Health & Medicine

Not your problem? Act like it

Want to know a three-word phrase that will change your life? “Not my problem.” Routinely adding it to your personal repertoire will grant you a level of serenity that you thought possible only at an ashram.

We all love to implant ourselves in others’ business like telemarketers making dinner-time calls. Perhaps we inwardly scoff at a neighbor who drives a gas-guzzling monolith. Or we fret about a friend whose daughter has put on weight, inwardly pondering the effect it will have on her children. We embrace these issues as our personal crusades and crowd our minds with needless concern, disdain or judgment.

Our very attention to these matters that don’t concern us smacks of smug yet unspoken egotism. We tend to behave as if we possess superhuman powers and can command the world with one wave of a magic wand. We think that everyone wants to hear our opinions. We have an urge to save the day.

As a result we feel anxious and powerless. Few people are interested in hearing our viewpoints, especially when they’re uninvited. Grown children don’t want lectures about their friends or apartments.

Aging parents want to run their own lives as long as they can. Friends and neighbors wish we’d keep our mouths shut. No matter how much we try to intervene, we’re incessantly rebuffed. We tell ourselves we’re useless, like garbage awaiting pickup on the street.

That’s where the lovely phrase “not my problem” comes in. We need to understand what’s within our purview and what isn’t. The vast majority of issues simply don’t involve us. When we absolve ourselves of pointless responsibilities we free ourselves of unnecessary angst. We can then focus on those areas that do require our attention.

Where should we direct our energies? Taking care of ourselves. Make the best health, career and lifestyle decisions possible. Be the control tower for your own airline and stop interfering with the navigational plans of others.

Next, tend to your relationship. Intimate relationships require nonstop nurturing. They can’t be shelved until we want them, like a set of linen placemats. Instead, shower your relationship with time, attention, concern and emotional support so that your loved one feels cherished and adored.

If you have minor-age children at home, they are your next priority. You’re responsible for their safety, nourishment, moral development and education. You have 18 years to raise an infant into a functioning young adult. There’s no time to waste on pointless nail-biting.

Letting go has powerful physical and psychological benefits. Muscular tension miraculously evaporates. Thoughts become still. Worries cease. We discover extra time in both our minds and in our datebooks. We’re more patient and accepting of differing habits. We view the world through different eyes.

But don’t fret that you’ll become uncaring or aloof. You can still be passionate about political causes or available to help a friend or neighbor in need.

What you won’t you won’t do is butt in where you’re not wanted. You’ll trust others to make the right decisions. If not, oh well. It’s not your problem.

Steering clear of involvement

Need help disengaging from other people’s troubles?

Start with these ideas:

Don’t encourage kvetching. Some folks are human gripe magnets.

They love listening to everyone’s drama, and they can’t wait to add their two cents. Make a personal promise to keep others’ issues at bay. They’ll quickly get the message that you’re not their unpaid therapist.

Change the subject. Deftly divert unwelcome conversations along more appropriate lines. You’ll immediately feel more relaxed. Others will learn which subjects are off limits.

Keep your opinions to yourself. The quickest way into someone’s business is to offer unwanted advice. Fight the urge. Take a deep breath, then zip your lips.

Offer assurance. Let others know you have complete faith in their abilities to find their own answers. A sincere, “That’s a tough dilemma but I know you can work through it,” instills the listener with courage while keeping you out of the fray.

Relish your inner peace. Backing out of others’ business means you’ll have more emotional energy at your disposal. But avoid filling it with something equally unnerving. Savor the stillness you’ve created. That’s the ultimate way to be in charge.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit