One of the first concepts I teach students in my retreats and workshops is the importance of minding your own business.
At first, “mind your own business” might sound harsh, but in this case, it is actually a gentle reminder to stay in your own lane, so to speak.
What Minding Your Own Business Means
Minding your own business, at its heart, is focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t. It is taking responsibility for your own thoughts and actions, and letting other people take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.
So often we try to control other people, control the world around us, and basically control everything and everyone but ourselves.
Ironically, the only thing we CAN control is ourselves. And even then, it’s imperfect control.
Here are a few examples of NOT minding our own business:
- Reacting to circumstances and others instead of being conscious
- Seeing others as separate from us (separation vs oneness is also a core tenet of conscious living.)
- Trying to solve other people’s problems for them
- Attempting to “fix” others
- Refusing to accept others as they are
- Not taking responsibility for your own thoughts and actions
- Blaming others for your thoughts and feelings
- Believing every thought that pops into our heads
And these are just a few ways that we don’t mind our own business or try to take on someone else’s business.
How to Mind Your Own Business
The most basic way to start minding your own business is to ask yourself “Is this something I can actually control?”
- Your thoughts and actions = your business
- Other people’s thoughts and actions = their business (NOT your business)
- External circumstances (weather, external events, etc.) = NOT your business
Step 1: Stay Out of Other People’s Business
Accept others as they are.
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” John 8:7
This does not mean that you accept or enable other people’s destructive behavior without doing or saying anything. It doesn’t mean that you neglect to set boundaries for yourself or that you don’t ask your alcoholic brother to attend AA meetings or discipline your teenaged child when they break the rules.
It does mean that you accept who people are.
When we refuse to accept others as they are, we say “I don’t want to know you, I want you to be who I want you to be.”
We can accept that some people are high strung, they talk loudly, are sometimes late, they like things we think are boring, believe things we don’t believe in, or do things we don’t agree with. We can accept that as reality and love them anyway.
Listen without judging, criticizing, or trying to “fix” others
No one is broken. When someone talks to you about a problem, keep in mind that there’s nothing to fix. Your role is to listen.
In my workshops, I ask participants to listen when someone speaks, and instead of judging, think “How does this apply to me? How can I learn from this?”
After all, human experience is universal. We’re all in this together, and judgment only prevents us from connecting.
When someone talks to you, listen and try to understand instead of thinking, “This person is broken, and I can fix them.”
Step 2: Minding YOUR Business
Take responsibility for YOU
Taking responsibility for you means knowing that no one makes you do or feel anything. It’s not letting someone else have authority over you. You always have a choice.
Minding your own business is choosing not to be the victim and completely taking ownership of your decisions.
For example, you don’t HAVE to go to work. You don’t HAVE to pay taxes. You choose to do those things because you want the result, like getting a paycheck, or because you don’t want to deal with the consequences of not doing them, like getting audited. Taking responsibility is saying “I went to work because I want to get a promotion” instead of complaining “My boss made me come to work on Sunday.”
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you act outside of your integrity, treat other people poorly, or be narcissistic. After all, we live in a society where there are certain agreements we make with each other to help things run smoothly.
In the end, you are free to break those social expectations and behave however you want because you have free will. You’re just not free from the consequences of those decisions.
Don’t believe every thought in your head
When we mind our own business, we save a lot of energy because we are focused on what we want instead of what we don’t want.
I like to think of it like sorting the mail.
Think about how much energy it takes to go through every piece of junk mail, all the special offers, all the fine print, and all the sales flyers. It would take all day! Instead, most of us just take a quick glance at the mail each day to see what actually needs our attention, and we recycle or throw out the rest.
Thoughts are like that. Thoughts can bounce around in our heads all day, and they won’t necessarily be helpful. Part of minding our business is figuring out which thoughts are true, useful, and important instead of being distracted by every thought that goes through our minds.
This is also the case with feelings. Some feelings are fleeting and don’t require attention while others can be useful. Remember, while feelings are often helpful, they are not always trustworthy. They might not be based on reality or not be legitimate for the current situation.
Ask yourself whether your thoughts and feelings are true, useful, and important, or whether they’re just noise.
Minding your own business is observing what’s going on inside of you. It’s being self-observant.
It may be helpful to think of ourselves as two “selves”; the part of us that thinks, and the part of us that can observe the part that thinks.
We can observe ourselves, our activity, and our state of mind. Minding your own business means being the self-observer.
When you think a thought, you can automatically believe that thought, or the observer can watch your thought and say “That’s junk mail. No need to open that thought.” You don’t need to believe every thought you think. Most thoughts don’t need to be believed.
For example, you might have the thought “This person in front of me is walking too slowly. They shouldn’t do that.” Your observer self might notice this and think “I’m making a judgment. Is that really true? Are they walking too slowly, or are they just walking at whatever pace they’re walking? I’m not the decider of how fast people should walk.” You might even notice the absurdity of your thoughts.
Observe and accept the fact that you’re thinking those thoughts. Then you can move on, knowing that thought was junk mail and you don’t have to open it.
Minding Your Own Business is a Practice
For most of us, minding our own business does not come naturally. This is a practice, like everything else in conscious living.
Practice observing yourself and noticing when you’re not minding your own business, and practice bringing your attention back to your own lane. As you do this more and more, you will find it easier and more automatic.
As you do this more, you will take more ownership of your own life, thoughts, and decisions, and grow in acceptance of the humanity in all of us.