Practice Selflessness

Having been involved in planning a wedding for the better part of the last year I have seen many emotional, and sometimes dramatic, scenes involving the interaction of different people. Most of these have provided great food for thought and have given me an insight into the psychology of people and how they interact with others. One thing I noticed throughout this time is that most people don't know how to be selfless. People like to think they are (or at least that they can be) selfless but in reality this is far from true. I am not being overly critical here but just realising that being selfless, and putting others ahead of yourself is actually a very hard thing to do.

We are all individual beings and deep down we all are trying to do what is best for ourselves. In an evolutionary/survival frame of mind this makes a lot of sense but in our modern society where we exist as part of a large community group, and do not have direct competition for resources to survive, we need to be able to think about others. We need to practice selflessness.

I say practice because the skill of selflessness does not come naturally. Most people find selfishness much easier than selflessness. It's natural. But that doesn't mean it's always the best choice.


Most dictionaries will define selflessness something along the lines of:

The act of sacrificing personal interest for the good of others

Which basically means that you put other people's interest ahead of your own. That's a pretty neat idea in theory but not so easy to apply contextually. Being selfless is a very easy thing to say you do, but a very hard thing to actually do because it requires that you master yourself first.

Selflessness is About Mastering Yourself

Proper selflessness involves a great deal of self awareness, self control, and self confidence:

  • If you are not aware of your internal drivers and why you act the way you do then you will not achieve selflessness
  • If you are not in control of your own thoughts, actions, and words then you will not achieve selflessness
  • If you are not confident and happy with the person you are then you will not achieve selflessness.

To achieve selflessness you need to master yourself first. Sometimes the immediate happiness of someone else is more important than your own needs, sometimes you are not the most important person in the room, and sometimes people don't care about you or your opinion. Because some moments in life just require you to be there and be happy for others. Life isn't always just about you.

Why You Should Practice Selflessness

There are many good reasons for why you should practice selflessness in your daily life. The most obvious is what some people like to call karma, which is just another way of saying that like attracts like.

Selflessness is a good deed and good deeds are always returned in kind. When you sacrifice yourself others will notice. They will see your actions as loving, caring, and considerate and they will strive to return the favour. When you are having a bad day or struggling through a difficult moment in life these people will be there to help you because they know you would do the same for them. In fact they've already seen you do it and they will make sure you are never left to fight on your own.

But getting this good "return on your investment" is not the best thing about being selfless. The best possible outcome of selflessness is the one you feel inside yourself. There have been countless scientific studies and papers that focus on the internal effects of helping others. Every time this research concludes with the same result - we feel happier, more excited, and enjoy life more when we help others.

If that isn't enough to convince you then maybe this quote from Tony Robbins will be the icing on the cake:

Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfillment.

It's time to start being selfless. Today!

An Opinion is Never Wrong

I just had a wonderful long talk with my mum about all sorts of things (new businesses, innovation, paleo dieting, health, and relationships just to name a few) and towards the end she said something quite profound which resonated deeply with me: "An opinion is never wrong."

I could not have said it better myself.

What is an Opinion?

An opinion is just a belief, idea, or judgment a person has for a particular topic. They may have formed this through extensive experimentation, life experiences, research, or just because one day they woke up and decided to have an opinion.

I have many opinions on a wide range of topics, some of which I honestly do not know much about. But I still have those opinions. Why? The answer once again lies in the flawed workings of the brain.

Your brain develops an answer for every question you can pose and it does so by referring to it's massive bank of data it has stored away in the dark little recesses of your mind. So when you want to form an opinion on something your brain quickly analyses everything in your memory that relates to it (experiences, news articles, opinions of people you value) and like magic you now have an opinion. Wonderful.

There is No Wrong Opinion

If we consider every opinion from the frame of reference (showing my nerdy side here) in which it was created then there is no possible way for an opinion to be wrong. For example, I might have the opinion that blue is the best colour ever, which I based on a random internet survey I conducted where 5 out of 6 people agreed that blue was awesome. Therefore, I believe we should paint the whole world blue.

Ok ok, this is a silly example but it shows my point. The opinion was formed because I believed that I had the proof that supported it. Therefore in my frame of reference (i.e. my own mind) the opinion is correct. Of course everyone else has their own opinion on which colour is the best, all of which are equally true.

When dealing with the opinions of other people you need to consider what their frame of reference is and what experiences or "evidence" they have as support.

Dealing With Others' Opinions

There is a saying people like to use which goes: "You are entitled to your opinion." This is strange on two levels. First, it's normally followed up with a big fat "BUT..." and then the person tries to force their opinion on to you. Secondly, we do not need someone to give us permission for our opinions. The very nature of opinions means that we are ALWAYS "entitled" to them.

The best way to deal with the opinions of others is to listen and ask questions. Find out what evidence, real or perceived, they have that led them to their opinion and you will gain wonderful insight into their thought process. Then question the basis for your own opinions. If you honestly believe you have some evidence that could help the other person then explain it to them. But do not expect them to always be receptive. Try once and move on, unless you find something soothing about hitting your head against a brick wall.

Of course the best thing you can do is simply respect the opinions of others and try to understand their point of view. You never know, it might lead you to change your own opinion.

Changing Your Opinions

It is OK to change your opinion. In fact the ability to change your opinions shows great strength of character. It means that you are aware of your own thoughts and opinions but are open to receiving information contrary to what you currently believe. When something of value is presented you can process it and analyse your own opinions to determine if they are still valid. If this sounds like you then you deserve a big pat on the back because this is not an easy task. Well done.

I encourage everyone to remain open, at all times, to receiving new information but also remember to question the "why" behind it. Not everything you hear is true and some people have ulterior motives for trying to change your opinion. Listen to all information presented, assess the validity of it, and make adjustments to your opinions as necessary. But only if you want to. After all, they are your opinions.

But of course all this is just my opinion. It is right for me and it may or may not sit right for you. That's the beauty of opinions.

Learning to Say Sorry Properly

For most people saying sorry has just become a trick we learn to perform whenever the appropriate social cues present themselves. Girlfriend crying? Say sorry. Got caught in a lie? Say sorry. Forgot your anniversary? You'd better say sorry unless you want to sleep on the couch forever. The problem is that for too many people the words of an apology are empty and nothing more than lip service. But learning when and how to say sorry is a major part of self improvement and ultimately becoming happy.

The Story of a Compulsive Apologiser

A few years back I was a "people pleaser". I had very low self confidence and I desperately wanted to be liked. By everyone. No matter if it was some random I had just met I was always seeking approval from others. It was terrible. I was so focused on getting other people to like me that I generally did whatever I could to make other people happy, often at my own expense. The biggest example was my habit of saying sorry for everything.

If we ran out of toilet paper I would apologise for not getting some more. Even if my housemates had just been at the shops. If got into one of those awkward moments when a stranger and I tried to pass each other but kept moving in the same direction I would apologise. It was crazy. This went on for years until I woke up to myself and began my self development journey.

First stop on my journey was to develop some self confidence and I did this with good success. Deep down I did love and value myself for who I was but I just had to remind myself. But in this process I developed the attitude of never saying sorry because I thought it showed weakness. No apologies. Ever. Even if I was a complete jackass.

This attitude was just as silly as the original one. I had gone from one extreme to the other and it wasn't pretty. I offended people, I hurt people, and I caused some major hiccups in my personal relationships.

Early on in our dating days I occasionally said or did something to hurt Sophie emotionally. Nothing major, but at times I could be a little rude and Sophie would take offensive. But I would not say sorry because I was too much of a man to do that. It would sacrifice all the power in the relationship to her and I would be forever apologising. Luckily for me, I learned that this attitude was wrong and I managed to turn it around before I ruined the relationship.

In the process I have discovered how powerful saying sorry is for encouraging personal growth. When you say sorry and actually mean it then you have shown the ability to observe and assess your own actions, recognise how they impact the world around you, and take ownership of your mistakes. This is how you learn about yourself and develop as a human being. It is the basis for all personal growth.

Act with Good Intentions

I now focus on acting with good intentions and saying sorry only when its truly needed.  As long as I am always aiming to help others, but not to the detriment of myself, then my actions will be respected. As long as I maintain positivity and never receive a benefit at the expense of others, I will not need to apologise.

But even following this new motto I still have times where I need to apologise. I am not perfect and I will make mistakes but as long as I keep saying sorry when and how I should then I will always be improving myself and nurturing healthy positive relationships.

When to Say Sorry

The best time to apologise is anytime. It does not have to be right after the moment. It can be days, weeks, months, or even years down the track but I can promise you that any sincere apology is worth it, not matter how long it has been.

The key is that it must be sincere. When you actually feel real sorrow for the pain you have caused in another then you are ready to think about how to actually say sorry.

How to Say Sorry

Sorry is not a magic word. You cannot just say it and expect the world to right itself again. The magic of an apology comes from the feeling and sincerity behind it.

The apology must come from the heart and must not be for any personal reason or gain. It must not be just because you are feeling guilty, or because you want everyone to like you. You should only say sorry when you truly regret your actions that caused a negative outcome in someone's life.

The tricky area is to define what a negative outcome is. Often people will react negatively to actions in their life which are actually positive. They either cannot see the positivity, do not want to see it, or have trained themselves to be negative-focused.

For example, providing constructive criticism to a friend is positive because it highlights how their actions affect you and encourages them to grow. Initially the friend may reject the criticism and display negative emotions but this does not mean you should apologise for it. If you were acting with good intentions, not purposefully trying to hurt your friend, then in the long run it will be a positive action.

What to Say Sorry For

Following on my that example and my life motto of acting with good intentions, an important skill to learn is what to say sorry for. If you keep these two scenarios in your mind and apologise appropriately when they arise then you will begin to experience a happier and more positive life:

  • When you act with bad intentions - this includes taking advantage of a situation at the expense of others, ignoring the effects your decisions have on others, or purposefully hurting others for any reason. This is simply not on in any situation and and apology is required.
  • When your actions are neither good nor bad intentioned but cause hurt in someone - these are likely to be accidents and you should be willing to apologise if they cause pain for other people. But watch out for people who will try to make them bigger than they really are. It was an accident so apologise once and move on.

Getting Your Apologies Valued

One thing I noticed is that after refusing to apologise for so long, when I started saying sorry again people respected it more. It became obvious to myself and others that I am truly sorry whenever I apologise which gives it much more weight.

I encourage you to look at your own usage of "sorry" and question whether it has lost its meaning for you too. Hopefully you experience a similarly positive journey like I did.