Wisdom//

How to Focus on Yourself Without Feeling Selfish

There's a difference between being self-centered and self-connected.

Westend61/ Getty Images
Westend61/ Getty Images

A friend loved the warm, long days of summer. On the longest day of the year, I said to her, “You must be on cloud nine.” She replied, “No, I’m sad because tomorrow the days start getting shorter again.” When I pointed out that she was shrinking her joy, she was surprised that her narrow viewpoint had hijacked her. The workaholic mind is a narrow mind without room to grow. It automatically constricts situations  and keeps you self- centered without you realizing it. You focus on times when you failed, things that make you hot under the collar, or goals that you haven’t accomplished: same lousy job, the usual inconsiderate coworkers, the office party that was nothing to write home about. You build up negativity without realizing it, and that becomes the lens you look through.  The key is to keep a broad perspective, so you don’t let pleasantness slip by without savoring it. When you underscore the small things around you (the perfume of a flower or seeing colleagues working as a team) that you appreciate, it fosters a positive slant toward work and personal life, and you feel more joyful inside. 

GET SOME SHUT-EYE 

It has been said that the best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. Without sleep, you’re at a higher risk of heart disease, and your capacity to learn is compromised. It’s important to have regular bedtime hours and make sure the bedroom is cozy, inviting, and well ventilated. It’s important to rethink the value of getting plenty of shut- eye. Along with good nutrition and exercise, a good night’s sleep doesn’t detract from your productivity. On the contrary, it adds to it. When you get ample sleep, you’re physically  healthier, more productive, and more mentally alert than workers who deprive themselves of this fuel. 

OBSERVE COMPULSIVE THOUGHTS 

If you’re like most task masters, although you exceed the expectations of others, you can never reach your own out- of- reach standards. You rely on compulsive thoughts that tell you to take on mountains of additional work— even when your professional and personal lives are overloaded and in disarray. The thoughts stalk you in your sleep, at a party, or while hiking with friends. They beat you to the office before you begin the workday. They loom over your shoulder during intimate conversations with loved ones. You can’t stop thinking about, talking about, or engaging in work tasks. After a while, the addiction becomes an unwelcome burden, but you can’t let up because everyone is depending on you. 

Try to become mindful of your compulsive thoughts, observing them with curiosity as they stream through your mind. Instead of relying on them, let them come and go without personalizing, resisting, or identifying with them. Eventually they float away. 

GO WIDE 

When encountering difficulty, try taking a bird’s- eye view of the hardship and brainstorm a wide range of possibilities. You can remind yourself that the difficulty isn’t a personal failure and that it’s not permanent. By looking at the wider view, you can see more possibilities than obstacles. Then you focus on the solution, not the problem. You identify the opportunity contained in each difficulty by asking, “How can I turn this situation around to my favor?” or “Can I find something positive in the downside?” or “How can I put this unfortunate situation in context of the bigger picture? 

Scientists call this strategy the broaden-and-build effect as you go wide to weather hard times. When you use this strategy on a regular basis, it has the cumulative effect of making you more optimistic and your driving force the automatic default. 

FOCUS ON THE HERE AND NOW 

Odds are, if you’re like most workaholics, you go through life trying to get the good stuff, and you miss what’s happening now. When you start to watch your mind, you become amazed at how it constantly tries to figure out how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. You have to get through the traffic jam instead of  being in the traffic jam. You have to hop in and out of the shower to get to work instead of being in the shower. You have to hurry up and get dinner made so you can watch TV instead of being present with dinner preparation. As you get lost in fantasies of past or future events, these out- of- the- moment episodes disconnect you from your surroundings and yourself. 

To become self-connected, try watching where your mind goes in each moment. You will notice a difference between the times you actually show up and those in which your mind drifts to thoughts of the past or future. Anytime your mind wanders from the present — even as you read these words — simply bring it back to the here and now.

Excerpt from #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life with permission from the author and publisher.

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