How to Be More Outrospective
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Rethinking Self-Help1 of 9
By Cortney Rock
There's a reason some people call it self-hell: Repeatedly searching your soul for answers and coming up short can leave you feeling beat-up and low. So what's the solution when looking inside "for the answers" isn't cutting it? A group of psychologists and scholars believe that looking outside of ourselves holds the answers to our happiness... and may even better society as a whole. Read on to learn more about the benefits of changing your perspective and how to make it happen.
Take a Look2 of 9
Roman Krznaric, founding member of the School of Life and author of the forthcoming book How Should We Live? Great Ideas From the Past for Everyday Life, coined the term "outrospection" to counteract what he thinks of as the failure of the 20th-century self-help culture. The cornerstone of looking outward is empathy, which Krznaric says is "about stepping outside yourself and discovering who you are and how to live by looking at the world from the perspective of other people," and a means to improve relationships, increase creativity and bring about positive change in society.
Being There3 of 9
Empathy, at least the way that Krznaric and his colleagues use it, isn't to be confused with sympathy or compassion, which generally means acknowledging another's pain from a removed vantage point. As pyschotherapist Joe Burgo, Ph.D., explains: "Empathy means acting like a sponge, where you soak in the feelings of the other. It's when you feel along with someone, rather than trying to make them feel differently."
Feel Your Feelings4 of 9
Dr. Burgo thinks a key factor in increasing empathy in everyday life is to allow ourselves to feel all of our emotions, even the not-so-great ones: "If you can't bear sadness and grief yourself, then you'll find it difficult to empathize with someone in mourning: you can't tolerate the emotions the other person evokes in you, so instead you offer rote condolence and sympathy from a distance."
Talk to Strangers5 of 9
It's easy to agree with the tenets of empathy—most of us aren't trying to be selfish jerks. But just how do you incorporate it into your everyday life? Krznaric believes that the simple act of talking to others, especially complete strangers from different walks of life, can build empathy muscle. But try to get past talk about the weather. Krznaric notes: "You will need courage to get beyond idle chit-chat and find out how they see the world—what are their views of family life, politics, creativity, and death? And be ready to share your own thoughts."
Take a Moment6 of 9
Putting empathy into practice doesn't always require a grand gesture—it can also help in quieter moments. If you find yourself feeling insecure in an everyday situation, worrying about the actions or motives of others, empathy can help curb your anxiety. Psychologist Tamar Chansky explains: "So much of the stress we experience comes from our misinterpretation of others' intentions. If we're able to zoom out and put ourselves in another's position, we can identify how the behaviors of others are often about them, not us."
Quiet Time7 of 9
According to relationship expert Dr. Debra Castaldo, empathy can help alleviate the kind of burnout that comes with trying to be the best employee, the best mom, the best wife. "When people are burned out, it's because the focus is inward," she says. "If they can flip that around and see what they can give rather than what they take, anxiety and depression will lessen." She advises journaling, creating mantras, or visualizing to help shift mental focus outward over time.
Walk in Their Shoes8 of 9
Feeling super-motivated to change the world with empathy? Krznaric suggests spending time with people or groups you wouldn't normally encounter. He calls it "empathetic adventuring," existing in another's environment and coming as close as you can to literally walking in their shoes. While you certainly have the option to attend the rally of an opposing political faction, we suggest baby steps. Start by chatting with a family member you usually avoid on the holidays, and see if you're ready to move up from there.
Hit the Books9 of 9
So you know that navel-gazing doesn't feel good and isn't great for you socially, but what happens when you don't have the energy to chat up strangers or spend time listening to people you've never particularly vibed with? For those moments, pick up a classic novel you've never given yourself time to read. Research done at The New School shows that reading literary fiction—rather than nonfiction or a popular dark thriller—can help boost empathy and other skills of social perception immediately after reading.