There are so many self care or self-help books out there that operate under the guise of improving us. Of elevating our identity and crystallising into something more ideologically secure, consistent and productive. There are so many means of approaching ways to improve our emotional wellbeing, mental health, physical fitness, and overall social prospects. It can get super overwhelming.
You aren’t alone in thinking that.
Particularly when entering the office of your guidance counsellor in high school when the walls were pasted top to bottom with naff inspirational posters and placards. ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’. Or ‘things that are hard are worth fighting for’. The old faithful: ‘Life isn’t a competition’.
Honestly, I’m sure all of these epithets are true, but that’s not to say that there isn’t more informative, helpful advice out there. Like, there’s a reason the clichés exist – because they’re solid – but I can do better.
So I ask you, my implied audience, a question. What’s gold dust?
The art of not caring.
I know it can be hard and may sound harsh and alien to ‘not care’, but it’s not suddenly like you will overnight cease to have a functioning heart. Or that you will be unable to love again – that’s unrealistic and sensationalist.
The art of not caring, I’ll say it again, doesn’t mean that the net output of emotion that you put into the world decreases. It just means that all the emotional distress and stress you cause yourself thinking about what everyone else is thinking about – you can just channel that into self love. Convert that toxic, spiralling energy into a more wholesome, respectful and forgiving dynamic.
Allow yourself to make mistakes, then look them in the eye and learn from them. A mistake is only ever useless to us if we ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen. That leads to bottling up emotions which are liable to exploding at the most inconvenient of moments. We don’t love a breakdown, even if they generally do follow a breakthrough of sorts.
Subsequent to this, when we’re no longer as consumed by what everyone else is doing, it frees up mental space. It allows you to be kinder to yourself, now that you aren’t implicitly putting yourself up for competition against everyone around you. It isn’t even their fault necessarily.
Most of peer pressure is unconscious.
When we personally feel put out, less than, unincluded or adrift by other people’s successes. We judge their lives to be more successful than ours, undeterred by the fact that their success is not our failure. Them succeeding does not suck up some finite resource of success that makes us any less able to succeed. We should be happy for each other, but in order to get to that stage of emotional health, we have to first not care. Just for a bit, or for a lot – if it’s calming you down and balancing your emotions.
But that way, as soon as you accept that you are not living their life or by their terms, you can separate yourself to those comparisons. It means that you can both exist together, but mutually exclusively, without impinging on each other’s sense of self. You shouldn’t only be able to feel proud of yourself in relation to others. Be proud that you got 78, not that you got higher than your friend in the class. Don’t let other people unknowingly determine your self-worth or lack thereof.
That way, you can distance yourself from the toxic competition that capitalism and social encounters inherently prompt, and you will be miles happier for it.
So stop what you’re doing.
Unfollow those celebrities on Instagram. They don’t care about you and if you’re honest with yourself you can’t remember the last time you even liked their picture. Stop being a voyeur on other people’s lives at the expense of living your own.
Take breaks from social media. Go on a walk. Listen to music. Join a yoga class. Learn a new language. Take up an online course.
You don’t’ need to tell everyone what you’re doing. Take some time to yourself. Figure out what you want. what you need.
Then, my dear readers, go and get it.
The moment you stop caring about things outside of your control, the moment you can start to live your own life, unfettered again.