I spend way too much time absorbed in myself; in thoughts about my future, in constant deliberation over which emotions I feel and why, in a stream of worries over how to best use the gifts God has given me. Way back when, as I first crawled out of the hole of panic attacks and heavy anxiety, one of the main things that “saved me” from that crushing weight was the thought, “How will I ever serve others if I can’t get out of my own head?”. It triggered this reaction from the deepest recesses of my heart that was first sadness and then anger. I was angry that I was trapped by the complete mess I had in my brain. Angry that I couldn’t be the friend, daughter, researcher, or partner I wanted to be. Angry that I spent too much time performing obsessions and compulsions within my own mind that I wasted hours of my days.
I don’t want to ever be stuck in my head like that again. Evolutionarily, the brain is used to focusing on SELF— self-preservation, self-obsession, self first. We are fighting thousands of years of evolution when we try to shift the focus of our brains to ‘other’. But this is no excuse. We as both individuals and communities have to ACTIVELY shift the focus to thinking about others if we ever want to see a generous, altruistic wave of humans glaze over the planet and lift it up. We have to purposefully set aside time in the day to wish others well, pray for them, text them, and go out of our way to do things for them. I see “them” as both friends, foes and all in between.
Recently I’ve been doing this practice I call “5 for 5“. What I do, is I spend 5 minutes in the morning wishing 5 people well (or praying for them, however you want to see it). These can be people you already love, people you struggle to love, or people you don’t even know.
How it works: I grab my journal, list the 5 people (i.e. mom, ex-boyfriend, Trump, friend etc.), and then set a countdown timer for 5 minutes. From minute 5-4 I journal about all the things I wish for my mom, such as “I pray she receives all the respect she deserves and has the courage to pursue what her heart is calling her to do”. When minute 4 hits, I’ll go to the next person, and so on. It’s short, sweet, and powerful. Those 5 minutes every day make a huge difference. During those 5 minutes, you quiet down activity in the part of the brain (default mode network) that thinks about the SELF (egocentric focus) and you actively spend time thinking about OTHERS (allocentric focus).
Eventually, the shift to think about others becomes a habit in your brain and it occurs regularly and naturally. This, in turn, will improve the quality of your relationships. It brings you that unparalleled joy of making people you love happy. It opens the door for your heart to have empathy for those you struggle to love.
Try it out if it sounds interesting. I know that when I go too long without said practice, I can get too caught up in self-absorption. This makes me feel selfish. It makes me sad, since I know I can do better. Altruism, generosity, and selflessness are beautiful values indeed. But like many values, they’re ones we have to practice. Eventually, they color our character and we can take a more passive approach as they strengthen and become who we are. Imagine a world full of people with these types of values that have colored their person so vividly. A true masterpiece that would be.