When was the last time you stopped to consider your needs, without also taking into account what someone else wanted for you?
There’s nothing wrong with putting energy into relationships with loved ones or turning your attention toward finding a romantic partner or new friend. People need love, intimacy, and companionship, so you are focusing on yourself by pursuing those needs.
It’s also pretty safe to say that if you never stop to consider others, your relationships probably won’t thrive.
All the same, neglecting your own dreams and desires can still hold you back. A life lived solely in the pursuit of the happiness of others may not bring you much personal joy. Over time, you might begin feeling drained even a little lost.
Focusing on yourself isn’t selfish. It’s an act of self-love. But when you’ve been in the habit of focusing on others, it can be hard to shift gears. These 7 tips can help.
Building a strong self-relationship is a great way to return your focus to yourself.
Feeling uncertain about your identity can make it tough to get clarity on what you want from life. Without some familiarity with who you are as a person, you can’t do much to achieve your goals, live according to your values, or get your needs met.
Significant events — breakup, career change, childbirth, personal crisis —can prompt growth and cast a spotlight on ways you’ve already changed. This illumination may call into question things you thought you knew about yourself as new aspects of your identity emerge for the first time.
You may not immediately welcome this new self-knowledge, especially if it contradicts your existing perception of who you are. But failing to acknowledge your growth can leave you feeling incomplete and unfulfilled.
Getting to know you
Think of yourself as a fascinating person you want to befriend, but instead of striking up a conversation with yourself (though that’s OK, too), try:
- keeping a daily journal of your routine, conversations with friends, emotions, hobbies, personal frustrations — anything that comes to mind.
- making a list of experiences you’d like to have
- challenging yourself to try something new each day
- identifying, through lists or journaling, your key likes and dislikes
- identifying strengths and areas where you’d like to grow
These exercises can help you begin to build a more complete picture of yourself as a person, outside the influence of anyone else.
Most people care about the opinions of their loved ones. Sure, you don’t automatically do everything your family or friends suggest, but you do carefully weigh their guidance when trying to make a decision.
It’s generally helpful to get insight from others, especially for big decisions. Still, it’s important to draw a distinction between finding value in this guidance and letting it sway you from your preferred course. The difference sometimes gets a little blurred, and you may not even realize at first that your dreams are actually someone else’s dreams.
Maybe you’ve had little luck with dating. Your loved ones reassure you that eventually you’ll find the right person and encourage you to keep trying, since getting married and having children are important parts of life, right?
Well, not if you don’t want them to be. Societal ideals around dating and relationships often suggest single people are lonely and incomplete. In reality, many people find permanent singlehood far more fulfilling than pursuing relationships they don’t actually want.
So, if you’ve discovered you don’t actually want to “find” anyone (or take a certain job or doing anything else others expect of you), honor that truth.
In its most literal sense, focusing on yourself revolves around self-care practices that meet your needs.
Self-care allows you to turn your attention toward yourself in a fundamental way. Everyone has basic needs that play an important part in overall well-being, including sleep, nutrition, physical exercise, and relaxation.
If you neglect these needs, you’re probably not getting enough time to recharge from life’s various sources of stress. You might not notice much of an impact at first, but eventually, you might see some unwanted changes in your physical and mental health.
To get started with self-care:
- Make time for physical activity.
- Add mood-boosting foods to your diet.
- Give meditation a try.
- Write or draw in a mood journal.
- Read a book.
- Aim to spend 2 hours in nature each week.
You don’t have to do every single one of these. In fact, it’s probably wise to start small. Choose one thing to work on, and gradually work your way toward other practices that make you feel good.
Find more strategies for creating a personalized self-care routine.
Make no mistake, caring for others is a positive trait. Focusing on your loved ones and offering emotional support when they struggle shows your compassion and strengthens your relationships.
Prosocial behavior, like practicing kindness toward others, can even help improve well-being by boosting feelings of happiness.
Just don’t forget to treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you offer others.
Maybe you’re always ready when a friend needs kind words, a hug, or a distraction, but what about when you need those things? You might, like many others, hold yourself to stricter standards and fall into patterns of negative self-talk.
Show yourself some love
Here are a few easy ways to tap into self-compassion:
- Instead of pushing yourself to keep going and try harder when you need to finish an assignment, take a break and give yourself time to recharge.
- Rather than criticizing yourself for failure, encourage yourself with a gentle reminder, “You did your best, and you’ll do better next time.”
- Give yourself a hug. (Yes, you totally can.)
- Know when you need a break.
That last one is key to maintaining the right balance between focusing on yourself and focusing on others. Devoting all of your energy to other people leaves you with little for yourself. When you look within to fulfill your own needs first, you’ll be in a much better position to support the ones you love.
People in relationships tend to spend plenty of time with their partners. This might work perfectly well for a while, but lacking time for the things you enjoy can result in your losing touch with those interests over time. This can leave you feeling frustrated, discouraged, and resentful.
Everyone needs time to pursue their own hobbies, and it’s pretty rare two people will want to do exactly the same thing all the time. Even when you’re very close, spending some time on your own and with other loved ones can still improve the health of your relationship.
When life gets busy, hobbies might be the first things you drop from your routine as you navigate more immediate challenges. But this can backfire. It becomes harder to weather difficulties and bounce back from stress when you don’t have time to recharge.
Setting aside time for hobbies and relaxation on most days can go a long way toward helping you avoid burnout.
After leaving a relationship, you might need to relearn how to exist in your own company. This may feel lonely and difficult at first, but try reframing this solitude as an opportunity to explore new hobbies or rediscover old ones, from stargazing to scrapbooking to tabletop gaming.
Most people compare themselves to others on occasion. Perhaps you feel a little envious of a particular friend who always seems happy. “If only I had their brains (or partner, or style, or wealth, or anything else), I’d be happy, too,” you think.
But you don’t actually know how they find fulfillment in life. Even if their happiness does stem from the things they have, people are different, and there’s still no guarantee those same possessions will bring you the same joy.
Comparing yourself to someone else can motivate you to aim for similar goals, like a nice house, your dream car, or a loving partner. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as these new ideals don’t overshadow your existing values.
Comparisons can become problematic when they distract you from what really matters to you. You might end up working toward something you don’t necessarily want, simply because you think might resolve your dissatisfaction.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, look at the things you already have. Who (or what) brings you joy? What do you feel grateful for? What would you like more of? Less of? Where do you want to be in 10 years’ time?
It’s not uncommon to lose sight of your personal values, especially when you find yourself in a rough patch or find yourself single after a long relationship.
Taking some time to reconsider the specific qualities you value most can help you refocus your attention on who you are and who you want to become. If you value community, for example, you might look for ways to share time or resources with your community.
Once you identify your values, you can begin to explore ways to incorporate them into your life in meaningful ways. Some values, such as bravery, optimism, or adventurousness, might come naturally to you.
Others, including honesty, accountability, or leadership, may require a little more work. This work is worth it, though — research from 2017 suggests living according to your values could help improve satisfaction with life as well as mental health.
The idea of focusing on yourself isn’t as self-centered as it sounds. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for your well-being.
If you struggle to give yourself the attention you deserve, a therapist can offer guidance with turning your focus inward and help you explore more strategies for self-care.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.