I want to share an important insight with you: only you are thinking about you.
Devastating, I know, but it’s true.
Not long after the birth of my son, working through the tricky and messy and unplannable return-to-work phase, I had what I can only describe as a crisis of confidence; something those who know me well would say is rather improbable and uncharacteristic.
But in those highly emotionally charged days when you leave your new-born at home for the first time and you’re ‘out of the loop’ at work, stuff happens that isn’t quite the way it was before.
Have you changed? Are you not as ‘on-to-it’ as you were before? (Probably – they don’t call it “nappy-brain” for nothing!)
Has your boss changed? Has your temporary replacement usurped you? (Probably a little.)
Have your colleagues changed? Are they all watching you wondering if you can do it? (Almost certainly not.)
So why the unease?
Well there are two main things.
First, any significant life-changing event has an emotional impact. So yes, you are worried about things, and wonder if you can ever be the same as you were before (and the answer is no – not the same, but probably better), and you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing, returning to work so quickly, and whether that sweet/crying/giggling/sleeping/not-sleeping/worrisome ‘bundle of joy’ is OK without you. And that’s completely normal – welcome to parenthood! Welcome to never really being an expert on anything ever again!
Second, because of the first point, you’re spending more time in your own head than you used to. It might not seem like it, but you’ve had more ‘alone’ time (albeit, with a weeing, pooping little person) than probably at any other time in your adult life. So guess what – you’ve been thinking! In a slightly cortisol-infused, oxytocin-infused, oestrogen-infused haze, you’ve been spending a lot of extra time in your own head. And despite what the voices are telling you – there’s no-one else there but you!!
So eventually I realised something incredibly important: I am the only person thinking about me. Just in the same way that my own immediate experience looms large in my inner narrative, so too does everyone else’s. It’s just that they have a different lead character.
Everyone else is the only person thinking about everyone else. And good on them. If you want others to think about you, understand what motivates them and help them out – add value for them, but don’t obsess with what they think of you – because they don’t!
This is incredibly liberating once you grasp it. You are in control of your own story. It’s your life, and its playing out both in the world, and inside your head. Not anybody else’s.
If you don’t believe me, try the following mindfulness exercise.
Set a timer on your watch or phone to go off every five minutes (if you are at work, I suggest you set it to vibrate!) and every time the alarm goes off, reflect briefly on what you were thinking about at the time the alarm started. And when you can, make a note of it.
I suggest trying to do this for a whole day if you can – but an hour or so will give you a great sample.
And be honest with yourself. You might find you think you are thinking about someone else – but to what end? Be wary of transference – are you thinking about your boss, but only insofar as you want them to offer you a new project to manage? Are you thinking about your partner/significant other, because you had an argument this morning and you’re annoyed there hasn’t been an apology yet? These are dual thoughts. Yes, another person is featuring in the thought but only insofar as they have an impact on you. This doesn’t really count – the motivation for the ‘other’ appearing in your thoughts is selfish.
Maybe annotate this in some way in your thought log – it’s a useful reminder that the way we treat others has an impact on them – and that our impact can be positive or negative… which is going to leave a more lasting impression…?