A key aspect of self-preoccupation is the tendency to judge everything in reference to ourselves. I call it Radio Me Me Me. Suppose you hear that it’s going to rain for a day and a night in your city of one million people. Instantly your mind turns what this means for you, specifically. Will those clothes I hung out on the line get to dry before the rain? I wish I had got that roof looked at. And so on.
But it’s more insidious when you’re wondering: What does the team really think about me at work? If I finish at 5:30 to take care of my child, what will my colleagues think about that? Do people think I’m a bad parent because I put my child into childcare? Why haven’t I got further in my career anyway?
Self preoccupation pulls us out of the present moment, adds to our anxiety and can also be a feature of depression.
Turning down the volume
The good news is that the practice of mindfulness helps to turn down the volume on Radio Me Me Me.
When our minds wander they switch on Radio Me Me Me.
Two particular structures of the brain (called the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex) are involved in this activity. Mindfulness practice can actually reduce activity in these areas and therefore turn down the volume on Radio Me Me me.
The alarm centre
As you can imagine, the “alarm centre” of the brain, called the amygdala, can also become quite active when you are preoccupied with yourself in a negative way. Mindfulness practices such as re-focusing on your breathing or on an activity such as walking calm down the amygdala.
When you switch off Radio Me Me Me, and instead step into direct experience, life becomes simpler. If, when I’m collecting my child from the playschool, I switch from my preoccupation with plans and with tomorrow’s meeting to direct experience of my child, I am being mindful and (usually!) experience less stress. If I’m late for a meeting I can switch from ‘awfulising’ about it to the direct experience of ringing or texting ahead and then put my focus on getting there safely.
How to turn it down
To spend less time wrapped up in self preoccupation and to turn Radio Me Me Me way down:
– Commit to returning as often as you can from the wandering of your mind to your direct experience.
– Build some deliberate periods of mindfulness practice, such as mindfulness of breathing or of walking into your days. Even a few minutes a day makes a difference.
This article is a shortened version of a lesson in my Working Mindfully online course which is available on demand.
Image by Israa Ali
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