Why being selfish can sometimes be a good thing

Life Lessons

Why being selfish can sometimes be a good thing

We cherish the selfless people in our lives. Their seemingly endless compassion, boundless empathy and out-of-this-world ability to put others first is always something to appreciate.

If you strive to be selfless, you’re doing your part to make the world a better place. But even if you’re more selfish than selfless at times, you’re doing important work for the world too. Believe it or not, when it’s time to make an important professional or personal decision, the selfless choices you make might not be the best options for you or others.

New findings show making a choice that’s most beneficial for you can actually also be most beneficial for those affected by the decision. Essentially, good decision-making for the group requires you put yourself first.

Study author and researcher in psychology at Ohio State University Paul Stillman emphasizes this idea.

“Sometimes it makes the most sense to seem a bit selfish if that’s going to maximize overall benefits,” Stillman says. Apparently, when you hope to maximize advantages for all parties involved, the best choice may actually be the one that benefits you the most.

Ultimately, says Stillman, “The most efficient decision is the one that’s going to maximize the total pie — and that’s true whether more goes to you or more goes to someone else.”

For example, if you’re a talented writer, you could spend your time helping associates with their own writing projects, or you could instead dedicate your time to a larger writing project that teaches others how to write and advances your career.

To make the most efficient decision — the decision that creates the most overall value for you and your group — you must create some psychological distance from your decision. That will allow you to see how things can benefit your own long-term goals. Do this by implementing physical distance (separating yourself from participants involved in your decision), implementing temporal distance (for example, planning a project that will be activated weeks from now), or by creating hypothetical situations.

When you distance yourself from an issue, you can get a better idea of the big picture. As Stillman notes, this allows you to “see the consequences of your decision and … see more clearly the best way to allocate resources.”

Put yourself first and get a little selfish. Your clients, coworkers, and company will thank you.

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