Imagine a beautiful, happy child. Your child. Doctors told you it wouldn’t be possible to have one of your own, but by some miracle you did.
On your child’s third birthday, you board a plane to visit your family.
You’re so excited, you miss the flight attendants’ instructions. Midway through the flight, the plane hits turbulence and loses cabin pressure.
Technical issues prevent the safety masks from falling. You look down and notice your three-year-old struggling to breathe. You struggle yourself.
Masks finally fall in front of you. Parental instincts kick in. You attempt to fasten your child’s mask first but pass out before you can finish.
Later, the intercom jolts you awake. The pilot tells you he restored cabin pressure, and the plane is safe.
You feel sick to your stomach, and your skin heats up. You look down to see the lifeless body of your child. No words can describe your feelings.
In your excitement boarding the plane, you missed the one piece of advice that could’ve saved your child’s life. In the event the cabin loses pressure, put on your mask first.
Life is the ultimate plane ride. The next time someone tells you to be selfless, imagine the heartbreak of losing that child. Ignore their foolish advice. Do this instead.
Be selfish. Here’s how.
Be the fire hydrant
Many well-intentioned people and philosophies teach you to ignore yourself. They tout the self as evil. They preach selflessness as the highest state of being. Let me jolt you from that delusion. That’s the biggest lie you could believe.
Helping others is a noble pursuit, but it’s impossible to help anyone if you’re buried six feet underground. Your ability to help others is directly tied to your ability to help yourself. That includes your physical, mental, and financial well-being.
Think of yourself as a fire hydrant. Now imagine a four-alarm fire in a high-rise across the street.
You can choose to let the firemen attach the hose and run you dry or you can tell them to first switch the lever for continuous flow.
The hydrant only has enough storage for a small fire, not what’s happening across the street. But if you press the lever, the water pressure will slowly increase and last as long as needed.
Would you let the firemen immediately attach the hose or would you tell them to switch the lever? Which choice would save more lives?
The water in your life is the selfishness required to sustain your personal well-being. You can let it run dry or you can switch on the lever for continuous flow.
Prime your pump
You are the well in your life’s network. As the famous Zig Ziglar once said, you must prime the pump before water begins flowing.
In life, priming the pump takes the form of personal development and lifelong learning. It requires creating an environment for positive thinking and growth.
Be fanatical about what you tell yourself and what you feed your mind. Read, listen, and watch constructive material that keeps you on your ideal course. It requires spending time with people who have the same values, goals, and outlook. You get out what you put in, so choose wisely.
Plug into a network
The simplest way to create a constructive environment is to plug into an existing network of like-minded individuals. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are many Facebook groups, meet-up apps, or other services designed to connect people with similar desires and goals.
When you connect with a constructive network, you create an ideal environment and speed up the learning process. You discover unexpected ways to achieve your goals and learn how to avoid mistakes.
Your network is like an underground channel of water. You can’t do it alone. Within your network, find an accountability partner to keep you on task about your primary life goals. Take the emotional risk to let others know your hopes and dreams. They’ll help keep you honest and on track.
“Life is a direct consequence of the choices you make. The only way to change your life is to make different choices and change how you respond to things outside of your control.” — Roy Huff, Think Smart Not Hard.
Before you can help others, you must stop blaming them for your mistakes. Start by forgiving those who’ve harmed you even if they don’t deserve it. Hatred and resentment only keep you from achieving your ideal self.
After you take responsibility, you’ll be free to elevate yourself and those around you. Once you let go of the anger, you’re free to focus on what you need to do. No one controls your fate but you.
Find your why
One of the most powerful things you can do to get your life on track and stay on track is by discovering your why. What’s the reason you want to do the thing you say you want to do? If it’s to please others, it’s the wrong reason.
It can be difficult to say no to your family or community leaders when they think they know what’s best for you and what you should do with your life.
If your parents want you to be a doctor because you come from a family of doctors, it may be hard to confront them. But if you hate everything about biology and medicine, it’s also the wrong field for you. Money shouldn’t be the only thing you consider either when deciding a course of action. Money is a tool, not an end. Think about why you want that money.
Despite the temptation, you can’t be a slave to those around. If you choose to do something simply because someone you love told you to do it, it’s a recipe for a miserable life. If you’re unhappy, that misery will rub off on others. You’ll help fewer people in the long run, including yourself.
Quit digging the hole deeper
There is a concept known as the sunk cost fallacy. Regardless of how much time and money you’ve invested in digging a hole, it’s still a waste of time to keep digging if that hole doesn’t contain what you need. If you’re not sure whether you should stop digging, consider if you would take up that action if you were just getting started. If the answer is no, it’s time to shift gears.
Even if you’re near the end of your life, why keep going in the wrong direction? If you’ve spent six figures in student loans only to discover that your major was in a field you despise, why compound your mistake by spending the rest of your life doing what you hate?
The bottom line is that you must search what’s best for you, regardless of your age. Take advice from those who’ve succeeded in what you want to do, and then do it.
Mind your habits
“The fastest way to success is to replace bad habits with good habits.” — Tom Ziglar
Discover how you most frequently sabotage yourself so you can put systems in place to avoid self-sabotage.
Make a simple chart of poor habits and the routines that lead to the actions which support those habits. Create alternative behaviors to replace bad habits with good ones.
Habits are powerful. The reason is that they drop the need for willpower. Once created, habits allow you to do things instinctively, like driving the same route home every single day without thinking about it.
When you get physically and mentally fatigued, the way your brains work is to fall back on habits. Those habits can be good or bad. It takes an effort to develop them, but once you do, they’ll be the system for your success.
You get in life what you tolerate. Life will organize around the standards you set. — Darren Hardy
You may feel powerless at work or at home. That feeling often comes from a lack of boundaries. Decide what you’re willing to tolerate, and tell the relevant parties.
If you don’t want to work on the weekends, inform your employer. If you don’t want people yelling at you, explain you’ll no longer listen if they do. Walk away when it happens.
This is when many people will tell you that you’re selfish. The people who scream the loudest will be the biggest takers. Limit your time with those people, and find new people who respect you.
You need boundaries for both constructive and destructive forces in your life. Too much of a good thing can be bad, so research the best way to set boundaries for key areas and people within your life.
It will be tough in the beginning, but it will put you in a position where you can maximize your own life and help more people the way you want to.
Learn to say no
Whenever you say yes, you’re saying no to everything else, so guard your yes’s. You’ll always give the same amount of no’s because you can only do one thing at a time. The only difference is whether you give those no’s before or after you say yes. All your answers after that first yes will always be no.
If it’s not a heck yes, it should be a no. Take advantage of opportunities, but if that opportunity doesn’t excite you, pass. If you don’t, you’re doing a disservice to the person you’re working with. Also, think of it like this. When you say no to something you don’t really want to do, you’re giving an opportunity to someone else who it would excite.
Think about the consequences
When you hear the word selfish, you might associate it with destructive behavior. While there may be many definitions, the way I define selfishness is by doing what’s in your best interest. That interest doesn’t include robbing a bank, assaulting a police officer, or blowing all your rent money on gambling or drugs.
Whenever you’re about to make a choice, consciously think about what could happen because of that choice. If it’s likely to hurt you or others, think of a better option.
The difficulty lies in considering short-term versus long-term consequences. You should take daily actions that provide some immediate benefit. This would be things like a walk in the park to appreciate nature or telling someone one you love them. But always think about how your short-term actions will impact your life a month or a year from now.
Lead by example
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” -Mahatma Gandhi
You can write a book on success, but if you haven’t achieved that same success in your own life, it’s unlikely to be a hit.
You’re not responsible for anyone else’s actions but your own. That said, I’m sure you wish you could convince people to make better choices. Words have an impact, but deeds are more powerful.
Instead of merely telling people what they should do, show how and why it works by implementing it in your own life. Don’t expect to convince people with a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do argument. The most impactful way you can influence others is by becoming a testament to that philosophy instead of just a talking head.
I’m a research scientist, author, and teacher. I know from experience that teaching is one of the best ways to learn.
If you want to become better at something, teach others how to do it. Not only will you learn from preparing and teaching, but it’s also a great way to help others and give back to the community.
Focus on value
If you want to help others, the best way to do it is by finding something that brings value to as many people as possible.
In one of my articles, I introduced a formula called the Huff Value Index. In short, it means the amount of money you can earn is tied to how much value you can bring the world. The more people you help and value you bring, the more money you can make. It’s that simple.
“The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.” — Ayn Rand
Being selfish doesn’t mean engaging in destructive behavior or ignoring the needs of others. It means finding what contributes most to your long-term happiness and fulfillment. It means leading by example and creating a role model for others to follow.
Fortifying your own life creates a solid foundation in your community. It allows you to teach people how to fish instead of just giving a fish. It enables you to help the truly helpless when they need you the most.
If you want to help more people, visualize yourself on the plane. In the event the cabin loses pressure, think about the best course of action. Will you struggle to put on someone else’s mask, or will you put your own mask on first?
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