While it may seem contradictory for me as a practicing psychologist to invoke this paradox, this is perhaps an elemental idea we need to learn to embrace. 

Many self-help books promote the development of the self. However, an over-emphasis on the self is a wellspring of suffering. 

Instead, focus on two things:

1. The Task at Hand

Immerse yourself in whatever you are doing. When you are eating, when you are moving, when you are in conversation with someone. Better yet, challenge yourself. Entering into an emmersive “flow” state has a way of changing the way we experience time, and consequently, more enjoyment[1].  A state of deep absorption, paradoxically, helps us loosen our egoic lens, as our eyes are fixated on the activity.

2. Others

Caring for others in a deep way has a way of shaping our sense of self. Focusing on bringing delight and helping others feel good about themselves should not be done purely to make oneself feel good, but by being generous and others-centred does help you get out of the mental shell. Giving others a bucket of water is not for the purpose of getting a bucket of water in return or receiving a heavenly reward for being a good person. The act of generosity is the reward in and of itself.
Paying less attention on yourself does not equate to neglecting yourself or treating yourself like trash. Rather, when we can embrace this paradox, we come to realise what the poet John O-Donahue says,

“There is an uncanny symmetry between the way you are inward with yourself and the way you are outward.”

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less,” said Rick Warren.[2] We come alive when we can get out of our minds, and into the tasks at hand and the relationships that we build.

See Related Posts:
Point Your Camera to the World
Look Outside of Yourself
Do Not Find Meaning in Life


[1] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

[2] Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, where it appears as part of Day 19, “Cultivating Community.”

Thank you for the body of work and contribution to the state of living, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. RIP.