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Photo: Stocksy


Let’s do ourselves a favour and reclaim the word “selfish”

Selfish doesn’t always have to be bad, says Brigid Moss

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By Brigid Moss on

“She’s so bloody selfish.” “The selfish cow.” There are not many worse things to be called than selfish. Even the word itself sounds like a hiss. It says you don’t care, you’re a horrible person, you’re all about me, me, me.  

But this year, yoga and meditation teacher Nadia Narain and her sister, healthy chef Katia Narain Phillips, want us all to be more selfish.

Not the bad kind: making a cup of tea only for yourself (not pointing any fingers here, but you know who you are), not giving up your seat for someone older/pregnant on the Tube. On a more serious note, selfish means putting someone else’s feelings last. “Bad selfish feels self-absorbed and self-consumed. It’s not kind,” says Phillips.

But “good selfish”? We all need more of that, say the sisters. They are rebranding selfish for 2018 in their new book, Self-Care For The Real World. “Good selfish feels like it serves someone or is kind to someone, whether that is yourself, in order to serve others, the world, our planet, or another person,” says Narain.  

People don’t like to make themselves a priority. People think that putting others first is the unselfish thing to do, but at what cost?

Are you “good selfish” enough? I'm not sure I am. I have only recently learnt that, as well as ticking off all the must-dos and chores and never-ending list of jobs, I feel so much better if I put in time for me, a swim or long dog walk. With all that getting in the way, how can I ever justify time for me?

“People don’t like to make themselves a priority. People think that putting others first is the unselfish thing to do, but at what cost?” says Phillips. So, what are the clues? “You need to start listening and paying attention to yourself. Notice your energy levels, notice how you feel,” says Narain. A huge clue is do you feel resentful? Exhausted? Depleted?

If, like me, you’re shouting, “Yes!” but you’re still not convinced you can fit self-care into your life – or that it’s worth the time – here are the sisters’ convincing reasons to make this year the year of you.

1 Being selfish is actually unselfish

If bad selfish is about me, me, me, good selfish is about me so I can be better for you and everyone else. Being selfish will give you more energy, put you in a better mood, make you more present and productive, say the sisters. “You are going to be a better parent if you are looking after yourself and have more patience and tolerance, rather than running on empty and being short,” says Narain. It might even stop you losing your shit while driving and shouting, “For God’s sake, GET OUT OF MY WAY!”

2 It’s good for the world, too

I once dismissed self-care as shallow, silly, even selfish at a societal level. Not so, says Narain. “If you don’t look after yourself, you have nothing to give others. We are not talking about retreating – we are talking about fully engaging but with care to what you put your attention on. This political climate is exhausting and difficult. But each and every person’s energy is required more right now, to march, to vote, to organise, to serve and to get involved in whatever way you can. In order to do that, we need to be well-fuelled, well-rested, disciplined and kind to each other.”

Interestingly, Phillips says being selfish might not always be doing what you want, but what you need instead. “If you are recovering from a cold and had a full work week, it may be necessary to go home to bed and not go out for a drink with your friends. You may miss out, but you would be caring for yourself.”

3 It can cost nothing

Where can you begin with making 2018 your year of selfish? Start with doing one good thing for yourself a day, apparently. Narain's non-negotiable is meditation, Phillips' is walking her dog, Batman, without her phone. I am not going to look at my phone on my next walk, I promise myself.

But there are lots of other ways, too. “Start with a small thing like going to bed early or eating better,” says Phillips. “You don’t need to spend one penny,” says Narain. “Drink more water, get to bed earlier and don’t look at your phone and computer before bed. Prepare a nice dinner even – in fact especially – if you are eating alone. All totally free! (But if you do want to treat yourself, we say do it!)”

What they describe as the quickest and most powerful route to self-care is the one that makes the most sense to me. “It’s changing your mindset. Loving or at least liking yourself as you are. If you can love yourself like you love your kid or best friend, you would be so much nicer to yourself.”


This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here

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