One trap that many personal development enthusiasts fall into is becoming overly self-absorbed, which severely limits their results in the long run.

Working on your own problems and challenges can be rewarding when you start getting results that matter to you. Maybe you adopt a new habit like becoming an early riser, and it feels good to make that shift. Perhaps you change careers, and that feels good too.

Where self-absorption often falls flat, however, is income generation. I’d say it’s a common factor in people who remain stuck in scarcity in other areas of life too. Their focus is often very internal. They tend to dwell on their needs, desires, problems, and personal results, overlooking that there’s a whole other world out there.

Self-absorption is tempting because up to a point, it can deliver results. But don’t confuse self-absorption with ongoing self-development. If you want to develop your self in more expansive directions, especially financially and socially, it’s important to develop greater balance between inner focus and outer focus. Empathy is a key factor here.

Here’s a common pattern in business. Someone starts a new business, and they mainly focus on what they can do, what they want to create, and what they’re willing to offer. And hardly any customers or clients show up. This can lead the new entrepreneur to become even more self-absorbed: I have to work harder. I need to improve my productivity system. I need to create better products. I need to learn more sales and marketing strategies.

But the real issues are not listening and not caring enough about what other people want and need. If you want to engage effectively in the larger flow of money and social energy, lean towards caring about actual human beings beyond yourself. Look for problems that others are having that you can solve.

Don’t just let the word contribution sit on your values list like a cutesy addition to round out the more self-centered ones. Actually invest your time and energy into pondering ways to contribute. Do this by focusing on others’ problems, setting your own problems aside for a while.

Of all the time you spend dwelling on problems or trying to come up with ideas and solutions, what percentage would you say is focused mainly on your own personal concerns and improving your own life? What percentage is focused on making other people’s lives better (people beyond your own family)?

Of course you can create both symbiotically, but where’s your focus most of the time? Do you mainly try to improve your own life? Or do you mainly try to improve the lives of others?

It’s healthy to have a balance, and often you’ll find that serving others meshes well with serving your own needs if you pay sufficient attention to both.

Whenever I design a new course, I like to start with an external focus. The first several steps of my design doc include identifying the audience, their problems, their desired improvements, their potential objections, and how to help them get results. Initially I ponder the project from other people’s perspective. What is it supposed to do for them? I get clear about how the course is intended to help people before I get into the details of the features and the content. It’s way easier to design the features and content when I understand the purpose of the project from the customer’s point of view.

Then I consider what would make the project a win for me. What would I like to gain from the experience of creating the course? My motivation is strongest if the project is win-win, and I’ll gain from the experience too. This can’t just be about earning money since that’s a shallow gain. I think about building new skills, challenging myself, deepening my knowledge, or taking some interesting risks. I think about how taking on this project will change me as a person. Sometimes I’ll tweak the design to make it more win-win, so it looks like a worthwhile endeavor from all angles. So I do ponder the self-absorbed angle, but only after I’ve thoroughly examined the contribution aspect.

This works very well, and it keeps my enthusiasm high throughout the project. It creates a nice dual motivation that points in the same direction.

When people get stuck in life, and I ask them to describe their problems or challenges, how often do you think they express these issues from the perspective of finding better ways to serve others? If you said pretty much never, you’d be right. Almost always they frame their problems in a self-absorbed manner. They say they aren’t making enough money. They say they’re confused about what to do to get the results they want for themselves. They use language to describe their challenges that puts them at the center of the universe. And that’s part of the reason why they’re stuck.

Thinking about building a list is self-absorbed. Thinking about gaining clients is self-absorbed. Thinking about making more money is self-absorbed. Thinking about achieving business success is self-absorbed. Thinking about getting a relationship partner is self-absorbed.

Do you think people spend much time thinking about wanting to join your list or to give you money or to make you more successful as their main concern in life? Of course not.

I find it especially helpful to think about other people’s problems and challenges from an individual perspective, not a collective one. I find it problematic to think of the “others” that I want to serve as an amorphous blob of people. It’s better to imagine an individual, perhaps even someone I’ve met, and think about what problems and challenges they’re dealing with and how to help them if I can. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and imagine how they’d like to be served.

One thing that makes this easier is thinking about your past self. When you struggled with a problem or challenge in the past, how would you have wanted to be helped? What would have made a difference for you back then? What kind of approach or offer would you have appreciated? Just asking these questions will help you release most of the ineffective mindsets and approaches that people attempt to use in business and relationships.

Liking the people you serve makes this a lot easier. If you like the people you serve or intend to serve, it’s easier to empathize with their problems, challenges, needs, and desires. It’s easier to care about actually helping them. And this too is better if you focus on individuals that you’d like to serve rather that abstracting this out to a collective blob.

Beware the trap of self-absorption because it can keep you stuck for a long time. People lose decades of their lives to this trap, worrying so much about their own problems while simultaneously behaving in ways that repel the flow of abundance.

When someone is really self-absorbed in their own world of problems and concerns, can you tell? I’ll bet you can spot such people with ease. How does this kind of behavior affect you?

Now how do you think you affect the people around you when you go into self-absorbed mode? Are you aware of how much this mindset actually repels the flow of abundance?

I know it’s tricky to expand your mindset towards serving others when your own unmet needs feel so front and center in your life, but that is the solution. I had to figure this out from desperation too. I started volunteering right around the same time I was declaring bankruptcy. I also declared bankruptcy on my own self-absorbed way of living. I had to conclude that it just wasn’t working, so what did I have to lose by trying a different approach?

Why do you think I never run out of article ideas? It’s because I listen to what other people want and need. Human beings aren’t running out of wants and needs anytime soon, so how could I possibly run out of ideas?

Writer’s block is a self-absorbed frame, isn’t it? There are no blocks outside of the writer’s own self-absorbed world. There’s an infinite supply of ideas out there. Think about what the world needs written, not so much what the writer needs to write.

Perhaps at some point when your self-absorbed universe is collapsing in on itself, and you’re feeling burnt out and exhausted dealing with the problems of scarcity, you’ll be ready to explore beyond this clingy attitude. You’ll realize there’s a whole other world out there, and it consists of real human beings that you could actually help in some small way. And you may find that assisting them with their problems and challenges is way more interesting and way more rewarding that dwelling so much on your own individual issues.