How often do you take your eyes off yourself?

Today is December 14 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you take your eyes off yourself?” When you are so focused on translating one dream after another into reality it is easy to achieve a state of self-absorption. During this state of existence, it can be difficult for others to be around you as your blindness to their life situation makes any relationship a challenge. Actor Tony Hale knows all too well the value of using the strategy of ‘taking his eyes off of himself’ to navigate the chaos.

Hale is an American actor and comedian and known for his role in the Fox comedy series Arrested Development as the neurotic Buster Bluth. He also voiced Forky in the animated comedy Toy Story 4. Hale played Gary Walsh on the HBO comedy Veep and won the 2013 and 2015 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

In an April 2019 interview for GQ, Hale discussed his struggles with anxiety. “I've struggled with anxiety for a very, very long time. There's no cure, so it's finding little tools.” One of the tools Hale uses is to divert this attention away from himself and onto someone or something else.


As Hale recalled: “There was this one particular time I remember. I was about to do a talk show. And right before they called my name and the curtains were about to go up, I had this wave of dread. A panic attack was coming on. I had just started doing talk shows, and I still didn't feel like I belonged. I was like, ‘Okay, I have a choice. I'm either going to bolt, which is what I want to do, or…’ I remember somebody telling me, ‘Get your eyes off yourself.’ And so, there were these two guys who were pulling the curtain. I just started asking them questions. ‘Oh, where are you from? Tell me about what you do. How's it working here?’ Whatever I could do to get my eyes off of myself. And then they pulled the curtain, and I went out. It might only have been a few seconds, but it saved everything.”


Hale was, in short, curious. Being curious about others is an effective strategy to take your eyes off yourself as well as manage your anxiety. The simple act of being curious of those around you can provide a distraction for your brain as you process the moment. Remember, we were all children at one time and curiosity was our sole vehicle for learning. As we age our level of curiosity often diminishes. We simply stop asking questions. We stop asking others about themselves because our eyes are so focused inward. It is within our power to be curious regardless of age.


As Jeffrey Davis wrote in an August 28, 2020 Psychology Today article “Curiosity has given us the capacity—the thirst even—to learn throughout our lives. Evolutionary theorists posit that this distinctly human trait developed to help us adapt at an unrivaled pace. Unsurprisingly, there is a scientific basis for this evolutionary drive: Research shows that when our curiosity is piqued, dopamine floods the brain, triggering the reward system and encouraging us to dig deeper into whichever pursuit we’re engaged in.


Beyond giving us an appetite for knowledge, though, curiosity may play a vital social role for this same physiological reason. Curiosity encourages positivity, engagement, and connection. Contemporary research suggests that curious people are more open to new social experiences, more willing to embrace uncertainty, and more capable of navigating difficult social situations.”


Hale understood the value of taking his eyes off of himself as a means of navigating the chaos at a moment of anxiety. His ability to be curious about those around him provided relief for that moment in time. Taking eyes off of your self is an effective way of practicing one of the most challenging forms of communication: be interested in rather than interesting.


Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, used this interested in approach during a dinner party where he met a botanist whom he found to be fascinating. He listened for hours with excitement as the botanist spoke of exotic plants and indoor gardens until the party ended and everyone left. Before leaving, the botanist told the host of the dinner party that Carnegie was a “most interesting conversationalist” and gave him several compliments. Carnegie hardly said anything. What he had done was listen intently. He listened because he was genuinely interested. Carnegie had no need to demonstrate how interesting he way. All he needed to do was remain interested in the botanist.


Taking your eyes off of yourself and remaining interested in others, can serve as an effective strategy as you navigate the chaos. How often are you interested in others? Are you too busy trying to be interesting? If so, why is that? If you find it difficult to remain interested in others, thereby taking your eyes off of yourself, what do you think that says about your relationship with others?