How I learned the art of caring less

“I don’t care.” I say these words – or variations thereof – a lot. Gently, when someone asks where we should eat and I don’t have a strong preference. Wearily, when I am tired, and all out of absolutes. With force when someone just won’t leave me alone.

If you heard how often I say these words you’d think I cared very little. You’d think I was a laidback, easy-going individual, blissfully unfussed by much of life’s goings on.

But this is not the case. Much as I might often wish it was, it’s not. I care a lot, about lots of things – only some of which are justified.

I care about my friends and family. I want to know about their lives: are they doing OK? How was their day yesterday? Did they ever do that thing they were thinking of doing that one time? I care about my work, and about my degree, about my Five-Year Plan (which I definitely have, because I am definitely a grown-up and put-together individual). Those things are important.

I also care about what happens in The West Wing, about listening to the radio while I cook food that makes my mouth water, and getting to sleep in on Saturday. All these are perfectly fine things to care about – worthy of my attention, albeit to varying degrees. But the same can’t be said for everything.

What about when I am spending hours and hours on just one little piece of work, losing sleep, convincing myself that the quality and value of everything I could ever possibly write is contingent on this one thing alone? That if this is not utterly, mind-blowingly insightful, nothing else ever will be.

What about when I am obsessing over that one thing I said to that one person that one time? Incessantly playing through the words – the blunder which I have persuaded myself definitely exists – when the other person is almost certainly fine, not thinking about what I did or didn’t say. No issue – only in my head.

It’s frighteningly easy to care too much, about the wrong things. And who has time for that? No one. Sure, we all do it, but no one actually has time for it. It’s exhausting, and ultimately pointless. So I’m done with it. Just like that. That simple.

If only. Big talk is all very well and good, but of course the question remains: how? Knowing it’s a good idea is one thing, but how do you actually go about realigning your priorities in a meaningful way?

My honest answer is: I don’t know. But this is the strategy I’m working with right now: treat your reserves of Caring like your own, personal well. It’s nice and good and noble to let others drink from it, but you’d better be damn sure you don’t lose the lot. So the wise thing to do is to be selective about who gets the water. Take stock of who or what has your attention right now – and how much, crucially – and then ponder whether or not you like the results.

And that’s it – all I’ve got. But I think it’s at least a plan for now. The art of caring less is tricky and probably sometimes painful, but it’s also valuable, and, most importantly, good for you.

Now, the key is to find a way of caring less without caring a ridiculous amount about doing so. Complicated? Yeah. Necessarily? Absolutely

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