Own-Damn-Flowers Plan:

  1. Create space. Despite all of your “obligations” you can still create space. To do this, commit to honoring your intuition for at least one day this week. That means listening to whatever your heart wants and then acting on it. And it’s totally okay for that thing to be sitting on your couch and eating a pizza. For more on how to clear out your schedule and create space, click here.
  2. Write yourself a love letter. Not on a napkin. Not on an old receipt. Take out a piece of paper and actually write yourself a letter. Give yourself a dose of the love you’ve been giving to others for so long and see how it feels. Until you’re able to receive your own love, you’re sure as hell not going to be able to genuinely give it to anyone else.
  3. Schedule in time for something indulgent. FYI, indulgent doesn’t mean expensive. For me, a bath with candles, reading Harry Potter, or going for a long walk without the dog feels amazing. It’s so easy to fill our time with our to-do list and never get around to things that bring us joy. When fun becomes an afterthought, it doesn’t happen. Schedule it and savor it without the guilt.

  4. Try something new. Sometimes it’s easier to connect to ourselves when we’re out of our comfort zone. When we're trying something new, we have no choice but to tune in and rely on ourselves on a whole new level. Whether it’s trying a new dance class or exploring a new part of town, getting outside of your comfort zone will help you to get outside of your head. It’s hard to stress about something when you’re focused on balancing in a new yoga pose. Connect and learn about yourself by getting in a new classroom (even if that classroom teaches you how to make doughnuts!)

  5. Make self-care a non-negotiable. During stressful transitions, self-care is usually the first thing to go. To make it happen, add in a layer of accountability. Make a chart and check off:

  •  How much water you drank
  • How many hours you slept
  • Whether you meditated
  • If you exercised
  • One thing you’re grateful for
  • One thing you did well

It seems so obvious, but that simple tool helps to strengthen your self-love muscle until it’s second nature.

So, here’s my Valentine’s Day wish for you:

May you not get what you think you want. Instead, may you give yourself what you truly need.

What do you want for V-day and how can you give it to yourself instead?
Share your story in the Comments Section below!