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O'TOOLE: I resolve that 2018 is the year to be selfish

• Jan 3, 2018 at 2:00 PM

I sort of hate the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. I think it encourages self-judgment in a culture that constantly judges us and pushes others to judge us.

I believe we should be gentler with ourselves and less critical. When we are forgiving of ourselves, we are more likely to forgive others.

That said, if I were to make a resolution for 2018, it would be this: To be more selfish.

Yes, you read that right: I want to be more selfish.

I heard that eye roll. Calm your eyeballs and pay attention. When I say “selfish” I don’t mean the bad kind of selfish where you are so self-involved that you disregard the welfare of others. No, I mean the good kind of selfish where, in the words of “Personal Success” coach Krissy Jackson, you are “loving, kind and caring toward yourself.”

My therapist explained it this way: We each have a well of lovingness, kindness and caring from which we draw in order to aid our families, friends and neighbors. If our well runs dry, however, we are of no use to anyone, let alone ourselves. Therefore, it’s important to care for ourselves regularly — replenishing the well — in order to keep from coming up empty.

Positive selfishness is “about honoring your commitments you make to yourself; it’s about taking care of you in all aspects — body, mind and spirit,” says Jackson.

It means putting yourself on your to-do list. At the top.

Positive selfishness means setting limits. It means sometimes saying “no.” If that’s not a word you feel comfortable saying, Jackson suggests phrases such as, “I’ll get back to you if I get a free moment,” “I’ll see, but I’m not making any promises,” and “Let me think about it and get back to you.” All of these are graciously worded, yet they free you of defending yourself to others.

What’s a commitment to yourself? It’s whatever you do just for you, for your own pleasure and benefit. A commitment to yourself is what you do in your “me” time. Maybe it’s watching your favorite show on Netflix while soaking your feet in a tub of warm water. Maybe it’s meeting a friend for coffee, going for a run, taking a yoga class, getting a facial or taking in a movie matinee at the theater.

Guilt is a strong emotion, and it keeps most of us from practicing positive selfishness. From an early age, we are inundated with messages that selfishness is wrong. Jackson points out that “if someone accuses you of being selfish, the reality is that they are only upset because you aren’t doing what they selfishly want you to do,” and “this kind of selfishness is actually neediness in disguise.”

Rick Nelson, who grew up in front of the nation on television playing himself on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” wrote a song in the 1970s called “Garden Party.” Part of the chorus went, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” If you spend your life trying to make everybody else happy, you will not succeed, and the person who will end up the most miserable is yourself, because your needs and wants will have gone unfulfilled.

Trust me on this. It happened to me and I’m still trying to resolve all the feelings of resentment and anger that have built up over the years as a result. I’ve got no one but myself to blame, no one but myself to work out all these ugly feelings. It’s not a lot of fun and I’m not exactly a joy to be around. My well is rather dry, let me tell you.

So, what are some of the ways I can practice positive selfishness? My research has turned up several tips. One is to figure out what five major things give me the most joy when I’m alone. In other words, if I were headed for a deserted island, what five things would be essential?

Another is to make the things I want to do a priority. Listening to my instinct, forgiving others, accepting my flaws, connecting to my spirituality, taking care of my health, avoiding negativity and asking for help are some other tips that sound useful and doable. Of course, I don’t expect to do these all at once, all the time.

Loving yourself to excess and at the expense of the emotional, physical or financial well-being of others is narcissistic. But, in selfishly loving ourselves, we make it possible to selflessly love others.

— By Kelly O’Toole, Tribune community columnist

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