How to Live for Yourself

Treat Thompson

in

Happiness

No one wants what’s best for you as much as you do. That’s why when it comes to seeking happiness and fulfillment your best bet is to live for yourself.

What does it mean to live for yourself?

Living for yourself means you don’t live to please others or meet their expectations. Every choice you make is made on your own terms - uninfluenced by fear or pressure.

It’s not a selfish mindset. You can still be loving, caring, and kind while living for yourself. But it will always be because you genuinely want to.

At the core of the mindset is understanding that life is too short to spend it on someone else’s path. Living through a poor choice you made hurts less than living through a poor choice someone made for you.

Why should I live for myself?

Deferring to others for life decisions and matching your thinking with other people's thinking, reduces your chances of having a remarkable, fulfilling, and happy life.

That’s why you should live for yourself.

If you commit to a path that’s not your own, you’ll spend your life working towards things you don’t truly want. You’ll end up passing on your true desires to stick to someone else’s script, leaving you with regret later in life.

For example:

  • Your dream is to become an interior designer
  • However society and people in your life pressure you to choose a more secure career path
  • So you go to college for finance and spend the next 30+ years on someone else’s path
  • You end up unfulfilled, wondering what your life could’ve been like

The problem is that when you live by the standards of others, you don’t have the independence to be truly happy and fulfilled.

I like to think of it as a happiness equation. When you live by the standards of others, they will always be a factor in your happiness. When you live for yourself, you remove them from your happiness equation. You don’t need to satisfy anyone else to be happy.

Why is it hard to live for yourself?

Human instincts and dogma are the main reasons it’s hard to live for yourself.

Human instincts

Humans are social creatures. Our ancestors relied on social bonds and cooperation to survive. The humans that cooperated better, were more likely to survive. So humans today (like you and I) are going to have very strong social instincts.

This naturally makes it hard to live for yourself because our minds think we need acceptance, admiration, and status from others in order to survive.

This instinct becomes an issue as we compromise our dreams, values, and standards to earn validation - we choose to focus on what others think over what’s real.

Dogma

Dogma is a set of principles set by society and/or authorities.

For example, going to college after high school comes from dogma. Society and authorities (like parents) set the expectation for that path in life.

Dogma isn’t good or bad, it’s simply pressures that exist in our lives.

Tim Urban explains that “dogma is everywhere and comes in a thousand different varieties - but the format is generally the same: x is true because [authority] says so. The authority can be many things.”

For example:

  • “[Fill in the blank] because my parents say so.”
  • “[Fill in the blank] because my religion says so.”
  • “[Fill in the blank] because the media says so.”
  • “[Fill in the blank] because my culture says so.”

Dogma makes it hard to live for yourself because in every moment of life it pressures us to behave a certain way. It can make life in our society feel like we’re circles being forced into square holes.

3 techniques to live for yourself

By now we know what it means to live for yourself, why we should do it, and why it’s hard. All that’s left is how to live for yourself.

Live by an inner scorecard

Warren Buffet addressed our “live for yourself” dilemma by asking this question:

“If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?”

With this question, he created two models of living: living by an inner scorecard or living by an outer scorecard.

If you choose to be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you are actually the best, then you choose to live by an inner scorecard. It’s when only you can define your success, not others. You’re not concerned with others’ opinions or expectations.

If life was a game, living by an inner scorecard means you keep your own score and only you can know if you’re winning or not.

Living by an inner scorecard is a true key to living for yourself.

If you choose to be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record, then you choose to live by an outer scorecard. Everything you do in the game of life is to get points from others. You live for external validation.

We’ve all heard of celebrities that have power, fame, and fortune but are deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. They have an A+ outer scorecard and an F inner scorecard. They’ve satisfied everyone except themselves.

Know your priorities so you can avoid distractions

A distraction is anything that takes your attention away from the things that matter in your life. So when you’re distracted, you’re naturally not living for yourself.

Eliminating distractions starts with knowing what your priorities are in the first place. They can be anything because they are unique to you.

For example:

  • Friends, family, relationships
  • School, work, a side business
  • Hobbies, passions, dreams
  • Health, fitness

When you identify your priorities and truly understand what you want to achieve, everything that doesn’t match them or comes in the way of them is a distraction.

You may notice:

  • A bad relationship is distracting you
  • Someone’s negative opinion is distracting you
  • Social media is distracting you
  • A poor diet is distracting you

If you don’t avoid or solve them, these distractions will make you miss out on your potential and undo your work. You won’t be focused on what you care about, so you won’t be living for yourself.

Overcome misplaced fears

Dogma’s most powerful weapon is something called misplaced fear. It’s an inaccurate assessment of risk in a situation. This fear tries to stop you from living for yourself.

When we think about going against society’s expectations and pressures we become fearful of failure, embarrassment, and being vulnerable. However, these fears aren’t real. It’s that old human instinct thinking we need validation from others in order to survive.

Tim Urban gives a great example saying, “We’re more afraid of public speaking than texting on the highway … all because embarrassment, rejection, and not fitting in really sucked for hunters and gatherers."

A great way to prevent misplaced fears from dictating your life is to practice systematic desensitization.

Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University, says that systematic desensitization is when you consistently expose yourself to the fear enough times that the accumulated neutral experiences override your negative thoughts.

Simply put, you stop being afraid because your brain has more evidence of it being harmless than harmful.


Living for yourself is challenging, but it’s your best bet for living a happy and fulfilling life.

My goal is that after reading this article, you want to adopt the mindset of living for yourself and that you now have the tools to overcome the challenges that are baked into our lives.