You’ve had a hard day and just want to get to your yoga class to meditate and free your mind from all the work that you still need to accomplish. Just as you’re getting to your car, you get a text from your friend asking to meet for drinks because she really needs to talk.
Uh oh, you know she’s going through a rough spell and you’ve turned her down once already. Do you skip yoga because you’re a good friend? Rearrange your schedule to fit her in making you have to miss yoga and work late into the night? Or do you just text your friend (again): Sorry, but I have a ton of work and really can’t tonight?
Balancing our own needs with those of our loved ones can be tricky. Too much people-pleasing can foster depression and anxiety (not to mention resentment!), while a complete disregard for others just makes us narcissistic jerks. Add technology to the mix, and the desires, preferences, and requests of everyone else can feel endless, muddying the already-fraught decision of when (and how) to prioritize your own agenda.
“Knowing when to put your needs first—and which ones should take precedence—is a constant and ongoing process between yourself and others,” says psychotherapist Beverly Amsel, Ph.D. Of course, this doesn’t mean demanding what you want every single moment. Nor does it mean driving yourself to illness or injury to avoid the anxiety of asserting yourself.
Sure, there will always be exceptions to prioritizing your goals (e.g., you go out to run four miles, but your jogging buddy falls and breaks his leg… well, you don’t just keep going). But there are some situations where you just gotta do you.
1. You’re sick.