Have you ever heard of ‘unselfing’?

Did you know…

it could save your life?

I think the first time I ever heard the word ‘unselfing’ was from my friend PJ Reece.  At first, it occurred to me as an unfamiliar, awkward word. Not friendly. Not inviting. Perhaps even a bit dangerous. 

Yet PJ was fascinated by it. I was curious. “Why should I be interested in this word,” I asked. Because it could save your life,” he said with a smile… as if he was sharing the secret of life. 

I thought I would drill deeper to answer the question…

How can ‘unselfing’ save us? 

Definitions may be useful here:

Self: noun: a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others. The object of introspection. 

To ‘Unself’: Transitive verb. To separate or free from self; transform into a different self. To do away with selfhood or selfishness. 

How can a person’s ‘self’ be life threatening? 

Recently PJ gave a superb speech about “Unselfing” at Toastmasters. He demonstrated ‘unselfing’ by unpacking a backpack containing an old brick as well as several other heavy objects and even a toy cat that meowed. 

His proposition was that ‘unselfing’ is about discarding the burdensome parts of the old ‘self’ that are no longer useful and thus lightening our load.

Not exactly life-threatening, you might say, but certainly threatening to the quality of life. 

Depending on the weight of the baggage, it could easily lead to more serious problems!

The burden may be a brick… like; hopelessness, depression, resentment, anger, despair, guilt, grief, fear or insecurity. Things that can lead to health problems, substance abuse, premature death, suicide and even murder. Sometimes the baggage is too much to bear!

So, I get PJ’s point. The ‘self’ can be threatening to the quality of life and life itself.

How does ‘unselfing’ work?

There are several ways we can shift out of a ‘self’ that is burdensome. It starts with developing the ability to rise above and observe ourselves in a situation. Then we can choose our action.

Change your ‘observer’. Maybe you are being your mother, or your father, as you talk to someone. Listen to your words. Who are you being? That can be a horrifying realization:)

We all look at the world through the lens of our Personality Type. That can be a huge burden. The Perfectionist is likely to see what’s wrong; that may generate annoyance or anger and a strong desire to fix it. The Peacemaker may be wanting to let it go and avoid conflict. 

We can observe, assess and shift.(unself)

Change your ‘way of being’: Something happens! Like your Apple device won’t work. You are resentful and frustrated. You hate the idea of calling Apple. You resist for two days hoping the problem will go away. Then you realize that this ‘way of being’ is heading no place good. So you choose to change your way of being from ‘resentful problem avoider’ to ‘curious problem solver’. You feel an immediate internal shift and now you are ready to call Apple. You just transformed. (‘unselfed’ to ‘reselfed’)

Change your language. Your words can ‘sentence’ you to hard labour. Changing your words can free you. For example, navigating from that self that is “blaming and complaining” to a self that is using words of “responsibility and commitment” frees you from prison.

A ‘change of heart’: The protagonist in a story is hell-bent on a certain course of action. We see them heading toward tragedy. Then something happens. Perhaps a child’s tears. The protagonist has a ‘change of heart’, they see the tragedy and suffering they are creating for themselves, and others and they decide to change; drop the old ‘self’ and adopt a new way of being.

Empathize: You can ‘unself’ and be less ‘self-ish’ by looking at things from another person’s point of view. An extreme example might be arguing a position from the other person’s point of view as a good lawyer would do.

What if you don’t change? A coaching technique is to ask… What does your future look like if you don’t change? Where will you be in a year, five years, or ten years? 

Once you see where you are headed, you may decide to focus on a better future; drop the old self and adopt a new way of being! You can ask yourself … What does my future look like if I don’t change? Is that what I want? How do I need to change to have a better future?

Unselfing is a decision: Mostly often ‘unselfing’ is a decision to let go of an old way of being and shift to a new way of being. We make the decision to change when we face the cost of not changing. Pain motivates more than pleasure.

Having looked at some ways to ‘unself’ and ‘reself’ we can take the game to even level. I refer to the master…

“ Life is not about finding yourself…

it’s about creating yourself.

(Bob Dylan commenting in the new Netflix movie, Rolling Thunder Review)

bob-dylan-hd-wallpapers-free-download-6-2.jpg (1440×900)

How many versions of Dylan have we seen? Folk singer, rock star, true believer, and now a Sinatra style crooner. It’s how he keeps going at 78 years old!

Underneath every new ‘self’ is the deeper ‘self’; the architect of the new ‘self’. It was the deeper self that had the dream to invent Bob Dylan in the first place. I get the impression that he invents new versions of Bob Dylan because he is done with the old version; it’s his time to move on… explore a new self.

It is important to note that he’s not doing this for his audience. In fact, his old fans often object to the latest new ‘self’ that he creates. He literally turns his back on them! He remains true to himself. A true artist. That’s why people love him.

Retirement is a time for Un-Selfing and Re-Selfing

Retirement means we walk away from a lifetime of identifying with our work and parenting roles. Take these roles away and we are lost. We ask ourselves …”Who am I now?”

We can ‘unself’ by letting go of the old work ‘self’ and invent a new ‘self’ to find new meaning and purpose

The lucky ones hear and feel a calling and respond to it. Their interest is their future ‘self’ calling to them in the present, calling them to ‘reself’!

‘Unselfing’ in this context is consciously letting go of the old self and filling the void with a new self with new interests, new priorities, and new ways of being.

The retiree makes new friends; the business person becomes a poet; the nurse becomes an artist. It takes courage and work to be a beginner again. And it is an adventure in finding unopened gifts and buried treasures.

“Life is not about finding yourself…

it’s about creating yourself.”






Posted in: Enneagram.
Last Modified: July 5, 2019

3 thoughts on “It could save your life

  1. Sandy Wrightman

    Well. This is a goodie! I have already sent it on. You and PJ. What a team! Bring on the exclamation marks. This is worth heeding!

  2. PJ Reece

    Hey, Mike … thanks for your Worsfoldean perspective on this important subject. I just found yet another angle on “unselfing” in today’s Guardian newspaper — this is a must-read:


    It’s about a reality show from 2000 called “Faking It” where contestants “become” someone entirely different from who they think they are. Fascinating to the max.

  3. Maggie

    Holy unselfed cow, Love it love it, exactly what I needed ti hear, Good job Michael and PJ !

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