Putting yourself first is hard.

In 2011, Michelle Obama told Barbara Walters that she makes herself her priority. When asked if that could be considered selfish, she remarked: “It’s practical… a lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else”.

Putting yourself first doesn’t mean only caring about yourself. It means having a grounded and realistic understanding that you are your first and only focus of control, and you must be rooted in that before there’s any possibility of lending yourself to anybody or anything else.

Like how you apply your own oxygen mask on an airplane before you put on someone else’s — you are only able to truly extend yourself to people when your needs are taken care of first. When you’re emotionally spent there’s no way you can sit and listen to a friend’s existential crisis as well. Simply: you can’t offer the shirt on your back when your freezing or share a meal while you’re starving or help someone else while you’re seeking help yourself.

You’re more emotionally stable — you don’t attach expectation. The second you require someone or something to be any specific way for you to be okay is the second you hand over control of your life. You can only control how you act and react. Cultivating that is the most important thing there is to do, and is the result of learning to put yourself at the centre of control of your life.

You learn to care more about your own opinions than those of other people’s, more about how you feel than how you look, and who you are rather than who you “should” be. When maintaining an image, fitting into a standard, abiding by an expectation, you’re inevitably selling yourself short. You’re moulding yourself into someone you’re not. But women, especially do this because they put other people’s expectations before their own.

Healthy habits become lifestyle, not something you scramble to do when you need to remedy a problem. Finding time to meditate, cook yourself a great meal, take a mental health day, find something inspiring, cultivate your home to be more relaxing, go for a long hike, stay up-to-date on your doctor’s appointments, etc. becomes as routine as brushing your teeth and having your coffee, and then it becomes preventative. If your health isn’t your priority, it will inevitably slip by the wayside, because you don’t see it as “necessary,” but little habits add up.

You get an idea of who and what is worth it. It’s not your job to make everybody happy. It is your job to decide who you want in your life, what you want in your life, and then to do your best to give to that whatever you’ve got.

You attract the right people, relationships and things into your life because being yourself is your foremost concern. The more genuine you are, the more genuinely you can find what suits you.

More importantly, you know when things aren’t right for you, and you respect yourself enough to leave relationships, jobs, friendships, etc. when they aren’t healthy anymore. When you care more about your own well-being, you don’t take bullshit. You don’t hang around because you feel you need something to be okay. You don’t compromise your own mental and emotional health for the sake of someone else.

You don’t need anybody else’s approval. So, you don’t waste your time seeking it.

Understand the notion of “changing the world starts with changing yourself.” Working on yourself is the most noble and important thing to do. We all want to change society, but how many of us are willing to change ourselves? If every person took it upon themselves to do the really hard work, the true heavy lifting, the looking in the mirror and changing yourself before you try to change anybody else, we’d transform the whole world.Kx