Selfish- the dreadful word reserved as an encompassing insult. We call people selfish when their priorities consistently revolve around themselves. It seems selfish people have little to no regard for the well-being of others and their plans rarely meet the greater needs of a particular party. Selfish people contradict the sharing and caring mentality fostered in our culture.

As the wise Spock once said, “…the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Many abide by this logic, or strive for it, assuming personal needs are secondary. This might work when making decisions that will affect massive amounts of people, or when caring for a child unable to care for itself. Outside of those scenarios, on an individualistic level, it would only be so beautiful for us to selflessly cohabitate; all of our needs covered because we all consistently followed this way of being, always concerned with everyone else first. If it weren’t for those pesky selfish people, placing their emotional, physical, or personal requirements ahead of everyone else’s.

I disagree. Codependent logic is flawed. Predicting others’ needs is impossible if they do not communicate, and communicating needs is a ‘selfish’ act in itself. I propose the needs of the many, more often than not, lean in favor of people taking care of themselves; a classic example: putting the air mask on one’s self before helping others on a plane.  The word ‘selfish’ is a much broader term than we utilize. Out of the context of our common vernacular, selfish can be a helpful or even critical trait to well-being.

In a world overrun by codependent logic (i.e. the idea that our feelings are the result of other people’s actions) the ability to care for ourselves is mandatory. Maintaining healthy boundaries, employing the right to say ‘no,’ and not abandoning our integrity when we assume an obligation becomes self-loving, kind behavior we enact to prolong our mental and physical health.

I think it is important to differentiate between lovingly selfish and inconsiderate behavior. If selfish is an umbrella term to describe all behaviors where one places themselves before others, there is an unhealthy side of this too. ‘Needs’ are tricky, fickle things every single person has to manage. Finding equilibrium, balancing our essential needs like food, shelter, and clothing, compared to our emotional needs like human connection, personal space, laughter, or emotional release takes effort. It is far too easy to manipulate ourselves with the idea that wants or reactions stem from needs, or that we need something from one particular person. If one can be physically and mentally healthy without it, then it is probably not a need.

When our needs are unmet, we often become reactive. As discussed in another article, reactions stem from the brain’s misdirected fight or flight response: the brain equating stress as danger. Reactions to emotions do not arise in an unconscious effort to meet literal needs. In essence, reactivity is the result of the brain’s unconscious effort to meet irrational needs (i.e. safety from the danger that is not there).

There is a victim pattern buried somewhere in there; the panic-stricken brain’s logic is markedly codependent. Blaming external stressors for one’s reactivity follows the codependent thinking that outside variables, people, circumstances, etc are responsible for an individual’s feelings.

In that moment, the need is not relief from danger; the actual need is for an individual to remind themselves that they are safe, returning to conscious, rational thinking, and the ability to choose how to respond.

The inconsiderate form of selfish behavior discussed earlier often takes the shape of those reactions, masked as an effort to meet needs. An example, if you’ve ever been so stressed with work or school that you absolutely needed a friend or partner to stop what they were doing to listen to you vent, and in their unavailability (likely because they were stressed with their own work) you may have felt rejected or abandoned, only heightening that stress.

There is not a measure of whose life is more stressful, or whose needs are more important. Requiring someone to abandon their needs in order to care for someone else’s brings us back to codependent thinking. Personal truths are not universal. This is the catch to this self-loving form of selfish.

Relationships, friendships, interactions, and any other form of social connection involve at least two people, both of which are responsible for how they show up in dialogue. If someone’s selfishness requires another person to abandon their needs, it is probably inconsiderate. Healthy, conscious pursuit of needs recognizes that being ‘selfish’ is not without consequence when it involves other people.

Others may be upset with the way we handle situations, regardless if our actions come from self-love or inconsideration. Worse yet, they may handle their emotions from reactionary places. Regardless of how they react, it is our goal to respond appropriately. With a conscious connection to self, self-loving behavior does not include reacting from malice or belittling the needs of another. It requires not taking responsibility for another person’s feelings. If we employ conscious communication and our intent is clear, another’s reaction is outside of our control. We must accept those terms of interaction, taking action where we decide it is healthy for us.

We have a chance to build a connection with our selves, allowing self-understanding by being selfish. The word must be de-stigmatized. In the healthiest way, we must put our needs first in our day-to-day actions and shake off those people-pleasing tendencies. We must speak and act on our truths from the most authentic place. This does not mean disregarding the needs of others. With conscious decision-making, we can understand the motives of our behavior, determining if we are acting from healthy self-love, or reacting from self-manipulation. It is up to each person to decide how they wish to show up for themselves and in relation to others. In that conscious selfishness, there is freedom.

Be selfish. Love yourself.

Mindfulness and Motorcycling

An open road, engine roaring, speed building and scenery melting as miles per hour accelerate. The intensity of the twisting throttle directly correlates with the rate of my heart until I acclimate to the speed. Every time I ride my motorcycle, this occurs. The rev of the engine sparks nervous excitement before I adjust to the mellowing purr of the machine vibrating beneath me. Exposed and all too vulnerable, it is a wonder those of us who ride motorcycles are able to find this blissful medium. But we do, over and over, and it’s what keeps us coming back, placing ourselves in ultimately dangerous situations for personal enjoyment.

With a heightened awareness of the present moment, I release my attachment to outcomes, surrendering myself to what I cannot control, and taking responsibility for what I can- my thoughts, my body, my breath. Think I’m still referring to motorcycles? This is the act of mindful meditation.

As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I realized the similarities between the two soon after I started riding. Riding a motorcycle is risky. End of story. There is no argument, but interestingly enough when a person indulges in anxious and insecure thoughts, the brain responds with fear, and this compromises ability. It is an amygdalic response: the brain activating instinct reactions of fight, flight, or freeze, and in cases where there is a need for focused attention, those fearful instincts can cause slip-ups. Clumsy release of the clutch or a poorly executed turn can result in an accident. In contrast, I am willing to propose that accidents caused by over-confidence in riding are still related to anxiety, or rather an obsession. A fixation on appearance to others, or the self, to perform a feat or trick that is not yet within the rider’s ability. The same risks are present, if not greater. Confidence in ability and awareness of limitations maintains the process of making decisions about what to do next.

Similar to everyday life, when we indulge in anxiety we suffer. Fear attaches us to possibilities that may never occur. We do not perform better at work, our thinking is not clear, and we are not happier people when we do this. Rather, we become insecure, guarded, or obsessive about problems that are much smaller than the attention we feed them. We constantly judge or criticize ourselves, worry obsessively about what often results in nothing, or stay overly concerned with how others perceive us. Interestingly enough, the anxiety perpetuates itself when we invest in it, seeming to consume our lives and determine our day. There is an alternative way to think.

Stop. Take a breath. Be mindful.

What the heck does that mean? I bet you are wondering. Observe each moment independently of the rest. Pay attention to the amount of control you have over your thoughts rather than spiraling into the endless infinity that is your anxiety. Let go of thoughts that do not serve you, no matter how much your anxiety insists worry is needed. Return your attention to the breath: inhales and exhales, the sensation of breathing, air coming in and out of your lungs. When your mind wanders (which it will), and the snowball of fretful thoughts exponentially builds again, stop. Take a breath. Be mindful.

Sounds easy, right? I’ll add another challenge: do this without judgment. The mind wanders, anxious thoughts will inevitably return. The key to both successful mindfulness and riding is noticing when this occurs. That’s it; the most important part. When you notice, you have a choice about what to do with those thoughts, to pay attention to what’s going on around you rather than what’s going on in your head. When we judge ourselves, we only substitute one anxious frame of thought with another. The brain learns nothing new.

When practicing mindfulness, we rewire our brains, gradually creating reliable neural networks to the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain in charge of executive functioning, decision-making, and awareness. Instead of the default path to the amygdala where these fear-based thoughts arise, we move to the part of our brain in charge of deciding how to think.

I have explained in a previous article how the brain equates emotional discomfort to danger. The mind will create reasons and ways to avoid uncomfortable situations, attempting to calculate risk-based only on the worst-case scenario. Feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and incompetence are not enjoyable, and when there is a potential for these soul-sucking emotions the brain will become active with reasons and ways to avoid them. When riding a motorcycle, coddling these fears can get a rider killed. The brain goes into a panic, interrupting muscle memory. The body overreacts movement and the mind delays response time, compromising the rider’s mind-body balance.  The solution: stop the mental process, and take a breath. Be mindful. Check-in with reality instead of the never-ending list of fabricated what-ifs. Right now, whether on a motorcycle or getting through your workday, remember you are alive, breathing, and in this moment, you are okay.

As if you were riding, pay attention.  Listen; notice your thoughts. Are they serving you? Do they reflect reality? Take the opportunity to shift out of the anxious autopilot and into mindful being. Repeatedly and without judgment, practice letting go of the mind’s attachment to arbitrary circumstances and take responsibility for your thoughts right now, in this moment. Stop. Breathe. Be mindful.