We would rather speak ill of ourselves than not talk about ourselves at all.  
François Duc de La Rochefoucauld


A common notion, especially on the personal-growth journey, is that other people project their own stories about themselves onto you. Meaning what other people think of you is really about them, and you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with their opinions.

While this may be true it can be difficult to believe, especially when someone gets mad at you or you feel foolish. However, I was recently given an assignment that proved it as a fact beyond all rational doubt.

For one week I was on orders to not talk about myself.

Here, in order, are the revelations that arose out of this experiment:

  • Talking about oneself is a reflex
  • Everything we say actively perpetuates a story about our lives
  • At least 90% of what we say to each other is trivia the other person will neither hear nor remember
  • People live in pods

The urge to talk about myself was so strong I frequently lost the battle, but the gift was how aware I became of what I said, and how others responded to it.

98% of the time, after I went through a huge internal negotiation in which I finally let whatever little tidbit about myself be related, the other people either talked over me, didn’t hear it at all, or misheard it as something completely different. Meaning I was the only person who cared about what I had to say.

Keep in mind I was not attending Narcissus’ Anonymous meetings. I was with family, friends, and an aware spiritual community I feel particularly bonded to. Had I not been performing this experiment, I’m certain I wouldn’t have felt the least bit ignored or not listened to. I would have been too busy ignoring and not listening to them.

Which brings me to the main point of what I observed when my internal monologue stopped dominating my focus. Everyone around me was constantly and repetitively telling a story about themselves, and each story looked like a little pod they were driving around the world in.

Sometimes the pods would bump into each other, and people would have conflict. Meaning the direction one person was going with her story noticeably didn’t fit with where someone else was going with his in that moment, and they’d become annoyed because their chosen narratives were being disrupted.

Mostly I noticed how people didn’t see or hear anything outside of the tale they were telling about themselves. They’d report feeling rejected or accepted by others, excited, depressed, angry, loved, all at the whim of a thought they mistook for outside events.

This was so overtly evident I was shocked I hadn’t been able to see it before, and also that those around me remained oblivious to this revelation.

With my new level of awareness, my anxiety about how others perceived me dropped to about 0.2 on a scale of 1 – 5. My ability to accept others in turn increased dramatically, and I found myself feeling deeper friendship and connection with everyone around me.

The biggest and most unexpected change was how much  welcome movement I experienced throughout my life once I stopped talking about it. Taking pressure off my personal story allowed the narrative to change effortlessly in a short period of time.

My teacher was clear that this is not an exercise intended for long term use, meaning doing it for 1 – 2 weeks is an appropriate length of time. Why this is, and guidelines for trying it yourself if you are so inspired, are listed below. Also, this exercise will be explored along with other powerful tools in my talk “How to Improve the Hardest Parts of Life” at the end of the month. Details available here.

For now, I would like to leave you with the awareness that how you talk about your life affects your experience more powerfully than any event, and when you focus on listening a multitude of problems disappear.

Guidelines for Not Talking About Yourself

First, know that the point of this exercise is it’s an experiment designed to increase awareness. It’s not intended as a way of life, but to add understanding to how you live life. Once you return to talking about yourself, you’ll find many changes have occurred on their own in what you say and the nature of your narrative.

1. Don’t talk about yourself for a week.

2. Don’t tell anyone that you’re not talking about yourself.
Outside of your own experience, it’s a non-event. If you tell others, you make it into a story and the experiment loses its power.

3. If you have to talk about yourself, lie.
This means answer people’s questions in a way that doesn’t promote your narrative of events. Say you were getting coffee instead of tea, like movies instead of books, that kind of thing. Only if asked and it would be noticeable if you didn’t say anything.

4. Be smart.
While running this experiment I was also looking at new studios for my office, car shopping, and otherwise in situations where talking about myself was required and lying wasn’t a smart choice. Don’t put the experiment over the necessities of life, but be aware of how what you say adds to and changes the narrative of your life.

5. Let go of expectations.
Don’t assume you know what it will be like before you have the experience. My insights may not be yours.