Life Advice: Why It’s Best To Worry About Yourself & Not the Whole World
There’s just so much seemingly wrong with the world. Taking timeto worry about yourself can easily take a back seat when there is so much that needs to be fixed. People need helping, relationships need mending, wrongs need righting. It isn’t hard for worry to generalize beyond ourselves to so much more.
And there is certainly much to worry about these days. There seems not enough compassion and generosity, despite it mitigating stress, being good for our health and happiness, and making the world a better place.
But too much focus on others can pull you out of balance, too far afield from your own needs. Too much worry about the people around us can blur the boundaries that define where our responsibilities begin, and end.
Our lives are oftenoverwhelming. We have so much to do and often feel that we don’t have enough time to do it all. So, we worry.
We worry about our children, our spouses, our parents, our work, our home, our pets, our friends, our community, the environment, our government, our nation, our world…
With all this worry about so many different things, it can be easy to forgetto worry about yourself – sometimes the very person who most deserves our attention.
Sometimes it’s far easier to slip into the distraction of fixing other people’s problems (or at least thinking you are) than focusingon your own.
After all, it feels so much easier to see what others can’t see about themselves than to stay focused on yourself and what’s ahead of you.
And then there are the people who have more than you, get things they don’t deserve, and seemingly get away with unthinkable things. Science confirms we are powerfully oriented toward a sense of equity; fairness is as neurologically rewarding as money.
Injustice can generate legitimate feelings of conflict. Often without any outlet for expression, such feelings can fester and escalate, leaving us to decide how much time and energy we should devote to worrying and sharing negative opinions about them.
If you are wondering how to worry about yourself and not others — especially when you are, at your core, a caring, compassionate, generous person — ask yourself:
- Is happiness one of my goals in life?
- Who is responsible for my happiness?
- Is my worry about others taking away from my own life?
- Am I angry or jealous?
- Am I afraid of facing my own worries?
You have only a finite amount of energy. By worrying about others, you make their problems yours, adding to the weight of drama and overwhelm that delay (even steal) your happiness.
The distraction pulls you away from your own personal growth because your focus is outside yourself. And happiness — forgive the cliché — really is an inside job. We can only afford so much to worry about. When you spend too much worry on others, you rob yourself of what you need for your own growth.
So how can you redirect your focus from others to yourself without sacrificing your intuitive sensitivity and connection to those you love and care about?
1. Choose to stop self-sabotaging.
Edward A. Selby describes avoidance as “self-sabotage”– a tactic that feels like safety but actually causes damage – to your personal environment, your desires, and your self-esteem.
If you find yourself focussing on others yet feeling more unsettled, you may be avoiding something in yourself that’s more important. As scary as it can be to face your fears, avoiding them could be getting in the way of your own happiness.
2. Define what is within your control.
This goes back to boundaries. “Where do I end and you begin?” This is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself when strategizing how to worry about yourself and not others. It’s a clarifying question that forces you to set parameters around your choices and actions, and inevitably directs your focus inward.
Worry and anxiety are best channeled into choices that are within our control. Natural motivators for action, worry can fuel us into taking needed action that reduces feelings of worry.
3. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
You have to change yourself before you can change the world (unless, of course, there is nothing left in you to change). Taking care of yourself isn’t always a picnic: self-care takes discipline, and guts.
4. Cultivate happiness for others.
If you are prone to jealousy or anger over apparent inequalities or injustices, make the decision to find happiness for others.
Can’t do it without gritting your teeth? Ask yourself how you would feel to be on the receiving end of something great, and use that feeling as a starting place to cultivate happiness for someone else.
5. Ask, “What does this have to do with me?”
If you are giving your energy to something that doesn’t directly affect you, you could be wasting your precious energy. You will feel better resisting situations that truly don’t concern you.
In those situations where something does affect you, look for how your outward worry could reflect more of an inner worry. The old adage of hating in others what we hate in ourselves rings often true when it comes to our interpersonal irritations.
Our worries about others can often be a powerful signal for the worries we have about ourselves, even if we are loath to face up to them. For couples in long-term relationships, managing the effects of projection are a key way to maintain lasting, healthy love.
6. Ask yourself how you want to feel.
Do you want to be happy or mad? According to science, when it comes to labeling your emotions, you get to make these very choices. You get to decide if you are ok with something, or if you aren’t.
You have a lot more control over how you feel than you may think you do, and where and how you focus your thoughts makes a big difference in how you feel. Irked by someone else’s lack of consideration, you get to decide where you put your focus, and to a large extent, how you decide to feel. Preoccupation with what others have or receive can rob you of your happiness.
7. Base your decisions on how you want to feel, rather than others’ expectations.
Being concerned about what others think, expect, or want often has more to do with your insecurity than your true desires. Since in the long run you are the only one looking out for you, aim make decisions with your long-term happiness in mind.
Aim to cultivate a sense of empathy for your future self by imagining how you want to feel and doing what you need to do to get there.
8. Develop a checklist to re-focus your attention.
When we are tired and worrying about someone or something other than ourselves is when we need to be the most careful and gentle with ourselves. The temptation to be negative is often strongest under worry’s influence.
This is when a cheat sheet of sorts can be useful.
When we are too tired to avoid our own mental traps, it can help to have something to stand in for our fatigued decision-making and lapsed self-control.
Digital reminders of cognitive reframing, keeping schedules that are inflexible, committing to “nonnegotiables” of self-care, even encouraging regular “moments to notice progress” can all help you to worry about yourself, even if you are worried about someone or something else.
9. Practice self-care without fail.
The big three of self-care are exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Each of these physical needs have been repeatedly linked to cognitive control as well as emotional regulation, and they are especially important in turning your awareness to your emotional signals instead of worrying about others.
Worrying about yourself is a big job, and no one else can effectively do it for you. Of course we care about others and worry for and with them. But in the end, our worry can’t really solve their problems either.
Knowing how to worry about yourself and not others is not aboutselfishness. It’s about self-fulness. It’s about observing the rules of self-containment, taking responsibility for yourself, and working to solve your own problems, while knowing how to be happy for others’ successes. Growing yourself cultivates strength and resilience, and inspires others to do the same.
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Photo credit: Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash