I don't want to miss the life in front of me!
September 22, 2011 10:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I learn to focus on my own life?

I feel like I'm generally a happy person. I'm a young 20-something in the creative field--I have a great job, I have friends/family/boyfriend who love me, I'm financially stable, I'm healthy (as far as I know). I know that I am very very lucky (oh man, am I lucky!), and I thank God that I have so many blessings in my life.

However, I keep getting distracted with other people's lives. Even though I know that logically it makes no sense to compare myself to others, I keep falling into the trap. I usually feel great when I DO focus on my own life--I'm happy when I plan things out for myself, and when I actually buckle down and get things done I feel satisfied and accomplished. I'll finish a large project, cook a good meal, reach a personal goal etc etc and feel really good about life, but THEN I'll notice that oh hey! this friend was off doing something much more fun, that friend went to a cool event and I missed out, and this other friend managed to finish a project, cook a good meal, AND landscape their entire backyard and read the collected works of Shakespeare all in the same time it took me to finish my stuff! How the heck do they manage to do it!?

This is particularly bad when it comes to work stuff. I'll feel like I'm doing pretty well at work, but I get way too interested in what my co-workers are doing. Example: Team mate goes to talk to senior-person. I think: "Oh man, is he getting advice? That's a good idea, how come I didn't think to step up and get advice from that person? This will probably benefit his career. I wonder what I'm missing?!" I start feeling like others are doing the "right steps" to get ahead, and I need to hurry and catch up. I feel like I'm never doing/learning enough. It becomes very distracting.

Lately it feels like this kind of distraction has been taking over more of my life. I don't want to think like this...I start to feel anxious and my brain starts aching. I don't like the person I become, always consumed with what others are doing. When I stop and think about it, I KNOW that I have much to be thankful for and these notions are probably selfish and silly, but they always come back. If a friend had told me this about him/herself I would know all the right things to say (it's not about status/accomplishments, find joy in your own life, volunteer, etc etc) but I'm not living it.

How do I let go and focus on me (not in the bad way, but in the healthy way)? If you've gone through this, what are things you have done that helped you re-focus?

Thanks in advance :)
posted by sprezzy to Human Relations (7 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I cycle through these three:

1) Continue dismissing the thoughts. You're doing fine. Do something extra-fun and non-productive to celebrate your unique awesomeness.

2) Actually try to keep up with the pace of your friends who are doing ALL the things. Feel exhausted / less happy (probably). Be content with a simpler, more "you" life going forward.

3) Consider the difference between outside lives and inside lives. You don't know what's going on in their heads - they are probably also insecure about their accomplishments and have similar worries, almost everyone is/does. Develop empathy for folks you envy.
posted by momus_window at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

my general advice:
the reality is that there are people in your life that will see and do things that you may experience later on in life or never at all. sometimes that can be a fortunate thing and sometimes that can be an unfortunate thing, just like other people may admire you and be curious about your life because they long to do certain things that you have already done. when it comes down to it, certain people will have more than you (insert intangible or tangible item here-money, experience, knowledge, etc...), but others will have less than you too. the important thing is to be happy with who you are, what you have, and where you are in life. if you are unhappy then you have the ability to change a majority of things in your life for the better (or at least view them from a more optimistic perspective).

i learned to focus more on myself because i realized that being selfish does not have to be perceived as a bad thing. you have the ability to change your life either for better or worse by being an active or inactive participant. you can do this by trying new things, managing your time better, deactivating social networking accounts, creating a list of things that you would like to do every month and doing those things.

advice related to your questions:
people manage to do things at different paces than others. some people walk faster, some people walk slower, some people read faster, some people read slower, etc... life doesn't have to be a race, you will be fine as long as you complete things at a reasonable pace and on time.

you let go and focus more on yourself by telling yourself that you deserve it. you also motivate yourself by realizing how quickly time flies by and how scary that can be if you remain an inactive participant in your own life.

i have learned to re-focus by telling myself that people will have more and people will have less than me, to stop comparing my life with other people's lives, to reflect on things that i would like to change, to stop doing social network related things, etc...
posted by sincerely-s at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd very much agree with the sentiments of sincerely-s, and just to further it I think it's really helpful to have practical ways to actually take stock of what you have, focus on goals that will make you happy, and not get sidetracked by comparing yourself with others.

Three things: (1) I really recommend some basic meditation as a way to climb out of repetitive thought patterns of external comparison and validation.

(2) Sit down and write some goals in the short and long term, and work out the steps to get there - but be realistic about your time and why you want to do them.

And (3), try idonethis.com to keep track of your progress. I've found it a great help to really take ownership of things I've done and be able to fully see how much work and effort I've invested into different tasks. That might help you better appreciate for yourself things that you've already done.
posted by garlicsmack at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Generally I stay away from these questions, but I have a friend who struggles with this same problem and I just talked her down, so to speak, yesterday. You asked a very similar question a few months ago--did you not get the answers you want? This might be because the issue isn't being framed correctly.

How do I let go and focus on me (not in the bad way, but in the healthy way)?

Honestly, I don't think you should focus on yourself. That's what leads to the negative comparisons: everyone else is more successful than I, he's working harder to forward his career than I am, her life is more fulfilling than mine. Instead of thinking about how other people's actions relate to you, think about how your actions affect others. When someone cuts you off on the road, do you fume because he just ruined your day? Or do you just forgive that person and move on?

My friend ruminates and frets over the minutiae, and it gets in the way of her happiness (and productivity). She knows she does this, but it's a tough habit to break. Your negative thoughts aren't helping anybody, especially not yourself. Use that energy to do good instead. You'd be surprised how helping others or doing your small part to make life more pleasant can improve your sense of self-worth and satisfaction. The next time you see a beggar, make eye contact and smile, give him some food, donate money to a charity. I'm not suggesting you don't already do that, and it's great that you see the good things you have, but there's nothing like remembering others' misfortunes to put your own life into perspective. Easier said than done, but today is always a good time to start.
posted by therewolf at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2011

I get this way too -- much less now than before. But tomorrow I have to teach a Jhumpa Lahiri story and I happened to notice she's round my age, got three post-bac degrees, has won most of the important prizes, writing-wise.

Now I can just say: Fuck it. Okay, X is smarter/more accomplished/whatever than I am. But the fact of the matter is that, for all we know, X may encounter Y and Z obstacles later on, and who knows what the fuck will happen. I tell myself, fuck it. Life is too short.

But I have to tell myself this a few times before things feel better.
posted by angrycat at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2011

I stopped thinking this way since most of the people I know seem to be having chemotherapy most of the time. And when I go to the funerals, I don't ask why I'm not the one in the casket.

I think you actually have to experience this to get any meaning out of it, though, and I wouldn't exactly wish it on anyone.
posted by tel3path at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

How the heck do they manage to do it!?

Creative editing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:06 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

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