Looking After Number One – 4 Reasons Why You Need To Be More Selfish

baby gorilla sleeping
As a kid I remember feeling incredibly impatient at a friend’s birthday party. There were many of us sat around a large table and I was almost raging at the lack of chocolate fingers. Well, to be brutally honest, I had eaten most of them, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted more.

My thoughts were interrupted by the excited chatter to my right. Yes! One of the delightful parents held a tray of goodies that included…


She barely had time to set them down on the table before I impulsively reached out and grabbed every single finger. Impressed with my own speed and cunning, I started devouring the contents of my plate. It may not have been my birthday, but I was the happiest kid in the room.

That was until I heard the collective frustration of several squeaky voices.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted a chocolate finger. Darn it.

My insincere offer to put the remainder back on the tray was met with disdain. Who would want to eat them after I had put my grubby mitts everywhere? So I was allowed to keep them.

I ate them all… but I was no longer having fun.

The guilt I felt following that greedy moment has never left me. To this day I automatically refuse an offer of a hot drink or food when round someone’s house.

Who says kids aren’t impressionable?

There are many ways in which we can define selfishness. Refusing to share with others is perhaps the most common scenario. Another way is to continually receive help, advice and support without offering anything in return – a form of emotional thievery if you will. A third, but far less common form of selfishness is to hold the belief that our own needs are more important than the needs of others.

Of course, altruism is the complete opposite and is usually defined as an act of kindness or giving without seeking anything in return.

I’m not here to denounce altruism as I believe it to be a worthwhile endeavour, both for ourselves and to others. But, I also believe that altruism and selfishness are not mutually exclusive and that they can co-exist together.

It’s in our nature to be selfish. Yet it is seen as a dirty word – driven out of us as children by a scornful parent or teacher when we refuse to share our toys (or chocolate fingers) with the rest of the group.

Kids don’t think. They simply are. It’s a natural instinct.

When someone asks us for a sip of our drink, our first instinct is to scream out, ‘hell no, I don’t want your rabid saliva anywhere near it, thanks’. Yet we reluctantly hand it over – plotting ways in which we can wipe the bottle neck afterwards without anyone noticing.

Because, for some reason that is seen as weird behaviour…

It is therefore logical to exhibit both behaviours as and when they are needed.

If your friend forgot their wallet then you should offer to pay for their lunch or let them share some of yours. This is a no-brainer. If you’re debating this, then you’re clearly a mean old bastard!

However, if this same friend is vying for the same girl as you – it is within your rights to act with selfishness. You can’t logically stand back and watch them get together, as this would be rather upsetting.

Your friend is thinking the same thing – but what if you both went for her 100%. Let the chips fall where they may and let the best man win.

Now we have what’s called ‘prisoners dilemma’.

You’re playing all the different outcomes in your mind, trying to fathom the best course of action.

  • If you and your friend both go for the girl, you’ll both date her for short time but eventually she will discover you are friends and break up with both of you. Better than nothing, but not ideal.
  • If you both choose to walk away – obviously neither of you gets the girl, and thus nothing has really changed. You both miss out, but at least you’re in the same situation.
  • If you go for the girl but your friend decides to walk away – you will win her heart but your friend will be upset and resentful.
  • If you decide to walk away and discover your friend kept pursuing her – he will be happy and you’ll be the lonely third wheel.

As you can see, actions have consequences and any decision we make will almost certainly influence the lives of those around us. Yet, if we calculated the pros and cons of every potential decision it would drive us crazy. There must be an easier option…

Looking after number one

What would happen if we ignored the concept of selfishness and altruism completely and instead focused on the correct option in any given situation?

We give when we give, and we take when we take. There is no right or wrong, there is simply instinct and integrity.

How would you feel if you could live your life by your own terms for a change?

Here are 4 reasons why looking after number one should be the default option for each of us;

1. If you can’t take care of yourself, how the hell can you take care of others?

woman cryingphoto credit: rachel_titiriga

Sarah’s heart sank with the crushing weight of inevitability. The seemingly innocuous sound of an incoming message rendered her breathless, frozen in time, a slave to the information contained within. Several seconds passed, she finally drew a long and considered lungful of air whilst she steadied herself in preparation for more bad news.

“I’m sorry darling – I have to stay late again. The overtime is too good to turn down right now, and besides, the money is great! Xxx”

A solitary tear rolls down her cheek as she laid the phone on the dinner table.

“Mummy, what’s wrong… is Daddy not coming home again?”

Sarah glances at her two children. It’s been three days since they last saw their father and she begins to fear for her family. Part of the reason she was attracted to Joe in the first place was his driving ambition. However, the house, the car and the private schooling cannot compensate for a missing parent. ‘He’s too stubborn’ she thinks to herself, ‘he thinks he’s doing us a favour but he needs to realise the damage he is causing’.

Sarah exhales.

“It’s ok, it’s not your fault; he’s doing this for us. Now please eat your dinner.”

It’s impossible to provide for your family if you don’t have the income to do so. Therefore, the option for many people is to increase their hours at work. More income = better parenting right?

If only it were that simple.

In this scenario, Joe believed that by sacrificing his own personal time he was taking care of his family, but he forgot to consider one small detail.


Unbeknownst to him, he was tearing his family apart with a form of emotional masochism. People do this all the time, and not just with money.

Have you ever noticed how insecure and jealous individuals find it hard to settle into a long term relationship? They seek validation from an outside source as a means to fill the gaping void in their own lives. This can only ever be temporary. Negative emotions will surface and derail their futile attempts at finding true happiness. This is simply confirmation bias – the idea that people will focus on situations that confirm their pre-existing beliefs.

What do the following people have in common?

The out of shape personal trainer – the alcoholic mother of three – the dad who works 80 hours a week to provide for the family he rarely spends time with – the jealous boyfriend who smothers his girlfriend with too much affection…

The answer; by ignoring their own needs, each of these individuals is trying to achieve their goal with one hand tied behind their back.

Therefore, to be in the perfect position to help others you must first be able to look after yourself.

2. To be a winner you have to be ruthless

Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t give a shit about hurting anyone’s feelings. To the untrained eye, he came across as childish and arrogant – playground bullying at its worst. But if you scratched away at the surface you would soon see that beneath his charming exterior laid a ruthless and cunning beast.

After selecting his prey, he would pursue a relentless and highly calculated assault on their greatest weaknesses – often with the aim of obliterating their self-confidence and destroying any lingering chance of success.

This kind of persistence hunting is still used to great effect by various hunter-gatherers in the central Kalahari Desert. They chase down isolated kudu under the scorching heat of the midday sun, until eventually, the stricken animal collapses through extreme physical and mental exhaustion.

Only then will the hunter use his spear to finish off the job. Arnie, in comparison, will verbally wear down his rival before handing over the metaphorical noose. He didn’t need to get his hands dirty, so to speak – he just gave them the tools required to crack under the immense pressure of testosterone fuelled competition.

This famous scene in Pumping Iron, whilst hammed up and exaggerated for the cameras, demonstrated perfectly how he would play simple mind games with Lou Ferrigno – a man prone to bouts of massive insecurity and self-doubt. Arnie knew this, of course he did, and what better way to work his magic than under the clever disguise of reality television.

They were great friends, but while relationships come and go, victory is eternal.

3. Most people are not your responsibility

As harsh as this may sound, the vast majority of the human beings that you interact with on a daily basis are not your responsibility. This is not to say that you shouldn’t care about your friends, family and that weird dude at work. You should, obviously, unless you’re a psychopath.

But the truth is that most of us spend far too much time worrying about the thoughts and feelings of people who are more than capable of taking care of their own lives – and yes, this does extend to your loved ones.

Have you ever stuck around in a relationship for several months (or years) beyond its sell by date purely because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?

I’m sorry, but you’re not that important. In the grand scheme of things, you’re merely a planet in a galaxy of stars. Sure you might upset them, make them cry, hurt their feelings – this is because people aren’t robots. You may think you have a huge say in how this person lives their life, but once you end the relationship – they will move on – they always do.

But from that moment onwards… they are not your responsibility.

Your integrity and self-respect is more important than the temporary sadness of others.

Sometimes you have to go ahead and follow your instincts, regardless of the effect it may have on everyone else.

4. You are the hero of your own story

This is your own personal matrix. You are Truman Burbank. This world is set up directly for you.

Why would you hand over the creative reigns to the supporting characters in your story? Why do you trust other people with your life? As that timer counts down to zero, why are you stood there, ball in hand, hoping for someone to take control of the situation?

The pages are turning but are your words coming to life?

Take the shot.

There are only two logical outcomes here. Either the entire world is set up especially for you, in which case you’re the only person that truly exists or we’re all a collection of individuals, each with our own hopes, fears and dreams.

Either way – what has your shit got to do with anyone else?

If you want to shave your head – who cares?

If you want to openly date people of the same sex – who cares?

If you want to quit your job and travel the world – who cares?

The greatest con in the history of mankind is the self-imposed belief that we need to seek the approval of others to follow our own path.

The question you should ask yourself is; what do I want to do today?


About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. Hey Jamie, maybe 3 months, I left a comment concerning me liking this girl that used to have something with a friend.

    It was something about that. Anyways. You gave me some solid advice and we’ve been together ever since.

    Time flies man.
    SEBASTIAN recently posted..How To Become A Sex GodMy Profile

    • Hey, I’m pleased you went for it, man. If only more people had the balls to go for what they want, the world would be a far more chilled out place.

  2. This is such a good reminder to focus focus focus on myself. In order to be the best I can be to other people, I need to do what I know I need to do to take care of myself. This includes not waiting for people to take care of you, and just doing what you can for yourself. Of course it is nice for others to do things for you, but what happens when they aren’t there to cheer you up or make you coffee. You have to learn to do on your own!
    Janine @ Breath Of Optimism recently posted..Working Out Has Many BenefitsMy Profile

    • Hey Janine, you’re so right about taking up the reigns ourselves. We can’t rely on others to hold our hand 24/7 – we need to learn how to take control and move forwards. Only once we have mastered our own needs, can we then use these skills to help others.

  3. Jamie,

    Solid post, and I like the Arnold video. I also like how honest Arnold is about the whole selfishness thing in his biography.

    “If you go for the girl but your friend decides to walk away – you will win her heart but your friend will be upset and resentful.”

    — Hahaha. Makes me think about is that awesome scene from “A Beautiful Mind”!
    Ludvig Sunström recently posted..How to Find People Worthy of Your Time and Get Them to Like YouMy Profile

    • Hey Ludvig – Yeh I’m halfway through that book (after putting it off for so long) and it’s one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. It’s like a blueprint for success. It’s not only giving me great ideas for future articles, but it’s inspiring me to start taking my own risks. If Arnie felt scared, then it’s ok for me to feel scared too.

      I haven’t yet seen that movie. Every time I notice it I think ‘I must watch that’.. but I always forget.

  4. Thought the title was going challenge some of my values, but I’m glad it didn’t. Great article in fact.

    “Your integrity and self-respect is more important than the temporary sadness of others. ”
    ==> Definitely agree here. And in your particular case here, I actually think you’re not doing both parties any good by sticking around in that relationship. At least in the long run, and I almost always think long-term in many life decisions.

    Last point rocks. Heh. 🙂
    Jeremy recently posted..Yet Another Year Closer To DeathMy Profile

    • Hey Jeremy. Thinking long term is definitely a great idea for those important decisions. Although, we shouldn’t over think things. Sometimes a bit of gut instinct goes a long way.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. I used to feel guilty about thinking about myself when in conversation with someone. But then looking at the broader picture. It makes a lot of.

    No one does anything unless it personally makes them feel good. Even when you’re in a relationship with someone. Sure it’s a mutual partnership, but you’re ultimately in it because it first and foremost ‘makes you happy’.

    Thats why breakups very rarely involve the other person and is generally a decision you ultimately make.

    So the phrase “Always look after number 1” makes a lot of sense. No one else can ever care about your own needs as much as you do.
    Onder recently posted..Should All Men Approach Women?My Profile

    • Hey Onder, I agree 100% about breakups. The old cliche ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ is actually true. Rarely do other people cause an end to a relationship. Even if your partner, the decision to break up is from your inability to trust or to accept. Likewise, the person who cheats does so because of their own flaws and desires – rarely anything to do with the other person.

      If we go further into this there is the possibility that the only real love is through blood – relationships, both sexual and platonic are based on dependency. The greater the dependency, the greater the ‘love’.

      Of course, this isn’t black and white, and is difficult to explain in just a few words, but when it boils down to it. Love is chemicals in the brain – YOUR brain.

      Do you think approaching women has changed your viewpoint on your role in relationships?

      • Yeah it has, big time.

        But the problem is, the things you learn from it can’t ever be explained to anyone because they will never get it.

        You quickly learn that love is replicable and that what you felt for one person, can easily be replicated with someone else. So that ‘butterfly’ feeling you get suddenly, is no longer this special thing that you share.

        Not only is it a good way to become secure non-needy. But it also has its tradeoffs.

        – You see things for what they are.
        – Love isn’t a special or sacred feeling.
        – Women are disposable and abundant.
        – Harder to settle down.

        I never quite got why players found it hard to settle, and it turns out my initial thoughts about them being ‘sex hungry’ was wrong. It was because they’re all looking for that mystical unicorn that simply doesn’t exist.
        Onder recently posted..Should All Men Approach Women?My Profile

  6. Jamie, I appreciate the message in this post and generally agree with the underlying point – be concerned about yourself. Without question, you have to be able to look after yourself before you can take care of others. And yup, we are the heroes of our own stories – no one can make things happen without ourselves.

    Probably the part that doesn’t sit well with me is the part of being ruthless and forgetting about others altogether. You don’t have to be ruthless to win – compassion, kindness, team work and helping each other can help you get there too. And no you’re not responsible for how others feel (I think that was the main point) but you can be concerned and helpful to their improvement. That’s what friends and family is for.

    And if i can venture to say this which might border on the woo woo-ness of humanity, is that this approach undermines the concept that we are all one. And focuses more on ourselves and our egos. If we are all one and part of the same galaxy, isn’t what’s right for me, right for you? Isn’t helping you, helping me? Isn’t caring for you, caring for me?

    Again, appreciate the article and honesty (and I think we mostly agree in concept lol) but looking forward to your feedback. thanks for keeping it real!
    Vishnu recently posted..5 Meaningful Lessons From a Broken HeartMy Profile

    • Hey Vishnu, I appreciate your thoughts.

      I disagree about not being ruthless to win. In any sport, the very best are single minded and don’t give a damn about who they beat along the way. Of course, they can be friends outside of competition, but once the action starts they will often use gamesmanship to emerge victorious. I did say however that we should always look out for friends and family. But, ultimately they have to take charge of their own lives. We can only offer an input – if we make a decision that we feel is best for us, but it makes them upset, we can’t allow ourselves to betray our own desires for fear of hurting someone else.

      That’s the point I was trying to make. Of course, in forming relationships and networking, you can help others whilst benefiting ourselves in the process, but this isn’t altruism. This is helping with the goal of personal gain. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. This is human nature and I believe it’s a good thing.

      Is caring for you caring for me? No, I don’t see how that has any tangible effect other than our own mental well being. Of course, kindness and empathy are great traits that humans have, but that doesn’t mean being selfish and looking out for ourselves first is in any way in conflict with this.

  7. Great post, we are not able to lead/influence others if we are not able to lead and manage our self well. Focusing on our self first (but not overly) is the best way to help others.

  8. I like #1 and #3, and agree completely. I’m a little hesitant on #2 and #4. I think when we practice selfishness in a way that helps us be the best we can be for others we are on the right track.
    Dan Erickson recently posted..have you discovered the power of forgiveness?My Profile

  9. Hey, Jamie.

    I feel it all comes down to balance.

    Well, this is my take.
    Sometimes it IS a good idea to put ourselves first if it’s a matter of ‘you can’t give away what you don’t have’ (like making sure your own oxygen mask is on before trying to help anyone else put theirs on).
    However…if coming from a lack mentality – there is usually a hoarding behavior that goes along with this…and such a mindset can lead to a severe and life shattering shortage of chocolate fingers on planet Earth 😉
    Dana recently posted..My Latest Blog Post…My Profile

    • Hey Dana, balance is the diet of life. I’m intrigued by the minimalist approach. Being free from baggage, whether that’s physical or emotional and having that abundance mentality. Although maybe, there just isn’t enough chocolate fingers to go round?

  10. nate river says:

    Hey Jamie !

    This is a good post then, being selfish doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t care about the others. If you and your friends are wounded by an accident, it is really fitting to put the First Aid kit to yourself in order for you to help the others, either way with you being wounded, you will never be able to help the others. You will end up as a big burden and only worsen the wounds you had once try to ignore it for the sake of another person. In the end, it might shock you to know that the only one that person cares about is healing his own wound. 🙁

    Its hard to win the battle but lose the war. As you say in the post, not all the people are your responsibility, everyone mind their own business anyway. This a world of “Me, Myself, and I” anyway. The only one who can save yourself is YOU, other people may try to help you though, but that will not last forever at some point when they figure out that you’re only taking advantage of their kindness they will leave you empty handed.

    You’re the HERO of your own story, with that said, you should be the one standing in the spotlight claiming the trophy for your hard work. 🙂 Great Mind Jaime !! 🙂 really awesome rant !! 🙂

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