“Please Be Selfish” — Truth Bombs That Will Change Your Life

Wish I had the guts and gumption to master this selfish skill early in life.

Karthik Rajan
Nov 29, 2020 · 11 min read
Photo by Radu Florin

Something that is selfish or more mildly put, self-centered should be easy to conquer. After all, our minds are wired that way. Or so we think.

Here is the unvarnished truth. Being kind to yourself is harder than being kind to others.

Not because we are selfless. Only because we are not self conscious.

Here are few truths that are hidden in plain sight.

We live in our minds, not in our moments.

The two faculties of humans are vivid memories and unbridled imagination. Both are great possibilities. Even greater possibility are our moments.

For me, one daily moment is walking hand in hand, in lock step with my daughters on their way to school. I often wonder — what happens if I can suspend my memories and fully immerse in those moments? For those fleeting moments, I experience unexplained inner joy waffling in front of me. There is something cathartic about it.

Yet, day after day, it’s so hard to do. On most days, physical moments are a consequence of the mind moving our body. It is hard to numb memories. It is hard to suspend, even for a brief while, on what needs to be done at work after dropping them off.

The mind can indeed be beautiful. The right moments, more so. Consciously making those moments happen is a lifetime of conscious learning.

Past is a memory. Future is still an imagination. Fully present is priceless — if you can pull it off as a habit, moment after moment.

Beautiful words on what we can control vs. what we can’t.

I love words -untainted, pure blissful words. They elevate my spirits. I seek them. Recently, these simple construct of words by Jaggi Vasudev caught my eye.

“When your body becomes pleasant — we call it health.

When your body becomes very pleasant — we call it pleasure

When your mind becomes pleasant — we call it peace.

When your mind becomes very pleasant — we call it joy.

When your emotions become pleasant — we call it love.

When your emotions become very pleasant — we call it compassion.

When your surroundings become pleasant — we call it success.”

The beauty of this construct — only for the last one, you need the cooperation of many forces around.

Everything else- health, mind, emotions are within your control. Your health, your mind and your emotions need to take instruction from you — must be determined by you.

Easier said than done, especially on the mind. For that, at the minimum, we need to know the difference between joy and happiness.

We are slaves of our surroundings —oblivious to the difference between happiness and joy

Deep within each one of us, there is an innate desire to be happy.

Actually, we want to experience joy. We assume joy comes from happiness, it’s not the case.

Did your eyebrows arch when you read that last sentence? Then you are most likely seeing happiness and joy as interchangeable words. Most of us do.

The moment of truth — happiness is based on external triggers you hardly control and joy is based on internal triggers you can control — if you are conscious about it.

Knowing that difference is akin to knowing the difference between slavery and freedom.

Once upon a time, slavery was common. That didn’t make it right. We abhor when others control our surroundings. We will be up in arms if someone controlled how much we can eat, where we can go and many more.

Today, it’s common acceptance that others influence our minds. One sharp word here. An innuendo nudge there. Enough to torpedo our state of mind. Seeking salvation in the praise of others is a common construct. Just because it’s commonly observed, does it make it right?

Our conscious thinking is shaped by where our ancestors chose to go deeper. They expressed it in the languages we inherit and learn. The Himba tribe in Africa (northern Namibia) are a fairly isolated crowd. Their language has only 5 words for colors while English language has 11 words for colors.

Among their color names, the variation of green shades are given different names. On the flip side, some of the colors like blue are clubbed with sub-shades of green. A group of academics did an experiment — they showed the tribes color palates with one change (circled in the picture below). The tribe members quickly spotted the varying shade of green (first picture), while they took a while to distinguish blue from green.

Like the color distinctions, the word distinction matter in our consciousness. Knowing you want to be happy versus you desire to experience joy, matters. External vs. internal drivers matter.

In English, mind is all encompassing word. In my mother tongue Tamil — the word is further subdivided: Manam (மனம்), Buddhi (புத்தி), Chittam (சிட்டம்) , Ahamkaram (அஹங்கரம்).

My biggest ah ha in switching languages — it unshackled one of the implicit assumptions I made while learning my science lessons — the physical location of the mind is the brain. That assumption is an incomplete picture.

Word distinctions is a start, not the answer.

How to be kind to yourself?

Truth serums are good. The truth can set us free. They can make a dent in our consciousness. Yet, they are limiting if we don’t make a daily habit of being kind to ourselves. For that, things need to be practical in the real world.

Sometimes, it starts with our surroundings — unfortunately. In the real world, we can’t isolate ourselves in the high reaches of the Himalayas. In the real world, we may know the difference between joy and happiness on paper but not in practice. In the real world, our mind is susceptible and weak — a poker face doesn’t change the internal turmoils.

In order to be kind to ourselves, we can consciously create the right mindsets. By trial and error, I found one algorithm that works best for me — a greedy heuristic — what’s in it for me?

1. Expressing gratitude, thank someone with a note

I can say this with conviction — of all the seemingly selfless acts, this is the most self-centered of them all. I have one simple daily habit — thank someone with specifics at the end of the day. It has done wonders for my mindset.

What’s in it for me? This is one thing that makes me look forward to the night. I like to write and combine that with a small thank you note with specifics to someone who boosted my day — it adds to the thrill. Email is a wonderful, inexpensive tool.

I feel immense joy in seeking the diamonds within the rhythms of the day. The thrill of waiting until the day end to do a simple, good deed has worked wonders on my mood. Nothing beats that.

If it was work related — I add their bosses in the cc. In my note, I often add about how I felt. Even in professional emails — it was well taken. I started to seek out the wonderful words beyond happy. My vocabulary bloomed.

2. Remind myself to smile no matter what

Of all the daily reminders, I found this the easiest to repeat everyday. I come from a large extended family. When I was young, one of the well meaning uncles shared about my parents — “ one thing you can be certain about both your parents, you can needle them any different ways separately, they always seem in sync. When you probe deeper into how is this even remotely possible, the answer was obvious — they always smile. Smile is the most under appreciated answer.”

Knowing my parents strength and what they are remembered for gave me a personal connection. Still, the selfish reasons need to persist to make it a habit. Science has been the most persuasive for me.

What’s in it for me? I find that it brings the best of the person across me and that positive energy is something I cherish. Aside from that — science gives me the dopamine boost about the smile. Researchers at the University of Kansas found that smiling reduces stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; while another study suggests that smiling leads to longevity.

3. Find something positive about someone

What’s in it for me? If there is one hobby that has worked for me- this is the one. For every positive word, you can find 2 negative emotive words in the English language. If it is true for words, think about people. We are drawn to infer differences and what bothers us. What if you flip it?

A boss once did that to me during a performance review.

By nature, I am big on adding the word self between the words –“constant improvement”. So, I asked him a question — “Could you share with me some specific areas of improvement that can shape my personal growth?”

He leaned back in his chair, paused a moment and said — “That is a fair request, but first the low hanging fruit, are you aware of your strengths?” I said sure, and rattled off a few. He patiently listened and said- “those are some generic strengths, quite common among many folks. Do you know your strengths that naturally propel you?” I gave him a puzzled look.

In the next few minutes, he shared with me some of my nuanced strengths and backed it up with small detail examples where he noticed them. He felt that these strengths were natural for me but were rare, based on his observations of other people.

This skill of his, I have learned through the years. It elevates my mood. The chuckle I get when I share back — is a fun bonus.

4. Few minutes of memories with my kids

What’s in it for me? If you read about the regrets of dying folks, they have one thing in common — nothing about work. On the flip side, one of the hardest things in my life is to live fully in the moment. What happens if I combine the hardest thing with what I am most thankful for? For each person, their own. For many of us, being a parent and our cherished time with our kids.

Of the many selfish hacks, this is my operating system.

Yet, I am in my earning prime when my kids are young. How do I make peace? Better still, how do I craft my inner joy? One truism to the rescue. Peak moments creates memories. Physical time doesn’t.

I park my car on the side streets and walk my kids to the school. One — I beat car traffic drop off line. Two — I hold my daughters hands, we walk in lock step and we talk sweet nothings. During COVID home remote learning, we do math together. My wife reads books with them. We play some sports as a family. To each family, their own. I cherish that memory — fully living such few moments.

5. Surround yourself with positive people

What’s in it for me? I believe the mind is malleable. Easily swayed. Being on guard is stressful.

Pushy salesman are obvious. Marketers are polished.

Distance from enemies is easy to orchestrate. Frenemies?

I take the easy way out — surround myself with positive energy and a preponderance for positive words. That involves choice but I need luck too

I like my mom’s prayer — keep everyone around me happy. I mimic her.

6. Be kind to your self with words

What’s in it for me? We are our worst critic. Self talk is a perfect antidote. It is about making our mind pleasant, free and liberating.

You are what you make yourself out to be. Socrates said it best, “My own eyes must be more beautiful, because they bulge out, and therefore I can see better. And by the same account my nose is more beautiful, because my nostrils flare out and so I can therefore gather in more smells.”

7. Be kind to your body — The connection between hand and food

What’s in it for me? Answering the why is easy. Health is wealth. Answering the how took a lot of trial and error.

Our equation with food has layers like onion. One layer is an emotional construct with smell, texture and taste — mama’s cooking best exemplified by this scene from the movie, Rataouille.

Another layer is comfort with our tummy and gut. Each one, their own. The more you are aware, the better. Another layer is the mechanics of food — how we eat them. I found my nirvana there.

During a recent COVID zoom call, a friend of mine wore his mask. I asked him why. In half jest, he said he wanted a barrier between the snacks at desk and his mouth. In this world of food abundance, savvy marketing and work stresses — the hand to mouth connection has become a bane rather than a boon.

World over, we may differ on how we eat our food. When it comes to snacks, — we use our hands. Finger foods in shiny bags are there for a reason.

Being conscious of the hand to mouth sustenance was the easiest I could monitor on a consistent basis.

8. Use your words that stir the right chemicals within you.

I have a belief — the difference between good and great upbringing — the ability to use words in the most trying emotional situations. The best retort to young children when they are upset, frustrated or furious — “use your words.”

Here is my why.

Every emotion has a word. Every emotion has an apt word. Every emotion has shades of words that go deeper. Implicitly, we know them when we read them. Many a times, even as adults, we don’t use the rights words. We are content with an approximation.

For every anger we experience — there is an intensity, there is an expression.

Angry, very angry and very, very angry works. So does upset, irate and furious. What about furious vs. seething? The chemicals our body release and the dosages are different — all for the same big umbrella — anger.

What’s in it for me? I may not know the chemicals, knowing my emotions makes my most useful vocabulary to good use — create self awareness on something that is closely related to my mind — my emotions.

Our regrets in life are not our emotions, it’s our reactions to our raging emotions. And the best way to be aware of my emotions is to start naming them deeply.

This is not easy , but it does have a wonderful side benefit. Emotions connect dots better than logic. That’s my personal ah ha.

Waving good bye words.

Will our mind dwell in the past? Will our mind worry about future? Will our mind try to control our joy?

Of course, it will.

The antidote — be selfish on what matters. Passing a judgement on “being selfish” is premature. It’s incomplete.

Being selfish is also self awareness.

Life is like the hour glass. One end is philosophy. Other end is practicality. The beautiful bottleneck is selfishness. It’s like gravity. Makes life tick with habits. The best part — every once in a while, you can flip it. Practical listicles, like the 8 above, can be at the top. Philosophy can be at the bottom. It still works like a charm and still retains the hour glass figure.

Yes, the hardest thing to do — to enjoy our limited time on earth, can sometimes be the easiest. Watch the sand percolating within the hour glass. It melts away the time in the blitz of life with a singular, selfish purpose — the selfless act of being kind to yourself.

In peace, in joy, in the zest for life.

Yours truly,

Karthik Rajan

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Aha Moments

Left Brain Logic Intersects With Right Brain Communication

Karthik Rajan

Written by

Stories to fuel your mind. Theme: life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. Goal: Warm tone, solid content, crisp stories. About me: one google search away.

Aha Moments

Left Brain Logic Intersects With Right Brain Communication

Karthik Rajan

Written by

Stories to fuel your mind. Theme: life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. Goal: Warm tone, solid content, crisp stories. About me: one google search away.

Aha Moments

Left Brain Logic Intersects With Right Brain Communication

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