A few years back I had a client that would have told you that she came to see me to overcome feelings she had about her hairline. She actually felt that her hairline was stopping her love life, her professional success, and her social life.
I know it might seem strange for someone to worry about their hairline, but it truly was this woman’s constant concern. In her thoughts everyone noticed it and everyone judged it as unattractive. But of course, almost no one actually noticed it, and even those that did barely gave it a moment’s thought. They were too busy thinking about how they thought she would judge them! Such is the crazy world of separate realities created by individual thoughts.
Do you see her central conceit? Can you see how important she made herself? Can you see her ego standing up and yelling look at me! look at me! The truth is, no one walks up to people and looks at their hairline unless they themselves have concerns about their hairline. People don’t do that any more than they compare the size of your two eyes, or the length of your eyebrows, or the thickness of your lips. That is not how people look at other people. You see a face. You don’t see skin, a nose, two eyes, two eyebrows, cheekbones etc. You see a complete face. Believing that people think about you more than that is simple egoism.
What is unhealthy ego? Sitting around thinking about yourself all day. Thinking that everyone thinks about you, or cares about the size of your nose or the angle of your teeth. What do you think an egomaniac does? Do you think they brag about how great they are? No, egomaniacs hide because they think everyone is thinking about them, when in fact their salvation is in the fact that almost no one does. It’s a bit sobering, but almost no one in your life has ever even noticed whatever you think your central, defining characteristic is, whether that’s if you think you have a big nose, or if you’re too shy.
People might be aware of something about you but, again, their thoughts are doing the same thing everyone else’s are: they’re trying to figure out how you’re judging them. Haven’t you ever noticed that if you rub your nose while you’re talking to someone that they’ll do it too? That’s because they’re thinking about themselves, and rather than thinking that you had something on your nose, they assume you’re signalling to them that they have something on their nose.
Of course, the woman I’m referring to did not come to me to deal with her hairline, she came to see me to deal with her thoughts about her hairline. Because when I met her, she assumed that I had noticed her “issue” right away, when in fact it took me several minutes to understand it even after she confided it to me. Even then, I still didn’t get what the big deal was. It just looked like a face. Maybe her hairline wouldn’t permit certain hairstyles, but so does curly or straight hair.
If you want to feel better about your life, stop thinking about yourself all the time. It’s very exhausting for the people around you. They don’t even see the value in having the conversation in the first place, and yet you have everyone’s lives revolving around a fear that exists no where but inside your head. It’s not a nice thing to do to people you claim to care about—to force them to give you unnecessary support—to leverage their love for you in such an ugly way… Maybe it’s time to just stop whining and start living, huh? Because they take the same amount of energy. Thoughts are thoughts. You can energize or enervate yourself with them. The choice is always yours.
The woman that originally came to see me is fine now. Even her own thoughts about her hairline seem strange to her now. They’re foreign, as though they belonged to someone else. And in a way they did. They belonged to someone who had selected a less appealing self-image to face the world with. Here she thought she was putting an ugly face forward to the world, when in fact she was just putting forward ugly thinking. She thought people didn’t hang around her because of her face, when in fact they weren’t hanging around her because she was so depressing.
I’m sorry to break the news to you, but you really and truly aren’t anywhere near as important as you’ve convinced yourself you are. I know we grow up in a culture that suggests that standing on a mountain top and tooting your own horn is seen as being egotistical, but in fact the most common form of gross and damaging ego is for someone to forgo their life to instead sit around depressed, claiming their life is bad because of how everyone else thinks of them.
Your problem isn’t what other people think of you. Your problem is what you think of yourself. So if you choose to talk to yourself as though you’re unhappy because you’re “unattractive,” then I won’t coddle you because you’re simply being silly. If you think other people are happy because they have more than you, or are more than you, then you don’t understand where happiness comes from at all. Because everyone has insecurities. The only question is, do you feed them regularly or not?
Here’s your choice: enjoy life by living deeply, or wallow in self pity as a part of a tiny, sad life. Look around you, there’ll be plenty of examples of the latter. In fact, if you function like the woman above, then we can almost guarantee that one or more of your parents was similarly afflicted. They too sat around with a woe-is-me attitude and they innocently and accidentally built themselves a crappy little life of suffering. But that was their choice too. So recognize that. Because no one can save you from this suffering but you. No one thinks your thoughts for you. So unless you start taking responsibility for them, don’t ever think you’ll feel better. Because that’s not how life works. If you’re not prepared to be responsible, you surrender happiness in the process.
Happy people are not happy because they have no challenges. Happy people are happy because they aren’t busy wanting and wishing for something else. They simply appreciate what they already have. And no matter who you are, if you’re reading this you have more than enough for a happy life. If you don’t have one, stop blaming your genes, or your parents, or your history, or your hairline. Because Now is made up only of your thinking. And that’s always in your control.
The only question now is; are you going to steer yourself onto the comfort of the road of appreciation, or are you going to steer yourself down a painful, damaging path through a ditch of insecure thinking? Because you will decide. And you’ll know which one you chose by how your life feels.
Enjoy your day.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.