If you’re anything like me, hearing talk about the importance of self-care might make you bristle a little.

In our hustle-obsessed, success-driven culture, there seems to be an invisible pressure to push down weakness, to achieve endlessly, and brag about how little sleep you can get and still function. For some of us, self-care sounds like laziness, or even defeat.

Or perhaps self-care sounds indulgent. It elicits mental images of drinking wine in a bubble bath, buying exorbitantly-priced health foods, and getting weekly massages. We think of self-care as extravagance and associate the pursuit of holistic health with selfishness – when really, it’s just the opposite.

Self-care isn’t about putting your wants first and sacrificing your loved ones’ needs in the process, nor is it about dwelling on weakness. It’s about becoming the healthiest version of yourself so you can give your best to others. Pursuing this doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, but instead requires us to examine our priorities and be intentional about holding to those things.

What Are Your Priorities?

Ask yourself: what are the values that drive my life? Who are the people that are important to me? What are my goals? What are my boundaries? Where do I want to be able to give? Who do I want to become?

If you want to nurture relationships in your life, you’ll figure out when it’s important to drop everything and get lunch with a friend. Conversely, if you want to foster greater motivation and productivity, you’ll figure out what activities you need to say no to in order to accomplish that. If you want to pursue physical health, you’ll figure out when to say yes to a piece of birthday cake – and when to say no to filling your pantry with processed foods. If you want to pursue spiritual health, you’ll figure out how to build that in – even if it’s as simple as adding prayer to your daily routine.

Our priorities inform our habits and decisions. We need to separate what we want from what we want most – and figure out the steps we need to take to accomplish those things.

What Changes Do You Need to Make?

Not all of life is in our control. A global pandemic has been a glaring reminder of that in 2020. We can’t control what others do or think, and we can’t always change our circumstances. But we can make small changes toward health and becoming the best version of ourselves, and no one else can do this for us.

These small changes might be as simple as getting enough sleep, or carving out the time to journal every morning. Maybe it’s having lunch with a good friend. Putting down the phone and scrolling less is always a good idea, and regular exercise isn’t something people generally regret.

We’re all aware that these things are healthy. Most of us, if asked, could thoughtlessly compile a list of habits and spout off why they’re helpful. But often, we make excuses because of the things we’ve let take priority.

“I can’t go to bed yet, I need to finish this project…” But what if skipping out on sleep was actually making you less productive?

“I‘m not going to take the time to journal, it feels more stressful than natural.” What if journaling was something that could actually improve your mental health?

“My lunch break is so short, I’ll just eat at my desk. I’ll text my friend instead.” But what if there really is no good replacement for face-to-face communication?

“I can’t turn off my phone, someone might need to get ahold of me.” What if constant access to your phone was damaging your quality of relationships and communication?

“I would exercise, but I don’t have time.” But what if exercising could actually help you live longer – giving you more time?

The truth is, we make time for the things that are important to us. We prioritize the people we love and the ambitions we deem important. We can’t neglect our health; giving our best to the people and places that matter means making small, smart choices that empower us to do just that.

Self-care just might be selfless after all.