science of us

How to Get Out of Your Own Head

Photo: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images

I daydream a lot about how good life will be, soon. Everything will be great once my face looks right, once I move, once I earn more than enough money (and then a bit more than that), once I get married, once I have a baby, once I write something that enough people really like. It’s rarely true, but it still always seems true. Plus it’s usually fun to plan and plot and daydream like this, and some of it has actually panned out. (Life really is better once you stop eating processed foods.)

The only time all this fantasizing feels weird is when I wonder if it’s getting in the way of actually making things happen. Although, even then, it probably wouldn’t be so bad.

Writer Steve Calechman has a story on the Harvard Health Blog this week about how to get out of your own head and connect with people. Or, how to jump-start yourself out of your own fantasies and worries, and get back into the real world. “Saying hi to 10 people for 10 days” is one of his ideas, and while on the one hand this seems cheesy, on the other it sounds kind of great. For him, “it worked beautifully,” he writes. “People became three-dimensional.” He said it made him feel more a part of the place he lived, more enmeshed in his community.

The other day I was emailing with a new friend, and I decided to risk asking her a kind of personal question. I didn’t want to freak her out, but sometimes it’s fun to be asked weird questions. It worked out, and then she asked me one, too, and it’s felt like an ongoing bright spot in an otherwise regular week. I’m seeing now that asking people unexpected, provocative questions is another way to get out of one’s own head.

But then again, what if we stopped pressuring ourselves to connect with people? What if none of it really matters? Connection is nice, but sometimes all you have is yourself. I’ve had some really high highs with people, and I think so much of my own life has been an attempt to chase those highs again, to have more of those shared experiences. I don’t think I’ll ever really let that idea go, but it’s kind of reassuring to imagine doing exactly that. Maybe I’ve already had my highest highs, maybe it’s all downhill from here. Instead of being sad, the idea is sort of funny. It’s liberating, too. Increasingly I think that this impulse, to be doing things better and having a better life, is getting in the way more than anything.

How to Get Out of Your Own Head