The Art of Caring—But Not Caring *Too* Much
September 6, 2018
I recently had my first yoga class where I almost "got" it. I still could barely stand on one leg, but, after committing to a weekly class for four months straight, I finally felt changes in my flexibility and my ability to feel more present.
I’d never actually spoken to my regular teacher, Linda, other than to smile and say, “Namaste” at the end of class, but that day I stopped and thanked her.
“You’ve come a long way in your practice,” she smiled.
I felt like I had just gotten back a test with a big A+. Still, instead of just thanking her, I made a self-deprecating comment about my flexibility.
“Care, but don’t care too much,” she winked.
As I walked away, her words resonated. Care, but don’t care too much.
I began to wonder where else caring too much shows up in my life. Caring too much about writing the perfect blog post (and then not writing for months), caring too much about saying just the right thing (and not saying the bold thing that needs to be said), and caring too much about what others think (and trying too hard to do that damn triangle pose).
It’s natural to care about what others think. If we didn’t, wouldn’t we just be complete narcissists? But when do we go overboard?
We can choose how and when we shift from caring to caring a lot, and Linda’s statement got me thinking back to a few strategies I’ve used in the past:
Choose Between Effort and Ease
Linda, always full of wisdom, also says, “Find the place between effort and ease.” I’ve used this not only in class, but in life. There are areas in my career where I want to be growing and learning; I can’t be complacent when it comes to my own professional development. But I also don’t want to be constantly uncomfortable, taking on enormous new challenges each week.
Recently, I found that I was leaning too far into the effort side. I had a coaching client asking me to take on several huge new projects, and while this was exciting, it had become overwhelming. I thought of Linda telling me to find the balance of effort and ease and realized I had gone too far. Turns out, the client not only understood, but was actually appreciative of me recognizing limitations and saying no.
Here's the truth: Everything you do every single day doesn't require 110 percent of your effort. We get to choose which gear we work in—effort or ease—in our day-to-day, and knowing when to switch modes can help us preserve our energy and be more prepared when we do need to dive in.
Know You’re Your Harshest Critic
A study done by the National Science Foundation found that people have 50,000+ thoughts a day. That means that even if you do something stupid and someone else thinks about it 10 times today, it’s only .02 percent of their overall daily thoughts.
Everyone is focused on things relating to “me” or “my,” and the majority of their thoughts are only about themselves. Unless you do something that directly impacts another person, they won’t be thinking about you too much.
Falling over in yoga class, giving a crappy presentation, saying something stupid; these are all just blips on a radar screen. We are constantly worried about how other people might judge us, but the truth is, everyone is too worried about their own missteps to notice yours.
Ask Yourself: What Do I Think?
When you’re constantly worrying about what others think, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; soon the way you think starts to become the way you actually start living.
If you’re running around trying to please others and caring deeply about what they may or may not think, you’ll lose yourself—the real you—while trying to please everyone else.
When you feel yourself trying to people please, ask yourself what you think. I’ve found for this one to really work, I have to write it down. When I can’t stop ruminating on what someone else is thinking about me, I put pen to paper, scribbling out what I think someone else wants me to do or be and then I pause. It’s usually ludicrous, and regardless, I ask: What do I really want?
When you feel yourself trying to people please, ask yourself what you think.
Just the act of getting the thoughts out of my head clarifies what’s real and make it near impossible to turn away from the truth. Tip: I usually tear up the paper afterwards so I don’t continue to deliberate!
Focus on Your Values
Knowing who you are and what’s most important to you can be the strongest driver of authentic action. As a career coach, I work with clients to clarify their values and what’s most important to them (not just what they’ve been told should be important to them). As your values become clearer, you see choices that you need to make and can choose more intentionally.
I use values as a compass for decision making. When I find myself harping on something I’ve messed up, I ask what value I’m stepping on. Sometimes, it’s something I do need to care about.
The other day I kept replaying a tough conversation with a client. By reflecting on my values, I realized that I hadn’t been true to my value of radical candor. I went back to the client and gave the honest feedback I wanted to give before.
On the flip side, last week I was feeling guilty about turning down a wedding shower. But as I looked to my values, I realized that what I felt bad about was missing quality time with my friend. I let the shower guilt go (we certainly weren’t going to connect while she opened boxes of towels in front of 50 other women) and planned a weekend away to celebrate her and our friendship.
“Care, but don’t care too much” is definitely easier said than done. It’s a delicate dance, but even having that mindset in mind can help you find a little more balance. Care about the people, places, and things that matter to you. But know you how much you care can ebb and flow. Let go of that which doesn’t align with your values or a thought you think other people might have.
And as for my yoga practice, I'm going to keep at it. But I'm committed to being less judge-y about my progress and more appreciative of why I'm pushing myself to go to yoga every week. I have a long way to go, and that's OK.