We’ve all been in situations that make us uncomfortable and circumstances where we’ve felt pressured into complying and conforming, whether that’s at work or within our own social groups. But why do so many of us find it hard to simply say no to things we don’t want to do?
Life coach, author and Instagram guru Michelle Elman has written a book all about it. The Joy of Being Selfish explains why people struggle to set boundaries, and why being ‘selfish’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something to be celebrated. We chatted to Michelle about her tips and tricks for a more positive and confident lifestyle and how we need to reclaim and redefine what exactly it means to be selfish. From finding gratitude after a childhood spent in hospital to being driven and inspired by yourself rather than others, here’s what she had to say…
You’re a successful life coach, self-help Instagram guru and now an author. How did it all begin?
I got a degree in Psychology but then found limitations within talking therapy, especially in regard to trauma and so I started looking for different approaches and first found, hypnotherapy. That led me to discover neurolinguistic programming, time line therapy and NLP coaching and got qualified in those.
Tell us about your book, The Joy Of Being Selfish.
I started writing the book because boundaries were the single greatest tool I used within my life coaching. I was also getting frustrated that the awareness of boundaries was increasing but without the education. The average person had heard the word but would be unable to define it. When I was first learning to set boundaries, I understood the concept but I kept asking ‘but how?’. I would struggle with the actual wording of the boundaries and so when I wrote The Joy of Being Selfish it’s why I decided to include text templates so you have the actual language you can use when setting boundaries.
Starting with the word 'no' - It's the first boundary we learn and it's the most powerful one.
How do you keep a positive mindset?
My life experience of growing up in hospital means I have always had quite a hopeful outlook on life because I know it can get so much worse. It means I am grateful for basic things that others may take for granted, like having a pain-free day. I also don’t pressure myself to be positive. If I’m sad or angry, I let myself feel those feelings and ironically, that allows you to be more positive. It’s when you fight against your emotions and repress them that they end up consuming more energy. If you feel them, you are able to process them and let them go. Emotions are designed to be temporary, it’s only when we don’t address them do they stick around longer.
What inspires you?
I try to not be inspired by external sources so I’m very much motivated by my own goals and ambitions. I’ve always had a clear vision of what I want from my life and I try to keep my eyes on my own lane. I stay very conscious about what is fulfilling me and that tends to drive me forward.
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If someone is struggling with creating boundaries, what do you recommend?
If you struggle to set boundaries, often it’s because you don’t believe you deserve to set boundaries. Working on your self esteem can help this a lot and more practically, starting with the word ‘no.
It’s the first boundary we learn and it’s the most powerful one. Start with saying ‘no’ to strangers whether it’s in the hairdressers and they ask if you are happy or at a restaurant when a waiter asks if you like your food.
The more you practice boundaries, the easier they get.
How do you deal with stress on a practical level?
When I am stressed, I tend to do something called somatic processing where I set and bring my awareness to my body and notice where all my emotions are sitting in my body. Putting my attention on it allows the emotion to release and if I give myself full permission to feel it, often I will feel better after. It’s quite similar to meditation and sometimes I will do a meditation as well, preferably in the bath with lots of candles.
My favourite thing to do to unwind is to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or going for a walk with someone I can have a long chat with.
How has your attitude to boundaries changed as you’ve gotten older?
The more you practice boundaries, the easier they get! I worry less about setting them because ultimately I know their response will tell me what I need to know and that their response is not a reflection on me. When you get better boundaries, you have a stronger sense of self. I know who I am and I know who I am not so when people respond badly saying I’m rude, aggressive or mean, I know it’s not personal.
How do we change what we think ‘being selfish’ is? Can we turn it from a negative into a positive, and how?
We have to understand that being selfless isn’t a compliment. Forgetting yourself is not good for anyone and when you put yourself first, not only do you have more to give but you do the people in your life a favour because no one can actually take care of you as well as you can take care of yourself. When you honour your needs, you give people permission to honour yours.
How can you be selfish and still look after number one, all while making sure you’re not hurting others in the process?
These are actually two different things. Being selfish also means having direct communication, saying what you mean and meaning what you say and this benefits the people around you. When you are hurtful, it’s often because you have not honoured your needs, repressed them and therefore they seep out in passive aggressive comments and sarcastic digs. You only want to hurt people because your own hurt hasn’t been acknowledged. When you acknowledge your own hurt, you are able to communicate your feelings and set boundaries to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Michelle’s Top 5 Tips For Confidence
- You have to know what you bring to the table. One of the exercises I give people a lot is writing 100 reasons to build your self esteem, it can be 100 reasons why you are loveable, a good person or even something like why someone should hire you.
- It’s really hard to have confidence without boundaries. Without boundaries, the line between who you are and who the world wants you to be becomes blurred. The only way to get stronger boundaries, is to practice setting them.
- You are not your thoughts. One of the best things I do is I know when to stop listening to my brain. When you are feeling rubbish, the thoughts in your brain will reinforce that so find something else to do whether it’s emptying the dishwasher or making a cup of tea. Do something to get outside of your head!
- Whenever you need a boost, recall a memory where you felt confident. Remember how you were standing, breathing, speaking. Not only does it remind you that you were capable of confidence before, so you can be again but recalling the memory actually runs it through your neurology and changing your physiology allows you to feel that confidence.
- Be aware of your weakness but don’t be defined by them. Humans have a tendency to assume their strengths are commonplace and they are the only ones with their weaknesses. One of the things I attribute my success to is that I’m actually aware of my weaknesses and I don’t put my time and energy into fixing them. I accept them and try to organise my life to utilise my strengths.