Everyone goes through phases in life where they act a little bit selfish. And while focusing on yourself doesn’t make you a bad person — more on that below — being truly and utterly self-centered can certainly push people away. Selfishness takes many forms, which is why the best way to practice being less selfish “is to first take a while to think about the ways in which you're selfish,” psychologist Paul Greene, Ph.D., tells Bustle. “Do you tend to talk over people? Do you neglect to ask how they're doing? Do you not reach out unless you want something?” All of these can be kinds of selfish behavior, and once you recognize them, you can practice making changes.
At the same time, experts stress that not all self-centered behavior is selfish, and can in fact be a kind of self-care, says Myisha Jackson, LPC, a licensed professional counselor. Selfishness means you’re driven by personal interest, usually at the expense of others, while self-care means doing what you need to do in order to be well.
“Some of our self-care actions might even be perceived as selfish,” Sue English MSW, LCSW, CADC, a licensed family therapist, tells Bustle. “When we set boundaries to maintain a healthy relationship for ourselves, or take on fewer responsibilities with the intention to recharge, others might perceive it as self-serving.”
In truth, recharging and practicing self-care is a necessary part of giving back. If you take good care of yourself, you’ll have the energy to do nice things, and those affected by your kindness will do nice things as well. It’s a snowball effect, English says, and one you can get rolling starting with the simplest acts. Here are 17 easy ways to be less selfish every day, according to experts.
1. Check In
One of the easiest ways to be less self-centered is by checking in with others on a more regular basis, Jackson says. Whether that means texting a friend, calling your mom, or sitting down and writing a whole letter to a long-lost cousin, nothing says “I’m thinking about you” quite like sending a message. Bonus points if you reach out first.
2. Ask Good Questions
According to English, another pro-tip is to ask specific questions. Instead of saying, “Hey, how are you?” look for ways to engage by asking someone about their pets, their hobbies, if they have any cool weekend plans, etc. “People feel closer to those who display a genuine interest in them and their lives,” she says. Not only does it lead to way better conversations, it also helps others feel “seen” and understood.
3. Practice Listening
To add to this, make a point of actually listening — with genuine interest, openness, and lack of judgment — when someone is talking. “When people in your life sense that they're really being listened to, they're more likely to go beyond the normal chit-chat and speak vulnerably about their own experience,” Cameron Murphey, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. Compared to interrupting or waiting for your turn to speak, this approach creates a far deeper connection.
4. Say “Hey”
While you certainly don’t have to smile and wave at everyone you see, look for moments to connect with those around you. Think smiling at a neighbor, saying “morning” to a coworker, or thanking the driver of your bus.
“This can make an impact on the person you are intentionally kind towards as we never know what other people are struggling with,” Liz Hughes, M.Ed, LPC, a licensed professional therapist, tells Bustle. “This small gesture can really make a difference for someone going through a challenging time.”
It also comes back around. “Even if you don't get recognition from the person you were kind towards, the act is not wasted,” Hughes says. “Try thanking yourself for a job well done and you can still benefit from those feel-good chemicals. Either way, you are working on building your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself over time.”
5. Give Compliments
Giving someone a compliment — “OMG, your dog is so cute!” — will not only brighten their day, it’ll also get you out of your head. Why? “In order to give someone a compliment, you have to notice something about the other person or what they're doing,” Murphey says.
It’s a surefire way to participate more fully in your environment, instead of feeling wrapped up in your own little world. It’s also a way to strengthen your personal relationships, Murphey says. Compliments let the people in your life know that you notice and appreciate everything they do.
6. Hold The Door
There are countless ways to be selfless as you go through the day, like “holding the door open for someone, letting your partner pick the first slice of pizza, or letting someone with children go ahead of you in the check-out line,” English says. “These take a small amount of time but can make a lasting impact on others and how you can connect with them.”
7. Run A Quick Errand For Someone Else
“Whether it's work, school, or other chores, each of us is trying to make it through the difficulties of the day,” Murphey says, which is why it’s completely understandable if you can’t do the things on this list all the time. (If you’re busy, don’t blame yourself for being “selfish,” he says.)
But if you find yourself with a spare moment, how nice would it be to run a quick errand for someone you care about? Whether you put gas in your partner’s car, buy orange juice so your mom doesn’t have to, or walk a friend’s dog when they’re stuck at work, it all adds up.
8. Practice Gratitude
“Another easy habit to incorporate that helps reduce a selfish perspective is practicing gratitude,” psychotherapist Rebecca Mores, LICSW, CCM tells Bustle. “Simply listing three things that you are grateful for daily will help you to rewire your mindset to one that is more fulfilled — versus one that is full of desires.”
It’s yet another simple act that gets you out of your head and into a more giving mindset. As Mores says, “If we are able to recognize that our basic needs are met, then we are more easily able to shift our attention to others.”
9. Think From Other Perspectives
Going back to listening, catch yourself if you find yourself making assumptions. “Try to be mindful that we only truly know one side of any story,” Mores says. “It's helpful to remember that we don't know what another person's motivation might be and we might never know what kind of things a stranger is dealing with in their life.”
This way of thinking comes in handy in stressful moments, like when someone cuts you off in traffic. While you might be quick to think it has something to do with you, that’s rarely true. “Taking a moment to recognize this can allow us to be more empathetic and less likely to jump to any negative conclusions, therefore opening the opportunity to act in a self-less or more kind way,” she says.
10. Anticipate Someone’s Needs
You could, for instance, set out coffee for your roommate who’s running late or turn the shower on for your partner so it gets hot. “This makes people feel special, thought about, and loved,” Jose Ramirez, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. “Even a small gesture will go a long way.”
11. Buy Someone’s Bagel
“Another way to practice selflessness is to pay it forward,” Ramirez says. You could literally pay for someone, like the person behind you in line at the coffee shop. Or you could look for small, selfless favors to do throughout the day, like letting a car squeeze into traffic ahead of you, or bringing snacks to share with coworkers.
12. Wave At Neighbors
Sure, there’s a whole wall between you and the guy next door, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impact each other’s lives in a positive way. Can you say hi more often? Bring in their newspaper? Offer to feed their cat when they go away? “Being more attentive to the needs of those around you is going strengthen your relationships,” Ramirez says. “People will consider you ‘selfless’ and be drawn to you.”
13. Offer Encouragement
Offering encouragement is a nice way to put others first, Brandy Pan, a life purpose coach, tells Bustle. Small ways to do so include calling a friend to check in after their job interview, helping a roommate study for the LSAT, or telling your sibling they’ve “got this” on a regular basis.
14. Donate Or Volunteer
Donating on a regular basis is always appreciated, whether that means giving money or unwanted items, like clothes, to charities in need. If you don’t have anything to spare, use sites like Volunteer Match to find organizations in your area and volunteer time, instead. Walk a shelter dog, deliver food, clean up a park — whatever works for you. “You can turn this into a habit by working it into your planner or budget,” therapist Ashley Gray, LCSW tells Bustle. “Schedule times of the week to volunteer or do acts of kindness.”
15. Give Little Gifts
Don’t hesitate to give small gifts to the people in your life on a more regular basis, like little tokens that made you think of them, souvenirs from a trip, sending a sticker in the mail, etc. As life coach Suzanne Wylde says, giving a gift could even be as simple as sharing a funny meme, giving a great restaurant recommendation, or extending an invitation to a party. “These are the things that let people know they matter to you.”
16. Slow Down
Finding ways to slow down can also contribute to selflessness, says life coach Holly McClain, M.Ed, CLC, CDS, even if that just means pausing long enough to make eye contact. “Our world is fast-paced,” she tells Bustle. “Slowing down to look someone in the eye goes a long way. This act of kindness shows them that you recognize and ‘see’ them.” So the next time someone is handing you change, delivering food, or holding a door open for you, glance up. It’ll change the whole interaction.
17. Be Nicer To Yourself
Psychologist Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble recommends checking in with yourself on a regular basis. “When you know your baseline, you are better equipped to practice the kind of self-care necessary to help you avoid becoming overly engaged in self-soothing, which can be a big driver of selfishness,” she tells Bustle. “This can be achieved through brief journaling, using a mood tracker, reflection, exercise, or mediation.”
It’s also an easy way to be nicer to yourself, which is key. “As counterintuitive as it may seem, self-compassion can help us be less selfish,” therapist Anna Poss, LCPC, tells Bustle. “Self-compassion helps us to view ourselves as humans and strengthens our empathy muscle. This allows us to recognize, respect, and have compassion for others.”
Paul Greene, Ph.D., psychologist
Myisha Jackson, LPC, licensed professional counselor
Sue English MSW, LCSW, CADC, licensed family therapist
Cameron Murphey LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Rebecca Mores, LICSW, CCM, psychotherapist
Liz Hughes, M.Ed, LPC, licensed professional therapist
Jose Ramirez, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor
Suzanne Wylde, life coach
Brandy Pan, life purpose coach
Holly McClain, M.Ed, CLC, CDS, life coach
Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist
Anna Poss, LCPC, therapist
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