By Leo Babauta
When we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening, and at the center of that narrative is a single person.
When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s okay to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood, I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.
I’m sure you can relate—you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.
But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:
- We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us, giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want. But their actions aren’t really about us—their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
- When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves, we then feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it. We could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.
- We interpret everything else around us—from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks—by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about us.
Again, it’s natural and normal to interpret everything this way, but you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.
So what can we do?
First, become aware of the stories we tell ourselves.
Next, see that we are putting ourselves at the center.
Then see if we can remove ourselves from the center of the story.
What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:
- Things are happening—how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
- Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
- There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?
When I remember to do this (and I very, very often don’t) it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shift my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.
Of course, I’m not really removed from the story.
I’m still there, but just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and see that they have supported me in becoming the person I am, and that I can support them as well.
Leo Babauta is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). He eats vegan food, writes, runs, and reads. He is the founder of Zen Habits which is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
Editor: Dana Gornall