Why is "Self First" so hard?


One of the key concepts that we cover in our foundational course Level 1: The Prophet, is the Divine Law of Self First. Self-First refers to the fundamental importance of taking care of your self, before tending to others or all the other demands that come from the external world.

Simple, right? They even tell you to do it when riding on an airplane, if the oxygen mask drops down, you put yours on first and then help someone in need. I often use this example when I’m teaching and when I ask the students why, there is always a long pause.

And then…

“Because you can’t help anyone else if you can’t breathe?”

YES! Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet why does it feel so complicated when it comes time for us to apply Self First in our lives? Why do we often leave our own needs until last? Why do we wait until we are over-tired, over-extended or even physically sick to finally address what we need?

“Self First is selfish”

There is a big difference between Self First and being selfish aka narcissism. If you’re not sure, let’s look at the psychological definition:



Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

Not taking a business call on your break so you can have lunch, arranging childcare so you can get a massage or taking a moment to decompress your own stress before hearing about your partner’s crazy day….is this really selfish? A desire for admiration? Yet, this message is engrained in us from an early age.

Of course, considering others is an important lesson that we must learn as children, when we think everything in the world revolves around us. And you may have been well praised when putting others first. But it is so easy for that healthy consideration to move into leaving our own needs until last, especially if you are someone who derives a lot of joy and satisfaction from helping others. It’s instant gratification when you give or fix something on the external, and yet the gesture will become empty if you don’t pause to recharge your battery.

So in truth, it is irresponsible NOT to tend to yourself first. If you empty your internal wellspring of love, joy and healing on another and don’t take the time to fill it up, then you’ll either burn out, or become needy to get it from others and THAT can seem, well…selfish. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

“I don’t have enough time”

No question, modern life is busy. It is all to easy to fall victim to what seems out of our control and get sucked into a life of schedules, to-do lists and unanswered emails. Many people don’t find a way out until they burnout, get sick or have a dramatic life event that makes them realize they need to start taking care of themselves. Then Self First becomes a monumental task that can take days, weeks and even years of focused repair work. If you leave it that long, then yes, Self First does take a lot of time.

But consider this: What if it were to be one minute of every hour, or even 10 minutes a day to tend to our own needs? Small bites, little moments that build into a sustainable routine which can connects us to our internal voice, who guides us to what needs attention before it becomes an issue.

In our work at TIPA, meditation is where we take the time daily to fill our buckets and replenish ourselves. We use that internal communion with the divine principles of love to deepen our relationship with Self. What might work for you?

Consider taking those moments to address yourself and watch what happens, see how life becomes less stressful and more focused. Notice how much more effecting and helpful you are to others when you put your mask on first. Oxygen matters! And so you do you!


~Elinor Svoboda

Level 1 and Level 2 teacher