Not My Circus, Not My Monkey

I was out with my family a few weeks ago. I saw something my brother was doing that I didn’t agree with so I turned to my Mom and said, “why is he doing that?” My Mom looked at him, looked back at me, shrugged, and said something that I will never forget.

“Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I thought, wow that’s a badass way to avoid getting tangled up in what other people are doing. It’s also super ironic because my brother is in fact, her monkey. But that’s neither here nor there.

Since I heard her say that, I haven’t stopped thinking about situations that are not my circus, not my monkey. And to be honest, I’ve found myself saying it a whole lot. There is so much that happens on a daily basis that I don’t need to concern myself about or get involved with. That healthy separation is a game changer and can really cut out a giant amount of crap that is flat out not yours to concern yourself with. This funny saying is really reminding me to not take on the responsibility of what others are thinking, feeling or doing. It’s not my responsibility to take that on and it’s certainly not selfish of me to cross off “making sure others are cool with what I do with my life” on my to-do list.

As someone who prefers Feeling over Thinking, this is something I have always struggled with. I seek harmony. I want everyone to be okay, be on the same page, be on board. In my worst ways of seeking this harmony, I tend to make myself irrelevant. In accommodating the needs of the group, I can get to the point where I don’t accommodate my own needs - or worse, I don’t even take the time to check in and identify what my needs are. Making myself relevant, staying in my lane and really identifying what is mine to be concerned with is something I work hard at every single day. I have progress to make but in the work I have done so far in this area, it has become more natural for me to have a not my circus, not my monkey kinda vibe. 

I want you to think about the times you took on the responsibility of what other people are thinking. I’ll give you a hint: it’s anytime you start a sentence with:

“I don’t want you to think…”

“I hope you’re not thinking…”

In that scenario, you’re taking on the responsibility of what the other person is going to think or feel. You’re trying to manipulate the situation so that they are thinking and feeling the exact same way you want them to feel. When in fact, it’s not your responsibility. People are going to think and feel however they are going to think and feel. Why use your limited energy to try and control something that is out of your hands? 

Meanwhile, when we shift the focus back on you - you are an afterthought for yourself. Do you care about what you think? Do you care about what you feel? You’re probably not grounded in these areas if you’re busy taking on the responsibility of what other people are thinking, feeling and doing. Repeat after Trish. Not my circus, not my monkey. 

It sounds simple but shifting your mindset to be less focused on others can be a lot of work, especially if this is something you’ve gotten in the habit of doing. And if you’re a human being living on planet Earth, chances are you’re caught in this habit to some degree. But being conscious about your thoughts and actions, why they’re there and who they’re serving can move you towards a healthier mindset.

I challenge you to become aware of this for the next 7 days. Simply notice when this shows up. Even if you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t care about what other people think.” Trust me, and try to notice the times when you do. Notice the times you start to find yourself concerned about what others are thinking, feeling or doing. Write them down. Don’t try to fix it all yet, simply notice for now. 

Are you noticing you’re worried about what coworkers, friends or family will think of something you say or do? Are you taking on the responsibility of someone else being okay or happy with a decision you make? Let’s get clear on these areas where you’re taking on responsibility you should not be taking on. Because how can we rewrite our script if we don’t know the existing script?

This all seems so simple, but as a society we are all programmed this way. We get the degree because we want to make sure our parents proud. We stay in a job we hate because we don’t know what our coworkers would do without us. We go to events we don’t want to go to because we’re worried about hurting the host’s feelings. This shows up everywhere in our lives, down to the most minuscule details. 

When in reality, our one and only job is to focus on what’s serving you and what is true to you. 

Everything else? Not your circus, not your monkey. 

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