Stop Wasting Your Energy on Things You Can’t Change and Start Changing Those You Can.
Put another way, for other people nothing is about you. For you, nothing is about other people.
We as humans are really good at internalizing things we have no control over, and externalizing the things we do have control over. This leads to a whole lot of unnecessary frustration.
Internalizing Things We Have No Control Over
My significant other is tired. She gives me a frustrated look and I assume I did something wrong. Immediately I get defensive and suddenly a simple look has turned into an all-out fight. Later when we calm down I find out the look had nothing to do with me. She had a rough day and the look was just an expression of exhaustion.
Anyone familiar with this story?
Anyone given that exhausted look?
Someone shows up late to a meeting, and they did not bother calling you to tell you that they would be late. You sit and fume, cursing them silently and thinking about how inconsiderate and selfish they are. When they finally arrive half an hour past the time they were supposed to, you find out that they were attending to their best friend who was recently arrested, and their phone was not allowed in the jail. They were late because of an act of care for others, instead of the selfish and inconsiderate story you were spinning.
Anyone been in a similar situation?
Anyone been the one who was late for a legitimate reason?
Throughout our day we are constantly internalizing things that we have no control over. We assume that the attitude and actions of our partners, friends, and co-workers are a direct result of the things we did, how they think about us, and our relationship with them. Yet in reality they are reacting to a vast network of stimuli, contexts, relationships, histories, and attitudes, most of which we have no idea about.
Simply put, we usually think the world revolves around us, when for other people, it does not. For other people, it is never about you.
The solution to this mistaken perception is to become aware of it. As soon as you do, you are seeing beyond your limited view of your self. Then you can remember that other people have their own points of view, their own stories, and start to notice the places you habitually forget this.
Chances are, there are areas of your life where you are really good at remaining humble and open to a variety of viewpoints, and there are areas of your life where you are incredibly egocentric. See if you can bring the wisdom of your humility into the places you are most likely to slip into egomania.
Externalizing Things We Can Change
The paradox is that for us, the world does revolve around us. This is the nature of the separate self—that we experience the world through our senses which appear to be limited to our body. And for every time we foolishly take responsibility for something we have no business taking responsibility for, there are ten times we have unconsciously abdicated responsibility for something we should have owned.
My partner is extremely flirtatious one night. What the hell is she doing? Doesn’t she realize the effect her actions have on me? How can she be so disrespectful? And that other guy is such a butthead! Doesn’t he know she has a boyfriend?
Or … is it that I feel threatened? That I’m afraid I’m not good enough? That I don’t want to admit that I’m jealous? That confronting her (or him) and doing something about it—even as simple as explaining how I feel—flies in the face of my relaxed, easy-going, and peaceful self-image?
Think about the last time you were running late and caught in traffic. Someone might have cut you off. Maybe you flipped them off, or yelled something obscene at them (for a slightly related lewd laugh, probably NSFW: youtube.com/watch?v=fXUozbjbERg). Who do they think they are? Don’t they know that you have somewhere to be? Can’t they consider other people? It is all their fault that you are late. It is all their fault that you are angry.
Or… could you have anticipated traffic and left five minutes earlier? Could it be that it is not about them, that it is about you instead? That you are angry at yourself, or afraid of the results of being late? That you want someone to blame so you do not have to deal with the negative emotions that are arising?
Throughout the day we are constantly projecting our own fears, guilts, and mistakes onto other people, events, and objects. It does not matter what they are—could even be the weather, or the situation we were born into—as long as we can play the victim. The silly thing about this is that we needlessly create suffering.
There are many times that we cannot change the circumstance. Still, there are almost always aspects of our experience that we could change if we were willing to look more deeply into the projection. But because we think the problem is out there, we also think the solution must be out there. If we find problems inside of ourselves we will also find solutions inside ourselves.
The solution to this mistaken perception is to learn to see your projections and re-own them. There are a variety of psychological and spiritual processes that aid people in doing this, including psychotherapy, the 3-2-1 Shadow process, certain types of journaling, Byron Katie’s The Work, and my personal favorite—the self-study curriculum of A Course in Miracles.
Whenever you find yourself upset, look to see if you are mistakenly internalizing something which you could not possibly control, or if you are externalizing and ignoring your responsibility. Because while it may seem contradictory, it is never about you and it is always about you.