If you’re reading this you may think you know what it means to be selfish, but do you really understand how to be selfish? What if you haven’t actually been selfish in years, what you thought was selfish was actually just barely glancing the surface of dignity and self-preservation, and you’ve been giving blood all this time?

This isn’t a how-to guide for narcissists. They don’t need any pointers. This is for all the people who often feel like doormats. The people who get stuck with the extra work at the office, the parents who can’t remember the last time they took a moment for themselves, the spouses who feel they can never win, and everyone who chronically puts the needs of others first.

  1. Recognize that you don’t give enough thought to yourself and your needs. You think taking care of yourself means, “Sometimes my wife lets me watch soccer on Saturday morning.” You need to get in your own corner. You need to be your biggest cheerleader and start self-soothing.
  2. Clear a space in time just for you. Not for anyone else. This isn’t the time to field phone calls or answer emails. It’s not time to do something else for anyone else. Stop thinking about them. It’s not like they’re going to disappear just because you put them out of your mind.
  3. Assess your needs and desires right now. This could be anything from “I want to eat chocolate” to “I want to vacation in St. Thomas this year.” What would make you happier, calmer or more content? Do this without judgment. It doesn’t matter that it will cost $5,000 or that it will put out Margaret. Just observe what you feel you need. It’s unlikely that your going to decide “My need is to steal Margaret’s car.” If you were the kind of person to follow through with that impulse, you wouldn’t need this how-to list to begin with.
  4. Think about how you can fulfill those needs. Maybe it’s not a good year to take a trip or perhaps you’re on a diet and swore off chocolate. There are ways to compromise. Maybe you can have a single piece of chocolate on a cheat day? Maybe you can plan to travel next year? Don’t move on from this task before you’ve addressed your needs. Stay with yourself.
  5. Don’t look for validation. The very definition of selfishness means you don’t worry about how your behavior affects others. That should be a very novel thing for you. You’re the guide here. Nobody else can tell you what to do.
  6. Don’t embrace the guilt. To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. When you surround yourself with people who are used to getting whatever they want from you, they may not like the selfish you. There’s nothing in it for them. Don’t let them tap into your guilt. You’ve felt guilty enough.
  7. Practice. The more you practice recognizing and fulfilling your own wants and desires the more it will come easily. You’ll face more situations thinking, “Is this what I want?” or “How is this serving my needs?” You’ll remember to put your feelings first and that’s an empowering habit.

A selfless person can easily learn to strike a balance between selfless and selfish. You’ll always have that nagging feeling that tells you to do more for others than for yourself. You already have the “good person” part built in. You’re empathetic, thoughtful, and altruistic — three things that make the world a better place. But you need to turn those things on yourself. We all need self-compassion. After all, we each are our own closest confidante.

Artist photo available from Shutterstock