How to start living for yourself

Living for yourself: an AI generate photo of an older couple with tattoos standing on a beach with a surboard.

“Discover the transformative journey of embracing authenticity, prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and pursuing passions to start living for yourself and unlock a life of true fulfillment and happiness.” Photo: ©Jose Luis Stephens / Adobe Stock

How to start living for yourself by embracing authenticity and happiness

Ten ways to start authentically living for yourself

Are you tired of constantly putting others' needs and expectations before your own? Do you yearn for a life that aligns with your true desires and values? Not only does living for yourself empower you to lead a life true to who you are, but it also has significant implications for your mental health. When we neglect our own needs and desires in favor of meeting external expectations, we risk jeopardizing our mental health, well-being and overall happiness.

The relentless pursuit of living up to societal standards or fulfilling others' demands can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and a sense of lost identity. This, in turn, can negatively impact our mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and a lack of fulfillment in most aspects of our lives. Therefore, it's crucial to recognize the mental health risks of not living for yourself and take proactive steps to prioritize your own well-being. In this "Living For Yourself" guide, we will explore the essence of what living for yourself truly means, how it relates to mental health, and provide you with practical strategies to make this transformation a reality. Prepare to embark on a transformative journey toward self-discovery, fulfillment, and joy.

1. Understanding the essence of living for yourself

Living for yourself is about prioritizing your needs, desires, and values above external expectations. These external expectations from society, family, or friends can often sabotage your efforts to live authentically. They can create a sense of pressure to conform to societal norms or meet the expectations set by others, leading you to prioritize their desires over your own. 

However, when you constantly strive to meet external expectations, you lose touch with your true self and suppress your needs and aspirations. Breaking free from these external expectations is a vital step towards reclaiming your autonomy and living a life aligned with your unique essence.

2. Recognizing the signs of neglecting yourself

Before diving into the steps of living for yourself, it's important to identify signs indicating you may be neglecting your needs. One effective way to do this is by taking the time to write it all down. Grab a pen and paper, and let your thoughts flow freely. Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations can profoundly impact gaining clarity and capturing authentic insights.

First and foremost, putting your thoughts on paper allows you to think deeply about what you want from life. It allows you to make your desires more concrete and tangible. You can uncover your true aspirations by asking yourself questions about what truly makes you happy, what you want to achieve, and what you want to change.

Writing down aspects of your life that you like and those you don't particularly enjoy provides a comprehensive overview. It allows you to identify patterns, recurring themes, and areas that need attention. By acknowledging both the positive and negative aspects, you better understand where you need to focus your energy and make changes.

One of the remarkable aspects of this exercise is that there are no limitations. Give yourself the freedom to write without judgment or self-imposed restrictions. Don't let negative thoughts like "I can't do this" hinder your creative process. Allow your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to flow freely onto the paper. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to exploring your inner desires and dreams.

Once you've completed this exercise, you'll immediately notice the clarity it brings. Writing it down provides a roadmap for the specific lifestyle changes you must make to prioritize yourself and your happiness. It is a valuable reference point as you embark on the journey of living for yourself.

Remember, writing with pen and paper offers unique benefits over digital alternatives. It engages your senses and taps into the tactile experience of physically writing, which can help you connect more deeply with your thoughts and emotions. It also eliminates distractions from screens, allowing you to focus solely on yourself and your introspection.

So, grab a notebook or a journal, find a quiet space, and let your thoughts flow onto the paper. Embrace the power of writing to gain insight into your true desires, uncover neglected areas of your life, and lay the foundation for living authentically. This simple act of writing it all down is the first crucial step towards reclaiming your life and living it for yourself.

3. Cultivating your self-awareness

To start living for yourself, you must first develop self-awareness. Take time to reflect on your values, passions, and aspirations. What truly matters to you? What brings you joy? Engage in activities that allow you to connect with your inner self, such as journaling, meditation, or spending time in nature. This self-discovery process will help you better understand yourself and guide your decision-making.

One powerful exercise that can help cultivate self-awareness is the practice of mindfulness meditation. Find a quiet and comfortable space to sit or lie down without distractions. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath, focusing on each inhale and exhale sensation. As thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise, simply observe them without judgment, allowing them to come and go. This practice trains your mind to be present in the moment and helps you observe your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. Regularly engaging in mindfulness meditation allows you to better understand your inner world, gain clarity about your thoughts and feelings, and recognize patterns and triggers that influence your behavior. Through this practice, you can cultivate self-awareness and make conscious choices that align with your authentic self.

"To start living for yourself, you must first develop self-awareness."

4. Prioritizing your self-care

Self-care is crucial for living a life centered around your well-being. Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine. Take care of your physical health by eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest. Nurture your mental and emotional well-being by engaging in relaxing and rejuvenating activities. Remember, when you prioritize self-care, you are better equipped to show up for yourself and others.

It's important to acknowledge that self-care is easier said than done. Life's demands and busy schedules can make it challenging to prioritize ourselves. This is especially the case for people already struggling with poor mental health who may find the day-to-day demands of their professional and personal lives exhausting.

But remember, small, consistent steps can have a significant impact. One practical example of improving self-care that can be incorporated into your daily routine is to create a dedicated "me-time" ritual. Set aside 15 minutes each day for yourself, free from distractions like doom-scrolling on social media. During this time, engage in an activity that brings you joy, such as reading a book, taking a leisurely walk, practicing gentle stretching, or enjoying a soothing cup of tea. Put down your phone!

By intentionally carving out this time for yourself, you send a powerful message that you value and prioritize your own well-being. This simple practice builds the foundation of living for yourself by reminding you that self-care is a vital part of your daily life and deserving of your attention. If 15 minutes seems to be too much, start with 5 minutes and incrementally increase your “me time” until you reach 15 minutes.

5. Setting your boundaries

Living for yourself requires setting clear boundaries to protect your time, energy, and emotions. Failure to set boundaries can sabotage and prevent you from truly living for yourself. When you constantly say yes to others' requests or allow them to encroach upon your personal boundaries, you risk depleting your own resources and neglecting your own needs. This can lead to feelings of resentment, overwhelm, and a diminished sense of self-worth.

By not setting boundaries, you may find yourself caught in a cycle of people-pleasing and constantly prioritizing others over yourself. However, when you establish healthy boundaries, you reclaim control over your time, energy, and well-being. You create space to focus on your own desires, passions, and self-care. Setting boundaries is a powerful act of self-respect and self-preservation, allowing you to cultivate a life that is truly your own.

"Failure to set boundaries can sabotage and prevent you from truly living for yourself."

6. Embracing your authenticity

Authenticity, derived from the Greek word "authentikos," carries a deep and meaningful essence. Its original meaning refers to being genuine, true, and authoritative. When you embrace authenticity, you embody your true self, free from masks, pretenses, and societal expectations. Remembering the real meaning of authenticity can profoundly impact your journey to start living for yourself.

By understanding the etymology of authenticity, you gain insight into its significance. It serves as a reminder that living for yourself means embracing your genuine nature, honoring your unique voice, and stepping into your own authority. Authenticity encourages you to live according to your values, passions, and inner truth rather than conforming to external pressures or societal norms.

When you live authentically, you create a life that is true to who you are rather than seeking validation or approval from others. It liberates you from the burden of trying to fit into molds that don't align with your authentic self. Embracing authenticity allows you to make choices that are in harmony with your true desires, leading to greater fulfillment and happiness.

Furthermore, by staying true to the real meaning of authenticity, you are empowered to navigate challenges and setbacks with resilience and strength. Embracing your authentic self gives you a solid foundation to face obstacles, as you are aligned with your deepest values and aspirations. It becomes easier to make decisions prioritizing your well-being and growth, enabling you to live a truly yours life.

So, start living for yourself by embracing authenticity. Remember the true essence of the word, rooted in being genuine, true, and authoritative. Embody your unique self, honor your inner truth, and make choices that align with your values and passions. By living authentically, you empower yourself to create a life reflecting your true essence and creating a greater sense of purpose, joy, and fulfillment. Start living for yourself authentically and embrace the freedom to be your genuine self.

7. Pursuing your Passions

To truly live for yourself, pursue your passions wholeheartedly. Identify your interests and explore ways to incorporate them into your life, whether through hobbies, side projects, or career choices. When you engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, you radiate positive energy and inspire others to do the same.

For those who may be unsure of their passions, discovering them can be an exciting journey of self-exploration and growth. Passion is the deep and intense enthusiasm or interest you have toward something that brings you joy, fulfillment and a sense of purpose. That activity or pursuit ignites a fire within you, where time seems to fly, and you feel fully alive.

To identify your passions, a self-guided exercise you can try is the "Passion Mapping" exercise. Begin by creating a list of activities or topics that intrigue you, even if you haven't explored them deeply. Think about things you naturally gravitate towards, whether it's in your professional or personal life. Once you have your list, start engaging in these activities one by one, giving yourself the freedom to experiment and explore without judgment or pressure. Notice how each activity makes you feel. Pay attention to the level of excitement, enjoyment, and fulfillment it brings you. Reflect on which activities you find yourself naturally drawn to and which ones make you lose track of time. Over time, patterns and themes may emerge, revealing your true passions.

Remember, passions can evolve and change over time, so it's okay if you don't have a definitive answer immediately. The journey of exploring your passions is as important as the destination itself. Stay open-minded, curious, and willing to try new things. Allow yourself the freedom to follow your interests and see where they lead. By pursuing activities that genuinely resonate with you, you create a path towards living for yourself authentically and experiencing a greater sense of purpose and joy in your life.

8. Overcoming your fear and self-doubt

Fear and self-doubt often hold us back from living for ourselves. It's essential to confront these limiting beliefs head-on. Challenge your negative thoughts, practice self-compassion, and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Surround yourself with positive influences, seek support from loved ones, or consider working with a therapist or coach to overcome these obstacles.

Overcoming fear and self-doubt is a continuous journey on the path to living for yourself. It is not a one-off exercise. While it's natural for these challenges to arise, there are self-guided exercises that can help you navigate through them. One such exercise is journaling. Set aside dedicated time each day to reflect on your fears and self-doubts. Write them down honestly and without judgment. 

By putting your thoughts and emotions onto paper, you externalize them and gain a clearer perspective. This practice allows you to recognize and acknowledge your fears and self-doubts, which is half the struggle. As you consistently engage in this exercise, you understand the underlying causes of your fears and self-doubt. You may also uncover patterns or triggers contributing to these emotions. Remember that overcoming fear and self-doubt is an ongoing process. By actively acknowledging and addressing them, you gain the power to challenge and overcome them, ultimately creating space for living authentically and for yourself.

"Overcoming fear and self-doubt is a continuous journey on the path to living for yourself. It is not a one-off exercise."

9: Celebrating your progress and small victories

As you embark on the journey of living for yourself, remember to celebrate every step forward, no matter how small. Acknowledge your progress and the positive changes you've made in your life. Each victory, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is a testament to your commitment to living authentically and prioritizing your own well-being.

To truly live for yourself, it is essential that you can measure the progress and the positive changes you've made in your life. You can do this by setting indicators of progress that encompass short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Celebrating these milestones along the way is vital for maintaining motivation and cultivating a sense of accomplishment. Short-term indicators help provide immediate feedback and encouragement, while medium-term indicators allow for continued growth and momentum. Long-term indicators provide a broader perspective and serve as a guide for your overall journey.

For example, a short-term indicator of progress could be committing to a daily self-care routine for a week or completing a small step toward a personal goal. Medium-term indicators could include consistently engaging in activities that bring you joy and align with your values over the course of a few months or successfully completing a milestone in a long-term project. Long-term indicators may involve accomplishing a significant life goal, such as starting a new career aligned with your passions or achieving a personal transformation that reflects living authentically and for yourself.

Setting these indicators allows you to track your progress, maintain focus, and celebrate each step forward. They provide a roadmap that guides you toward your ultimate vision of living for yourself. Remember that progress comes in various forms, and it's essential to acknowledge even the small victories. Celebrating these milestones reinforces positive habits and beliefs, fostering a sense of empowerment and motivation to continue living authentically and for yourself.backward

Some days, weeks, or even months, you may make no progress toward your goal of living for yourself. You may even slide backward. And that's okay. It happens to everyone. Two steps forward, one step back, is still progress.

10. Living for yourself does not mean you're selfish

One common misconception about living for yourself is the fear of being labeled selfish. It's important to understand that living for yourself does not mean disregarding the needs and well-being of others or engaging in self-centered behaviors. Instead, it is about finding a healthy balance between caring for yourself and being considerate of those around you.

Living for yourself means recognizing that your own happiness and fulfillment are essential components of a well-rounded life. By prioritizing your own needs, you are better equipped to show up for others more authentically and meaningfully. When you care for yourself, you have more energy, love, and compassion to share with the people and causes that matter to you.

Living for yourself also involves setting healthy boundaries, which are crucial for maintaining healthy relationships. Boundaries allow you to protect your time, energy, and emotional well-being, ensuring that you are not constantly depleting yourself by trying to please everyone. Communicating your needs and limits clearly fosters respect and creates space for mutually beneficial relationships.

It's important to remember that self-care is not a selfish act; it is a necessary practice for your overall well-being. Just as you would encourage a loved one to prioritize self-care, you deserve the same level of care and attention. Taking time for self-reflection, engaging in activities that bring you joy, and pursuing your passions are all essential aspects of self-care that contribute to your growth and happiness.

Living for yourself also means embracing authenticity. It's about being true to yourself and honoring your values, beliefs, and desires. When you live authentically, you inspire others to do the same, creating a ripple effect of positivity and empowerment. Your authenticity can serve as an example for others to embrace their unique paths and live in alignment with their true selves.

Remember, living for yourself is not about neglecting or disregarding others—it's about finding a healthy balance between self-care and being present for those you care about. By caring for your needs, you become a stronger, more fulfilled individual who can contribute positively to the world around you.

So, let go of the guilt or fear of being selfish and embrace the idea that living for yourself is a beautiful and necessary journey of self-discovery and personal growth. By balancing self-care and consideration for others, you can lead an authentic, fulfilling life and truly your own.

"Living for yourself means embracing authenticity. It's about being true to yourself and honoring your values, beliefs, and desires."

Congratulations on taking the first step toward living for yourself! You can create a life that aligns with your true desires and values by embracing authenticity, prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and pursuing your passions. And as cliche as it sounds, a journey really does begin with the first step.

Remember, the journey of living for yourself is ongoing and may require continuous self-reflection and adjustments along the way. Embrace the process, be patient with yourself, and never forget that you deserve a life filled with happiness and fulfillment. Start today and begin living your best life—your life, for yourself.

Article by
Brendan McDonald

Brendan McDonald, the author of "How to start living for yourself," is a former humanitarian aid worker who has ventured into challenging territories such as Kosovo, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Libya, Jordan, and Iraq. He has gained extensive experience in information management, staff wellness, and communications. In early 2014, after dedicating a year to the Syria Crisis, Brendan experienced burn-out and was subsequently diagnosed with clinical depression. Brendan lives with several medical conditions, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), peripheral neuropathy, and bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD)