Get Our FREE Mental Self-Care Cheat Sheet

Get Our FREE Mental Self-Care Cheat Sheet

10 evidence-based tips to improve your mental health instantaneously when you need to take care of yourself!

You are here: Home » How To Be Happy » Happiness Tips

5 Tips to Help You Put Yourself First (and Why It's so Important)


Does your back ever hurt from bending over backwards for everyone else in your life? While your back may not literally hurt, the emotional pain that comes from repetitively putting your own needs on the back burner adds up and takes a major toll on your overall well-being. What you need to do instead is to put yourself first!

When you put yourself first, you show up in life as your best self and have more energy to devote to helping others when the time arises. And prioritizing your own needs helps you avoid cultivating frustration with others that can damage your relationships in the long run.

In this article, I will help give your back a break from bending over backwards for everyone by teaching you meaningful ways that you can start putting yourself first.

The importance of taking care of yourself

At first glance, it might sound selfish to prioritize yourself first. But if you can’t make yourself happy, how in the world are you supposed to help others feel happy?

The research backs this point up as it has found that when you prioritize your needs and show kindness to yourself you experience greater levels of happiness.

I used to wonder why I felt dissatisfied with my life despite being so busy with things that I thought were meaningful. But eventually, I came to realize that being involved in meaningful activities doesn’t necessarily mean you are actually taking care of yourself and making your needs known.

As cliché as it sounds, you really do have to listen to the flight attendant’s advice both on and off the plane. Putting your own oxygen mask on first is the only way you’re going to be able to help others and save yourself in life.

Why people-pleasing doesn’t set you up for success

We all like to be liked. It feels good when others enjoy and appreciate you.

But if being liked by others becomes the focus of your life, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. A study in 2000 found that focusing on pleasing others leads to depression and less satisfaction with your interpersonal relationships.

I remember a specific incident when I was trying my hardest to make one of my in-laws happy by putting aside my own needs and giving them what they wanted. But what ended up happening was I started to subconsciously feel angry towards this in-law and this started to impact our relationship. Once I set boundaries, I felt that tension between us release and our relationship was able to thrive.

When you focus on people-pleasing, you please everyone but yourself. And you are just as deserving as those other people when it comes to being happy.

If you want to read more about the negative impact of this behavior, here's an entire article on how to stop being a people-pleaser.

5 ways to put yourself first

If you’re ready to put your oxygen mask on first so you can finally breathe and experience greater joy in life, start implementing these 5 tips today.  

1. Remind yourself that you will never be able to make everyone happy

Read that statement again. And don’t just brush it off, actually internalize it as truth.

You can try and try to make everyone happy, but because we are all unique personalities with different needs it is impossible to make everyone happy.

I have to implement this tip every time I try to organize a dinner with my friends. Getting my friends to agree on one place to eat dinner that will make everyone happy is like trying to get Americans to agree on anything related to politics.

What ends up happening is I make a decision on where we are going and there is always one or two friends in the group who gripe about it. And they always have the choice to not join if it’s that big of a deal.

Whether it be deciding where to go to dinner or bigger life decisions, just know that you will always stress less if you remember that it’s not your mission in life to make sure everyone else is content.

2. Say no more often

Sometimes putting yourself first looks like saying no.

I used to be the type of worker who would always say yes to my boss no matter how inconvenient it was for me. I wanted to please my boss and make sure that I embodied what it meant to be a hard worker.

This resulted in me staying later hours and sacrificing a social life for the first few years of my career. And like clockwork, I started to resent work and would say yes when all I really wanted to say was no.

I hit a breaking point and finally learned how to say that simple two-letter word: no.

And when I did this, I stopped feeling burnt out and began to enjoy the work I was doing again.

You’re not a bad human for saying no and putting your needs first. You’re just protecting your mental health and positive energy to make sure that when you do say yes you can give it your all.

3. Set up healthy boundaries in your relationships

When it comes to pleasing people in our lives, we tend to be most concerned about pleasing those closest to us. And while to some extent it is important to make sure your loved ones' needs are met in your relationships, you also can’t always put aside your own needs and allow someone to take advantage of your kindness.

In high school, I had no concept of what it meant to set boundaries in a relationship and my boyfriend at the time knew it. He would ask me to grab him lunch or do his homework because he was too busy and it would really help him out.

Being a naïve teenage girl who was obsessed with the idea of love, I did whatever he asked of me. And this often resulted in my dropping the ball on my own assignments or losing friendships.

I now look back on my actions at that time and want to gag. That relationship was unhealthy and it was in large because I didn’t set boundaries that emphasized prioritizing my needs.

Don’t be like high-school Ashley. Set boundaries in your relationships so that they can last long term and make both parties happy.

4. Slow down and assess how you are feeling

Sometimes you can’t put your needs first because you’re so busy rushing around trying to please everyone else that you don’t even realize what it is that you’re feeling.

And in some cases, this rushing around keeping yourself busy is a way to distract yourself from your real feelings and a deeper issue.

If you want to really start taking care of yourself and feel a sense of contentment in life, you have to take the time to suss out how you’re feeling so you can determine what it is that you need in the first place.

You can follow the steps in this article to learn how to truly slow down.

Continuing to grind and hustle for everyone but yourself is a recipe for burnout and frustration. Do the deep work of sorting out your feelings, so you know what steps you need to take to meet your own needs.

5. Ask for help

Sometimes I treat help like it’s a bad four-letter word. And that is my downfall far too often in life.

But putting yourself first can often look like asking for help.

There was a time when I was working on a big project for work. I was determined to get this project done without any assistance because I didn’t want to bother any of my co-workers.

The reality was this project was way too big for just one person and by trying to do it all on my own, I was sacrificing sleep and time with my husband for weeks on end. Needless to say, I was a grumpy Ashley at work.

After weeks of trying to front all the work alone and after a firm talking to from my husband, I finally asked my co-workers for help. It turned out it was no big deal to them and the project was finished in half the time I thought it would take when they helped.

If you can’t meet your own needs, it’s time to ask for help. Turns out it’s not a bad four-letter word after all.

Get Our FREE Mental Self-Care Cheat Sheet

10 evidence-based tips to improve your mental health instantaneously when you need to take care of yourself!

Wrapping up

If you spend years of your life bending over backwards for everyone else, you just might forget how to bend forwards for yourself. You can have your needs met and still create meaningful connections with others by following the tips from this article. And when you put yourself first, you may find that joy and radical sense of satisfaction that you’ve been missing out on all this time.

When was the last time you really put yourself first? Is your back still aching from carrying the weight of everyone around you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Bunting portrait

Ashley Kaiser

Writer

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

Leave a Comment