Optimizing Empathy: Being empathic doesn’t require giving someone advice to solve their problem.
I was sitting on my therapist’s couch, gazing through the partially opened blinds of his office’s floor to ceiling window, while he talked me through a simple gym couple scenario.
“Have you ever seen that couple at the gym, where the guy is ridiculing his girlfriend about how her stomach isn’t flat enough or her butt is too small, and she works that much harder during their workout trying to achieve her perfect body? Would you ever treat someone that way?”
I shift my gaze away from the window and back to him, “Well obviously not. You can’t put those type of expectations on someone else. I’m not an a-hole.”
“Then why do you treat yourself the way he treats his girlfriend?”
This was an unpleasant realization.
Of course I would never place impossible expectations on someone else, it would only make them feel bad. Then again, those are the expectations I was placing on myself. I couldn’t help but laugh when I said it out loud:
“I’m not a disappointment to anyone in my life, except for myself.”
Having empathy for someone means you can understand their feelings. It enables us to communicate more effectively and build healthy relationships with one another.
Based on how I had been treating myself, it was obvious I didn’t even understand my own feelings, so how could I possibly empathize with someone else?
We see headlines everywhere about “why all successful people do ‘X’ every morning”, “how so-and-so did ‘this’ to increase MRR by 200%”, “do these 7 things if you’re feeling depressed at work”, or “why you must eat an orange in the shower everyday” (seriously, smh). It’s a “data-driven” world and it appears we already have all the answers.
I fell into the optimization trap.
Of course, no one and nothing is perfect. I know this, but knowing this cliché is true doesn’t stop my involuntary thoughts for optimizing:
- Muscle imbalances in my legs which lead to ankle sprains
- My posture to counter sitting at a desk most of the day
- A perfectly healthy diet
- My daily work schedule
- The perfect bedtime routine for perfect sleep
- My caffeine consumption
- My alcohol consumption
- Relaxation time
- My social life
- The perfect SEO article
- A blog article series writing plan
- My resume so that it is one page, demonstrates metrics, and loaded with keywords
- My perfect dating app profile
- Unique first date ideas
- An educational routine based on Barbara Oakley’s “Learning How to Learn” course
- Meditation habits
- Informed opinions on important political issues (climate change, immigration, racism, education, etc.)
- Jokes for a stand-up routine
- My own fitness routine to achieve a perfectly fit physique
- Blah, blah, blah, blah
There’s an article for perfecting every item on that list. I thought taking all this advice would optimize my life and make my feelings of frustration and worthlessness go away. In reality, I was just the guy at the gym telling his girlfriend (also me) if she didn’t do “X” she wouldn’t be good enough, even though everyone else at the gym knows she already is. I’m the controlling, a-hole boyfriend, the lovable, hardworking girlfriend, AND I’m the empathic , supportive friend. It’s like Fight Club if it were a romantic comedy.
We think we have the road map to perfection while simultaneously knowing perfection is an impossible achievement. We can’t give every aspect of our lives 100% of our attention because our brains are terrible at multitasking. It leads us to making dumb mistakes, hypocritical arguments, and self-destructive decisions. I mean, this is why comedy exists. As individuals, people are relatable, irrational, and stupid all the time. You can’t buy better material than that.
I’m finally starting to understand my own feelings. I give in to click-bait headlines less and don’t beat myself up for occasionally checking Twitter right before bed and allow myself to sometimes eat donuts free of guilt and I let myself make stupid grammatical errors.
Being empathic doesn’t require giving someone advice to solve their problem. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that our mistakes, hypocrisy, and self-sabotaging behaviors are our most relatable traits.
In order to optimize empathy, we need to be perfect in accepting our own imperfections. I’ll teach you how to do that in my next article, 7 Ways to Accept All Your Imperfections….
A few example modules include:
- Magic Words: Communication and “Yes, And”
- On the Spot: Public Speaking and Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright
- Heal Thyself: Humor and Self Care
- Let Go: Stress Reduction Through Improv
- Us is More: Group Mind and Team-Building
- Feelin’ It: Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
- and many more . . .